2021 Awards – Best Espresso

The Quarter Horse Coffee logo: a profile of a knight from a chess set, surrounded by an oval with the words "Quarter Horse Coffee" written around the outside.We’re halfway through the 2021 Coffee Spot Awards, so it must be time for the shortlist for the “Best Espresso” Award, which was won in 2020 by Quarter Horse Coffee. 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 very different espressos, leading to this being one of the most hotly contested of this year’s Awards.

You can see the shortlist after the gallery.

  • Intelligentsia, Venice, where I had the single-origin espresso from Rwanda.
  • Coffee Notes, with a pair of espressos, the house blend and an Indonesian single-origin.
  • Freak & Unique, which, served as an espresso by Liar, Liar, more than lived up to the name!
  • Wags N Tales, Surbiton, with a shot of the Classic Espresso from Chimney Fire Coffee.
  • Gray, in Leytonstone, serving up a shot of Workshop’s single-origin Snap espresso.
  • Bean & Leaf Coffee House, where I tried both the house and guest espressos.
  • Reykjavik Roasters, Brautarholt, with its Mariano house-espresso as part of an Eitt Sett.
  • Kaffi O-le and an espresso from the Benti Nenqa washing station in Ethiopia.
  • Nostos Coffee and the Ethiopian Bensa, an anaerobic natural roasted by Kiss the Hippo.
  • Caffeina Coffi, where I tried both the house and guest espressos.
  • Saucer & Cup with the the Karogoto, a washed coffee from farmers in Nyeri, Kenya.
  • Tintico, Greek Street, and the Los Ancestros, a washed coffee with extended fermentation.
Intelligentsia, Venice, where I had the single-origin espresso from Rwanda.1 Coffee Notes, with a pair of espressos, the house blend and an Indonesian single-origin.2 Freak & Unique, which, served as an espresso by Liar, Liar, more than lived up to the name!3 Wags N Tales, Surbiton, with a shot of the Classic Espresso from Chimney Fire Coffee.4 Gray, in Leytonstone, serving up a shot of Workshop’s single-origin Snap espresso.5 Bean & Leaf Coffee House, where I tried both the house and guest espressos.6 Reykjavik Roasters, Brautarholt, with its Mariano house-espresso as part of an Eitt Sett.7 Kaffi O-le and an espresso from the Benti Nenqa washing station in Ethiopia.8 Nostos Coffee and the Ethiopian Bensa, an anaerobic natural roasted by Kiss the Hippo.9 Caffeina Coffi, where I tried both the house and guest espressos.10 Saucer & Cup with the the Karogoto, a washed coffee from farmers in Nyeri, Kenya.11 Tintico, Greek Street, and the Los Ancestros, a washed coffee with extended fermentation.12
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There are 12 Coffee Spots on the shortlist this year, all listed in order of publication.

The brick arch leading to the front of the Intelligentsia coffee bar on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, Los Angeles.Intelligentsia, Venice

Intelligentsia has long been one of my favourites, with its standout Black Cat espresso blend. However, on this occasion, I had the single-origin espresso from Rwanda. This had a bit of an “oh wow” kick on the first sip, but calmed down after that. It had plenty of body and a nicely-rounded mouthfeel, turning out nowhere near as sharp as I had feared it might be. Intelligentsia has also been shortlisted for the Best Cake Award.

A single-origin Guatemalan espresso extracting from a Fracino lever espresso machine and into my Kaffeeform cup at Coffee Notes in Hammersmith.Coffee Notes

From old favourite to newcomer. Coffee Notes is a coffee stand in front of Ravenscourt Park Station (hence its shortlisting for the Best Coffee Spot near a Railway Station Award) which opened in the summer of 2020. The charismatic owner, Hari (who wins a place on the Happiest Staff shortlist), sources the coffee himself, with an emphasis on Indonesian coffee. There’s a blend and single-origin on espresso, both of which were delicious.

The Freak & Unique (second edition) from Hundred House Coffee, pulled as an espresso shot by Liar Liar and served in a double-walled tasting glass.Freak & Unique

Freak & Unique is from Hundred House Coffee, showcasing the weird and wonderful in coffee. I was given a bag of the second edition,  farmer Norma Iris Fiallos in Honduras, but didn’t really appreciate just how weird and wonderful it was until the staff at Liar, Liar in Oswestry pulled me a shot of it as an espresso. Now I get it! Freak & Unique is also on this year’s shortlist for the Best Saturday Supplement Award.

The Wags N Tails logo, a stylised line drawing of a dog's face inside a circle, with the words "Wags N Tales" written at the top of the circle and "Coffee Bar Kitchen" written at the bottom.Wags N Tales, Surbiton

Wags N Tales in Surbiton is a coffee shop, bar, vegetarian/vegan restaurant (good enough to be shortlisted for the Best Breakfast Awards) and all-day dog-friendly venue. Its wide range of seating across multiple interior spaces got it on the Best Physical Space shortlist. However, it’s on this shortlist for the nicely-balanced, well-rounded shot of the Classic Espresso from Chimney Fire Coffee, a washed coffee from a cooperative in Peru.

An espresso, made with Workshop's Snap single-origin espresso, served in a glass at Gray in Leytonstone.Gray

Gray is a family-run coffee shop in Leytonstone, selling food, furniture and homewares. There’s a neat front section, where you share the space with the vintage furniture, while at the back is a cosy room with more conventional seating. Serving Workshop’s single-origin Snap espresso I had a lovely, fruity shot with a pleasing touch of acidity, which I really enjoyed it. Gray has also been shortlisted for the Best Physical Space Award.

The Bean & Leaf Coffee House logo from the A-board in Hertford Street.Bean & Leaf Coffee House

Bean & Leaf serves some excellent coffee from roasters from around the country. There’s a house espresso (currently Blossom Coffee Roasters) and a guest roaster which changes every month. I tried both, the guest as part of an espresso flight, and the house espresso on its own, enjoying the contrast between the two. Bean & Leaf has is also on the shortlists for the Coffee Spot with the Best Basement and Happiest Staff Awards.

Our coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, Brautarholt: an Eitt Sett (one-and-one with the house espresso, served as a single-shot espresso and single-shot cappuccino) in front and a Kalita Wave filter for two at the back.Reykjavik Roasters, Brautarholt

While in Iceland in July, Amanda and I visited all three Reykjavik Roasters in the capitol, where we sampled all the filter coffee (which is why Brautarholt has also been shortlisted for the Best Filter Coffee Award). However, while at Brautarholt, I also had the Mariano house-espresso as part of an Eitt Sett (a single-shot espresso and single-shot cappuccino), where it proved to be an enjoyable shot with classic, nutty notes.

A single-origin washed Ethiopian espresso in a classic white cup, served at Kaffi Ó-le in Reykjavik.Kaffi Ó-le

Staying in Reykjavik, Kaffi Ó-le is the city’s latest edition, opening while we were there. The coffee is from local roaster Kaffibrugghúsið, with shots pulled on a gorgeous-looking Dalla Corte XT. I had a washed Ethiopian from the Benti Nenqa washing station in the Guji region, which produced a well-rounded double shot with a pleasing acidity, while I also enjoyed it in a flat white, earning Kaffi Ó-le a place on the shortlist for the Best Flat White Award.

An espresso, made with Kiss the Hippo’s Bensa from Ethiopia, an anaerobic natural with tasting notes of blackberry, pineapple and strawberry jam, served at Nostos in a classic blue cup.Nostos Coffee

Another newcomer, Nostos Coffee opened in May, occupying a small, quirky space (small enough for the Smallest Coffee Spot shortlist) next to Battersea Park station, earning it a place on the shortlist for the Best Coffee Spot near a Railway Station Award. I had the Bensa from Ethiopia, an anaerobic natural roasted by Kiss the Hippo. This produced a well-balanced shot with a mix of interesting flavours. Nostos Coffee is also on the Happiest Staff shortlist.

A shot of the Mayni coffee, served as an espresso in a classic white cup at Caffeina Coffi.Caffeina Coffi

A fourth newcomer on the shortlist, Caffeina Coffi opened this summer, bringing speciality coffee and a beautiful, minimalist interior (winning a place on the Best Physical Space shortlist) to Prestatyn. I tried the house espresso (Mayni from Easy José), and the guest (Los Nogales Natural from Heartland Coffee Roasters), which provided an interesting contrast! Caffeina Coffi is also on the Most Unlikely Place to Find a Coffee Spot & Best Cake shortlists.

A double shot of espresso in a classic, oversized blue cup, served at Saucer & Cup.Saucer & Cup

Back to an old hand, in this case Wimbledon’s Saucer & Cup, where I had the guest espresso, the Karogoto, a washed coffee from smallholder farmers in Nyeri, Kenya, roasted by Oslo’s Tim Wendelboe. As promised by the barista, this was very different from your typical espresso (in a good way)! Saucer & Cup has also been shortlisted for the Best Coffee Spot near a Railway Station and Coffee Spot with the Best Basement Awards.

An espresso, made with the guest coffee, the Los Ancestros, a washed coffee with an extended fermentation stage from Guatemala and roasted by 39 Steps Coffee, served in a classic black cup at Tintico on Greek Street.Tintico, Greek Street

This is the second of two locations for Tintico, following on from the original in Finchley. A small spot in the heart of Soho (small enough for a place on the shortlist for the Smallest Coffee Spot Award), I was able to try the guest espresso, the Los Ancestros, a washed coffee with an extended fermentation stage from Guatemala, roasted by 39 Steps Coffee. This was another that is very different (in a good way) from your typical espresso.


And the winner is Nostos Coffee
Runners-up: Freak & Unique and Saucer & Cup

Don’t forget to check out the other 19 Coffee Spot Awards for 2021.


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12 thoughts on “2021 Awards – Best Espresso

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