I feel that today’s Coffee Spot should be marked by fireworks or something. The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs has a long, distinguished history, opening its first branch on London’s Leather Lane in 2010. Since then it’s gone on to start roasting its own coffee and now has multiple branches in London (14 and counting), Manchester and Bristol, plus several in Chicago. It’s also acquired other operators such as TAP and Tradewind Espresso.
But here’s the thing. While I’ve always loved the coffee, I’ve never loved any of the actual coffee shops (and, believe me, I’ve tried many of them!). Until last week that is, when I walked into the new branch on Kingdom Street in Paddington Central. Quite why this one clicked with me when so many haven’t, I can’t say, but I knew as soon as I walked in the door. It helped that it was across the road from the office I was working in all last week, making me a daily visitor, but it’s that good, I’d go out of my way to visit.
There’s a blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, with two single-origins on batch brew, plus a wide range of cakes and savouries.
The Pilgrm is a small, boutique hotel in an old townhouse on London Street, almost directly opposite the front of Paddington station. In itself, it makes for quite an attractive hotel, but the icing on the cake is that in August last year, Workshop took over the coffee operation, installing itself behind the counter in the simple, well-appointed lobby, which is effectively a small (and beautiful) coffee shop. The coffee offering is equally simple, well-appointed and beautiful, with a concise espresso menu (with decaf getting equal billing with a single-origin option) backed up with another single-origin on batch-brew, both changing roughly once a week.
If coffee’s not your thing, there’s a small selection of tea and Pump Street hot chocolate, while if you’re hungry, Workshop has a small selection of cake, but nothing else. That said, The Pilgrm has a first-floor public lounge and terrace which serves a full brunch menu until 3pm each day, with snacks served thereafter. You can take your coffee up upstairs if you like, although it’s not very clear if you just wander in off the street. Alternatively, just take a seat upstairs and order your coffee there, which is just what I did at the weekend.
I first visited Brew Lab in December 2012, part of the Coffee Spot’s first-ever road trip to Edinburgh. Back then, I found it all rather bewildering, Brew Lab playing a large part in my transition from an innocent coffee lover to my headlong descent down the rabbit hole that is speciality coffee. Over the years, Brew Lab has gone from bewildering to familiar, almost a home-from-home. Along the way, there have been a few changes, some of which I wrote about when I returned in April 2014. However, the biggest change occurred when London roasters and speciality coffee pioneers, Union Hand-roasted, bought Brew Lab in 2018.
Naturally I was keen to find out what, if anything, had changed as a result of the new ownership, popping back at the end of last year to check out the “new” Brew Lab (annoyingly, I missed visiting exactly six years after my first visit by a single day). The good news is that Union seems to have taken an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, leaving Brew Lab to carry on much as I remember it, providing great coffee on espresso and filter, including guest roasters, which is an excellent sign.
Back to Black is a chain of precisely two Amsterdam coffee shops which, since 2015, has been roasting its own coffee from a small roastery/bakery which, sadly, is not open to the public. This branch is on Weteringstraat, south of the centre, near the Rijksmuseum and Heineken Experience, making it a good stop if you are out for a bit of sightseeing, and has a lovely, canalside location. The other branch, in contrast, is on Van Hallstraat, about a 30-minute walk west of the main station.
Back to Black is primarily a coffee shop, serving a range of cakes and savoury snacks, all baked in-house. The coffee, similarly, is all roasted in-house, with Back to Black only roasting single-origins. There’s a choice of two espressos, one that has a more conventional taste profile and the other which is a bit different. There’s also a choice of filter coffee, where you can have anything that’s on the shelves in retail bags through V60, Aeropress or Cafetiere, or, if you want to share Chemex or Syphon. The espresso changes on a regular basis, Back to Black moving to something new once the current one runs out, while the filter options are seasonal.
Coffee Source is well-established in Prague’s booming speciality coffee scene, the roaster having been going for over 10 years. However, the coffee shop of the same name, on the busy Francouzská, just on the southern edge of Vinohrady, is a relatively new addition, having only opened this month. A delightful spot, it’s long and thin, with a classic, clean design, all pale woods and right-angles, quite a contrast to the Prague coffee shops I’ve been visiting on this trip. It also boasts the city’s first Modbar (and just the second in Czechia), two gleaming group heads and a pour-over module rising from the counter.
Coffee Source has a single-origin on espresso, served from a concise menu, with options on batch brew, Aeropress and V60 (through the Modbar pour-over module). If you are hungry, there’s a decent selection of cakes and pastries to choose from. As much as this is a coffee shop in its own right, it’s also a retailer, showcasing the entire output of the roastery. Currently the various blends and single-origins are available in retail bags, but in due course, a coffee dispensing system will be installed, allowing customers to bring their own containers, buying beans by weight.
I’m not sure how I first discovered Pražírna Kavárna, but there it was, a star on Google Maps, a five-minute walk from my hotel (chosen for its proximity to the office, not for coffee reasons) so I took it as providence, heading there on my first morning in Prague. Not knowing what to expect, I was reassured by the sign hanging above the door, which shows a stylised black and white line drawing of a coffee roaster looking, bizarrely, a lot like a steam locomotive pulling a train!
Pražírna Kavárna has a small, unassuming street level façade which hides a wonderful interior, accessible down two short flights of steps. There’s a series of gorgeous, brick-vaulted basement rooms, with, right at the back, a lovely, enclosed courtyard garden. When it comes to coffee, Pražírna Kavárna only serves single-origins, original roasted on-site (you can still see the roaster) but now it’s all done in a dedicated facility. There’s a simple espresso-based menu with filter on batch-brew, Aeropress, V60 and Kalita Wave. Opening late into the evenings, there’s also draft lager, wine plus spirits and cocktails. This is backed up by a small all-day lunch/snack menu and a selection of homemade cakes.
Dark Arts Coffee has been roasting since 2014 and I’ve enjoyed its coffee at various places, including The Black Chapel in London, plus in a cluster of places in the northwest, such as Manchester’s Idle Hands and Siop Shop and Chester’s Little Yellow Pig. I Will Kill Again, its interestingly-named coffee shop/roastery, has been on my radar pretty much since it opened in May 2016. My only excuse for not visiting sooner (other than to give Mike Stanbridge something to nag me about) is that Homerton, its East London home, is not somewhere I get to very frequently.
Located in a railway arch, the roaster (off to your right as you enter) is in action from Monday to Friday, while the space is open to the public as a coffee shop from Wednesday to Sunday. There’s a range of (mostly) communal seating, including several picnic-style tables outside.
Dark Arts only roasts single-origins, which it then gives some interesting names. The espresso, available as black or white (with milk) in sizes of 4, 6 and 8oz, rotates between Lost Highway and Dead Brick, while there’s a single filter option on batch brew. If you’re hungry, try the eclectic all-day brunch menu.
This time last year I was in Amsterdam for the World of Coffee, after which I spent three days exploring the city’s excellent coffee scene. The subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Scandinavian Embassy, was on several people’s lists, and, in keeping with the principle of leaving the best until last, I popped in for breakfast on my final day. South of the centre, in the De Pijp neighbourhood, it’s at the western end of the Sarphatipark, slightly off the beaten tourist track, but well worth a visit.
As the name suggests, Scandinavian Embassy has championed Scandinavian roasters since it opened in 2014. During my visit, there was a blend from Coffee Collective on espresso, plus single-origins from Drop Coffee Roasters, Koppi and Kafferäven Per Nordby on pour-over through the V60. My choices included two washed coffees, a Colombian and a Kenyan, both from Koppi, plus two naturals, an heirloom varietal from Ethiopia (Per Nordby) and a Geisha varietal from Bolivia (Drop), with the options changing every week or two. All of this is coupled with a limited all-day breakfast and lunch menu, plus a copious supply of cakes, featuring freshly baked cinnamon buns to round off the Scandinavian theme.
Taylor Street Baristas, these days more commonly known as Taylor St Coffee or just Taylor St, is a stalwart of London’s speciality coffee scene. Founded in 2006 by Australia siblings, Nick, Andrew and Laura, I first came across Taylor St in Brighton, visiting the now defunct Queen Street location. These days, Taylor St roasts all its own coffee and has nine London branches, six clustered in the City of London, one western outpost in Mayfair, and two in Canary Wharf. Oh, and there’s one in New York City.
Today’s Coffee Spot is Taylor St’s Canary Wharf branch, which, when it opened in 2011, was a pioneer in a speciality coffee desert. An awful lot has changed in eight years, as I discovered when I spent a week working there at the end of last month, multiple players having opened in the last few years. However, Taylor St is still going strong, seemingly as busy as ever, so I thought I’d better start here. There’s the Benchmark blend plus a single-origin on espresso, with three single-origins on batch brew if you’re really in a hurry. This is backed up with small but tasty breakfast and lunch menus, plus plenty of cake.
Second Shot is somewhere that’s been on my radar ever since it opened on 21st May 2016 (which means that I missed its third birthday by just four days!). A small multi-roaster café, with limited seating outside and not much more in the small, but uncluttered interior, it’s right in the heart of Bethnal Green, around the corner from the underground station and midway between Cambridge Heath and Bethnal Green stations on the overground line.
When it comes to coffee, Second Shot stands on its own two feet, up there with some of the best in London, offering a different roaster on espresso and filter, along with a small brunch menu and a selection of cake. However, where it differs is that it was set up by founder, Julius Ibrahim, as a social enterprise to employ people affected by homelessness, providing jobs in the short-term and careers in the longer-term.