Seesaw IFC

My espresso, made with the Giraffe house-blend, and served in a classic black cup at Seesaw in the IFC Mall in Shanghai.Seesaw’s one of Shanghai’s speciality coffee pioneers. The coffee shop/roaster started in 2012, and now has 12 branches in Shanghai, three in Shenzhen, two in Suzhou and one in Beijing. My first introduction to Seesaw was at the flagship Seesaw 433, but sadly this has recently closed, the landlord requiring the building back. Therefore, when wandering Pudong’s IFC Mall in search of the Metro Station, I immediately changed my plans on seeing Seesaw on a list of shops.

Tucked away at the far end of the mall, next to the cinema, Seesaw occupies an open, triangular space. The back wall forms one side, while the two-part counter, along with a square pillar in the corner, forms the remaining two sides. There’s limited seating, with tables along the back wall and stools along the counter, but despite its modest size, you get the full Seesaw treatment, including proper cups for sit-in customers (something Shanghai’s other chains could learn from) and a full range of coffee, with the Giraffe blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a single-origin, another seven available on pour-over through the V60. There’s also a retail selection, small breakfast, lunch and afternoon menus, plus a generous cake selection.

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Fortitude Update

The logo from the door at Fortitude in Edinburgh: Espresso & Brew Bar, plus Coffee Merchant.When I first visited, at the end of April 2014, Edinburgh’s Fortitude was the new kid on the block, having been open for all of four weeks. When I returned, at the end of last year, it had been going a bit long than that, but at first glance, not much had changed, particularly not when viewed from the street. Even when you go inside, the layout and décor is much the same, a small, high-ceilinged space, single window at the front, counter at the back, with the espresso machine tucked away around the corner.

However, look more closely and you’ll start to see the differences. The shelves on the right-hand wall, once lined with retail bags from the likes of London’s Workshop and Glasgow’s Dear Green Coffee, the bags now say “Fortitude”. That’s right, Fortitude started roasting. In 2017… That’s what I get for not visiting Edinburgh for over three years…

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UNDEF/NE

My espresso, plus a glass of water, beautifully-presented on a metal tray, at Shanghai's UNDEF/NE.UNDEF/NE is inside an art gallery (Brownie) in a complex full of coffee shops, art galleries and coffee shops inside art galleries (Shanghai Art District M50). It was one of many recommendations I received from Joyce of Beijing’s The Corner when I visited in 2017.  It had the additional merit of being close to my hotel, itself chosen for its proximity to Shanghai Railway Station, the terminus of the sleeper service from Beijing. This was one of the hotels I stayed in on my return to Shanghai in 2019, so naturally I made several visits to UNDEF/NE over those two trips.

UNDEF/NE occupies part of the ground floor of what was an old factory building. It’s a series of multiple, interconnected spaces, including two mezzanine levels, which is part café, part gallery, the distinction between the two sometimes blurred. There’s a standard espresso-based menu, including flat whites, with each drink available hot or over ice, all made using a house-blend. There’s also a range of flavoured lattes, plus a small selection of tea. Alternatively, several single-origins are available as pour-overs through the V60. If you’re hungry, UNDEF/NE has a selection of panini and filled bagels, plus a range of cakes.

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Host Café

A lovely flat white made with the Up Hill espresso blend from Mission Coffee Works at Host Cafe in St Mary Aldermary Church, LondonNot that long after the Coffee Spot began, a speciality coffee shop, The Wren, opened inside an old church in the heart of the City of London. I was (and am) extremely fond of it and therefore am rather annoyed with myself that I’ve overlooked another coffee shop in a church, Host Café, which predates The Wren.

That I discovered it was purely by chance. Looking for the newly-opened Rosslyn Coffee last summer, I stumbled across the church, St Mary Aldermary, home to Host Café and just around the corner from Rosslyn. I vowed to return, but such has been my hectic travel schedule that I wasn’t able to keep my promise until just before Christmas.

Whereas the Wren feels like a church given over to a coffee shop, Host Café feels like a coffee shop in the back of the church. It makes for a magnificent setting, putting the church right in the heart of the community. When it comes to the coffee, there’s a blend plus decaf from Mission Coffee Works (another unsung hero of London’s speciality coffee scene), served from a standard espresso menu, along with an Aeropress option, plus sandwiches, soup and a selection of cakes.

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La Colombe, Philadelphia Airport

Details of the drip and espresso coffee at La Colombe, Philadelphia AirportRegular travellers know that, with a few exceptions, airport coffee varies on a scale from mediocre to awful. While the likes of British Airways and Union Hand-roasted have made great strides forward, this is only of use to travellers who have lounge access. Meanwhile, it is left to individual airports/coffee shops to take the initiative, a great example being the branch of Cartel Coffee Lab at Phoenix Sky Harbor.

Into this mix comes Philadelphia-based roaster/coffee shop chain, La Colombe. I passed through Philadelphia Airport on my may from Manchester to Manchester (I couldn’t help myself) and was delighted to find multiple branches of La Colombe, at Terminals A, B, C and E. Each one serves a pair of blends, plus a decaf, on batch-brew and another blend plus decaf on espresso. Even though I had lounge access, I had to stop off and grab some proper coffee…

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The Steam Room

An espresso in a classic blue cup at The Steam Room in Harborne, Birmingham.Although a semi-regular visitor to Birmingham for many years, I tend to stick fairly close to the centre, coming and going via Birmingham New Street station. For that reason, while I’ve heard much about the excellent coffee scene in Harborne, the suburb to the west of the centre, I’ve never made my way out there. Until Saturday, that is, when, driving up to my Dad’s in North Wales, I realised that it made a good break-point for my journey, provided that I didn’t mind a 15-minute detour.

I therefore made a beeline for The Steam Room, which opened in early 2017 and which I’d heard several good things about. A little to the north of Harborne High Street in a very residential area, it’s a gem, serving weekly single-origins from Has Bean on espresso (including decaf), batch-brew and pour-over, with the decaf being given equal billing on the menu (always nice to see). There’s a decent selection of tea, plus craft beer and ciders, as well as wine by the glass/bottle. If you’re hungry, check out the regular brunch menu, with breakfast and lunch specials on the menu behind the counter, plus a generous cake supply from old friends, Cakesmiths.

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Machina Espresso, Nicolson Street

Machina Espresso Coffee Bar: detail from the sign outside the Nicolson Street branchI first dsicovered Edinburgh’s Machina Espresso in 2013, when I wrote about it as part of my first-ever feature for Caffeine Magazine. Back then it was an equipment supplier, in November that year, it opened its first coffee shop in Brougham Place, where it fulfilled dual roles of coffee shop and equipment supplier, its shelves full of (very) shiny home espresso machines, compact grinders, great cups, tampers, pouring kettles and so on. However, that was only the beginning…

In 2017, Machina Espresso took two big steps forward. First, in May, it started roasting its own coffee in a dedicated facility (sadly not open to the public) and then, in the summer, the second branch, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, opened on Nicolson Street.

In keeping with its roots, there is plenty of coffee kit on sale, although Nicolson Street stops short of grinders and espresso machines. Machina Espresso only roasts single-origins, with two choices on espresso (for drinks with and without milk), while there’s another on batch-brew. If you’re hungry, Machina Espresso has a good selection of cakes, plus a concise combined breakfast and lunch menu available until four o’clock (although the porridge is only available until 11 o’clock).

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East Coffee Company

A lovely flat white, made with a Colombian single-origin from The Good Coffee Cartel, and served in handless ceramic cup at Glasgow's East Coffee Company.Although I’ve visited Glasgow many times, I rarely venture east of the city centre, normally spending my time in the centre itself, in the West End and, starting last year, the south side. I’d heard about the appropriately-named East Coffee Company, which opened in January 2018, on my visit for that year’s Glasgow Coffee Festival, but with my bad back, I’d not been able to get out there. However, on my return to the city in December, I made it a priority to head over to East for coffee and some lunch.

It’s a lovely little place, occupying a front and back room in a row of shops, with tenements above, a very typical set-up for Glasgow. Despite the small size, there’s plenty on offer, including a seasonal single-origin espresso from local roasters, The Good Coffee Cartel (a Colombian during my visit) with decaf from Dear Green Coffee. If that doesn’t appeal, there’s a daily batch-brew, featuring roasters from around the country. While I was there, it was the turn of Sacred Grounds from Arbroath, with a Black Honey processed El Salvador. East also offers a concise all-day breakfast/lunch menu, the food cooked in an open kitchen behind the counter.

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Gaslight Coffee Roasters

A Burundi single-origin espresso, served in a classic white cup at Gaslight Coffee Roasters in Chicago.One of the more famous names in Chicago’s independent coffee scene, I can’t say exactly when or where I first heard of Gaslight Coffee Roasters, but it’s a name that keeps coming up when people talk about places to visit. Like so much of Chicago’s speciality coffee, it’s on North Milwaukee Avenue between the Blue Line stops of Logan Square and California, the trains thundering close by Gaslight on the elevated section before disappearing underground at Logan Square. In terms of other speciality coffee shops, it neatly fills the gap between the cluster to the northwest (Logan Square), featuring the likes of Passion House Coffee Roasters and Intelligentsia, and the cluster to the southeast, starting with Ipsento/ Ipsento 606.

Roaster, retailer and coffee shop all-in-one, Gaslight is rare in American speciality coffee circles in that it also has a full kitchen, serving five or six seasonal dishes until three o’clock each afternoon. This is supplemented by a day-long selection of cakes and pastries. Roasting takes place three times a week in a separate room to the rear of the store. A small selection of single-origins is produced, which is rotated through espresso/batch-brew, with two single-origins on espresso and one on batch-brew.

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Firecreek Big Park

An espresso, served in a class white cup, at Firecreek Big Park in the Village of Oak Creek in Arizona.When I was in Arizona this time last year, one of my chance discoveries was Flagstaff’s Firecreek Coffee Company. As an added bonus, the staff told me about a second branch, Firecreek Big Park, in the Village of Oak Creek, south of Sedona/Red Rock Country, a beautiful area that’s worth a visit (or two) in its own right.

Firecreek is right on AZ 179, which connects Sedona, to the north, with the Interstate, I17, to the south. Even better, just north of the Village of Oak Creek, it runs right through Red Rock Country, so Firecreek couldn’t be more conveniently-placed.

Smaller than the Flagstaff original, it serves a cut-down, espresso-based menu, plus a selection of cakes and a few savouries (granola, bagels and quiche). The space is lovely, a single, long room with a fireplace, open to the A-frame roof which soars above you. There’s also a large front patio.

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