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.
Coffee@33 is one of Brighton’s hidden gems, a stone’s throw away from the station at No. 33, Trafalgar Street. I was originally put onto it Horsham Coffee Roaster back in 2013, not long after Coffee@33 had started using Horsham as a second roaster alongside Monmouth. Back then, Coffee@33 was so under the radar that it didn’t even have its name outside, but despite that potential drawback, it already had a fiercely loyal following.
Fast-forward five years and a rare excursion to Brighton, I finally managed to revisit Coffee@33, where I ran into Taras, who, along with his business partner, owns Coffee@33. In many ways, little had changed, with the coffee shop being instantly recognisable from my visit of five years ago. On the other hand, quite a lot has changed. There’s new equipment behind the counter, in the shape of a cutting-edge Mavam modular espresso system. Perhaps more importantly, Coffee@33 now roasts all its own coffee and has recently moved to using a new, modern Loring coffee roaster.
Not 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.
Regular 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…
Rival Bros was brought to my attention by my friend Greg of Coffee Guru App fame. On my first visit to Philadelphia, in 2014, Rival Bros was a roastery with a growing reputation and a coffee truck near the station. Sadly, I missed out visiting that time, but when I returned the following year, Rival Bros had opened its first bricks-and-mortar coffee shop on the corner of 24th and Lombard Streets.
Fast-forward anther three years (to this time last year) and I was once again in Philadelphia, part of another of my Grand Adventures. By now, Rival Bros was up to three coffee shops, including the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, its most recent venture on Tasker Street, firmly on Philadelphia’s south side, where it joins the likes of Ultimo Coffee and Plenty Café.
The ubiquitous Revolver blend is on espresso, where it’s joined by a decaf option and a single-origin, with more single-origins (four during my visit) available on pour-over through the Chemex. There’s also batch-brew if you’re in a hurry, plus cold-brew, nitro cold-brew and various iced coffees. If you’re hungry, Rival Bros has a small menu featuring two toast options and two sandwiches, plus a selection of cakes.