Yesterday I took the Shinkansen from Kyoto Station, on my way towards Tokyo, stopping en-route in Hamaya to visit Dark Arts and in Zushi (Breather Coffee). It therefore seems fitting that today’s Coffee Spot is the Kyoto Station branch of Ogawa Coffee. I had my first-ever Kyoto speciality coffee there on arriving from Tokyo in April 2017, and on my return, I had my final coffee (along with my breakfast) before leaving Kyoto yesterday morning. Not that 2017 was my first experience of Ogawa Coffee. Rather that came a year earlier in 2016, at Ogawa Coffee in Boston. Naturally, when visiting Kyoto, the home of Ogawa, I had to try at least one branch of Ogawa, and where better to start (and end), than at the station?
Despite being what could be described as a station takeaway café, Ogawa doesn’t compromise when it comes to coffee. There’s a concise espresso menu, offering espresso, cappuccino or latte, the latter being available hot or iced. There’s also filter, with a choice of the house-blend on batch-brew, and two single-origins as pour-over or Aeropress. You can either sit-in or have your coffee to go, which you can order from the separate retail counter.
My first ever speciality coffee experience in Japan was at Maruyama Coffee in Nishi Azabu, conveniently located across the road from my hotel. Ever since then, I’ve had a soft spot for Maruyama Coffee, a high-end chain which has its origins in Nagano Prefecture. It was therefore fitting that when my friend and local guide, Christopher, took me on a coffee tour of Nagano, our first stop was Maruyama Coffee, which has a lovely coffee shop in the Midori shopping mall at Nagano Station. I also made a point of calling in on my return to Nagano on this trip.
Maruyama is a blend of traditional Japanese hospitality (table service, attentive staff, baskets to put your things in so that they don’t have to rest on the floor) and speciality coffee. In the former aspect, it’s very unlike western coffee shops; in its latter aspect, third-wave aficionados will instantly feel at home. As an added bonus, the Nagano Station location specialises in syphon coffee, which is prepared on the counter-top for all to see. Other than that, you get the usual Maruyama offering, with a bewildering choice of origins and blends through cafetiere and espresso, plus a small food menu.
The Espresso Station has been around for a while, since I can remember it from the early days of the Coffee Spot. These days it’s grown to a sizeable operation, providing coffee around the West Midlands. There are to two outlets in stations (Dorridge and Moor Street), two in sports clubs (Aston Villa FC and Worcester Warriors Rugby) and two coffee shops (the Espresso Barn and Espresso Farm). Maybe one day we’ll see the Espresso Station at Edgbaston (hint, hint).
Today’s Coffee Spot is a two-for-the-price-of-one, with the Espresso Station at Birmingham’s Moor Street, where there’s a lovely station café on the main concourse and a smaller, mainly takeaway operation behind the ticket barriers by the platforms. Both serve a standard espresso-based menu using a seasonal espresso blend from nearby Monsoon Estates Coffee Company, along with limited breakfast and lunch menus, plus a selection of cakes, pastries and sandwiches.
Obviously, the café, with a small amount of indoor seating, plus some “outdoor” tables, sheltered under the soaring glass roof of the station concourse, is the more accessible of the two, since you don’t need to buy a train ticket to visit it, so that’s the focus of today’s Coffee Spot.
Java Lounge is a name with history when it comes to coffee in Birmingham, first opening in Moseley in 2005. For a long time, it was just a local institution, but in 2015, the second Java Lounge opened, right in the heart of the city on Colmore Row. Now there are four branches and a rebrand in the offing (with a name change to Java Roastery to reflect its new focus). I first became aware of Java Lounge when I met with Akram, the owner, at last year’s Birmingham Coffee Festival, catching up with Akram and the team at this year’s festival. It was, I thought, high time I paid Java Lounge a visit.
The Colmore Row branch occupies a beautiful, high-ceilinged space with a main room at the front with more seating in a smaller room at the back. Alternatively, you can sit outside where there’s a small row of tables on the relatively quiet street. The coffee is all roasted in-house with a pair of seasonal espresso blends and a single-origin on pour-over through the V60 (for one) and Chemex (for two). If you’re hungry, there are breakfast and lunch menus, plus a selection of sandwiches and cakes.
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.
Prague’s Donut Shop, which styles itself as serving fresh, handmade doughnuts with style (I’m sorry, I can’t bring myself to type “donut”) along with speciality coffee, was recommended by the baristas at my very first stop in Prague, Pražírna Kavárna. Located in the Vinohrady district southeast of Prague’s Old Town, it’s been baking all its doughnuts on site in the kitchen at the back since 2016, pairing them with some excellent coffee. And that’s pretty much it.
There’s not much to the Donut Shop, just a counter and two three-person bars inside in the long, narrow interior. In fact, there’s more seating outside, with four tables spread out on the broad pavement, under the shade of a very large tree.
The Donut Shop has a single roaster on espresso and batch brew, the roaster changing every two or three months, although the individual beans on offer change more frequently. During my visit, it was the turn of Berlin’s The Barn, with a pair of single-origins, a Colombian on espresso and a Brazilian on batch brew.
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.
Chalk Coffee, which opened in August last year, might be a new name to Chester’s growing speciality coffee scene, but it has considerable pedigree, having been set up by Ed, who was one half of Jaunty Goat (the other half being his twin brother, Patrick). Like Jaunty Goat, Chalk is right in the heart of historic Chester, just around the corner, in fact, on Watergate Street, which also puts it just across the street from another Chester veteran, The Barista’s. The shop itself is lovely, stretching a long way back under the rows above, giving it a basement-like feel, especially at the back.
Chalk Coffee’s focus is firmly on the coffee, offering Origin on both espresso, through a Victoria Arduino Black Eagle, and on batch brew. It started by offering the Pathfinder blend, but since the start of this year, Chalk has been experimenting with single-origins as well as blends. The Resolute blend was on during my visit, with a Colombian single-origin next in the rotation, Chalk switching over as and when the current coffee runs out. There’s also a single-origin on batch brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of sandwiches and wraps, plus there’s a selection of cake.
Big Bad Wolf Coffee first opened its doors in September 2018 in Streatham, South West London. I must confess that I don’t know this part of London well, having only ventured as far as Balham and the likes of M1lk and Escape the Daily Grind on previous visits. A stone’s throw from the southeast corner of Tooting Bec and just north of Streatham Station, Big Bad Wolf is on the opposite side of Streatham Green from the Streatham branch of Brickwood. Indeed, I only discovered it after a tip-off from Clark at Estate Office Coffee who sent me on the short stroll down Streatham High Road to pay Big Bad Wolf and its owner, Andrew, a visit.
It’s a fairly simple space, long and thin, with the seating down the right-hand side and the counter on the left. The coffee all comes from Clifton Coffee Roasters, with an El Salvador single-origin and guest on espresso, plus two options on pour-over through V60 or Chemex, along with Canton Tea and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate. This is backed up by comprehensive breakfast and lunch menus from the open kitchen behind the counter, plus sandwiches, crepes and cakes which are available all day.
Estate Office Coffee, next to Streatham Hill Station in South West London, has built an excellent reputation since first opening in October 2016, championed, in particular, by Bean There At amongst others. A great example of a neighbourhood coffee shop done well, Clark (who I met), along with business partner, Joe have kept things simple but effective. My only disappointment is that it’s taken me this long to visit!
Estate Office Coffee serves the standard Allpress blend (the Redchurch Blend, as was, before Allpress renamed it) and decaf through a concise espresso-based menu. These are joined by a guest roaster on batch-brew through the Moccamaster. This was Margate’s Curve Coffee Roasters during my visit, but since the guest roaster changes every four to six weeks, there should be a different roaster on by now. Estate Office Coffee supports local roasters in the most part, occasionally venturing further afield in the UK.
If you’re hungry, there’s a small breakfast menu and a range of sandwiches, soup and some savouries for lunch. These are supplemented throughout the day by a good selection of cake. The milk, by the way, is from Estate Dairy (no relation), while there are plenty of non-dairy alternatives.