The Coffee Academics is a roaster with a chain of coffee shops which, starting in Hong Kong, where there are multiple branches, has now spread to Shanghai and Singapore. It places itself firmly at the top end in terms of quality, with marketing to match. For example, I’ve never seen a coffee shop with such a fancy menu. Fortunately, the coffee (and the coffee shop) more than live up to the hype.
There’s a house-blend on espresso, with a range of standard drinks, most of which can also be had over ice. The real treat is the filter section where there’s a house-blend and four single-origins, all matched to a pair of preparation methods (Chemex and ice-drip for pour-over, Aeropress and Clever Dripper for immersion).
There’s an equally impressive range of food, which occupies most of the 16 page menu. This includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus various dessert options. In keeping with most of Hong Kong’s speciality coffee culture, the food is very western, with staples such as Eggs Benedict on offer. Consistent with the high-end setting, The Coffee Academics is table service only, so find a seat, peruse the menu and wait for someone to take your order.
On the edge of Whitechapel, a stone’s throw from Aldgate and Aldgate East tube stations, stands Treves & Hyde, simultaneously a coffee shop, restaurant and bar, all tucked underneath the Leman Locke apartment hotel. I always thought that the coffee shop part of Treves & Hyde was in a basement, so I rather surprised to find it on the ground floor, with the restaurant on the first floor. I couldn’t tell whether I was disappointed, because I really like basements, or pleasantly surprised, since it’s such a lovely space. Probably both, in equal measure.
However, the real draw (for me, at least) is that Treves & Hyde has the UK’s first Mavam espresso machine (there’s now a second at Tab x Tab in Westbourne Grove). One of the new breed of modular espresso systems, the Mavam’s bulk is hidden, tucked away below the counter, leaving only the group heads and steam wands to rise gracefully from the counter top. This leaves an open, uncluttered counter, in keeping with the coffee shop’s dual purpose of serving beer, wine and cocktails alongside the coffee. For those less geeked-out than me, Treves & Hyde serves Volcano Coffee Works’ Full Steam espresso, along with a decaf from Old Spike Roastery, plus a single-origin on bulk-brew.
Vietnam Coffee Republic is part of a small, but growing band of speciality coffee shops in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. Like the nearby The Workshop Coffee and Shin Coffee, Vietnam Coffee Republic is a roaster as well as a coffee shop. There’s a second branch, the VCR Bar & Showroom, just around the corner, which is where all the roasting takes place.
On a narrow alley off a main street, Vietnam Coffee Republic is a modest-looking spot, with a small, sheltered outside seating area. However, it’s far bigger than it looks. Long and thin, there’s a seating area at the back and a second seating area upstairs at the front.
When it comes to the coffee, Vietnam Coffee Republic mostly serves blends, with four principle blends containing varying ratios of Robusta and Arabica beans, all grown in Vietnam. They are also available to buy, while if you are drinking in, they are available as espresso or filter, where they’re joined by a single-origin. Options include V60, Aeropress, cafetiere and syphon, plus traditional Vietnamese filter coffee. If you’re hungry, there’s a salad bar, with a range of tasty salads on offer, all made at a second counter upstairs.
Caravan is a rather successful chain of three coffee shop/restaurants, with a significant in-house roastery, supplying coffee shops all around the country with a variety of blends and single-origins. However, this is where it all started back in 2010 on the corner of London’s Exmouth Market. This is the original Caravan, which is still going strong, coffee shop by day, restaurant by night, serving excellent coffee and food throughout the day. Unlike others of its ilk, such as Notes and Grind, both of which now roast their own coffee, Caravan was a roaster from the start and, indeed, the original roaster is still down in the basement at Exmouth Market.
Caravan sits on a sunny, south-facing corner, windows on two sides, outside seating spilling out on Exmouth Market itself. Inside, coffee excellence is taken as standard, with a blend and single-origin on espresso, two more on pour-over and a third on batch-brew. However, Caravan is also about food, with table service to match. There’s an excellent, extensive breakfast menu until 11.30, with an all-day menu of small/large plates from noon. At weekends, brunch takes over from 10 until four. There’s also beer, cider, cocktails, spirits and a massive wine list.
The latest addition to the growing Daisy Green/Beany Green collective is a rather different beast from those which have gone before. Spread over two floors on the corner of the prodigious new Nova development near Victoria Station, Timmy Green takes the strengths of Daisy/Beany and builds on them. The original Daisy Green, plus the Paddington and Liverpool Street Beany Greens, gained a reputation for innovative brunch menus, but Timmy Green goes one better, turning this into a fully-fledged restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, complete with desserts, wine, beer and cocktails. And, of course, Roasting Party coffee.
The bulk of Timmy Green is downstairs, a triangular space providing restaurant-style table seating to the right and, in a tapering section to the left, cocktail tables and window-bars, plus a couple more intimate spaces. Upstairs, the mezzanine shares space with the kitchen as well as housing a few more tables.
There’s a large outdoor seating area in front of Timmy Green, with a narrower strip down the right-hand side. If all you want is coffee, a barrow with a bright yellow La Marzocco serves takeaway from half-an-hour before opening until three in the afternoon from its spot just left of door.
August 2017: I went back to Timmy Green for dinner to discover a few minor layout/seating changes. Don’t forget to check out what I made of the experience.
London Grind, at the southern end of London Bridge, was the first of London’s growing Grind chain to offer full restaurant service in addition to its tried and tested espresso bar by day/cocktail bar by night model. It’s also undergone a recent expansion which has added a large seating area at the back and more than trebled the size of the kitchen.
There are several seating options, largely depending on why you are at Grind. If you’re dining, then there’s the aforementioned seating area, while if you are here for the espresso bar (day) or cocktail bar (evening) then you can sit at the counter. As a half-way house, a range of tables with padded benches lines the front wall where you can sit sipping your coffee/cocktails or having a more informal dining experience. As well as breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, there are also cakes and, at lunch-time, sandwiches.
This was the first time I’d visited a Grind since the chain started roasting its own coffee in its new Shoreditch HQ. In keeping with the tried and trusted Grind model, there is both a house-blend (for milk-based drinks) and single-origin (espresso, Americano, etc) on espresso, as well as decaf.
Small St Espresso, which opened in 2012, was one of Bristol’s first speciality coffee shops and is still one of my favourites, a masterclass on how to run a coffee shop in a small, intimate space. When I visited at the start of 2016, there were rumours of a second Small St, and then, at the very end of the summer, it opened. Going by the name Little Victories and describing itself as a sister venue to Small St, it was a must-visit on my return to Bristol at the end of last year.
Located on the wonderfully-named Spike Island, south of Bristol’s Floating Harbour, Little Victories is part of the Wapping Wharf development, sitting at the bottom (northern) end of Gaol Ferry Steps. Occupying a ground floor corner unit, it’s a big, open space with enormously high ceilings.
Operating as a speciality coffee shop by day, it morphs into a casual bar in the evening (Wednesday to Saturday), bringing craft beer, small plates and coffee-based cocktails to Bristol. All the coffee is from local roasters, Clifton Coffee Roasters, with two options on espresso and two more on available as pour-overs through the Chemex, while bread comes from Hart’s Bakery.
When I used to stay in downtown Chicago, my hotel was just around the corner from Tempo Café, an amazing 24-hour diner in Chicago’s Gold Coast (I say “used to stay”: it was all of three times!). However, I loved the place and made sure I visited for breakfast at least twice on each trip. Therefore, when I was back in Chicago as part of my coast-to-coast extravaganza last year, and unexpectedly found myself north of the river, I made a beeline to Tempo for a late brunch.
Tempo, along with Boston’s Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, is one of my favourite American diners, although compared to Charlie’s, it’s a very different place, slightly more upmarket in layout and feel, but still great value for money. All the usual diner staples are there, but you can also get full meals and everything is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Comfort food at its best!
Ipsento 606 is the second branch of Chicago veteran, Ipsento, which has been serving great coffee for 10 years now from its home on Western Avenue. Ipsento 606, in contrast, opened this summer and while just a few blocks away on Milwaukee Avenue, it takes its name from The 606, the elevated walkway which is just a few steps away from its front door.
I can only speak to the coffee shop part of the operation, but anywhere with not one, but two Slayer espresso machines, plus a single-group Modbar dedicated to single-origin espresso must be doing something right! There’s also the obligatory bulk-brew, plus a range of single-origins on pour-over, all roasted in a dedicated facility just up the road.
Artigiano is a chain that seems to be slowly colonising the west and southwest, anywhere, in fact, served by the old Great Western Railway out of Paddington. Starting with the original at St Paul’s in London (admittedly not served by any railway out of Paddington), there are now three more branches: Exeter, Cardiff and now this one in Reading, occupying a prime spot on Broad Street, right in the heart of the town.
Of all the Artigianos, this might be the most elegant, which is saying something since Artigiano prides itself on the elegance of its branches. It’s also the only one (so far) with an upstairs (although the now-defunct New Oxford Street branch in London and the equally defunct Queen Street branch in Cardiff both had a mezzanine levels) where the elegance is really taken to a new level with its sumptuous sofas and lounge area at the back.
Artigiano offers the same tried-and-trusted formula: speciality coffee by day (a bespoke house-blend and a seasonal single-origin on espresso) with craft beer and wine by night, Artigiano staying open late into the evening. A limited food offering is available throughout the day, backed up by a small range of cake.
November 2018: Artigiano Reading has now become Broad Street Bar and Kitchen. Thanks to Keith for the heads up.