As I write this, it’s cold and gloomy in the northern hemisphere, so, as we approach Christmas, let me take you back to sunnier times and last year’s Midwest road trip, when I made an all-too-brief visit to the Twin Cities in Minnesota. I’ve already written about Five Watt, in Minneapolis, so today it’s the turn of St Paul, the other half of the Twin Cities.
Spyhouse Coffee is a local roaster/coffee shop chain that opened in its first shop in the Whittier district of Minneapolis in 2000. By the time I visited, it added three more Minneapolis locations, but in true Coffee Spot fashion, I chose the most recent Spyhouse Coffee to visit, it’s first St Paul location (since then, a sixth Spyhouse has opened inside the Emery Hotel in downtown Minneapolis).
Returning to St Paul, Spyhouse occupies an old grocery shop that was, most recently, an antiques store, with Spyhouse opening just over two years ago on Thanksgiving in 2017. Spyhouse serves a seasonal espresso blend, joined by two single-origins on batch-brew and another on pour-over via the Kalita Wave, the choices rotating every few weeks. If you’re hungry, there’s a small breakfast menu, plus a selection of cakes.
Head Shot Coffee is a chain of precisely two coffee shops, both of which are in within spitting distance of each other in Prague’s Nové Mĕsto. I escaped to both locations for afternoon coffee during the week I spent working in Prague earlier this year. Of the two, Palackého, which opened in 2017, a year after the original, was the one I favoured. A bright, open space bordering onto the delightful Františkánská Zahrada (Franciscan Gardens), there’s a sheltered courtyard with four outdoor tables, while the L-shaped, window-lined interior has another six tables.
Head Shot uses Prague-based Respekt, supplemented by various guest roasters. During my visit, there was a single-origin Colombian on espresso, served from a standard menu (including iced options), plus pour-over through the V60 and batch brew. Both filter options used the same Kenyan single-origin while I was there, again from Respekt.
If coffee’s not your thing, then in keeping with many Czech coffee shops, there’s a small selection of soft drinks and wine. Meanwhile, if you are hungry, there’s a range of cakes and pastries, which are more aligned to the offerings of a Central European cake shop than a traditional western coffee shop (think cheesecake over brownies).
I first came across Panna in Liverpool at the end of 2015, where owners Ivana and Peter, a friendly, welcoming Slovak couple, had turned a potentially unpromising basement in Silkhouse Court into a lovely, warm, welcoming café. There was some excellent food, along with coffee from Has Bean and local roasters Neighbourhood Coffee.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Silkhouse Court was sold and Ivana and Peter decided to relocate to Chester, opening five weeks ago on 15th August 2019, not long after my previous visit to Chester! In so doing, they’ve moved up in the world, quite literally in fact, swapping a basement for a ground floor space on Chester’s famous Rows on Watergate Street.
The good news is that they’ve brought the same warm, friendly atmosphere with them. For example, although it’s been four years since we last met, I was greeted like a long-lost friend! They’ve also brought the excellent food along in the shape of an all-day brunch menu with plenty of cakes and pastries. And then there’s the coffee, with two Has Bean blends on espresso and multiple guests on filter using a variety of brew methods, including Chemex, V60 and Aeropress.
It was five years ago that I first ventured to Walthamstow to seek out Wood St Coffee, at that point in its second incarnation on Orford Road in the heart of Walthamstow Village. Effectively a counter in a shop, Wood St shared the space with two other businesses, opening four days a week. Mind you, this was a step-up from the original, a Sunday pop-up in Wood Street Market which started in 2013 before moving to Orford Road in February 2014. However, in the autumn of 2014, not too long after my visit, Wood St Coffee moved again, this time to a permanent home, still in Walthamstow at the Blackhorse Workshop. And ever since, I’ve been promising to return…
When I finally made it, I found a thriving coffee shop, with plenty of seating inside and out. These days, the coffee’s roasted on-site, with a seasonal single-origin plus decaf on espresso, and a daily batch-brew option, the beans selected from the three or four single-origins in stock at the time. However, it’s not just coffee, with Wood St serving an excellent brunch menu at weekends and more traditional breakfast/lunch menus during the week, backed up by a small cake selection.
There’s something about Stevens Creek Boulevard, home of today’s Coffee Spot, Voyager Craft Coffee. It occupies the very unit that was home to the original Bellano Coffee, now established in downtown San Jose as B2 Coffee. Meanwhile, heading slightly further along (going west towards Cupertino) you’ll find Chromatic Coffee, another coffee shop/roaster with a considerable reputation.
However, at first sight this all seems very unlikely. Stevens Creek Boulevard is a busy urban highway, lined with wall-to-wall car dealerships on either side. This is pretty much the impression you get at second sight too. Walking along it further reinforced this impression. It is definitely not somewhere you would expect to find great coffee, but, tucked away along its north side, in a non-descript unit at the end of a non-descript mall, is Voyager Craft Coffee.
These days, Voyager roasts its own coffee, with a blend on espresso and five filter options, which includes a guest and a decaf. There’s also a range of destination drinks, inspired by the coffee cultures of various countries around the world, plus some seasonal specials. If you’re hungry, there’s a concise, toasted-based food menu, with a selection of cakes and pastries if you want something sweeter.
Mamacoffee is a Prague-based coffee shop/roaster chain, something of a veteran of the city’s speciality coffee scene, having started ten years ago. These days, there are six outlets in Prague, plus a mobile coffee bar. As luck would have it, the Londýnská branch in the New Town (Nové Město) was the very first Mamacoffee as well as being conveniently close to my hotel (and just around the corner from Pražírna Kavárna), so I got to make a couple of visits.
There’s not much to it, with more seating outside (from spring to autumn) on the raised decking area in front of the shop than there is in the cosy interior, where there’s just enough room for the counter and a small L-shaped arrangement of tables.
However, being small hasn’t prevented Mamacoffee from offering a full coffee service, with a wide selection of single-origins on offer. These are all directly traded and roasted in-house, with daily espresso and batch-brew options, the baristas deciding what to put on each morning. Meanwhile any of the single-origins on sale are available as a pour-over through the V60 or as an Aeropress. This is all backed up with a small range of cakes and savouries.
The Pavilion Café, a fixture at the western end of Victoria Park in Bethnal Green, has been going strong for over 10 years, serving excellent coffee and locally sourced all-day breakfasts for over 10 years. These days, the Pavilion Café has been joined by pair of bakery cafes in London (Broadway Market and Colombia Road) and an outpost in Newquay, Cornwall, which opened earlier this year.
The Pavilion Café occupies a circular, glass-domed pavilion (hence the name) on the eastern side of the park’s West Lake. During the winter, there is seating inside, but in the summer, it spreads out the lakeside which provides some of the best views in London. These days the coffee is from Cornwall’s Origin, with a single-origin on espresso. Although the default seems to be to serve all the drinks in takeaway cups, there are proper cups available. You just need to ask when ordering.
SLOW Café was my first chance discovery in Prague. Although on my (very long) list of potential spots, I was on my way elsewhere for brunch when I wandered past, catching sight of the weekly brunch menu in the window. Consisting of just five items, each was intriguing, so since I was already hungry, in I went. Like Monday’s Coffee Spot, Pražírna Kavárna, SLOW Café has multiple rooms, although in this case, they’re on the ground floor, not in a basement. There’s also a wonderfully secluded courtyard at the back, albeit much smaller than the one at Pražírna Kavárna.
SLOW Café only works with roasters that the owners know personally, starting with Coffee Source, a local roaster with a coffee shop just down the street. Coffee Source provides the espresso (a natural Ethiopian during my visit), with SLOW Café offering an extremely concise menu of just espresso, flat white and cappuccino. This is joined by various filter options, the roasters drawn from around Europe. This includes Kaffa Roastery from Helsinki and, during my visit, Berlin’s Bonanza, plus SlowMov and Nomad (the owners had just been to Barcelona) on Aeropress and V60, while Helsingborg’s Koppi was on batch brew, although the options change regularly.
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.
Visiting Canary Wharf for work at the end of May, I already knew about the likes of Taylor Street Baristas (now sadly gone) and Notes. I also knew that the speciality coffee scene had evolved considerably since my last visit in 2015. However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, 640 East, caught me by surprise, even though it’s been going since 2017. Located in Montgomery Square, right by the eastern entrance to Canary Wharf tube station, 640East was also directly outside my office, so I became a regular visitor, calling in most days for my morning (and sometimes afternoon) coffee.
Consisting of two reused containers facing each other across a large courtyard, the majority of 640East’s seating is outdoors, although one container has a small, indoor seating area. Serving a blend from Caravan on espresso, 640East does a roaring trade from the local offices, while in the evening wine, cocktails and beer take over (although all are available day and night). This is all backed up by a range of cakes and pastries, with a few savouries in the morning.
Note that 640East is takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own. It’s also cashless, so you’ll need a credit/debit card.