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)

Brian’s Travel Spot: Montréal 2013

The Montreal coat of arms (in force from 1938 - 2017), as seen on the interior wall of the Chalet Mt Royal.Welcome to the third and final instalment of what is a first for the Travel Spot, a series of three posts covering the first trip I took after starting the Coffee Spot (long before I had the idea of the Travel Spot). It takes us back to late February/early March 2013, when I flew to Boston, travelled around New England and went from there to New York City, all of which is covered in the first instalment on this series.

From New York, I took the Adirondack, one of Amtrak’s famous long-distance trains, up the Hudson River valley, through upstate New York and across the Canadian border to Montréal, the journey being covered in the second instalment of this series.

This, the third and final instalment, covers my time in Montréal. It was my first visit (I have since been back in October 2018, part of my second around-the-world trip) and, with hindsight, going in March, which counts as the depths of winter, might not have been the best introduction to Montréal. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed what little I could see of the city and, in particularly, was blown away by its growing speciality coffee scene.

Continue reading

Frank Green Ceramic Cup

My new (and very stylish) Frank Green ceramic reusable cup in action outside Canopy Coffee in Guildford.I’ve been a champion of reusable cups for a long time now, having amassed quite a collection over the years. One of the early ones I came across, at the 2015 London Coffee Festival to be precise, was the Frank Green SmartCup. There was a lot to like about the original Frank Green cup. It had an innovative design, an excellent, screw on, spill-proof lid and a layer of insulating plastic around its plastic core. I also liked the company (Frank Green) and its ethos. The only problem was, I didn’t like the cup, something I’ve felt bad about to this day.

Just to be clear, my not liking the cup doesn’t mean it’s a bad product. In many ways, it’s an excellent, innovative cup: it just wasn’t for me. It attempted to solve problems I didn’t have at the time. It was also plastic, and I just don’t like drinking out of plastic. Recently, Frank Green has launched a new ceramic reusable cup, and so I felt I owed it to Frank Green to try it out. When I saw one on sale in Attendant Clerkenwell at the end of last month, I took the plunge and bought it.

Continue reading

Canopy Coffee (COVID-19 Update 2)

One of the beautiful coffee artworks on the wall of Canopy Coffee in Guildford, showing the branch of a coffee tree and cross-sections of the coffee cherry.Back in May, after two months of only drinking coffee I made myself, I visited the newly reopened Canopy Coffee, which, in the face of COVID-19, had reinvented itself as a takeaway coffee shop. On the back of that visit,  I wrote my first COVID-19 update, which has grown into a series (with more than 25 posts), charting how coffee shops are adapting to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

In many ways, of all Guildford’s speciality coffee shops, Canopy was probably the best-placed to weather the new phase of England-wide COVID-19 restrictions, which came into force at the start of November. While other coffee shops, such as Krema Coffee, re-opened their indoor seating over the summer, Canopy, having effectively pivoted from being a sit-in coffee shop, has remained takeaway only throughout the pandemic. Earlier this week, I went back to where I started my COVID-19 Updates to see how Canopy was coping.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: The Adirondack from New York to Montréal

The view from the final carriage of Amtrak's Adirondack service on its way from New York City to Montréal in March 2013, looking back over the single track as it passes through woods north of Albany.Welcome to the second instalment of what is a first for the Travel Spot, a series of three posts covering the first trip I took after starting the Coffee Spot (long before I had the idea of the Travel Spot). It takes us back to late February/early March 2013, when I spent a few days in Boston, before taking various day trips around New England with some friends. From there, I caught the train down to New York for the weekend, all of which is covered in the first instalment on this series.

This post covers my journey on the Adirondack, one of Amtrak’s famous long-distance trains. The Adirondack runs once a day, departing New York City in the morning, before running up the Hudson River valley, through upstate New York and across the Canadian border to Montréal, arriving there 10 hours later.

It was just the second time I’d been to Canada, the first being in 2005 when I was all the way on the other side of the continent visiting Vancouver. This, therefore, was all new to me, as was my time in Montréal, which is covered in the third and final post in this series.

Continue reading

Brian’s Travel Spot: New England & New York

Our hire car, aka "The Tank", which friends of mine hired for the second part of my stay.These posts are, in more ways than one, a first for the Travel Spot. They cover the first trip I made after starting the Coffee Spot (and long before I had the idea of the Travel Spot). Unsurprisingly, while I visited plenty of coffee shops, I didn’t make any notes about the trip itself, so they’re a combination of memories, sparked when I stumbled across my photos from the time.

This post, the first of three, covers the initial part of the trip, which began in late February 2013 when I flew to Boston. I spent a few days in the city before taking various day trips around New England with some friends. Finally, I caught the train down to New York City, where I also spent a few days.

From New York City, I boarded Amtrak’s Adirondack service, which is covered in the next post in this series. This took me through upstate New York and across the Canadian border to my final destination, Montréal, which is covered in the third and final post.

Continue reading

Meet the Roaster: Catalyst

A bag of the Ethiopia Chelelektu from Catalyst Coffee Roasters, complete with tasting notes and details of the coffee and the farm.In the Coffee Spot’s early days, central London had a handful of coffee shop/roasters, with the likes of TAP, Caravan and Ozone all roasting, then serving, coffee on the premises. However, rising rents, along with expanding demand, led to roasteries moving to bigger/cheaper premises in outer London: of the three examples mentioned, only Ozone still roasts in its original location. Therefore, when the subject of today’s Meet the Roaster, coffee shop/roaster Catalyst, opened in Holborn in late 2016, it was already bucking the trend, something which continues to this day.

I remember the buzz its opening generated, when it was only a coffee shop, the likes of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato singing its praises. Before long, the 12 kg Diedrich in the basement was up and running, and Catalyst hasn’t looked back, although it took me until last month before I managed to visit, when I wrote up Catalyst as a coffee shop.

Today it’s the turn of Catalyst the roaster. It has an impressive output, with a retail espresso blend and multiple single-origins, with various options on espresso and filter. Even COVID-19 can’t slow it down, Catalyst seeing a large boost in its direct-to-consumer sales through its website!

Continue reading

Caravan Exmouth Market (COVID-19 Update)

The Caravan logo from the sign outside the original Exmouth Market branch.I’d originally planned today’s Coffee Spot for Saturday. Then the latest COVID-19 restrictions happened and, for a while, I wondered if I should postpone my write up until December at the earliest. However, since Caravan is still open for collection/delivery, I decided to go ahead, so welcome to Monday’s Coffee Spot, an update on Caravan Exmouth Market. Until the England-wide shutdown on Thursday, Caravan was going strong, serving its filling breakfasts, weekend brunches and innovative small plates and dinners, all backed up with some excellent Caravan coffee on espresso and filter.

Caravan is one of those legendary names in London coffee circles. Now with five restaurants/cafes/bars, plus a coffee bar in Harrods and a dedicated roastery, Exmouth Market was where it all began, back in 2010. As well as being the original Caravan coffee shop, it was also the original roastery (located in the basement), before that moved out to King’s Cross and then to the new facility at the Lamb Works. The smallest of the five, Exmouth Market is still my favourite, so when I found myself staying around the corner, I decided to call in for dinner. And then I came back for breakfast the following morning…

Continue reading

COVID-19 Update

March 22nd, 2020, and the last flat white I was to have for several months, from Surrey Hills Coffee, served in my HuskeeCup.On Thursday, new national COVID-19 restrictions came into force in England, effectively closing all coffee shops, except for takeaway service. Although this is being referred to as a second national lockdown, it differs in several crucial respects to the initial (UK-wide) restrictions which were in force from March until their relaxation in England at the start of July. Perhaps just as crucially, coffee shops can draw on their experience of the last eight months to help them through the new restrictions.

Continuing the series which I began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this post looks at what the latest restrictions might mean for speciality coffee. I also discuss how you can help support the industry. With apologies to my readers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (and, indeed, the rest of the world), I’m focusing on England, since this is where I live and where I have first-hand experience of the impact of the various restrictions which have been in force at different points through the year.

As always, these are my personal opinions, written from the perspective of someone who visits (rather than works in) coffee shops. You can find the official UK Government advice and guidance on-line.

Continue reading

Catalyst

An Ethiopian Chelelektu, roasted and served as an espresso in a classic, white cup at Catalyst.Coffee shop/roaster Catalyst opened in Holborn in late 2016, joining a growing number of speciality coffee shops in the area. I remember the buzz it generated at the time, with the likes of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato singing its praises. I duly put it on my (very long) list of places to visit and when, almost four years later, I found myself around the corner at The Attendant on Leather Lane, I knew that the time had come.

Occupying a bright, airy, corner spot, Catalyst is a lovely space, although its real draw is the coffee, roasting multiple single-origins (and a solitary blend) on the 12 kg Diedrich in the basement, several of which are available on espresso, batch brew and pour-over. There’s a small, innovative brunch menu that’s served until 3 pm, while on Friday evenings, Catalyst reinvents itself as a bar, complete with a separate and equally innovative bar menu. You don’t need to wait until Friday though: alcohol is available throughout the day, with cocktails and a small selection of beer and wine.

This Coffee Spot is about Catalyst as a coffee shop, while you can read about Catalyst the roaster in its own Meet the Roaster feature.

November 2020: with the new Government COVID-19 restrictions in England coming into force today, Catalyst is now temporarily closed, although you can still buy beans on-line.

Continue reading

Over Under Coffee, Earls Court

A black and white line drawing of Over Under Coffee, as seen from the street, which is on the menu boards hanging behind the counter.Although I came to know Over Under Coffee through its relatively short-lived outpost in Ham Yard in Piccadilly, this is where it all started in 2017. The original Over Under is still going strong, serving coffee and brunch by day, plus cocktails in the evening, from this modest spot opposite Earl’s Court station. These days there are four Over Unders, with West Brompton just around the corner, Wandsworth Town on the other side of the river and the latest addition, Ladbroke Grove, proving to be the largest Over Under yet.

Mind you, that’s not too big an ask, given the size of the original (which itself is bigger than West Brompton and Wandsworth Town combined!). Despite its lack of size, there’s an impressive brunch menu, all cooked in the open kitchen behind the counter, while on Friday and Saturday evenings, Over Under transforms itself into a cosy cocktail bar.

November 2020: with the new COVID-19 restrictions coming into force, evening opening has been temporarily suspended, although you may still be able to order cocktails on-line for delivery.

Continue reading