The speciality coffee scene in and around Earl’s Court and Hammersmith has really taken off in the last few years, led by the likes of Over Under Coffee, with the original opposite Earl’s Court station and its shoebox-sized addition at West Brompton. Pretty much slap bang between the two is Black Rabbit Speciality Coffee, a relatively new addition to the area, which opened last year.
Occupying a sunny corner on the north side of Old Brompton Road, it’s a small, but charming spot, flooded with light from large windows along the front and left-hand sides. If you don’t mind the traffic, you can sit outside at one of two pavement tables, or you can retreat inside, where there’s a similar number of tables, plus a couple of window-bars.
The coffee is from old friends Allpress, with the standard Allpress blend, plus decaf, on espresso, while there’s a regularly-changing guest roaster on batch-brew. Although it’s small, that doesn’t limit Black Rabbit’s ambition, with a decent selection of cake on the counter, plus impressive breakfast, brunch, sandwich, salad and wrap menus. If you’re wondering how the staff manage it, there’s a kitchen tucked away in the basement (but, alas, no seating).
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic may have caused a country-wide closure of coffee shops this spring, but that hasn’t stopped a growing number of brave entrepreneurs from opening new coffee shops. Chief amongst these are siblings Grace and Victoria, who had originally planned to open Queens of Mayfair, their high-end coffee shop located, appropriated enough, in Mayfair, back in March 2020. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t happen, but despite the COVID-19 setback, they carried on, with Queens opening in August instead.
Queens is an upscale venue, offering table service, a brunch menu until 3:30 pm and a “nibbles” menu in the evening. There’s cake, of course, plus hot chocolate, tea and a fully-stocked bar offering cocktails and other delights. However, it was the coffee that made the headlines, even catching the interest of the mainstream press. The reason? The UK’s most expensive cup of coffee, coming in at £50 a serving!
This is something so special that it deserves a Saturday Supplement all of its own (which will be along in due course). In the meantime, this Coffee Spot focuses on Queens as a coffee shop, where you can order from the more affordable espresso-based menu, based around a Brazilian Daterra, roasted for Queens by Difference Coffee.
I’ve known about Carbon Kopi ever since it opened almost exactly a year ago, on October 8th, 2019. The owners invited me to visit, but my travel schedule being what it was, I couldn’t take them up on the offer. Then, on Tuesday, I unexpectedly found myself in Earl’s Court, a 15-minute walk from Carbon Kopi, so I knew what I had to do.
Carbon Kopi is on Margravine Road, in a quiet, residential part of Hammersmith, standing on a shady corner at the junction with Gastein Road. There’s a small outdoor seating area at the front, a light-filled main area, with a cosy nook off to the side, and a larger, partially-covered outdoor seating area at the back.
Square Mile is on espresso, although rather than the ubiquitous Red Brick, there’s a seasonal single-origin which changes every two to three months. A monthly guest roaster provides two batch brew options, while if you’re hungry, there’s soup of the day, a small selection of toasted sandwiches and a range of very tempting cakes, all on display on the counter. Just be aware that because of COVID-19 restrictions, Carbon Kopi only uses disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.
Over Under Coffee, which seems to specialise in tiny coffee shops, has done much to bring speciality coffee to Earl’s Court/Hammersmith in West London, starting in 2017 with the original, opposite Earl’s Court Station. After branching out with a slightly larger coffee shop in Ham Yard, just off Piccadilly, which closed almost exactly two years ago at the end of October 2018, Over Under returned to its roots, the subject of today’s Saturday Short opening just outside West Brompton Station in January 2019. Since then, there have been two more Over Unders in London (Ladbroke Grove and Wandsworth Town) and one in Manchester.
Over Under Coffee at West Brompton is even smaller than the ones that came before it, the tiny interior offering standing room only, with just two small stools on the pavement outside. Despite this, there’s a concise espresso-based menu, backed up with batch brew filter, the coffee, as always, coming from Assembly. Even more impressively, given the size, is the brunch menu, cooked in the kitchen downstairs, plus various pastries and filled croissants.
It takes a special business to open in the middle of a global pandemic, which is exactly what The Collective, in Caversham, did. In fairness, the plan had been to open a lot earlier, but in a story I hear all too often, there were problems with the fit out and then, just as The Collective was due to open in March, along came the COVID-19 shutdown.
Many would have given up at that point, but not Caversham residents, Sam and Susie, the driving force behind The Collective. Instead they pushed on, The Collective opening in June, initially for takeaway only, before fully opening for table service in mid-September. There’s a brunch menu, which is joined at 11 o’clock by the lunch and toastie menus, all the food cooked in the open kitchen behind the counter. This is backed up by a concise espresso-based menu featuring Extract Coffee Roasters’s Rocket espresso.
Anonymous Coffee Co., which is located inside the Tasting House on Chain Street, in the heart of Reading, is the latest venture of old friend of the Coffee Spot, Phil Carter. Technically, Anonymous extends no further than the neat wooden counter just inside the door, but in reality you’re free to roam anywhere over the Tasting House’s two floors, including the large upstairs seating area. The Tasting House, by the way, is a wine merchant/wine bar with a range of wines on (self-service) tap, so you can try multiple wines in one sitting if you want.
Returning to Anonymous, there are two options on espresso (“comfort” and “adventure”) with two more on pour-over through the V60. One espresso and one filter come from Union Hand-roasted, with the others coming from a regularly-changing guest roaster (during my visit, it was Walthamstow’s finest, Wood St Coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cakes available from Anonymous, or you can have something from the Tasting House kitchen, which offers toasties, charcuterie, crostini and various bar snacks.
However, there have been changes. As well the (admittedly minor) physical ones, you’ll find a clear sign outside on the pavement reminding you that you must wear a mask. Meanwhile, there’s a QR code on the counter that you can scan, checking you in on the NHS COVID-19 app. Not all the changes are COVID-19 related though. Chalk Coffee used to use Origin for its house espresso, but it’s recently changed to Colonna Coffee, although Origin is still on decaf, while a regularly-changing guest roaster provides the second espresso option and filter. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, the usual cast of premade sandwiches and cakes are still available.
Jaunty Goat is one of Chester’s speciality coffee stalwarts, having relocated from a few doors along Bridge Street to its current location in 2015. I first visited in 2016, when it could be fairly described as a coffee shop doing good food, all in a lovely, basement-like interior that extends a long way back under the Rows above. There are even the remnants of a stone staircase in the wall at the back that might date back to the middle-ages.
Jaunty Goat was set up by twins, Patrick and Ed, with Ed leaving in 2018 to establish the nearby Chalk Coffee. Since then, Jaunty Goat has reinvented itself, considerably upping its food game to match the likes of The Flower Cup and Panna, serving a brunch menu until 4 o’clock. It’s also revamped and extended the interior, adding more table seating.
At the start of 2019, it opened a second, plant-based, location on Northgate Street, then, after reopening following the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions, Jaunty Goat itself has gone vegetarian. Finally, over the summer, it started roasting its own coffee in a dedicated, off-site roastery, with seasonal single-origin offerings on espresso (house, guest and decaf), plus another on pour-over (AeroPress/V60/Chemex).
If you ever need evidence that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for operating a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic, I present Kaffeine, the London-based chain of precisely two coffee shops. I’ve already looked at how the original Kaffeine, on Great Titchfield Street, has adapted to COVID-19 and today it’s the turn of Kaffeine Eastcastle, which reopened at the start of September. Although less than five minutes’ walk apart, how the two shops are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is quite different.
Of course, there are similarities, with both adhering to the same underlying principles, but in each case, the response has been moulded to/by the needs of the individual shop. Perhaps the biggest difference is that while Great Titchfield Street offers table service, Eastcastle, with its lower footfall, has a more traditional counter service model.
In terms of what’s on offer, little has changed. The espresso-based menu still has Square Mile’s ubiquitous Red Brick at its heart, along with a single-origin option, while there’s also a single-origin filter, which changes monthly. The concise brunch menu is served until 2 pm (3 pm at weekends), supported by an all-day selection of salads, tarts and toasted sandwiches, plus cake, of course.
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.