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.
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.
Although I don’t visit Chester that often, Moss Coffee, conveniently located between the bus and railway stations, has become a handy calling point when I’m in the city and in need of coffee before I catch my train. Like everyone else, Moss closed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, before reopening to provide a takeaway-only service, a decision largely dictated by the size/shape of the shop. Naturally, when I visited Chester on Friday, Moss Coffee was high on my list, and I was delighted to be able to call in, catching up with the owner, Daniel, over a flat white.
Other than Daniel wearing a mask, the only obvious change is the absence of seating. The stools are no longer at either the counter or the bar at the back, while the table in the window is similarly gone. Other than that, Moss looks (and is) remarkably similar, with Dark Woods still gracing the espresso machine, although since my last visit, Daniel has added batch brew to the menu, using the Sage Precision automated brewer. More good news, while Daniel only serves takeaway, Moss Coffee is one of the few places that is currently accepting customers’ own reusable cups.
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 went to London last week for my first sit-in coffee shop experiences since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I visited three coffee shops, starting with Notes and ending with Attendant, both of which I’d first written about in 2013. In contrast, the middle one, Kafi, had only opened last year. A lovely little spot in Fitzrovia, it felt at the time like a throwback to the cutting-edge coffee shops of five to 10 years ago, which, sadly, London has mostly lost.
Kafi reopened in the middle of June offering a takeaway-only service. However, unlike other shops, which have taken advantage of the easing of COVID-19 restrictions to offer a sit-in service, Kafi has remained takeaway only. Kafi has stayed true to its founding principles, deciding not to reduce its coffee offering. As a result, Kafi still has two options on espresso (both single-origins), plus decaf, as well as three more single-origins on filter, one each on V60, AeroPress and siphon. It also, unusually, still allows customers to use their own reusable cups.
Not long after Canopy Coffee, Guildford’s multi-roaster speciality coffee shop, reopened on Saturday, 16th May, I was walking home past Krema Coffee, another of Guildford’s speciality coffee shops. Looking in the window, I saw an encouraging sign: Krema was reopening on the following Monday, 1st June. Naturally, I made sure I popped along and have been back a couple of times since.
Unlike Canopy, which has re-invented itself as a takeaway coffee shop, converting a side door into a serving hatch, Krema looks more like the coffee shop of old, although for now it is only offering a takeaway menu, with cake, having temporarily closed its kitchen. It’s still serving from the counter inside though, making use of its greater space to create an excellent one-way system, guiding customers from the door to the counter and back out again, all while keeping everyone at a safe distance from each other.
March turned into April and April turned into May and, while I wasn’t short of good coffee at home, I missed my local coffee shops, missed my flat whites (while I make good home pour-over and espresso, I’m still rubbish at milk) and missed my friends who worked there. Then, on Saturday, 16th May, exactly three months after leaving Chicago, I was in Guildford, shopping, and what did I see? Canopy Coffee. And it was open! Naturally, I forgot everything else and made a beeline for it!