About Brian Williams

Author of Brian's Coffee Spot, you can read all about me in the "About Me" section of the blog (www.brian-coffee-spot)

Moss Coffee (COVID-19 Update)

A flat white, made with the Arboretum Blend from Dark Woods and served in my HuskeeCup at Moss Coffee, Chester, one of the few times I've been able to use my own cup during COVID-19.Although I don’t visit Chester that often, Moss Coffee, conveniently located between the bus and railway stations, has become a handy calling point when I’m in the city and in need of coffee before I catch my train. Like everyone else, Moss closed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, before reopening to provide a takeaway-only service, a decision largely dictated by the size/shape of the shop. Naturally, when I visited Chester on Friday, Moss Coffee was high on my list, and I was delighted to be able to call in, catching up with the owner, Daniel, over a flat white.

Other than Daniel wearing a mask, the only obvious change is the absence of seating. The stools are no longer at either the counter or the bar at the back, while the table in the window is similarly gone. Other than that, Moss looks (and is) remarkably similar, with Dark Woods still gracing the espresso machine, although since my last visit, Daniel has added batch brew to the menu, using the Sage Precision automated brewer. More good news, while Daniel only serves takeaway, Moss Coffee is one of the few places that is currently accepting customers’ own reusable cups.

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Notes, King’s Cross (COVID-19 Update)

Notes is back! Details of the online ordering system, displayed on every table at Notes, King's Cross.The very first coffee shop I visited following the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions in England was Notes, Trafalgar Square. I doubt I could have chosen better, to be honest, with Notes’ customary quality shining through. My coffee, a cortado, was served in a glass, while my food came on a proper plate with real cutlery. So, when I was looking for somewhere to have coffee and some food before catching my train on Monday, I immediately thought of Notes at Pancras Square, sandwiched between King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. The fact that my train was leaving from Euston, a 15-minute walk away, was entirely secondary in the decision-making process.

King’s Cross was one of three Notes locations that reopened in July and is probably the best suited of all, with a large outdoor seating area. There are changes, obviously, to account for COVID-19, but these are minimal. Online ordering at your table is encouraged, while the upstairs seating area is understandably closed, but otherwise, this is very much like the Notes of old. And, even better, with the area still really, really quiet, sitting out in Pancras Square meant blissful silence. Make the most of it while it lasts!

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Beany Green South Bank (COVID-19 Update)

The colourful front of the Beany Green container on the South Bank at the foot of Hungerford Bridge.The container is back! Yes, that’s right, Beany Green, that little container of sunshine at the foot of the Hungerford Bridge on the South Bank, is back! It had actually reopened a few weeks ago, but when I went up to London in mid-July, I discovered that it was closed again due to essential bridge repairs. However, I was not to be denied and, when I went through London on Monday, I made of a point of calling in to find that it was open again!

For those that don’t know, this is one of the original Beany Green coffee shops, which opened in June 2014. These days it’s more a bar serving good coffee, although during the day it still has a coffee shop vibe. Essentially an outdoor operation, it hasn’t been too badly affected by COVID-19, although it (and the surrounding area) is much quieter than it used to be.

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The Gardens of Caversham (COVID-19)

The colourful packaging, showing two brightly-coloured birds, of The Gardens of Caversham coffee bags.Today’s Coffee Spot marks something of a first for me. Up until now, I’ve been revisiting existing Coffee Spots as they reopen following England’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions. In contrast, The Gardens of Caversham, the latest venture from Reading’s Workhouse Coffee, is somewhere I’ve never been before, although I’ve been aware of it since it opened early last year. So, when I was in Reading last week, I headed across the Thames to say hello.

The Gardens of Caversham is on the right-hand side as you go north over Caversham Bridge, directly opposite the junction with the A4074. Initially it reopened for takeaway service in June, reopening the indoor seating just two weeks ago, although the staff said that the current seating provision is considerably reduced compared to pre-COVID times. The coffee offering, however, is as extensive as ever, with a healthy selection of beans for sale as well, all roasted in-house.

When it comes to food, there’s a wide range of cakes and pre-prepared savouries, all baked in the kitchen at the back, although the more extensive breakfast and lunch menus are on hold for now. Also, keep an eye on opening times, which are under constant review.

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Tamp Culture (COVID-19 Update)

The two-group Francino lever espresso machine in the Tamp Culture kiosk in Reading.Tuesday seems to have become my “get on a train and visit some coffee shops” day. For the first two weeks I went to/in the direction of London, but this Tuesday I headed for Reading, where I found the town’s speciality coffee scene was already bouncing back. My first stop was Coffee Under Pressure, then it was around the other side of the Minster to pay a visit to Tamp Culture.

The last time I was there, in 2014, Tamp was operating from a Piaggio Ape trike (housing the espresso machine) with a counter that was painstakingly assembled each morning and then broken down again at the end of the day. Fortunately, by the time Bean There At visited in 2018, this had been upgraded to a very nifty kiosk with fold-up windows, which is what I found on my return.

Tamp reopened in mid-May, serving takeaway only, but since 4th July, when the COVID-19 rules were relaxed in England, it’s been able to put its tables back out on the broad pavement next to the kiosk. As a result, Tamp is almost back to normal, serving its full range of single-origin coffees (all roasted in-house) on espresso and filter.

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Coffee Under Pressure (COVID-19 Update)

Brewing with love, always! The message written on the wall above a set of plants and a solitary two-person table at Coffee Under Pressure in St Mary's Butt, Reading.I first visited Reading’s Coffee Under Pressure just over four years ago. Back then, it had only been open for a year, enjoying its status as the new kid on the block. It’s since gone on to open a second location on nearby Blagrave Street, while a third Coffee Under Pressure opened just last month on Park Street in Bristol, a brave move if ever there was one.

The original Coffee Under Pressure, St Mary’s Butts, looks much as I remember it, tucked away in a lovely spot behind the Reading Minster, its sun-drenched, south-facing aspect providing a sheltered spot for its outdoor seating, while you’ll still get a warm welcome inside, the interior seating have recently been reopened following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.

As well as the warm welcome, you’ll find close to Coffee Under Pressure’s full menu with two blends on espresso, plus decaf, as well as several single-origins available as through the V60, all from Winchester’s The Roasting Party. There’s also a wide selection of sweet and savoury items provided from the small kitchen to the left of the counter. The main concession to COVID-19 is that everything’s served to go, even if you’re sitting in.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Chicago and Flying Home

Mademoiselle Rouge, a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330-300, on the stand at Heathrow Airport, Terminal 3, having flown me back from Chicago O'Hare in 2016.Welcome to the fifth and final instalment of my Travel Spot describing my first around-the-world trip in 2016. I flew from Manchester to Hong Kong, spent five days there, acclimatising and sightseeing, then moved onto Shanghai for work. From there, I flew to Chicago via Beijing, crossing the international dateline in the process. This final instalment covers my 10 days in Chicago and my flight home to the UK.

It was, in many ways, an amazing trip: my first time flying with Emirates, China Eastern and Hainan Airlines, my first time on an Airbus A380 and my first time in Shanghai. Of those firsts, I’ve gone on to repeat every experience apart from flying with Emirates. That I also flew around the world made it even more special.

It was fitting that the last leg of the trip was in Chicago, a city that I’m very familiar with. That said, although I refer to “staying in Chicago”, I was actually visiting friends who live in Chicago in the same sense that I live in London, the point being that I actually live in Guildford, which is about as far from London as my friends’ place is from Chicago.

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G!RO (COVID-19 Update)

The sign hanging outside G!RO in Esher.On Tuesday last week, I got on a train again, this time heading to Surbiton and The Press Room, stopping along the way at G!RO in Esher. Both coffee shops had recently reopened for sit-in customers and I was keen to see how they compared to the likes of Notes and Attendant, which I had visited in London the week before.

I was last at what was then G!RO Cycles in 2015. Like The Press Room, it’s undergone quite a few changes since then. Some of these are clearly recent, allowing for safe reopening during COVID-19, while others, such as the large outdoor seating area, clearly predate that. There’s also been a subtle rebranding, with G!RO Cycles becoming G!RO, although you shouldn’t read too much into the dropping of the word “cycles” from the name. This is still very much a cycle-friendly café as well as a bike shop.

G!RO currently has an espresso-based coffee menu, plus batch-brew filter, although its extensive pour-over offering is unavailable for now. All the coffee is from Workshop, with a range of retail bags for sale. If you’re hungry, there’s a limited all-day brunch selection, backed up by sandwiches and a large range of cake.

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Visiting Coffee Shops During COVID-19

Across the country, coffee shops are slowly reopening, like The Press Room in Surbiton.For much of my life, coffee shops have been very happy places for me. I started the Coffee Spot in 2012 to celebrate all the great places where I like to drink coffee and, over the years, the Coffee Spot has become an all-consuming passion. You might think, therefore, that I welcomed the relaxing of the COVID-19 restrictions that came into effect in England on July 4th with open arms.

However, as I discussed in a series of articles in the run up to the relaxation of the rules, I had my concerns. Having read the Government guidance on reopening for sit-in customers, I worried that the (entirely necessary) precautions to keep everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic might ruin the coffee shop experience for me.

Come July 4th, I was rather sceptical, but, having giving things a week to settle in, I decided that, for better or for worse, I needed to see how things were for myself. Since none of Guildford’s three speciality coffee shops have reopened for sit-in customers, I decided, on Tuesday, July 14th, to catch the train to London, the first time in four months that I’d gone on public transport, and visit some coffee shops.

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The Press Room, Surbiton (COVID-19 Update)

A shot of Origin's Resolute blend in a classic red cup in The Press Room, Surbiton.This time last week, I went up to London and sat in a coffee shop for the first time in almost four months. Although I’d been nervous beforehand, everything went really well and, buoyed by my success, I set off again this week. However, rather than going all the way to London, I just went to Surbiton to visit The Press Room, calling in along the way at G!RO Cycles in Esher.

The Press Room is another coffee shop which I first wrote about in 2013, in the early days of the Coffee Spot. Although I’ve since visited the second Press Room in Twickenham, I’ve not been back to the original in many years. A return was therefore long overdue, especially once I’d learnt that it had reopened for sit-in customers on 4th July.

For now, there’s reduced indoor seating, with The Press Room operating the best door/table management system I’ve seen so far (albeit from a very small sample). If you don’t want to sit, you can order takeaway from the window at the front. Currently there’s a reduced menu, with just the Resolute blend from Origin on espresso, backed up by a good range of sandwiches and cakes.

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