The Collective

The latte art in my flat white, made with Extract's Rocket Espresso, at The Collective in Caversham.It takes a special business to open in the middle of a global pandemic, which is exactly what The Collective, in Caversham, did. In fairness, the plan had been to open a lot earlier, but in a story I hear all too often, there were problems with the fit out and then, just as The Collective was due to open in March, along came the COVID-19 shutdown.

Many would have given up at that point, but not Caversham residents, Sam and Susie, the driving force behind The Collective. Instead they pushed on, The Collective opening in June, initially for takeaway only, before fully opening for table service in mid-September. There’s a brunch menu, which is joined at 11 o’clock by the lunch and toastie menus, all the food cooked in the open kitchen behind the counter. This is backed up by a concise espresso-based menu featuring Extract Coffee Roasters’s Rocket espresso.

However, The Collective’s a lot more than just a café. It’s also a lifestyle store, which reminded me of the likes of Liverpool’s Thoughtfully Café, plus a grocer, selling milk, bread, eggs and more, which brought the likes of Bristol’s No 12 Easton and Elemental Collective to mind.

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Chalk Coffee (COVID-19 Update)

The A-board outside Chalk Coffee is a sign of the times, reminding you that you need to wear a mask (from October 2020).Of all the coffee shops that I’ve visited since the COVID-19 restrictions were eased in England, Chalk Coffee can make a claim to be the one with the least physical changes. Located on Watergate Street, it’s part of the rapid expansion of Chester’s speciality coffee scene that has seen numbers swell in the last few years. Like many of the city’s speciality coffee shops, it has a basement-like feel, stretching a long way back under the famous Rows and it looks, and feels, remarkably like it did on my last visit in 2019.

However, there have been changes. As well the (admittedly minor) physical ones, you’ll find a clear sign outside on the pavement reminding you that you must wear a mask. Meanwhile, there’s a QR code on the counter that you can scan, checking you in on the NHS COVID-19 app. Not all the changes are COVID-19 related though. Chalk Coffee used to use Origin for its house espresso, but it’s recently changed to Colonna Coffee, although Origin is still on decaf, while a regularly-changing guest roaster provides the second espresso option and filter. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, the usual cast of premade sandwiches and cakes are still available.

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Jaunty Goat Update

The Jaunty Goat logo, which was painted on the wall to the left as you enter the store in Chester.Jaunty Goat is one of Chester’s speciality coffee stalwarts, having relocated from a few doors along Bridge Street to its current location in 2015. I first visited in 2016, when it could be fairly described as a coffee shop doing good food, all in a lovely, basement-like interior that extends a long way back under the Rows above. There are even the remnants of a stone staircase in the wall at the back that might date back to the middle-ages.

Jaunty Goat was set up by twins, Patrick and Ed, with Ed leaving in 2018 to establish the nearby Chalk Coffee. Since then, Jaunty Goat has reinvented itself, considerably upping its food game to match the likes of The Flower Cup and Panna, serving a brunch menu until 4 o’clock. It’s also revamped and extended the interior, adding more table seating.

At the start of 2019, it opened a second, plant-based, location on Northgate Street, then, after reopening following the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions, Jaunty Goat itself has gone vegetarian. Finally, over the summer, it started roasting its own coffee in a dedicated, off-site roastery, with seasonal single-origin offerings on espresso (house, guest and decaf), plus another on pour-over (AeroPress/V60/Chemex).

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Kaffeine Eastcastle (COVID-19 Update)

The front of Kaffeine, door to the left, windows to the right, with a pair of benches in front of the window acting as tables.If you ever need evidence that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for operating a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic, I  present Kaffeine, the London-based chain of precisely two coffee shops. I’ve already looked at how the original Kaffeine, on Great Titchfield Street, has adapted to COVID-19 and today it’s the turn of Kaffeine Eastcastle, which reopened at the start of September. Although less than five minutes’ walk apart, how the two shops are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is quite different.

Of course, there are similarities, with both adhering to the same underlying principles, but in each case, the response has been moulded to/by the needs of the individual shop. Perhaps the biggest difference is that while Great Titchfield Street offers table service, Eastcastle, with its lower footfall, has a more traditional counter service model.

In terms of what’s on offer, little has changed. The espresso-based menu still has Square Mile’s ubiquitous Red Brick at its heart, along with a single-origin option, while there’s also a single-origin filter, which changes monthly. The concise brunch menu is served until 2 pm (3 pm at weekends), supported by an all-day selection of salads, tarts and toasted sandwiches, plus cake, of course.

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92 Degrees Coffee (COVID-19 Update)

The 92 Degrees logo, taken from above the counter on the Hardman Road coffee shop.92 Degrees Coffee, Liverpool’s first combined speciality coffee shop/roaster, has come a long way since I first visited at the end of 2015. Then it was just a single shop at the top of Hardman Street, the roaster tucked away in a small space behind the counter. Now it’s a chain of three, adding a larger shop in the Baltic Triangle, which does food, and a smaller shop five minutes’ walk from the original, catering more to the students (and only recently reopened). The roaster has also moved since my original visit, first to the Baltic Triangle, then to a dedicated roastery/office back in the same building on Hardman Street (which, sadly, isn’t open to the public).

This update is about the original which looks and feels very much how I remember it from my visit almost five years ago. There are a few COVID-19 changes, such as a thinning out of the seating and a move to disposable cups (so don’t forget to bring your own). However, the basic offering is the same, with the house blend on espresso and three options through the Kalita Wave, along with tea, hot chocolate, plus a selection of cakes, bagels and prepared sandwiches/salads.

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Bold Street Coffee Update

The Bold Street Coffee sign, back outside the shop on Bold Street, Liverpool.Bold Street Coffee, a legend of Liverpool’s speciality coffee scene, was opened in 2010 by the equally legendary Sam Towil (who, incidentally, now lives in Llangollen, where he runs Sam’s Coffee). I visited in 2013, returning almost exactly seven years later to see how it was faring during the COVID-19 pandemic. In between, Bold Street Coffee has been through a lot, including having to leave its beloved Bold Street home in January 2018, only to return at the end of the year, bigger and better than ever.

Then came 2020 and COVID-19 which forced Bold Street Coffee to close, along with everyone else, in March. Bold Street Coffee partially reopened in May, offering an extremely popular weekend take-out service, before fully reopening in early July, following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in England.

If you’re familiar with Bold Street Coffee of old, the new layout is very similar, only with a larger, open kitchen and more seating at the back. There are also three tables outside on the temporarily-pedestrianised Bold Street. The menus are slightly limited for the moment: there’s no second option on espresso, while filter is restricted to batch-brew, but hopefully things will be back to normal soon.

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Ngopi (COVID-19 Update)

My pour-over at Ngopi in Birmingham, a V60 of a Mount Halu honey-processed coffee, which was roasted in the shop, and served in a carafe, presented on a wooden tray with a handleless cup on the side.The last stop on my brief tour of Birmingham is Ngopi, which exclusively serves single-origin Indonesian coffee, all of which is roasted in the little roaster visible through the front window. Ngopi was my find of 2019, after the staff opened my eyes to the variety and sheer quality of Indonesian speciality coffee at that year’s Birmingham Coffee Festival.

Like the rest of the UK’s speciality coffee shops, Ngopi was forced to close by COVID-19, only reopening in July following the relaxation of restrictions in England. The obvious COVID-19 precautions are now in place (Perspex screens on the counter, reduced seating, etc) but otherwise, Ngopi is very much its old self. In particular, the coffee is just as good as I remember it, while there’s a menu of light Indonesian dishes and desserts which, had I not just come from lunch at Wayland’s Yard, would have been very tempting.

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Root Coffee (COVID-19 Update)

The words "Root Coffee" written in an arch in black capitals on white, tiled wall. "EST / 20 / 15" is written in red in a box below.I first visited Root Coffee back in 2016, when it was a relative newcomer to Liverpool’s speciality coffee scene, having opened right at the end of 2015. By the time of my return at the start of September, checking out how the city’s speciality coffee shops were coping during the COVID-19 pandemic, Root was an old hand, looking (and feeling) very similar to how it had over four years earlier.

Blessed with a large, bright interior and a generous outdoor seating area on the (already) pedestrianised western end of Seel Street, Root Coffee was ready-made to offer a COVID-safe environment with minimum change. The outdoor seating was reopened as soon as the restrictions were eased on 4th July, with the indoor seating quickly following.

These days, Root is almost back to normal, with slightly reduced opening hours (10:00 -17:00) and with the kitchen closing at three o’clock. The coffee is a good as I remember it, with a cast of three roasters gracing the various hoppers, although batch-brew is off the menu for the moment.

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Wayland’s Yard, Birmingham (COVID-19 Update)

The new one-way system at Wayland's Yard to keep everyone safe during COVID-19.I revisited Wayland’s Yard in Birmingham at the end of August, almost exactly two years after my first visit, seeking a late lunch one Tuesday afternoon. Looking reassuringly similar from the street, the only obvious differences were the lack of outside benches (there used to be one on either side of the door, underneath the windows) and the presence of the bold “we are open” sign on the door.

Inside, the changes are similarly subtle, with several of them pre-dating the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the additional seating on the left in front of the counter. Of course, there are the COVID-19 precautions themselves, mostly the clearly-marked one-way system on the floor, but otherwise, Wayland’s Yard is much as I remember it.

The coffee, from Herefordshire’s Method Roastery, is as good as ever, with a bespoke house-blend and single-origin on espresso, although for now, there’s just a solitary single-origin on pour-over through the V60 rather than the customary two. The brunch menu has similarly been cut down, but is just as innovative as before.

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Kaffeine (COVID-19 Update)

My espresso, made with Square Mile's Red Brick blend, and served in a classic black cup at Kaffeine on Great Titchfield Street.One of the legends of London’s speciality coffee scene, this is the original Kaffeine on Great Titchfield Street, in the heart of Fitzrovia. It reopened in June, initially just serving takeaway, and has been slowly expanding its offering ever since. First, the internal seating reopened, then, in mid-August, following traffic restrictions put in place by the council, the outside seating was expanded.

Wherever you sit, you’ll get the trademark Kaffeine hospitality and some exemplary service. You’re greeted at the door by a staff member who takes your order. If it’s to go, you’ll need to wait there until your coffee is brought to you. Alternatively, if you’re staying, once you’ve ordered, you’ll be shown to a table (or allowed to select one if sitting outside), thus ensuring separation between sit-in and takeaway customers.

As usual, Square Mile’s Red Brick is on espresso, joined by a single-origin guest, which can be had instead of the Red Brick, or there’s a tasting flight where you can try them both. There’s a selection of cold/iced coffee options, plus tea from the Rare Tea Company. Finally, if you’re hungry, Kaffeine has the usual cake and pastry options, plus small breakfast and lunch menus.

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