92 Degrees Coffee (COVID-19 Update)

The 92 Degrees logo, taken from above the counter on the Hardman Road coffee shop.92 Degrees Coffee, Liverpool’s first combined speciality coffee shop/roaster, has come a long way since I first visited at the end of 2015. Then it was just a single shop at the top of Hardman Street, the roaster tucked away in a small space behind the counter. Now it’s a chain of three, adding a larger shop in the Baltic Triangle, which does food, and a smaller shop five minutes’ walk from the original, catering more to the students (and only recently reopened). The roaster has also moved since my original visit, first to the Baltic Triangle, then to a dedicated roastery/office back in the same building on Hardman Street (which, sadly, isn’t open to the public).

This update is about the original which looks and feels very much how I remember it from my visit almost five years ago. There are a few COVID-19 changes, such as a thinning out of the seating and a move to disposable cups (so don’t forget to bring your own). However, the basic offering is the same, with the house blend on espresso and three options through the Kalita Wave, along with tea, hot chocolate, plus a selection of cakes, bagels and prepared sandwiches/salads.

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Faculty (COVID-19 Update)

Faculty/Sixteen Kitchen has long been my go-to option when changing trains at Birmingham’s New Street Station. Located at the bottom of the Piccadilly Arcade, opposite the station’s New Street entrance, it’s a great breakfast/lunch option, courtesy of Sixteen Kitchen, although I’ve tended to call in the afternoon for coffee and cake at Faculty when changing trains, its proximity to the station making it perfect if you have a few minutes between trains.

Like many in the speciality coffee industry, Faculty has been feeling its way back, initially reopening for takeaway only, when it served from the door. Since then, it’s reopened its seating areas and is slowly expanding its opening hours as people return to the city centre. For now, the coffee offering has been reduced slightly, with just one option on espresso and another on pour-over. Similarly, Sixteen Kitchen is offering a cut-down menu, although you can always get cakes and a small selection of toasted sandwiches from Faculty.

The usual COVID-19 precautions are in place, including reduced seating to ensure social distancing, a queuing system at the door and Perspex screens on the counter. One non-COVID change is the appearance of a Modbar espresso system on the counter!

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Quarter Horse Coffee Update

The Quarter Horse Coffee logo: a profile of a knight from a chess set, surrounded by an oval with the words "Quarter Horse Coffee" written around the outside.While the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly hit the speciality coffee industry hard, it has also provided unforeseen opportunities for some. Quarter Horse Coffee opened its café/roastery in Birmingham in early 2015, but in recent years, Nathan, the driving force behind Quarter Horse, has wanted to make some major modifications. However, the question was always how to justify the disruption caused by the required structural work, which would inevitably shut both roastery and café for several weeks. Then along came COVID-19, with its enforced shutdown, giving Nathan his opportunity…

Originally the roastery was behind an open counter on the left of the café. While this had the obvious advantage that customers could see the roaster in operation, the layout had some serious operational disadvantages. The resulting remodelling has seen the roastery remain in place, but enclosed in its own room, the café being reworked to provide more seating in a slightly reduced space, a clever trick if you ask me. And, of course, the excellent coffee is still there, along with an enhanced food offering.

Today’s Coffee Spot Update focuses on the café, which reopened on the last day in July, while the roastery has its own update, which will be along in due course.

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Iris & June (COVID-19 Update)

A black circle with the words "Iris&June" written in white inside itFor a long time, Iris & June, on Howick Place, between Victoria and Westminster, was a lonely beacon of coffee excellence in the local area. Yes, there was the venerable Flat Cap Coffee stall, but if you wanted somewhere to sit down, for many years after it opened in early 2014, Iris & June was the only game in town. All that has changed in the last couple of years, but just because there are plenty of other options in the area these days, this doesn’t mean you should overlook Iris & June, which reopened in July after the COVID-19 closedown and is just as good as ever, which I discovered when I visited last week.

Like many coffee shops operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, Iris & June has had to make compromises, reducing its opening hours and stripping out some of the seating to maintain social distancing. However, when it comes to what matters, don’t be fooled: this is the same old Iris & June, with excellent Ozone coffee on espresso and filter, along with its innovative daily lunches. And, of course, the same high standards of service which makes Iris & June stand out from the crowd.

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Panna Chester (COVID-19 Update)

An espresso, made with Panna's bespoke house blend, served in one of its quirky white espresso cups.I first came across Panna in Liverpool at the end of 2015, catching up with owners Ivana and Peter once again at the end of last year after they’d successfully relocated Panna to Chester’s Watergate Street. They had done a good job of establishing Panna in the city’s booming speciality coffee scene when along came COVID-19. I was therefore delighted to see that Panna had reopened after the relaxing of the COVID-19 restrictions.

Naturally, there have been changes to keep everyone safe during the pandemic, the most obvious of which can be seen outside on Watergate Street. The street has been pedestrianised, and, as a result, Panna, along with some of the neighbouring business, has an expanded outside seating area. There are more changes inside, such as the inevitable thinning out of the seating, but perhaps the best news is what hasn’t changed, with Panna still offering its full range of coffee and its innovative all-day brunch menu, backed up by a range of cakes and pastries. And, of course, there’s Panna’s famous warm welcome.

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Koja by Surrey Hills Coffee (COVID-19)

The sign inside Koja by Surrey Hills Coffee: "Welcome Lovely People Of Guildford to Koja by SHC"Once upon a time, there was a coffee roastery called Surrey Hills Coffee which (accidentally) opened a coffee shop in Guildford. That was in 2016, and soon the little coffee shop had outgrown its original home on Chapel Street, prompting a move in 2018 to bigger premises on Jeffries Passage, where, in the fullness of time, an upper floor seating area was added. And then COVID-19 came along and, like all the other coffee shops in Guildford, Surrey Hills had to close.

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.

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Gourmet Coffee Bar & Kitchen, Crewe (COVID-19 Update)

The front of the Gourmet Coffee Bar at the end of Platform 5 in Crewe Station, with its newly-installed Perspex screens, shortly after it reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic.Like Monday’s Coffee Spot Update, The Flower Cup, I took my sweet time in writing up the Gourmet Coffee Bar & Kitchen at Crewe Station, although in this case it wasn’t because I hadn’t visited: on the contrary, it was a highlight of any change of trains at Crewe. Rather, I was never there for long enough during any one visit to write it up! However, I finally managed it earlier this year, publishing my piece the day before I wrote about The Flower Cup. So, in a pleasing piece of symmetry, I’m publishing this COVID-19 Update just after publishing my update on The Flower Cup.

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.

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Coffee Under Pressure (COVID-19 Update)

Brewing with love, always! The message written on the wall above a set of plants and a solitary two-person table at Coffee Under Pressure in St Mary's Butt, Reading.I first visited Reading’s Coffee Under Pressure just over four years ago. Back then, it had only been open for a year, enjoying its status as the new kid on the block. It’s since gone on to open a second location on nearby Blagrave Street, while a third Coffee Under Pressure opened just last month on Park Street in Bristol, a brave move if ever there was one.

The original Coffee Under Pressure, St Mary’s Butts, looks much as I remember it, tucked away in a lovely spot behind the Reading Minster, its sun-drenched, south-facing aspect providing a sheltered spot for its outdoor seating, while you’ll still get a warm welcome inside, the interior seating have recently been reopened following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.

As well as the warm welcome, you’ll find close to Coffee Under Pressure’s full menu with two blends on espresso, plus decaf, as well as several single-origins available as through the V60, all from Winchester’s The Roasting Party. There’s also a wide selection of sweet and savoury items provided from the small kitchen to the left of the counter. The main concession to COVID-19 is that everything’s served to go, even if you’re sitting in.

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G!RO (COVID-19 Update)

The sign hanging outside G!RO in Esher.On Tuesday last week, I got on a train again, this time heading to Surbiton and The Press Room, stopping along the way at G!RO in Esher. Both coffee shops had recently reopened for sit-in customers and I was keen to see how they compared to the likes of Notes and Attendant, which I had visited in London the week before.

I was last at what was then G!RO Cycles in 2015. Like The Press Room, it’s undergone quite a few changes since then. Some of these are clearly recent, allowing for safe reopening during COVID-19, while others, such as the large outdoor seating area, clearly predate that. There’s also been a subtle rebranding, with G!RO Cycles becoming G!RO, although you shouldn’t read too much into the dropping of the word “cycles” from the name. This is still very much a cycle-friendly café as well as a bike shop.

G!RO currently has an espresso-based coffee menu, plus batch-brew filter, although its extensive pour-over offering is unavailable for now. All the coffee is from Workshop, with a range of retail bags for sale. If you’re hungry, there’s a limited all-day brunch selection, backed up by sandwiches and a large range of cake.

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The Press Room, Surbiton (COVID-19 Update)

A shot of Origin's Resolute blend in a classic red cup in The Press Room, Surbiton.This time last week, I went up to London and sat in a coffee shop for the first time in almost four months. Although I’d been nervous beforehand, everything went really well and, buoyed by my success, I set off again this week. However, rather than going all the way to London, I just went to Surbiton to visit The Press Room, calling in along the way at G!RO Cycles in Esher.

The Press Room is another coffee shop which I first wrote about in 2013, in the early days of the Coffee Spot. Although I’ve since visited the second Press Room in Twickenham, I’ve not been back to the original in many years. A return was therefore long overdue, especially once I’d learnt that it had reopened for sit-in customers on 4th July.

For now, there’s reduced indoor seating, with The Press Room operating the best door/table management system I’ve seen so far (albeit from a very small sample). If you don’t want to sit, you can order takeaway from the window at the front. Currently there’s a reduced menu, with just the Resolute blend from Origin on espresso, backed up by a good range of sandwiches and cakes.

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