Open Grounds Café (COVID-19)

My brie and cranberry sandwich, along with my flat white, sitting in the sun on the patio at Open Grounds Café.I first heard of Open Grounds Café, another new addition to Guildford’s speciality coffee scene, in November last year, when Jonathon of Canopy Coffee tipped me off about a new coffee shop opening in the Baptist Church on Millmead, down by the river. I duly popped down in December, during that brief period when sit-in customers were allowed in the run-up to Christmas, but I didn’t have time to write it up. Then came further COVID-19 restrictions and Open Grounds switched to a takeaway operation.

However, at the start of April, the COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed, allowing coffee shops to serve customers at outdoor seating. This was something that Open Grounds, with a large patio in front of the church, was ideally placed to take advantage of. I made a brief visit (on my way to a wedding) and then returned last week for a more in-depth look.

Open Grounds is very much a lunchtime coffee shop, opening from 10:00 to 14:00, with a standard espresso-based menu built around a single-origin Brazilian from Ethicaladdictions, plus decaf and batch-brew filter. There’s tea, soft drinks, soup, a small selection of sandwiches and curry puffs, plus a range of cakes, scones and pastries.

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The Green Wood Café (COVID-19)

The front of The Green Wood Café, with a large sign saying "Please Wait Here".The Green Wood Café is in Coalbrookedale, a narrow, steep-sided valley which leads south into the famous Ironbridge Gorge a few hundred metres west of the famous bridge. Located in the Green Wood Centre, it’s nestled between the road and the disused railway line. The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on The Green Wood Café, which has only recently reopened, having been shut over the winter. Like many places, it has had to reinvent itself, but the good news is that it’s done a fantastic job, with excellent, well thought out systems and lots of lovely outdoor seating, including tables in the adjacent orchard.

For now, everything is served in compostable, single use containers, with a full, all-day brunch menu, including street food and toasted sandwiches, backed up by the range of cakes. Everything is vegetarian, with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. When it comes to the coffee, which uses the café’s own bespoke blend, oat milk is offered as standard, with dairy and soya milk as options. There’s also a wide range of tea and alternative drinks such as chai, beetroot, matcha and turmeric lattes (all of which have iced versions), backed up with smoothies and soft drinks.

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Eighty Six’d (COVID-19)

The first floor window of Eighty Six'd, overlooking the junction of Waterloo Street and Madeley Road.Eighty Six’d was a (semi-) chance discovery in Ironbridge, where I’d gone to visit The Green Wood Café. However, tipped off by Hundred House, who I’d visited the day before, I took a wander along the river front and past the eponymous Ironbridge to the eastern end of town, where I found Eighty Six’d, occupying the first floor of a narrow, wedge-shaped building.

In pre-COVID times, you could go inside Eighty Six’d, which has the intriguing tagline “Art • Coffee • Cake”. Unfortunately, until the next relaxation of the COVID-19 restrictions which are due in mid-May, you’re limited to ordering something to go from the door, which you’ll find along the left-hand side of the building. There are various espresso-based drinks, with coffee from nearby Has Bean, loose-leaf tea, a selection of specialty drinks, light lunches, sandwiches and cakes.

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The Table (COVID-19)

The open double doors welcome you to The Table in Walsall.The Table, which opened at the start of April, can lay claim to the title of Walsall’s first (and, for now, only) speciality coffee shop. The brainchild of Abby and James, it was set up as a community hub with the backing of the Walsall Community Church. Occupying part of a lovely, old building on the corner of Lower Hall Lane and Caldmore Road, it’s a few minutes’ walk from the train station in the centre of town. It’s also a great alternative to the motorway services, being under 10 minutes from both Junctions 9 and 10 on the M6, with plentiful (cheap) parking nearby.

For now, the spacious interior (The Table goes a long way back) is off-limits until the next set of COVID-19 restrictions are lifted (hopefully in May). However, there’s plenty of outside seating, and, with its location on a south-facing corner, it catches the sun. When it comes to coffee, The Table uses Bristol’s Odd Kin Coffee Roasters, with Walsall’s own Coffee by the Casuals on filter, although there are plans to add more guests in due course. There’s also Kokoa Collection hot chocolate, a selection of tea and a range of cakes if you’re hungry.

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Espresso Farm (COVID-19)

Coffee in the sun: my flat white, in my HuskeeCup, sitting in the sun in the farmyard at Espresso Farm.Espresso Farm has been on my radar since it opened in February 2019, but Saturday was the first opportunity I had to pay a visit. Located within Umberslade Farm Park, it’s just south of the M42/M40 junction, making it an excellent alternative to the motorway services if you need a break when travelling in either direction. It’s also worth a visit in its own right and, while it’s easiest to get to by car, if you don’t mind a 35-minute walk along the lanes (or 20 minutes across the fields) it’s also served by Danzey Station on the Birmingham to Stratford line.

For now, just the outside seating is open, but the good news is that there’s plenty of it and the Espresso Farm has the most wonderful setting. It helps that the coffee, from the nearby Monsoon Estates Coffee Company, is excellent, and while Espresso Farm is currently using disposable cups, the staff are happy if you bring your own. As well as the usual espresso-based drinks, there’s batch-brew filter, hot chocolate and a range of tea. If you’re hungry, Espresso Farm can offer an all-day breakfast menu, a selection of toasties and a wide range of cakes.

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The Old Roastery Coffee Shop (COVID-19)

The name over the door: The Old Roastery Coffee Shop, occupying Redber Coffee Roasters' old roastery.I’ve been aware of Redber Coffee Roasters, which was set up in 2012 (the same year as the Coffee Spot), for quite a while now. Located on an industrial estate in Merrow, just south of the train line from Guildford to London via Effingham Junction, the roastery is around an hour’s walk from my house. Unfortunately, it’s not the easiest place for me to get to, particularly without a car, nor is it really on my way to anywhere. However, when I learnt last week that Redber was opening an on-site coffee shop, I decided it was about time I paid a visit. It also helped that I had access to a car on Friday…

I visited The Old Roastery Coffee Shop at the end of its first week of trading. There’s a standard espresso-based menu using the Café Français blend, plus tea and hot chocolate, although for now it’s takeaway cups only (that said, the staff are happy if you bring your own). While the indoor seating is off-limits until the next round of COVID-19 restrictions are eased (hopefully in May), you are welcome to sit outside where there is a good selection of tables and chairs.

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The Hideout (COVID-19 Update)

The coffee profile for the Brightnote blend from Union Hand-roasted, as served at The Hideout.When it comes to my Guildford speciality coffee roundups during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Hideout, on the University of Surrey’s Stag Hill campus, is very much the forgotten party (by me, that is). The fact is, other than a short break during the early months of the pandemic (when the students went home), The Hideout has been open throughout the pandemic. My excuse, for what it’s worth, is that I’m hardly ever on that side of the river unless I’m going to Surrey Scorchers games at the weekend, when The Hideout is closed.

However, following my latest roundup, I thought I should rectify this oversight, so yesterday I popped up to a surprisingly busy campus to catch up with Beau and Charlie, the pair behind The Hideout. There have, inevitably, been some COVID-19 related changes, but the good news is that The Hideout is going strong after a lean time over the winter (when very few students were on campus). Best of all, the coffee, from old friends Union Hand-roasted, is as good as ever!

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Intelligentsia, Venice

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

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Lily London, Guildford

A lovely flat white, made with a naturally-processed Brazilian single-origin and served in my HuskeeCup at Lily London in Guildford.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.

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Meet the Roaster: Chimney Fire Coffee

The Chimney Fire Coffee logo, a stylised roaster in black outline with smoke coming from its chimney.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.

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