Flat Track Coffee

Pointing the way to good coffee, the sign outside Flat Track Coffee in Austin.By making Flat Track Coffee my first speciality coffee stop in Austin, I was following in the footsteps of my friend Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato fame. Not only was I using Bex’s Austin Speciality Coffee Guide as my roadmap, but Flat Track Coffee had been her first stop as well. Co-located with bike shop, Cycleast, Flat Track is on Cesar Chavez Street, a main east-west thoroughfare through East Austin.

When Bex visited in 2018, Flat Track roasted all of its own coffee in the back of the store. Since then, the roasting has been moved to sister shop, Palomino Coffee (which, sadly, I didn’t have time to visit), freeing up much needed additional interior seating to go with outdoor seating on the forecourt in front of Flat Track, along with the gorgeous hidden patio along the building’s left-hand side.

Flat Track offers a blend and single-origin on espresso, along with batch-brew filter and pour-over, all the coffee changing on a seasonal basis. Espresso shots are pulled on a lovely Kees van der Westen Mirage, while pour-overs are made through the Kalita Wave using the Curtis Gold Cup automated system. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes/pastries.

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Niedlov’s Cafe & Bakery

A lovely espresso, served in a classic black cup at Niedlov's Cafe & Bakery and made with the Monarch, from Onyx Coffee Lab.As explained in Monday’s Coffee Spot, Bellwood Coffee, at the start of October I’d taken the train from New York to Atlanta, where Amanda picked me up to begin a four-day road trip to Madison, South Dakota. Our first stop was Chattanooga, where we came across Niedlov’s Cafe & Bakery on Main Street, chosen largely because it was open after 5 o’clock and had a large garden where we could sit with Fergie, Amanda’s dog.

I knew nothing about Niedlov’s but was sold the moment I saw the Slayer espresso machine on the counter, along with boxes from Onyx Coffee Lab on the shelves. It may have been a chance discovery, but I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to Chattanooga, or indeed to Tennessee, since it was my first time in the state.

Niedlov’s is a bakery/cafe which takes its coffee as seriously as its bread (and it takes its bread very seriously indeed). A standard espresso-based menu features Onyx’s Monarch, along with its Southern Weather on batch brew filter. There are separate breakfast and lunch menus, plus cake and, of course, bread, all of which can be enjoyed in the spacious cafe or outside in the garden.

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CSONS Shrewsbury

The CSONS logo, the letters "CSONS" written in blue (with the C in yellow) inside two concentric blue circles.CSONS has been a fixture of Shrewsbury’s coffee scene since 2015, when it opened as a coffee shop, serving primarily coffee and cakes. Since then, it’s evolved into a full-service restaurant and has opened a second location down the A49 in Ludlow. CSONS came to my attention through Hundred House Coffee, which provides CSONS’ bespoke house blend, available through a standard, espresso-based menu along with Hundred House’s regular decaf. There’s also tea from Hereford’s Trumpers Tea and a fully-stocked bar with local beers, cider and cocktails.

When it comes to food, CSONS has separate menus for breakfast (to 11:30), lunch (12:00 – 15:00) and dinner (15:00 onwards on Friday/Saturday only). The food is innovative, ranging from breakfast standards through to small plates for lunch/dinner so that you can mix-and-match your way through the menu (large plates are also available if you just want a regular meal!). You’re also welcome to pop in for coffee and cake (available all day).

All of this is served in a lovely space which occupies the ground floor of an old building on Milk Street. The seating is spread across multiple rooms, including a large, sheltered courtyard at the back if you want to sit outside.

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Spro – Mission Bay/SOMA

Detail from the A-board outside the Spro Coffee Lab trailer in Spark Social SFI was tipped off about Spro Coffee Lab by the baristas at Devout Coffee, visiting Spro’s Mission Dolores/Castro coffee shop the following day. In typical Coffee Spot fashion, this was Spro’s second location, its first being a trailer in San Francisco’s Mission Bay/SOMA neighbourhood. Fortunately, this is close to Caltrain’s San Francisco terminus on 4th and King Street, my gateway for my various day trips to the city, so the very next day, I headed for the original Spro.

Spro is part of Spark Social SF, a large outdoor food truck park, beer & sangria garden and event space. Impressively, given that it’s literally a trailer, serving from a window at one end, the menu is identical to Spro’s Mission Dolores/Castro coffee shop. The coffee’s from Black & White Coffee Roasters, its Classic espresso and decaf on espresso, joined by a blend and two single-origins on pour-over through the V60, along with mocktails and other drinks. There’s also the full range of salads, open-face toasts, soup and sandwiches, plus the dedicated pastries and desserts menu.

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Devout Coffee, Niles

My espresso, a single-origin from East Timor, roasted by Devout Coffee and served at the coffee shop in Niles, along with a glass of water, presented on a square, metal tray, with a spoon laid diagonally between espresso and glass.Devout Coffee has been on my list for a while. A favourite of my friend Karen, who lives (by US standards) nearby, I first visited in January 2020. I would have written it up then, but a combination of factors (including it being a very busy Sunday morning) prevented me. 2½ years were to pass before my return to the Bay Area, where a day-trip to Niles, the northernmost district of the city of Fremont, was a priority.

Devout Coffee celebrates its 10th anniversary at the end of August, marking when it started roasting, although the coffee shop in Niles didn’t open until 2014. For many years, the roaster was in a small area in the back of the shop, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, it moved next door, the original 5 kg Probat recently joined by a refurbished 30 kg Trabattoni. Since March 2021, there’s been a second Devout, a coffee trailer in Lake Chabot Public Market in Castro Valley.

There are multiple choices pour-over, with a single-origin espresso, plus batch and cold brew, along with retail bags of beans and a selection of cakes/pastries. You can sit inside, but the best experience is outside in the large patio area.

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Saint Frank Coffee, Menlo Park

A cappuccino, made with Saint Frank Coffee's Little Brother house blend, served in a proper cup with some lovely latte art.I came to know Saint Frank Coffee, roaster and purveyor of very fine coffee, from its long-time home on Polk Street in Russian Hill. This was my last stop on my last day in San Francisco when I visited in 2017, at the end of The Grand Adventure. It therefore seems fitting that my first stop on my current trip was also Saint Frank Coffee, albeit out in Menlo Park.

These days there are four Saint Franks, including the original, a long-standing coffee shop on the Facebook campus (not open to the public), a pop-up bakery/coffee shop, also on Polk Street in San Francisco, and this one, which opened in 2019. Across the road from the Caltrain station, it’s the sort of coffee shop that could only really work in a place with the Bay Area’s climate, since the only seating is outside on the large, shady terrace.

When it comes to coffee, which is all roasted in-house, there’s the seasonal house blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, plus two choices on batch brew filter, with a third on iced filter. Finally, there are four options, including a decaf, on pour-over, plus a small range of pastries if you’re hungry.

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Father Carpenter

The name board for Father Carpenter, Coffee Brewers, in Berlin.In a city where coffee and cake is the business model for the majority of speciality coffee shops, Berlin’s Father Carpenter stands out for its coffee and brunch approach, no doubt influenced by its Australian owner. Since 2015, Father Carpenter has been serving excellent coffee and fantastic brunches from an amazing courtyard just off Münzstraße in the heart of Mitte, where you can sit outside in the courtyard or be shown to a table in the spacious dining room (Father Carpenter has table service).

Its secluded setting makes Father Carpenter the perfect escape from the hustle of the Mitte’s busy streets, although be aware that it’s very busy itself, often with a wait for a table. I popped by on three separate occasions (four if you count Friday evening, when it was closed) and it was only on my last visit that I was able to get a table without a wait.

Father Carpenter has a concise but interesting brunch menu, along with a small selection of baguettes and pastries. There’s a standard espresso-based menu with non-dairy alternatives and decaf, along with two filter options: regular or exotic, plus loose leaf tea, various iced options and a selection of soft drinks.

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Frontside Coffee Roasters

An espresso, made with a naturally-processed Ethiopia Sidamo, and served in a classic blue cup at Frontside Coffee Roasters.Today’s Coffee Spot was a chance discovery that Amanda and I made following a short hike at Diana’s Baths, a beauty spot in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Amanda spotted Frontside Coffee Roasters as we drove through North Conway on our way there, so we decided to call in on our way back, expecting nothing more than somewhere warm to have a late lunch. Instead we found a wonderful coffee shop, roasting and serving some exceptional single-origin coffees.

Frontside has been in its current location on White Mountain Highway, the main drag through North Conway, for ten years, although it’s been in existence in one form or another for over twenty. Occupying a large, corner plot, there’s a small parking lot at the back (behind which is the roastery) while there’s a large outdoor seating area off to the right with plenty more seating inside.

All the coffee is roasted in-house with two options on espresso (one blend, one single-origin), another blend on batch brew, plus two single-origins on pour-over. Naturally, all the beans are available to buy in retail bags. If you’re hungry, Frontside offers a selection of breakfast biscuits, a range of bagels and plenty of cake.

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Caffi Caban

One of the cabins, known as Cwch Gwenyn (The Hive), in the garden at the back of Caffi Caban.North Wales, particularly Snowdonia, is blessed with many things, including outstanding scenery. However, great coffee has been rather thin on the ground, although in recent years, things have been improving rapidly, led in part by local roasters such as Llandudno’s Heartland Coffee Roasters and Poblado Coffi, roasting in Snowdonia itself, who both feature in today’s Coffee Spot, Caffi Caban.

Rather embarrassingly for me, Caffi Caban has only recently come to my attention, despite having opened in 2009! It’s an amazing spot, occupying the rear half of the Brynrefail Enterprise Workshops in Snowdonia. The large, curved interior, which has the majority of the tables next to the windows, overlooks an even larger outside seating area, where multi-level wooden terraces descend to a grassy expanse.

Turning to coffee, Poblado Coffi provides a house blend and decaf, while the guest espresso, which changes every week or two, is usually from Heartland or Poblado. All the shots are ground on Victoria Arduino Mythos grinders and pulled on a Black Eagle. If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s tea, beer, cider and wine, plus a selection of Welsh gin and spirits. Finally, Caffi Caban has separate breakfast and lunch menus, plus plenty of cake, all baked onsite.

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The Gentlemen Baristas Borough Update

A flat white with some gorgeous latte art, poured by Ernie at The Gentlemen Baristas, Borough.This is where it all started for The Gentlemen Baristas, on Union Street in Borough, when the first Gentlemen Baristas opened at the end of 2014. I took my time, leaving a whole two years before I finally visited, so it’s only fitting that I left it even longer before my return, this time chalking up a gap of four years. In the intervening period, The Gentlemen Baristas has been busy, opening multiple new coffee shops. Three of these, including its London Bridge coffee shop, are in a tight cluster around the original, while another four, including its Holborn coffee shop, are in central London. These are balanced by an eastern outpost at Canary Wharf, a western one in Hammersmith and its own East London roastery.

Returning to the original after so many years, it all felt rather familiar. The counter has had a facelift, but otherwise, the downstairs layout remains largely unchanged. Upstairs, however, things are a little different, the training room having moved out, replaced by a kitchen, while the rooftop garden has undergone a complete revamp. The coffee remains excellent, although there’s no longer any pour-over. On the plus side, there’s now a full brunch menu.

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