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.
For those that don’t know, there are a number of Gourmet Coffee Bars dotted around the country, principally (but not exclusively) at stations in the Midlands and North West England. Crewe is the one I’m most familiar with, although in fairness, that should be “ones” since there are two kiosks, a smaller one on Platform 6 and the one I usually end up at, on Platform 5. Both have a similar offering, with a standard espresso-based menu from Clifton Coffee Roasters and a range of sandwiches, crisps, cakes and pastries if you’re hungry.
The container is back! Yes, that’s right, Beany Green, that little container of sunshine at the foot of the Hungerford Bridge on the South Bank, is back! It had actually reopened a few weeks ago, but when I went up to London in mid-July, I discovered that it was closed again due to essential bridge repairs. However, I was not to be denied and, when I went through London on Monday, I made of a point of calling in to find that it was open again!
For those that don’t know, this is one of the original Beany Green coffee shops, which opened in June 2014. These days it’s more a bar serving good coffee, although during the day it still has a coffee shop vibe. Essentially an outdoor operation, it hasn’t been too badly affected by COVID-19, although it (and the surrounding area) is much quieter than it used to be.
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.
I’ve been visiting Gourmet Coffee Bar & Kitchen at Crewe station for many years, picking up flat whites to go in my various reusable cups as I’ve changed trains, usually on my way to/from my Dad’s, so I thought it was about time I wrote it up. Gourmet Coffee has been going since 2007 and it’s been at Crewe since 2011. It now boasts coffee bars at 14 stations, mostly in the Midlands and North West, with outposts in Cardiff and Wrexham. There’s also a coffee bar on a Wrexham industrial estate.
Crewe has two Gourmet Coffee Bars, a smaller one on Platform 6 and the larger one on Platform 5, which I usually visit. Both have a similar offering, with a standard espresso-based menu and a range of sandwiches, crisps, cakes and pastries if you’re hungry. After years with Union Hand-roasted, Gourmet Coffee recently switched to Clifton Coffee Roasters.
July 2020: Both Gourmet Coffee Bar & Kitchen kiosks have reopened at Crewe station. You can see what I made of the one on Platform 5 when I visited in early August.
When I first went to Canterbury, in May 2017, Lost Sheep Coffee was already a fixture in the city, having, in 2015, traded in its cart on the High Street for a neat black pod down by the bus station. By the time I returned, an awful lot had changed, starting with the neat black pod, which was no more, having been replaced by a much larger (although still small in the grand scheme of things) pod. In addition, Lost Sheep had started serving in its own coffee from its new roastery in Whitstable.
In fairness to Lost Sheep, had I returned six months after my initial visit, I’d have found both these changes. However, thanks to my extensive travels, it was 2½ years later, at the end of November 2019, that I finally returned to Canterbury, making a beeline for the bus station to check out the “new” pod.
Stockholm Roast, a street-side coffee operation inside the Tobacco Stand, was a chance discovery during my second visit to Tokyo in 2018. Due to its location (close enough to the office that I could reliably pop out and back during coffee breaks), very friendly staff and, of course, excellent coffee, Stockholm Roast became my go-to spot during that week.
It was another 11 months before I returned to Tokyo on the first of this year’s two visits. Imagine my disappointment when I turned up to the office for the first of two week-long meetings only to find that Stockholm Roast was closed! However, my disappointment was short-lived. The next day I noticed someone working in the kiosk and was relieved to learn that the closure was temporary. The Tobacco Stand, Stockholm Roast’s long-time host, had closed, with Stockholm Roast taking over the whole operation!
Two days later, on Thursday, 5th September, Stockholm Roast opened its doors as a stand-alone operation for the first time and, I’m pleased to say, I was the very first customer!
I was in luck during my time in Kanazawa, where I stayed for three days, part of the week I spent travelling around Japan at the end of August this year. I’d gone on the recommendation of my friend Christopher, but this was more with a view to being a tourist. The fact that I found so much great coffee, most of it within a few minutes of my hotel, was a bonus.
Blue Monday was the exception, since it’s not near my hotel. Instead, it’s close to Kanazawa station, making it a perfect introduction to the city (and a good last call before catching your train). Located in the Porte basement shopping complex under the Hotel Nikko, it offers espresso-based drinks, using a bespoke house-blend, plus herbal tea, hot dogs, toast, soft-serve ice cream and mini-doughnuts. If you want to stay, there’s no seating, but there are proper cups.
For the longest time, London Square has just been a large office complex that I walked past on Guildford’s London Road, opposite London Road Station and Guildford High School. Not anymore. While I was flying around the world and swanning off to Manchester and Rome, Surrey Hills Coffee was busy opening a new branch, to go with this year’s relocation to Jeffries Passage.
Not that you’d know from walking past on the street. The new Surrey Hills Coffee is in a container-style cabin in the car park, its back to the main entrance, facing the offices. It’s cosy looking, instantly reminding me of the Grindsmith Pod in Manchester, only with fewer windows. There are a couple of tables outside, which will come into their own during the warmer weather, while inside a pair of three-person bars provide the seating. When it comes to coffee, the Holmbury Hill blend is on espresso, plus a range of cakes, snacks and, at lunchtime, soup and sandwiches/toasties. Even better, although the customers are primarily take-away, there are proper cups!
When looking for speciality coffee in Rome, it pays to get a little off beaten track. Although you can find good quality traditional espresso bars like Tazza D’Oro and the occasional gem such as Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria in the centre, there’s also great coffee to found elsewhere. Today’s Coffee Spot, the Tram Depot, is south of the historic centre, beyond the Palatine Hill and Circo Massimo, on the far side of the Aventine Hill.
The Tram Depot consists of a small kiosk where you can take your coffee at the counter, with a spacious outdoor seating area if you want to linger. During the day, the focus is very much on the coffee, from Le Piantagioni del Caffè, a roaster I had not heard of before, hailing from the Tuscan coast. There’s a single-origin on espresso and three more on pour-over through V60, Syphon and cafetiere, while there’s also loose-leaf tea.
In the evening, the Tram Depot switches to a bar, staying open until 1am each night, serving wine, spirits and cocktails, although you can also get espresso-based drinks. This is all backed up by a range of tasty cakes and pastries, plus sandwiches if you want something more substantial.