Idle Hands @ Grub

The Idle Hands logo, taken from the A-board outside the second pop-up on Dale Street.Idle Hands, run by the very wonderful Dave & Lucy, started life as a pop-up next to Manchester’s Piccadilly Station. With the building due for redevelopment, this was always going to be a short-term arrangement, but the good news was that about a year after leaving the Piccadilly site, Idle Hands found a new and (at the time) permanent home on Dale Street, moving in on a temporary basis while waiting for the space to be refurbished.

However, just before Dave & Lucy started fitting out the new shop, the landlord abruptly terminated the lease, leaving Idle Hands homeless. For a less determined couple, that would have been the end, but Dave & Lucy picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and, with a ground swell of support from the wider coffee/independent sector in Manchester, found a new temporary home at Grub’s Mayfield site, where I visited one rainy Friday afternoon.

October 2017: Idle Hands is temporarily closed while Dave & Lucy have their baby. In other news, Grub itself has moved from Mayfield to Fairfield Social Club on nearby Temperance Street.

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Seesaw 433

The Seesaw logo.Seesaw is a roastery and a chain of seven Shanghai coffee shops, although this one, Seesaw 433, is the original, having opened in 2012. Like most of the places I visited in Shanghai, it helps to know where it is, only more so in this case, since it’s at the back of a design centre, with no obvious signs on the street. If I hadn’t have known it was there, I would have missed it completely.

However, it would have been a shame to walk past since it’s a beautiful spot, with an enclosed courtyard, complete with glass roof. Perhaps because the courtyard is completely enclosed, it’s no smoking, but despite this, it can still get very hot and humid. If you want air-conditioning (or power outlets for your laptop), you’ll need to head inside the coffee shop proper, off to one side of the courtyard.

Seesaw roasts all its own coffee in a dedicated facility. There’s a seasonal house-blend and single-origin on espresso, with six or seven further single-origins on pour-over/cold brew, with all the typical origins represented. You can also buy the beans to take home with you, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of western-style cakes.

March 2019: Sad to say, Seesaw 433 has closed. It looks to me as if the whole building has been vacated rather than Seesaw itself moving/closing down.

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5th Element Coffee

An espresso, plus a glass of sparkling water, beautifully presented at 5th Element Coffee in Madison.I popped over to Madison for a week of visiting friends, not necessarily expecting to find great coffee. However, serendipity had other ideas. Rather than hang out in my friend’s house while she was at work, I decided to come into the office with her and then find a coffee shop for the day. And it just so happens that two blocks from the office is the totally awesome 5th Element Coffee.

5th Element was established in 2015 by Alejandro Mendez, the 2011 World Barista Champion, along with Todd Allbaugh, who I was fortunate enough to meet. Serving only single-origin coffee, 5th Element’s main claim to fame is its close ties with coffee farmers in El Salvador, where Alejandro sources and roasts the coffee at 4 Monkeys Coffee Roasters. The coffee is then flown over to Madison every couple of weeks.

5th Element occupies a corner unit on the north side of University Avenue, west of downtown Madison. A large, open, uncluttered space, there’s plenty of seating at numerous communal tables at the back, plus a small outdoor seating area set back from the road to the right. If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of panini, waffles and cakes.

August 2017: I’ve heard the sad news that 5th Element has unexpectedly had to close. Coffee shops come and go, but I’ve not been this disappointed to learn of a coffee shsop closure in a long time. On the plus side, at least I had a chance to visit while it was still open. Hopefully Todd and 5th Element will be back in some form, so watch this space!

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Tincan Coffee Co, Clare Street

Detail from the sign outside of the Tincan Coffee Co branch on Clare Street, Bristol.This is the second of the bricks-and-mortar Tincan Coffees, the Bristol-based company which started life serving coffee from vintage Citroen vans. It follows hot on the heels of the first Tincan Coffee on North Street (ironically on the south side of Bristol). Clare Street opened at the end of last year, joining the cluster of speciality coffee places in the heart of Bristol, including the (now venerable) Small St Espresso and Full Court Press, along with relative newcomer Playground Coffee.

Tincan has a range of hot food from a brunch menu (served from 10am to 4pm), backed up with sandwiches and cakes served throughout the day. It’s a much larger space than its near-neighbours, probably offering more seating than all three combined!

The coffee is from Clifton Coffee Roasters, with a bespoke seasonal house-blend and single-origin on espresso, plus another single-origin on bulk-brew. Unusually, the single-origins on offer are different in the two Tincan branches (in my experience, for economies of scale, its usual have the same coffee at each branch). These are changed when the current batch runs out, usually every two weeks or so. For non-coffee drinkers, there’s tea from Brew Tea Co and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate.


December 2017: It appears that the Clare Street branch has closed, but the original North Street branch is still going strong. Thanks to Mike Stanbridge for the heads up.

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Made by Hand Coffee Pop-up, UniQlo

One of Made by [H]and Coffee's handmade Kalita Wave filters brewing away at it's pop-up in UniQlo on Oxford Street in March 2017.Normally, I’m reluctant to feature a pop-up on the Coffee Spot. However, when that pop-up is by renowned roasters, Has Bean, and it’s the first Has Bean coffee shop in 14 years, I’ll make an exception. I also wouldn’t normally visit a shop two days after it had opened, but when it’s only open for 72 days, time is of the essence.

So it was that on Monday, I popped down to Oxford Street to visit Made by Hand Coffee ([H]AND for short). Located on the third floor of the UniQlo clothing store, [H]AND is tucked away at the back, but easy enough to find. There’s a simple coffee bar, grinders at either end, a row of four Kalita Wave filters between them. Personally, in that sort of setting, I prefer standing up at the bar to drink my coffee, but if you want to sit down, there’s a cluster of four sumptuous armchairs around a coffee table (with USB power sockets).

However, the coffee’s the star, with a choice of four single-origin pour-overs. You can pick one or have a tasting flight of three. Similarly there are four teas, with the same offer on the table. And that’s it.

June 2017: [H]AND has now closed. Hopefully it will reappear somewhere at some point in the future, so watch this space!

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Taylor Street Baristas, The Shed

The opening times, and a grinning skull, taken from the door of Taylor St Baristas, The Shed.Taylor Street Baristas, one of London’s best-known mini-chains, seems to specialise in quirky locations in slightly out-of-the-way places, such as the Taylor Street Gallery, tucked away down an alley behind Monument. The Shed, as its Shoreditch branch is known, is arguably harder find, and is one of the oldest Taylor Street Barista branches.

Housed in an actual garden shed, it’s well-named: a tiny, intimate spot, where the outside seating, in the shape of multiple tables and chairs, easily outnumbers the four seats inside, which are at two bars, one in the window between the two doors and one along the back of the left-hand wall.

Despite its size, The Shed has a decent range of coffee, with two options, plus decaf, on espresso, a single-origin on bulk-brew, and a selection of loose-leaf teas from London’s Postcard Teas. This is backed up with various breakfast goodies and cakes throughout the day.

September 2019: as part of the sale of Taylor Street Barista’s coffee shops to the Black Sheep chain, The Shed has closed.

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CoffeeWorks Project, Leadenhall Market

The window of the CoffeeWorks Project in Leadenhall Market in London.The CoffeeWorks Project is a small chain of three London coffee shops, which, since the summer of 2016, has also become a roaster as well. I first came across is towards the end of 2013 when there was just one, the original in the Angel. Despite liking it immensely, it’s taken me three years to visit its second branch in Leadenhall Market in the heart of the City.

One of the many attractions of the original is the rambling space it occupies, which includes several interconnected spaces and a gorgeous downstairs garden to the rear of the property. In contrast, I went past the Leadenhall Market branch several times, but, from the street, it never looked that appealing. Its chipboard walls and counter gave it a slightly unfinished look and it never struck me as somewhere I would enjoy sitting and having my coffee, so I passed on by.

However, fate has a way of resolving these things. Last year, I met up my friend Oksana for coffee and we went to the Leadenhall Market CoffeeWorks Project. Far from finding it unappealing, I loved it and so I returned with my Coffee Spot hat on late one afternoon in December…

September 2018: Sadly I’ve learned that the Leadenhall Market branch has closed. However, the good news is that CoffeeWorks Project is going strong and how has  five branches!

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Silhouette Cheapside

From the sign outside Silhouette on Cheapside.Wander down Cheapside, away from St Paul’s Cathedral, and you’ll find a branch of Hummus Bros. on the left-hand side. This, in itself, is unspectacular since Hummus Bros. is a familiar sight in London. However, this one’s special: look closely and you’ll see that it houses none other than Silhouette, a speciality coffee shop run by one of coffee’s nicest couples, Lee and Syirin (although these days Syirin’s rarely in the shop).

The space itself is nothing special: long and thin with a makeshift counter two-thirds of the way down on the right, housing Silhouette’s trusty La Marzocco espresso machine. From this surprisingly small space, you’ll find Lee dispensing excellent espresso-based drinks from Notes and occasional guests (although rumour has it that if you ask nicely, you can get pour-over, although it’s not on the menu). Even more impressive is the small, but tasty, toast-based menu & some excellent cakes.

July 2017: Sad news. Silhouette has closed. Not sure if Lee and Syirin will be back with another venture, but I certainly hope so!

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Flat Caps Campus North

The Flat Caps Coffee logo, taken from a bag of coffee roasted to mark Flat Caps' successful Kickstarter.In the summer of 2016, Joe of Newcastle’s Flat Caps Coffee, launched a Kickstarter to fund a second coffee shop alongside the legendary basement on Ridley Place. Five months (and one successful Kickstarter) later and Flat Caps found that it had not one, but two new coffee shops. Funny how these things work out…

Initially, Flat Caps took over the old Bunker Coffee & Kitchen which became, after a complete makeover, the second Flat Caps, Flat Caps Carliol Square. Not long after that, Joe was approached by Campus North, the co-working space next door, to see if he would run a coffee operation in Campus North’s public space. Thus the third Flat Caps, Flat Caps Campus North, was born.

Campus North is a very different beast from both the original Flat Caps (Ridley Place) and the new Carliol Square. The coffee offering has been cut right back, with just a single option offered on espresso (no filter here). Added to that is a small selection of cake, while there’s a limited food offering, based on the menu next door. Taking advantage of the kitchen in Carliol Square, the food is prepared there and bought over.

June 2018: Flat Caps no longer provides a coffee service in Campus North, but is still going strong next door at Carliol Square.

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Grindsmith Cross Street

When visiting Manchester for the Manchester Coffee Festival, it’s traditional that I start one of my days at Grindsmith. Two years ago, it was the original, the Pod on Greengate Square, while last year I called in on the second branch on Deansgate. This year it’s the turn of the latest branch, on Cross Street. Bizarrely, this means that I’ve done all four Grindsmith branches in the order that they opened, having previously visited Media City, Grindsmith’s other opening this year.

Grindsmith’s always has interesting spaces. The Pod is just that, a pod/container with a coffee shop inside. Deansgate is at front of an amazing old warehouse, effectively the house-café for the Central Working/Rise co-working space. Meanwhile Media City is a bright, light-filled spot with a cosy mezzanine above the counter/kitchen.

The latest Grindsmith is a joint-venture with Chop’d, the London-based salad-bar chain, now rapidly expanding with this, its first branch outside London. The two share the space upstairs on Cross Street: if it’s food you want, the Chop’d counter is to the left, while if it’s coffee, the smaller Grindsmith counter is tucked away to the right, by the stairs down to the basement, where you’ll find additional seating.

November 2017: Grindsmith has ended its joint-venture with Chop’d. The coffee bar is still there, but the coffee is now from London’s Notes.

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