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 As weeks turned to months, and months turned to years, it seemed increasingly pointless to publish an out-of-date Coffee Spot, so that’s where it stayed, languished on my hard drive.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.
Sometimes, I feel that things are just meant to be. Unexpectedly finding myself with access to a car, some nice weather and a free afternoon, I decided to seek out somewhere for my daily walk that was slightly further afield than my immediate backyard. Scrolling around Google Maps, Heartwork Coffee Bar in Holmbury St Mary jumped out at me, largely because I know the area reasonably well and wasn’t aware of any coffee shops there. An hour later, I was pulling up outside Bulmer Farm, home of Heartwork.
Heartwork is located at the back of the farm, on Pasture Wood Road, just off the B2126. The heart of the operation is an old horsebox, converted into a coffee bar, with a serving hatch at the front. There’s a standard espresso-based menu, using a bespoke blend roasted for Heartwork, backed up by hot chocolate, tea and a small selection of cakes, sandwiches and wraps. If you want to stay, then there’s a selection of seating, from outdoor, stand-up tables and low benches to a pair of barns with more tables and straw bales for seating. Just be aware that Heartland only has takeaway cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.
Koja, a Swedish word meaning “a cosy little den”, came into being in August this year. On the one hand, it can be seen as the rebirth of Surrey Hills Coffee on Jeffries Passage, but it’s also very much its own place, resisting the temptation to become a clone of what had gone before.
When I visited, on Koja’s second day of trading, it was just offering takeaway service. As summer turned to autumn, Koja introduced limited seating downstairs, although I never seemed to be in the position to visit, either passing by at closing time (at the relatively early hour of two o’clock in the afternoon) or else it was a Saturday and very busy. With the tightening of COVID-19 restrictions in England at the start of November, Koja returned to takeaway only, and I thought it was high time I popped back to see how things were going.
Over Under Coffee, which seems to specialise in tiny coffee shops, has done much to bring speciality coffee to Earl’s Court/Hammersmith in West London, starting in 2017 with the original, opposite Earl’s Court Station. After branching out with a slightly larger coffee shop in Ham Yard, just off Piccadilly, which closed almost exactly two years ago at the end of October 2018, Over Under returned to its roots, the subject of today’s Saturday Short opening just outside West Brompton Station in January 2019. Since then, there have been two more Over Unders in London (Ladbroke Grove and Wandsworth Town) and one in Manchester (which, sadly, has not reopened following the COVID-19 pandemic).
Over Under Coffee at West Brompton is even smaller than the ones that came before it, the tiny interior offering standing room only, with just two small stools on the pavement outside. Despite this, there’s a concise espresso-based menu, backed up with batch brew filter, the coffee, as always, coming from Assembly. Even more impressively, given the size, is the brunch menu, cooked in the kitchen downstairs, plus various pastries and filled croissants.
Anonymous Coffee Co., which is located inside the Tasting House on Chain Street, in the heart of Reading, is the latest venture of old friend of the Coffee Spot, Phil Carter. Technically, Anonymous extends no further than the neat wooden counter just inside the door, but in reality you’re free to roam anywhere over the Tasting House’s two floors, including the large upstairs seating area. The Tasting House, by the way, is a wine merchant/wine bar with a range of wines on (self-service) tap, so you can try multiple wines in one sitting if you want.
Returning to Anonymous, there are two options on espresso (“comfort” and “adventure”) with two more on pour-over through the V60. One espresso and one filter come from Union Hand-roasted, with the others coming from a regularly-changing guest roaster (during my visit, it was Walthamstow’s finest, Wood St Coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cakes available from Anonymous, or you can have something from the Tasting House kitchen, which offers toasties, charcuterie, crostini and various bar snacks.
It’s typical. I go away for a couple of weeks and someone opens a coffee shop in Guildford. I think every opening in the last three years has been while I’ve been away… The newcomer in this case is the Ceylon House of Coffee, an offshoot of the London House of Coffee, which, ironically, is in Colombo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon, as was). Meanwhile the Ceylon House of Coffee is in Guildford, occupying the old American Express building at the bottom of the High Street, a lovely, spacious spot with floor-to-ceiling windows, and plenty of well-separated tables and sofas.
What makes the Ceylon House of Coffee stand out from the crowd is that it only serves coffee from Sri Lanka, with the owner attempting to recreate something of Sri Lanka’s heyday as a coffee-producing nation in the mid-19th century. For now, there’s only a single-option on espresso, along with a selection of Sri Lankan tea, plus a wide range of cakes.
The shop, meanwhile, is operating on reduced opening hours while everyone finds their feet, with drinks being served in disposable cups, although the staff are happy to accept customers’ reusable cups, so don’t forget to bring yours along!
Obscure had only been open for two weeks at that point. While the basic set-up is the same, there have been plenty of changes since my first visit a year ago, some of which pre-date COVID-19. The seating has been upgraded in the front section, while Obscure no longer serves pour-overs, instead concentrating on its concise espresso menu, backed up by batch brew through the Moccamaster. The coffee is still from Climpson and Sons, while the warm, friendly welcome is as warm and friendly as ever.
Four Corners, tucked away on Lower Marsh behind Waterloo Station, is one of the stalwarts of London’s speciality coffee scene, opening in July 2013, with my first visit coming a month later. Like many others (Canopy Coffee and Party on Pavilion, for example), COVID-19 has forced Four Corners to convert itself from a bustling, lively, sit-in coffee shop to a takeout operation. The area has also seen a significant drop-off in foot traffic, so much so that Four Corners only reopened two weeks ago, although hopefully the part-pedestrianisation of Lower Marsh will help bring people back to the area. It’s certainly changed the character of the street for the better.
For now, Four Corners is only offering a takeaway service, which means disposable cups, although the staff happily accept customers’ reusable cups. The full coffee menu is available, with Ozone’s Empire Blend on espresso, along with pour-over via the V60 and Chemex. There’s also tea from T2, while Four Corners has a limited food menu. Best of all, if you want to sit outside once you’ve got your coffee, Four Corners has taken advantage of the pedestrianisation of Lower Marsh by putting some benches and two tables out front.
Party on Pavilion was the first coffee shop from Winchester-based Aussie imports, The Roasting Party, which opened three years ago in August 2017. A lovely little shop on Pavilion Street, off Sloan Square in South West London, it has just enough space downstairs for the counter, while upstairs, a long, thin space provided a bright seating area in the summer and a cosy one in the winter. Then along came COVID-19 and suddenly “cosy” was no longer looking so attractive…
Party on Pavilion reopened in mid-May, offering takeaway service only from the counter downstairs. Although the restrictions have since been eased, the upstairs seating area has remained closed, a decision no doubt helped by the pedestrianisation of Pavilion Street, which is now replete with tables and benches, making it the perfect place to sit and drink your coffee. Talking of which, there’s the usual options from the concise espresso-based menu, along with single-origin pour-over through the Chemex. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of pastries, cakes (now baked upstairs) and pre-packed salads.
In many ways, COVID-19 was a blessing in disguise for Chris and Monika, the Swedish couple behind Surrey Hills Coffee. Temporarily released from the day-to-day grind of running the coffee shop, they were able to focus on the roastery, realising that this was their true passion. When the COVID-19 restrictions were eased in England, allowing the coffee shop to reopen, Chris and Monika had a decision to make. They didn’t want to close the coffee shop, but they also didn’t want to go back to the day-to-day management.
Fortunately, the solution presented itself in the shape of Koja, which opened on Thursday, 13th August, initially for takeaway only, but with plans for sit-in service in due course.