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!
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.
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.
On Tuesday, I caught a train to London. I went to visit coffee shops, something I once took or granted, but which, thanks to COVID-19, I hadn’t done for almost exactly four months. Although I didn’t have a firm itinerary (I intended to wander around, see who was open, and take things from there), there was one coffee shop which I planned to visit, heading straight there from Waterloo.
Notes is on St Martin’s Lane, a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square, which is how it gets its name. Like Attendant, where I ended Tuesday’s short excursion, I first wrote about Notes back in 2013, although, unlike Attendant, which had recently opened, Notes was already well-established by that point. Since then, I’ve visited several other Notes and have always been impressed by the quality and attention to detail.
Notes had reopened just four days before my visit, on Saturday 11th July, but I knew from its social media posts that it was offering a sit-in service, which I was keen to try. More than anything, I wanted to see how the reality of sitting in a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic matched my (perhaps gloomy) musings on the matter.
On Tuesday, for the first time in four months, I boarded a train. With the recent easing of restrictions on coffee shops in England, I was on my way to London, where I knew some coffee shops had started serving sit-in customers. And, if I’m honest, after four months of not going further than I could walk, I needed a change of scene. I didn’t have a firm plan: I was just going to take the train to Waterloo, cross the river, then wander around. I knew that some shops had reopened from their social media posts, but I wanted to check for myself. Mostly, though, I was just getting the lie of the land.
Of all the speciality shops that I found, the one that I least expected to be open was Attendant’s original location in Fitzrovia, the speciality coffee shop in a (disused) Victorian (men’s) public lavatory. And when I think of enticing places to have coffee during COVID-19, a small, underground coffee shop with no windows was not top of my list. But there it was, open and inviting me to come in and take a seat. Intrigued, I knew I had to try it out.
Nozy Coffee is a well-established name in Tokyo’s speciality coffee scene which I discovered at the lovely Nem Coffee & Espresso during my first visit in April 2017 before visiting its coffee shop/roastery (The Roastery by Nozy, which is under different ownership) on my return during 2018’s heatwave, when I sought refuge in its cool, basement-like interior. The Roastery is a very recent development, while Nozy itself has been going much longer, as I discovered when I visited its original coffee shop (which also used to be the roastery) in Setagaya City, southwest of Shibuya.
A tiny spot compared to The Roastery, Nozy Coffee occupies the ground floor and open basement of a narrow, three-storey building with a residence above. Although small, and with very limited seating, it has an impressive array of coffee, with a choice of eight single-origins, one of which is decaf. These are all available as filter coffee through the cafetiere, while two (which change daily) are available on espresso, where the extremely concise menu offers espresso, Americano or cafe latte. These last two come in three sizes (small, medium and large) and can be had hot or iced. A selection of coffee kit and retail bags are also for sale.
December 2019: Nozy Coffee has closed for good and will be sadly missed. Thanks to Maja for the updated information.
Just before the full onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent a day exploring Wicker Park, one of many Chicago neighbourhood clustered along Milwaukee Avenue. I visited three coffee shops along the way, Fairgrounds Craft Coffee and Tea, Purple Llama (now sadly permanently closed) and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Intelligentsia. It’s appropriate that, in the week that I wrote about Canopy Coffee, the first coffee shop I visited since the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, that I should also feature the last coffee shop I visited before COVID-19 forced many coffee shops to close.
As regular readers know, I have a soft spot for Intelligentsia, one of Chicago’s pioneering roaster/coffee shop chains. I first visited its coffee bar in the Monadnock Building on Jackson Boulevard in 2003, long before my Coffee Spot days. The Wicker Park location is a more recent addition, occupying an open, light-filled space on the ground floor of an apartment block on the corner of Division and Ashland. There’s the usual Intelligentsia offering of coffee, Kilogram tea, cakes/savouries and a large retail selection. There are three espresso options: Black Cat, single-origin and decaf, while pour-over and batch-brew each have their own single-origin.
Today’s Coffee Spot takes us back to last summer and Prague, when I visited The Miners Coffee and Characters (to give it its full name) in Vinohrady. The first of a planned series of coffee shops, it was very new when I visited in June last year, having only been open for three months. In contrast to everywhere else I’d visited that weekend, Miners had an ultra-modern, Scandinavian feel to it, with clean, open lines, pale woods and white walls.
It also had the latest equipment, its brand-new Mark II Slayer espresso machine matched with a pair of Victoria Arduino Mythos 1 grinders. For all the high-tech espresso equipment, pour-over is still done by hand (albeit with an uber boiler, backed up with a couple of temperature-controlled kettles). The coffee is from the UK’s Colonna Coffee, although Miners has plans to roast its own, to be used in conjunction with Colonna. There are three options on espresso, including decaf, and three more on pour-over through the V60. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes, a choice of three toasted sandwiches (one vegan) and three standard weekend brunch options (two vegetarian: French toast and scrambled eggs; and one vegan: avocado toast).
We could have gone straight to the airport, but instead we made a detour to the Midtown reason to visit Dancing Goats (or to use its full name, The Dancing Goats® Coffee Bar Midtown). Dancing Goats (part of Batdorf & Bronson coffee roasters) is one of four Atlanta-based coffee shops (with another five in Washington State, where it all started).
Dancing Goats is firmly in the speciality coffee world, but with a mass-market offering. There’s a small espresso-based menu combined with a much larger menu offering the typical American “large” drinks, featuring 20oz lattes amongst other things. The retail coffee offering mirrors this, with multiple blends supplemented by a smaller range of single-origins. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cake.
Although I spent a week in Atlanta with Amanda, we were in the suburbs, a 40-minute drive from the city, so I didn’t have much opportunity for coffee shop visits. With that in mind, when we arrived on the train from New York, we made a beeline for Octane: Westside and, from there, went to Firelight Coffee Roasters, which had come highly recommended (not least by the baristas at Octane).
Firelight began as a roaster in 2014, moving into its current premises, at the back of the Strongbox West co-working space, in 2015. It was much smaller then, but Firelight has slowly built out into the space, which now acts as both roastery and a small, cosy coffee shop. This serves as an in-house coffee shop for Strongbox tenants as well as a tasting room for curious visitors such as Amanda and me.
The coffee offering is straightforward, with a seasonal blend on espresso, daily single-origin on batch brew and the rest of the roastery’s output (typically five single-origins) on pour-over. Just be warned, however, that Firelight only opens from 09:00 to 13:30 and is closed at weekends, with roasting taking place out of hours on Monday and Saturday afternoons.