2019 Awards – Best Espresso

A packet of Verve coffee, a Guatemala Pulcal Typica, taken from a public cupping at the store on Pacific Avenue in Santa CruzWe’re halfway through the 2019 Coffee Spot Awards with the shortlist for the “Best Espresso” Award, which was won in 2018 by Verve Coffee Roasters, Pacific Avenue. When it comes down to it, I still tend to judge a Coffee Spot by the quality of its espresso. Of course, this is entirely subjective and down to taste. I would never knock a place that made a good espresso just because it wasn’t to my taste.

This award is for those Coffee Spots which served me the best and most memorable espressos of the year. I started the Coffee Spot as a confirmed Italian espresso drinker with my palette evolving and expanding over time. This year I had some truly sublime espresso, leading to this being one of the most hotly contested of this year’s Awards and making it another shortlist that I could have filled twice over.

You can see the shortlist after the gallery.

  • Berdena's and this naturally-processed Usulatan coffee from El Salvador.
  • La Colombe, Gold Coast, with this light and fruity Papua New Guinea single-origin.
  • Rival Bros, Tasker Street, and this rich and creamy Costa Rican from Hacienda Sonora.
  • Chez Black Coffee, where I had a wonderful, lightly roasted Ethiopian espresso.
  • Madcap, Fulton, with an exclusive micro lot from El Salvador, served in this snifter glass.
  • Birmingham Coffee Festival (and Ngopi) for its Indonesian Mount Halu espresso.
  • Back to Black, Weteringstraat, and the Chef's Table, a pair of single-origin espressos.
  • Ngopi, back in its own right, with a naturally-processed Kerinci Kayu Aro from Indonesia.
  • Bean & Cole, serving a naturally-processed Finca Licho from Costa Rica on guest espresso.
  • Foret Coffee and the only blend on the shortlist, a mix of two Ethiopian coffees.
  • Ratio &C, where the single-origin espresso was an interesting, complex Kenyan.
  • Coffee Supreme, Tokyo, where I had my first coffee from Pacific island-nation of Vanuatu.
  • Dark Arts Coffee Japan and a shot of its Lost Highways single-origin Nicaraguan.
  • Three Fools Coffee in Cork, with a Matagalpa from Nicaragua, lovely, smooth and sweet.
  • 3FE Sussex Terrace, and the San Cayetano, a honey-processed coffee from El Salvador.
  • Shoe Lane Coffee, Tara Street, and a sweet, well-balanced Brazilian single-origin espresso.
  • Kiss the Hippo, Fitzrovia, and this rich, complex and fruity Ethiopian Buku Sayisa.
  • Blueprint Coffee & Books and the Blanca Rosa Melgar from Honduras, roasted by Alchemy.
Berdena's and this naturally-processed Usulatan coffee from El Salvador.1 La Colombe, Gold Coast, with this light and fruity Papua New Guinea single-origin.2 Rival Bros, Tasker Street, and this rich and creamy Costa Rican from Hacienda Sonora.3 Chez Black Coffee, where I had a wonderful, lightly roasted Ethiopian espresso.4 Madcap, Fulton, with an exclusive micro lot from El Salvador, served in this snifter glass.5 Birmingham Coffee Festival (and Ngopi) for its Indonesian Mount Halu espresso.6 Back to Black, Weteringstraat, and the Chef's Table, a pair of single-origin espressos.7 Ngopi, back in its own right, with a naturally-processed Kerinci Kayu Aro from Indonesia.8 Bean & Cole, serving a naturally-processed Finca Licho from Costa Rica on guest espresso.9 Foret Coffee and the only blend on the shortlist, a mix of two Ethiopian coffees.10 Ratio &C, where the single-origin espresso was an interesting, complex Kenyan.11 Coffee Supreme, Tokyo, where I had my first coffee from Pacific island-nation of Vanuatu.12 Dark Arts Coffee Japan and a shot of its Lost Highways single-origin Nicaraguan.13 Three Fools Coffee in Cork, with a Matagalpa from Nicaragua, lovely, smooth and sweet.14 3FE Sussex Terrace, and the San Cayetano, a honey-processed coffee from El Salvador.15 Shoe Lane Coffee, Tara Street, and a sweet, well-balanced Brazilian single-origin espresso.16 Kiss the Hippo, Fitzrovia, and this rich, complex and fruity Ethiopian Buku Sayisa.17 Blueprint Coffee & Books and the Blanca Rosa Melgar from Honduras, roasted by Alchemy.18
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There are 18 Coffee Spots on the shortlist this year, all listed in order of publication.

A lovely espresso, served on a wooden tray, with a glass of sparkling water on the side.Berdena’s

Berdena’s, in Scottsdale, is a multi-roaster, changing roaster every six weeks or so. I had a naturally-processed Usulatan coffee from El Salvador, roasted by  Morgon Coffee Roasters. It was a well-rounded, well-balanced espresso with a pleasing touch of acidity to it. Berdena’s is also on the Brian’s Coffee Spot Special Award shortlist.

My espresso, a single-origin Papua New Guinea, served in a glass at the Gold Coast branch of La Colombe.La Colombe, Gold Coast

Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for La Colombe, the Philadelphia-based coffee shop/roaster chain. This is the second La Colombe I have tried in Chicago and I was rewarded with the light and fruity Papua New Guinea single-origin espresso which you can see in the picture to the left (although it made Amanda pull funny faces when she tried it).

The single-origin Costa Rican espresso extracting into a glass from a bottomless portafilter on a Synesso espresso machine at Rival Bros Tasker Street location in Philadelphia.Rival Bros, Tasker Street

Moving to Philadelphia and coffee shop/roaster, Rival Bros, where my coffee came from a farm in Costa Rica, Hacienda Sonora, which processes half its coffee using the natural method and half using the honey process before recombining the green beans. My espresso was rich and creamy, with a syrupy mouthfeel and fruity notes. Rival Bros has also been shortlisted for the Most Passionate About Coffee Award.

The logo of Chez Back from the pillar outside Chez Black Coffee on Taian Road, ShanghaiChez Black Coffee

From Philadelphia to Shanghai, where newcomer, Chez Black Coffee, served me a very lightly roasted single-origin Ethiopian espresso which was slightly tarter, with more acidity, than I was expecting, unlike anything that I had on that trip to Shanghai, making it a welcome change. Chez Black Coffee has also been shortlisted for this year’s Happiest Staff Award.

An exclusive naturally-occurring varietal from El Salvador, served as an espresso in a snifter glass at Madcap, Fulton in Grand Rapids.Madcap, Fulton

I’ve long admired Madcap Coffee and was delighted to visit it in its heartland of Grand Rapids. The Fulton Street coffee shop is next to the roastery, and I had an exclusive micro-lot from El Salvador as an espresso, served in a snifter glass where its acidity was accentuated over its fruitiness. Madcap has also been shortlisted for the Best Neighbourhood Coffee Spot Award.

The Birmingham Coffee Festival logoBirmingham Coffee Festival

I had a wonderful espresso at this year’s Birmingham Coffee Festival, an Indonesian Mount Halu, used by Rory from Ngopi in the UK Barista Championships. A stunningly gorgeous coffee, it was really bright, but not sharp or acidic and was easily the best coffee I had at this year’s festival. Birmingham Coffee Festival has also been shortlisted for the Best Saturday Supplement Award.

Details from the sign for Back to Black, written in a cursive script in the window of the coffee shop on Weteringstraat.Back to Black, Weteringstraat

From Birmingham to Amsterdam and Back to Black, where I had not one, but two outstanding espressos, the first a washed Colombian (nicely rounded, it had a hint of acidity on the second sip), while the second was a washed Kenyan (a huge contrast with a real citrus acidity). Think of it as an espresso tasting flight. Back to Black has also been shortlisted for the Most Passionate About Coffee Award.

A Kopi Tubruk, a traditional Indonesian coffee, where hot water is poured directly on ground coffee, stirred and then left to stand, made with a naturally-processed Kerinci Kayu Aro from Ngopi in Birmingham.Ngopi

From Amsterdam, back to Birmingham again, and this time to Ngopi itself. Ngopi deals exclusively in Indonesian coffee, which is all roasted in the front of the shop. I had a gorgeous natural espresso, the Kerinci Kayu Aro, a really smooth, sweet coffee, a million miles from the stereotypical image of Indonesian coffee. Ngopi has also been shortlisted for three more Awards: Best Roaster/Retailer, Happiest Staff and Most Passionate About Coffee.

A lovely flat white, made with the Jailbreak blend from Has Bean, served in a classic cup at Bean & Cole in Chester.Bean & Cole

Bean & Cole is part of Chester’s growing speciality coffee scene, serving  Has Bean on espresso and pour-over. I had the guest espresso which, unusually, was also from Has Bean, Bean & Cole preferring to use different roasters for the guest spot. A naturally-processed Finca Licho from Costa Rica, this was simply gorgeous, a rich, syrupy mouthfeel, giving way to a well-rounded, well-balanced, complex espresso.

A cartoon figure of a man making a pour-over from the side of my mug at Foret Coffee, Nagano.Foret Coffee

Foret Coffee is a roaster/coffee shop from Nagano, where I tried the espresso blend (the first one on this shortlist). A mix of two Ethiopian coffees, it was beautifully balanced, with complex flavours and a great mouthfeel, all served at the perfect temperature.

 

Some lovely latte art in my latte at Ratio &C, part of the Onibus chain in Tokyo.Ratio &C

Staying in Japan, Ratio &C is part of Tokyo-based coffee shop/roaster chain, Onibus. Close to my hotel, it became my post-work haunt on both of this year’s visits to Tokyo, so I tried lots of the coffee, including a Kenyan single-origin espresso. A really interesting, complex coffee, it was sweet on the first sip and more bitter on the second sip, all with an underlying acidity. Ratio &C is also on the shortlist for the Brian’s Coffee Spot Special Award.

The cup says it all: Coffee Supreme, Tokyo (in bright red capitals on the side)Coffee Supreme, Tokyo

We stay in Tokyo for the third Japanese entry on the shortlist, although this one has Kiwi roots, being Coffee Supreme’s first Japanese offshoot. My espresso was from the Pacific island-nation of Vanuatu (which I didn’t even know grew coffee until then!), a gorgeous, rich, full-bodied coffee with a classic espresso profile.

 

The familiar Dark Arts Coffee logo, but in Hayama rather than Hackney.Dark Arts Coffee Japan

Our fourth Japanese entry also has Kiwi roots, this time via Hackney, east London. Dark Arts Coffee’s Japanese offshoot in Hayama served me a shot of the Lost Highways single-origin Nicaraguan. Really sweet on the first sip, a little more acidity came through on the second sip, while the third (and final) sip settled somewhere between the two. Dark Arts is also on the shortlists for the Most Unlikely Place to Find a Coffee Spot and Best Breakfast Awards.

An Americano extracting into a cup of hot water at Three Fools Coffee in CorkThree Fools Coffee

Next we find ourselves in Cork, with roaster/coffee shop Three Fools Coffee. It offers two single-origins on espresso, with a Matagalpa from Nicaragua and a Kenyan Limo AA on during my visit. I had Matagalpa, a lovely, smooth, sweet espresso with a pleasant acidity to it. Three Fools Coffee has also been shortlisted for this year’s Best Physical Space Award.

The bright red 3FE logo on the wall behind the counter at 3FE's Sussex Terrace location in Dublin.3FE Sussex Terrace

Staying in Ireland, but moving north to Dublin, I visited 3FE’s second location on Sussex Terrace, as much a showroom and training centre as coffee shop. Here I had a shot of the San Cayetano, a honey-processed coffee from El Salvador, a very fine, complex coffee, with a pleasing touch of acidity.

 

A lovely single-origin Brazilian espresso from Full Circle Roasters, served in a glass at Shoe Lane Coffee, Dublin.Shoe Lane Coffee, Tara Street

Staying in Dublin, Shoe Lane Coffee is a relative newcomer, which also boasts Dublin’s first La Marzocco KB90 espresso machine, so naturally I had to put it to the test. I had a Brazilian single-origin espresso, being rewarded with a lovely, well-balanced, sweet shot. Shoe Lane Coffee has also been shortlisted for the Best Coffee Spot near a Railway Station and Best Physical Space Awards.

A gorgeous single-origin Ethiopian espresso, roasted in-house, and served in a classic white cup at Kiss the Hippo, Fitzrovia.Kiss the Hippo, Fitzrovia

The second of (for now) two Kiss the Hippos after the coffee shop/roastery in Richmond, I had the single-origin espresso, an Ethiopian Buku Sayisa, which was rich, complex and fruity, with a nice kick of acidity at the end.

Kiss the Hippo also been shortlisted for the Coffee Spot with the Best Basement Award.

The Blueprint Coffee & Books logo taken from a tote bag in the shop in Whitstable.Blueprint Coffee & Books

Blueprint Coffee & Books is in Whitstable, a combined coffee and book shop, serving London’s Alchemy on espresso and pour-over. I had the Blanca Rosa Melgar, a macerated natural IH-90 varietal from Honduras. One of the fruitiest espressos I’ve smelled in the cup, it was more subdued on first sip, presenting a subtle, complex flavour. Blueprint Coffee & Books has also been shortlisted the Brian’s Coffee Spot Special Award.


A special mention needs to go to the following:

Kream | Coffee in Phoenix for a pair of excellent espressos
Fortitude in Edinburgh, for a lovely, fruity Brazilian espresso
% Arabica, Shanghai Roastery, where I had a washed Ethiopian espresso
Workshop Coffee at The Pilgrm, and the wonderful Cerro de Jesus from Nicaragua
Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, Paddington for its fruity, complex Ethiopian
Long & Short Coffee, Walthamstow, for another Ethiopian espresso (Dambi Udo)
Sentido Speciality Coffee in Kyoto, where I had a fruity, well-balanced Rwandan
Blue Bottle Coffee, Nakameguro, with its sweet Burundi espresso
Maruyama Coffee Experiences, for the same espresso served in two different cups
Bread, Espresso & Arashiyama Garden for its beautifully-balanced house-blend
Breather Coffee, in Zushi, Japan, with a naturally-processed Gersi Orsi from Yirgacheffe
Pauseteria, in Prague, and a complex, full-bodied Ethiopian espresso


And the winner is Blueprint Coffee & Books
Runners-up: Birmingham Coffee Festival and Rival Bros, Tasker Street

Don’t forget to check out the other 19 Coffee Spot Awards for 2019.


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