Stan’s Bike Shack has been on my radar for almost all of its 4½ years of existence. Between the villages of Partridge Green and Bines Green in West Sussex, it’s on the Downs Link, a 37 mile cycle route from St Martha’s Hill, near my home in Guildford, to Shoreham-by-Sea on the south coast. Heading south, Stan’s Bike Shed is about ⅔ of the way along, slightly too far for me to walk in a day, which might explain why it’s taken me so long to visit.
Stan’s Bike Shack is one of those places where the name pretty much says it all. It’s a shack (and a very nice one at that) located just off the road linking the two villages, which welcomes cyclists and walkers. It serves Craft House Coffee on espresso and batch-brew, with all-day breakfasts, sandwiches and cake, all prepared in the open kitchen behind the counter.
The Black Chapel occupies a unit on the west side of Chapel Yard, a sheltered, pedestrian space just off Wandsworth High Street. There are a couple of outside tables and three stools inside, but that’s about it. You really come here for the coffee, the vegan snacks/treats, and, of course, to be insulted by hang out with The Black Chapel’s legendary owner, Ant.
There’s a rotating cast of guest roasters, with a single option on espresso and another on pour-over. Ant operates an interesting system: when one coffee runs out, he grabs a bag of whatever takes his fancy from his stock cupboard and on that goes in its place… The coffee is pulled on a vintage 1964 Telechrome lever espresso machine, although while I was there, it was under repair, replaced by an even more venerable lever machine, a 1958 Faema Lambro. There’s also filter through the Clever Dripper.
When it comes to food (although not coffee, where cow’s milk is available along with non-dairy alternatives), The Black Chapel is vegan, with a small selection of sweet and savoury delights, including avocado on toast, all prepared on-site. I arrived just as the cinnamon buns came out of the oven…
November 2018: The Black Chapel is now under new ownership, having been taken over by Doctor Espresso. You can see what I made of it when I visited in July 2019.
CanDo Coffee was one of many speciality coffee places to spring up around my old stomping grounds of Sheldon Square/the back of Paddington Station once I’d stopped working there at the end of 2015. In the case of CanDo Coffee, it first made a brief appearance in a canal boat in 2014, before reappearing in 2016 with a permanent pitch by the canal outside the back entrance to the station. There was a second CanDo Coffee pitch just over the canal at the western end of Paddington Basin. This slowly migrated eastwards over the next two years, reaching Merchant Square and the Floating Pocket Park at the eastern end of Paddington Basin by the time I returned to the area for a week at the start of June.
Serving espresso-based drinks using the Rocket 88 blend from Ealing’s Electric Coffee Company, it was just outside my hotel, making a perfect early morning coffee stop on my daily walk to the office. CanDo Coffee serves principally takeaway customers and only has takeaway cups, so don’t forget to bring your own. However, if you do want to linger, there are several tables scattered around on the grass of the park.
Set up by Todd and Courtney, who worked together at the now defunct Avenue Coffee Roasting Co, I first learnt about The Good Coffee Cartel at last year’s Glasgow Coffee Festival 2017, when I ran into Todd, who told me about plans for a new roastery and coffee shop. Naturally, on my return to Glasgow for this year’s festival, I made a beeline for the new space on Glasgow’s south side.
The Good Coffee Cartel is a curious mixture: quirky coffee shop, roastery, ceramics workshop: it’s all these and more. The roastery is very clearly the backbone of the business, the vintage 15kg Probat sitting in the corner at the back. However, it’s also a spacious coffee shop, with a soon to be added back garden, somewhere you can sit all day and enjoy whatever excellent coffee Todd and Courtney have on that day, with different options on espresso and batch-brew, all served in cups that have been handmade on site. Even better is the pricing structure: all the coffee is £2, all the cakes are £2 and if you really want to push the boat out, you can have an espresso, espresso with milk and batch brew for £5.
FUTURO is a relatively new name in speciality coffee, right in the heart of Phoenix. It’s been going for two years, so I’m rather annoyed that while visiting in January last year, I managed to get within half a block of FUTURO, as I strolled along Roosevelt Street searching for (and failing to find) good coffee. FUTURO is housed within PALABRA, a sort of mothership which contains FUTURO (the coffee bar), a gallery, a hairdressers and PASADO, which is a new venture, serving small plates from the kitchen at the back (but not on Sunday, which, of course, is when I visited).
FUTURO is not quite like any coffee shop I’ve visited before, which is a refreshing change from some of the common design elements I see time and time again. There’s minimal seating off to the left and right, as well as sheltered backyard behind the building by the parking lot. The coffee is also very atypical for Phoenix, with a wide selection of single-origins being provided by Heart Coffee Roasters in Portland. There’s a different one on each day, with one option on espresso and another on bulk-brew from a Fetco brewer discreetly tucked away under the counter.
For a long time, Philadelphia has been one of my favourite coffee cities: understated (and underrated), easily walkable and with some really excellent coffee shops. Top of that list is Ox Coffee, which I visited on my first trip to the city in 2014. Back then it hadn’t long since celebrated its first birthday and was just finding its feet. I returned two years later, when the “new” back room and garden were open and, when I finally made it back to Philadelphia last week after another absence of two years, I made a point of calling in to see what Max and Will, the owners, had been up to…
I was on a bit of a coffee trek that day, having already called into the new Rival Bros as well as Plenty Café on Passyunk Avenue, so, with a couple more stops to go, I ordered a decaf Gibraltar. It was only then that I realised that since my last visit, Ox Coffee had started roasting. Naturally, I then had to try all the coffee…
Two years ago, Grasshopper Café contacted me on twitter to say that it was opening in Hope, in the heart of the Peak District. I duly put a star on Google Maps to mark its location and then, if I’m honest, I rather forgot about it. Last Monday, planning my route back from Sheffield to my Dad’s in North Wales, I noticed the aforementioned star and thought I would drive through the Peak District and call in along the way…
From the outside, Grasshopper Café could be mistaken for a typical village tea room. However, anything more than a casual glance reveals that there’s a lot more to it than that, with the A-board and signs on the walls proudly proclaiming its speciality coffee heritage. The coffee in question comes from Smith Street Coffee Roasters from Sheffield, with its Dark Peak blend on espresso, Five Arches on decaf and a guest espresso on the third grinder.
If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s a range of interestingly-named teas from Birdhouse Tea Company (also from Sheffield), while if you are hungry, there are full breakfast and lunch menus, plus homemade cakes, all prepared in the small kitchen tucked away beside the counter.
Canterbury is blessed with several café/roasters, including roaster-turned-coffee-shop, Garage Coffee, and coffee-shop-turned-roaster, Lost Sheep Coffee. However, the original is the Micro Roastery, tucked away down a quiet side street in the heart of the historic city centre. Originally the roasting was done at the back of the shop, but in 2015, production moved to a dedicated facility, where the 5kg Probat roaster turns out an impressive array of blends and single-origins, all of which are available in the coffee shop.
The narrow storefront on St Margaret’s Street hides an impressively large space, occupying two of the three storeys of an old town house (a barbers sublets the top floor), complete with a sheltered outdoor seating area in the garden at the back. When it comes to coffee, there’s a seasonal espresso blend, with two roasts, one light, one dark, along with a decaf option. Numerous single-origins are available through the Aeropress or four/eight cup cafetieres, while the filter of the day is brewed each morning/afternoon on a Moccamaster. Meanwhile, the cold-brew is freshly made each night.
If you’re hungry, there’s a variety of savoury options, including sourdough focaccias and pastry puffs, plus veggie/meat sausage rolls, along with the usual cakes.
Vermillion is a chain of precisely two in Kyoto, with an espresso bar next to the Inari train station and, five minutes’ walk away, by a large pond at the foot of Mount Inariyama, is the Vermillion Café, subject of today’s Coffee Spot. I didn’t spend long enough in Kyoto, Japan’s old Imperial capital, nor did I get to many coffee shops, but with my visit to Vermillion, I definitely saved the best until last!
Vermillion Café has a small outside seating area at the front (northern) end, which catches the evening sun, while inside, it’s long and relatively wide, with a couple of large tables. However, the best part is at the back, where the south-facing wooden terrace overlooks the pond. Here you’ll find the best views and perhaps my favourite spot for coffee in the whole of Japan.
Vermillion serves coffee roasted by the local Weekenders Coffee, with a bespoke house-blend on espresso and a choice of a blend or single-origin on pour-over through the V60, all of which can be had hot or over ice. There’s also a limited range of tea, beer and soft drinks, plus, if you’re hungry, a small selection of sandwiches and cake.
Belfast has a varied speciality coffee scene, although one of the main trends I noticed during my visit in March was the tendency for coffee shops to occupy relatively large spaces, with an emphasis as much on food as on the coffee. However, firmly bucking that trend is today’s Coffee Spot, Root & Branch.
A roaster as well as espresso/brew bar just off the busy Ormeau Road, Root & Branch is tiny, with a covered courtyard that’s bigger than the shop and with more seating on the pavement than it has inside, where it’s standing-room only! However, don’t let that put you off, since there’s also a cosy upstairs, where there’s a pair of chairs and a few stools.
Despite the lack of room, Root & Branch has miraculously managed to fit in a 6kg Giesen coffee roaster in the corner, which turns out all the coffee, including the Saints & Scholars seasonal espresso blend. This is joined by a single-origin on the second grinder, while pour-over fans won’t be disappointed, with three more single-origins available through either Kalita Wave or Aeropress, depending on the particular bean. There’s also a small selection of delicious cake to go with your coffee.