Open Grounds Café (COVID-19)

My brie and cranberry sandwich, along with my flat white, sitting in the sun on the patio at Open Grounds Café.I first heard of Open Grounds Café, another new addition to Guildford’s speciality coffee scene, in November last year, when Jonathon of Canopy Coffee tipped me off about a new coffee shop opening in the Baptist Church on Millmead, down by the river. I duly popped down in December, during that brief period when sit-in customers were allowed in the run-up to Christmas, but I didn’t have time to write it up. Then came further COVID-19 restrictions and Open Grounds switched to a takeaway operation.

However, at the start of April, the COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed, allowing coffee shops to serve customers at outdoor seating. This was something that Open Grounds, with a large patio in front of the church, was ideally placed to take advantage of. I made a brief visit (on my way to a wedding) and then returned last week for a more in-depth look.

Open Grounds is very much a lunchtime coffee shop, opening from 10:00 to 14:00, with a standard espresso-based menu built around a single-origin Brazilian from Ethicaladdictions, plus decaf and batch-brew filter. There’s tea, soft drinks, soup, a small selection of sandwiches and curry puffs, plus a range of cakes, scones and pastries.

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The Green Wood Café (COVID-19)

The front of The Green Wood Café, with a large sign saying "Please Wait Here".The Green Wood Café is in Coalbrookedale, a narrow, steep-sided valley which leads south into the famous Ironbridge Gorge a few hundred metres west of the famous bridge. Located in the Green Wood Centre, it’s nestled between the road and the disused railway line. The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on The Green Wood Café, which has only recently reopened, having been shut over the winter. Like many places, it has had to reinvent itself, but the good news is that it’s done a fantastic job, with excellent, well thought out systems and lots of lovely outdoor seating, including tables in the adjacent orchard.

For now, everything is served in compostable, single use containers, with a full, all-day brunch menu, including street food and toasted sandwiches, backed up by the range of cakes. Everything is vegetarian, with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. When it comes to the coffee, which uses the café’s own bespoke blend, oat milk is offered as standard, with dairy and soya milk as options. There’s also a wide range of tea and alternative drinks such as chai, beetroot, matcha and turmeric lattes (all of which have iced versions), backed up with smoothies and soft drinks.

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The Table (COVID-19)

The open double doors welcome you to The Table in Walsall.The Table, which opened at the start of April, can lay claim to the title of Walsall’s first (and, for now, only) speciality coffee shop. The brainchild of Abby and James, it was set up as a community hub with the backing of the Walsall Community Church. Occupying part of a lovely, old building on the corner of Lower Hall Lane and Caldmore Road, it’s a few minutes’ walk from the train station in the centre of town. It’s also a great alternative to the motorway services, being under 10 minutes from both Junctions 9 and 10 on the M6, with plentiful (cheap) parking nearby.

For now, the spacious interior (The Table goes a long way back) is off-limits until the next set of COVID-19 restrictions are lifted (hopefully in May). However, there’s plenty of outside seating, and, with its location on a south-facing corner, it catches the sun. When it comes to coffee, The Table uses Bristol’s Odd Kin Coffee Roasters, with Walsall’s own Coffee by the Casuals on filter, although there are plans to add more guests in due course. There’s also Kokoa Collection hot chocolate, a selection of tea and a range of cakes if you’re hungry.

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Espresso Farm (COVID-19)

Coffee in the sun: my flat white, in my HuskeeCup, sitting in the sun in the farmyard at Espresso Farm.Espresso Farm has been on my radar since it opened in February 2019, but Saturday was the first opportunity I had to pay a visit. Located within Umberslade Farm Park, it’s just south of the M42/M40 junction, making it an excellent alternative to the motorway services if you need a break when travelling in either direction. It’s also worth a visit in its own right and, while it’s easiest to get to by car, if you don’t mind a 35-minute walk along the lanes (or 20 minutes across the fields) it’s also served by Danzey Station on the Birmingham to Stratford line.

For now, just the outside seating is open, but the good news is that there’s plenty of it and the Espresso Farm has the most wonderful setting. It helps that the coffee, from the nearby Monsoon Estates Coffee Company, is excellent, and while Espresso Farm is currently using disposable cups, the staff are happy if you bring your own. As well as the usual espresso-based drinks, there’s batch-brew filter, hot chocolate and a range of tea. If you’re hungry, Espresso Farm can offer an all-day breakfast menu, a selection of toasties and a wide range of cakes.

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The Old Roastery Coffee Shop (COVID-19)

The name over the door: The Old Roastery Coffee Shop, occupying Redber Coffee Roasters' old roastery.I’ve been aware of Redber Coffee Roasters, which was set up in 2012 (the same year as the Coffee Spot), for quite a while now. Located on an industrial estate in Merrow, just south of the train line from Guildford to London via Effingham Junction, the roastery is around an hour’s walk from my house. Unfortunately, it’s not the easiest place for me to get to, particularly without a car, nor is it really on my way to anywhere. However, when I learnt last week that Redber was opening an on-site coffee shop, I decided it was about time I paid a visit. It also helped that I had access to a car on Friday…

I visited The Old Roastery Coffee Shop at the end of its first week of trading. There’s a standard espresso-based menu using the Café Français blend, plus tea and hot chocolate, although for now it’s takeaway cups only (that said, the staff are happy if you bring your own). While the indoor seating is off-limits until the next round of COVID-19 restrictions are eased (hopefully in May), you are welcome to sit outside where there is a good selection of tables and chairs.

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The Hideout (COVID-19 Update)

The coffee profile for the Brightnote blend from Union Hand-roasted, as served at The Hideout.When it comes to my Guildford speciality coffee roundups during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Hideout, on the University of Surrey’s Stag Hill campus, is very much the forgotten party (by me, that is). The fact is, other than a short break during the early months of the pandemic (when the students went home), The Hideout has been open throughout the pandemic. My excuse, for what it’s worth, is that I’m hardly ever on that side of the river unless I’m going to Surrey Scorchers games at the weekend, when The Hideout is closed.

However, following my latest roundup, I thought I should rectify this oversight, so yesterday I popped up to a surprisingly busy campus to catch up with Beau and Charlie, the pair behind The Hideout. There have, inevitably, been some COVID-19 related changes, but the good news is that The Hideout is going strong after a lean time over the winter (when very few students were on campus). Best of all, the coffee, from old friends Union Hand-roasted, is as good as ever!

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Intelligentsia, Venice

The brick arch leading to the front of the Intelligentsia coffee bar on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, Los Angeles.This is a first for the Coffee Spot. Almost four years ago to the day, I was in Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, Los Angeles, following a recommendation from Lee Gaze of Silhouette. It was during my first visit to the city and, while I really liked it, I didn’t have time to finish my write up during my busy trip, so it languished on my hard drive instead. As weeks turned to months, and months turned to years, it seemed increasingly pointless to publish an out-of-date Coffee Spot, so that’s where it stayed, languished on my hard drive.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to limit both my travel and my ability to visit (and hence write about) coffee shops, at the start of the year I decided to return to my backlog of Travel Spots, which led to me to continue writing up The Grand Adventure (as I call my drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, undertaken in January 2017). And that, in turn, has provided the perfect excuse to dust off my notes and old photos of Intelligentsia…

So, let me present Intelligentsia’s Venice coffee bar, exactly as I found it three years and 363 days ago.

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Heartwork Coffee Bar

The Heartwork Coffee Bar logo from the side of the horsebox which acts as the coffee bar.Sometimes, I feel that things are just meant to be. Unexpectedly finding myself with access to a car, some nice weather and a free afternoon, I decided to seek out somewhere for my daily walk that was slightly further afield than my immediate backyard. Scrolling around Google Maps, Heartwork Coffee Bar in Holmbury St Mary jumped out at me, largely because I know the area reasonably well and wasn’t aware of any coffee shops there. An hour later, I was pulling up outside Bulmer Farm, home of Heartwork.

Heartwork is located at the back of the farm, on Pasture Wood Road, just off the B2126. The heart of the operation is an old horsebox, converted into a coffee bar, with a serving hatch at the front. There’s a standard espresso-based menu, using a bespoke blend roasted for Heartwork, backed up by hot chocolate, tea and a small selection of cakes, sandwiches and wraps. If you want to stay, then there’s a selection of seating, from outdoor, stand-up tables and low benches to a pair of barns with more tables and straw bales for seating. Just be aware that Heartland only has takeaway cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.

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Koja by Surrey Hills Coffee (COVID-19 Update)

My flat white, made with the Surrey Hills Coffee Holmbury Hill blend and served in my HuskeeCup at Koja.Koja, a Swedish word meaning “a cosy little den”, came into being in August this year. On the one hand, it can be seen as the rebirth of Surrey Hills Coffee on Jeffries Passage, but it’s also very much its own place, resisting the temptation to become a clone of what had gone before.

When I visited, on Koja’s second day of trading, it was just offering takeaway service. As summer turned to autumn, Koja introduced limited seating downstairs, although I never seemed to be in the position to visit, either passing by at closing time (at the relatively early hour of two o’clock in the afternoon) or else it was a Saturday and very busy. With the tightening of COVID-19 restrictions in England at the start of November, Koja returned to takeaway only, and I thought it was high time I popped back to see how things were going.

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Caravan Exmouth Market (COVID-19 Update)

The Caravan logo from the sign outside the original Exmouth Market branch.I’d originally planned today’s Coffee Spot for Saturday. Then the latest COVID-19 restrictions happened and, for a while, I wondered if I should postpone my write up until December at the earliest. However, since Caravan is still open for collection/delivery, I decided to go ahead, so welcome to Monday’s Coffee Spot, an update on Caravan Exmouth Market. Until the England-wide shutdown on Thursday, Caravan was going strong, serving its filling breakfasts, weekend brunches and innovative small plates and dinners, all backed up with some excellent Caravan coffee on espresso and filter.

Caravan is one of those legendary names in London coffee circles. Now with five restaurants/cafes/bars, plus a coffee bar in Harrods and a dedicated roastery, Exmouth Market was where it all began, back in 2010. As well as being the original Caravan coffee shop, it was also the original roastery (located in the basement), before that moved out to King’s Cross and then to the new facility at the Lamb Works. The smallest of the five, Exmouth Market is still my favourite, so when I found myself staying around the corner, I decided to call in for dinner. And then I came back for breakfast the following morning…

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