Since I can’t travel anywhere (other than reliving past trips through the Travel Spot) and, with the odd exception, there are no new coffee shops to visit, I thought I’d write about my hometown of Guildford. As I noted last September, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Guildford’s speciality coffee scene did very well in 2020, this success continuing into 2021 with the opening of Lily London. This is something I’ll highlight in a future post, before I do that, I want to present a short history of speciality coffee in Guildford.
When I moved here in the late 1990s, my coffee choices were limited to the national chains and a handful of independents, but nothing that would count as speciality coffee (not that I knew what it was at the time). Back then, you’d have found me in the Costa Coffee on Swan Lane and, after that, in the Waterstones’ Costa on the High Street. Ironically, both have now closed, Swan Lane a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the Waterstones’ coffee shop went when Waterstones moved across the High Street and into smaller premises. The speciality story only really gets going in 2012, around the time I started the Coffee Spot.
This is a first for the Coffee Spot. Almost four years ago to the day, I was in Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, Los Angeles, following a recommendation from Lee Gaze of Silhouette. It was during my first visit to the city and, while I really liked it, I didn’t have time to finish my write up during my busy trip, so it languished on my hard drive instead. As weeks turned to months, and months turned to years, it seemed increasingly pointless to publish an out-of-date Coffee Spot, so that’s where it stayed, languished on my hard drive.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to limit both my travel and my ability to visit (and hence write about) coffee shops, at the start of the year I decided to return to my backlog of Travel Spots, which led to me to continue writing up The Grand Adventure (as I call my drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, undertaken in January 2017). And that, in turn, has provided the perfect excuse to dust off my notes and old photos of Intelligentsia…
So, let me present Intelligentsia’s Venice coffee bar, exactly as I found it three years and 363 days ago.
Welcome to the next instalment of The Grand Adventure, part of a series of Travel Spot posts that detail my trip to America in January/February 2017. The Grand Adventure is the week-long drive I made from Phoenix to San Francisco via the Joshua Tree National Park and Los Angeles, a total of 1,2000 miles.
Part I covered my drive from Phoenix to Joshua Tree, while Part II details the day I spent in the park, followed by an evening drive to Los Angeles. Today’s instalment is all about the day I spent in Los Angeles before I drove up the Californian coast to San Francisco.
The fact that I spent any time at all in Los Angeles was all down to a chance encounter with Lee Gaze, owner of Silhouette, shortly before the trip. I’d originally planned to skip Los Angeles, and just go straight onto my drive along the coast. However, Lee was horrified when I told him, insisting that I had to have at least one day in the city. He was so persuasive that I relented, replanning my trip so that I would spend Monday in Los Angeles before carrying on with my drive.
It’s with unexpected pleasure that I find myself writing about a new coffee shop (although pedants might argue with the use of the word “shop” here) when we’re right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite all the problems that 2020 brought to the hospitality industry, speciality coffee has been doing rather well here in Guildford, with several new openings, including the Ceylon House of Coffee.
The subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Lily London, is on a slightly smaller scale, occupying one of two old telephone boxes at the High Street end of Tunsgate, nestling around the back of the grand edifice that is Tunsgate Arch. Serving its own coffee, imported from Brazil by the owner, and roasted by Plot Roasting, Lily London offers a standard espresso-based menu, along with retail bags of the coffee. Unsurprisingly, it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.
Welcome to the next instalment of The Grand Adventure, part of a series of Travel Spot posts covering my trip to America in January/February 2017. The Grand Adventure itself is the week-long drive I took from Phoenix to San Francisco via Joshua Tree National Park and Los Angeles, a total of 1,2000 miles.
In Part I, I left Phoenix, driving via Wickenburg, Arizona, to Joshua Tree, California, where I arrived in time for a short hike in the park at sunset. In this, Part II, I spend a day in the park and then continue my drive to the west, arriving in Los Angeles after nightfall.
The remaining parts of The Grand Adventure detail my day in Los Angeles and the drive up the Californian coast to San Francisco, while the rest of the posts will cover the remainder of the trip, where I flew from San Francisco to Chicago, Miami and Providence before flying home from Boston.
I started 2021 with a new Meet the Roaster, featuring the lovely folk at Chimney Fire Coffee. I ended that post with a promise to tell you more about Chimney Fire’s coffee, and specifically the El Salvador Three Ways, a direct trade coffee from the Don Tomas Estate in El Salvador, where the same coffee has been processed three different ways: natural, washed and honey processed.
This post is mostly about the El Salvador, but I did want to briefly mention the rest of Chimney Fire’s excellent range. There’s the Ranmore signature espresso blend, plus a classic espresso from Peru and a sugar cane decaf from Colombia. Added to that is a selection of around five single-origins which, depending on the coffee, are roasted with espresso or filter in mind, or, if it works for the coffee, an omni-roast which means that it should work equally well as espresso or filter.
Finally, if you want something more challenging, there’s the Discovery Range. This has a different, limited-edition coffee each month, but Chimney Fire won’t tell you where it’s from ahead of time, just providing tasting notes, the idea being that you should focus more on the flavour than the origin!
The reason for my enforced stay at home is, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic, which abruptly cut short my last trip to America in March 2020. Unfortunately, with infection rates, hospital admissions and, sadly, deaths, all skyrocketing in the UK, the start of 2021 feels much like March 2020. This raises the question of what I should write about in the Coffee Spot. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty minor problem, but it’s one that I’ll address in this post.
Let’s get 2021 underway with a new Meet the Roaster and Chimney Fire Coffee. Started in his garden shed by Dan Webber in 2016, Chimney Fire moved to its current home in Ranmore Manor in the Surrey Hills in the summer of 2017. In theory, I could walk there and back in a day (as I did with Surrey Hills Coffee last May), but laziness/poor planning got the better of me, so I ended up driving over the week before Christmas when I unexpectedly found myself with a car and nowhere to go.
Like many roasters, Chimney Fire had its business model turned on its head by COVID-19, but is thriving despite this, expanding over the summer and recently employing two additional staff. Its Ranmore signature espresso is joined by a various single-origins with a variety of roasts: espresso, filter and onmi.
I’ve been enjoying Chimney Fire’s coffee for several years, often at Canopy Coffee (where it was a regular guest) and at home, with Chimney Fire being one of the first roasters I ordered from at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was therefore with great pleasure that I caught up with Dan and the team just before Christmas.
Happy New Year to all my followers old and new! As we get 2021 underway, here are the winners of the ninth annual Brian’s Coffee Spot Awards. As before, there are 20 Awards, celebrating all the wonderful Coffee Spots I wrote about during 2020. The shortlists for all 20 Awards were announced between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve and now we have the winners!
Before we go on, I know I’ve said this before, but a big thank you to everyone who’s visited the Coffee Spot, followed me on Twitter, liked my Facebook page and looked at my pictures on Instagram. While I do this for the love of coffee, it means a lot to me that so many of you take the time to read and comment on my writing. Without you, it really would be pointless.
So, here it is, the final Coffee Spot Awards Shortlist for 2020, the only one that you, my readers, decide. It’s the “Most Popular Coffee Spot” Award, which is based on the total number of views received by each Coffee Spot in 2020.
Last year this was won last year by Omotesando Koffee, London with 806 views. This year’s shortlist features the 10 most viewed Coffee Spots, four of which are from my hometown of Guildford, with two more from Caversham. Only five are what could be described as classic Coffee Spot write ups, with two COVID-19 updates, a Meet the Roaster and two Saturday Supplements (one of which is really about travel).