% Arabica is an international coffee shop/roaster chain which, like Omotesando Koffee, has its origins in Japan. In the case of % Arabica, it started in Kyoto, rather than Omotesandō, before spreading around the world, although so far I’ve only visited its locations in Kyoto and Shanghai. Today’s Coffee Spot, in Arashiyama, on Kyoto’s northwestern edge, has a stunning location on the edge of the Katsura River as it gushes out from a narrow valley through the mountains.
It’s an amazing location, both in which to enjoy your coffee and for the baristas, who share the spectacular views with their customers. It is, however, a tiny spot, little more than a counter in a single room, with limited seating, most of which is outside. There’s the usual concise espresso menu, with the option of the house-blend or a single-origin, an Ethiopian Yirgacheffee Adado, but the usual filter options are missing.
Greetings from Japan, where I’m back in the mountains in the Nagano Prefecture, escaping the heat and humidity for a week before returning to Tokyo for two weeks of meetings! Since I’m here, I thought it was high time that I wrote up some of the Coffee Spots that my friend Christopher took me to when I was last in Nagano, in October last year, starting with Hirano Coffee.
Hirano isn’t that easy to find, tucked away in the back streets just south of the Zenkō-ji Temple, but it’s worth seeking out. A coffee shop/roastery, it occupies both floors of a two-storey house which looks and feels (to me at least) like a small, traditional Japanese dwelling, reminding me of & Espresso and Nem Coffee & Espresso. You can sit downstairs with the counter and roaster for company, or in the glorious upstairs.
All the coffee is roasted on the 5kg Fuji Royal behind the counter, and there’s a choice of five single-origins and five blends, plus a small selection of cakes and toast if you’re hungry. If you’re looking for espresso though, you’ve come to the wrong place, since Hirano only serves pour-over using a traditional cloth filter or V60.
Le Cafe Alain Ducasse is part of the new Coal Drops Yard development in King’s Cross, a few minutes’ walk north of the station. Alain Ducasse, a French chef who, over the years, has had 21 Michelin stars to his name, hit the headlines earlier this year with a £15 cup of Yemeni coffee, which had the likes of The Guardian and the Financial Times weighing in on the subject. High time, I thought, that I popped along to see what all the fuss is about.
Le Cafe Alain Ducasse is a rarity in London, a coffee shop which just sells coffee, whether it be by the cup or by the bag (all the coffee is available for sale in retail bags). It is also, by London standards, expensive, although, £15 cups of coffee notwithstanding, not outrageously so. My espresso, for example, cost £2.50. What you get for your money, other than some very fine coffee, is the whole experience. While you can just order a coffee to go, you would, in my opinion, be missing out if you did. Rather, you should linger, enjoying both the coffee and the company, either of your fellow customers or of the staff.
Long & Short Coffee was a chance discovery during my Saturday afternoon spent revisiting Walthamstow at the end of last month. A coffee shop/roaster, I knew the name from the original on Brick Lane, but unaware of the second branch in Walthamstow until the staff at Wood St Coffee mentioned it. Even then, I had no idea where it was since, at three weeks old, it wasn’t even on Google Maps (now, thankfully, resolved). However, when I saw it as I passed by on the No. 158 bus, I seized my opportunity.
Long & Short is part of Crate, Saint James Street’s answer to the Box Park, occupying an end unit which is, appropriately, long and thin. There are three two-person tables inside, with Long & Short having access to the communal seating on the terrace at the front of Crate. The offering is pretty simple too, with a house and guest espresso, plus filter options on batch-brew and pour-over, backed up by a selection of tea and a small range of cakes and pastries.
The Espresso Station has been around for a while, since I can remember it from the early days of the Coffee Spot. These days it’s grown to a sizeable operation, providing coffee around the West Midlands. There are to two outlets in stations (Dorridge and Moor Street), two in sports clubs (Aston Villa FC and Worcester Warriors Rugby) and two coffee shops (the Espresso Barn and Espresso Farm). Maybe one day we’ll see the Espresso Station at Edgbaston (hint, hint).
Today’s Coffee Spot is a two-for-the-price-of-one, with the Espresso Station at Birmingham’s Moor Street, where there’s a lovely station café on the main concourse and a smaller, mainly takeaway operation behind the ticket barriers by the platforms. Both serve a standard espresso-based menu using a seasonal espresso blend from nearby Monsoon Estates Coffee Company, along with limited breakfast and lunch menus, plus a selection of cakes, pastries and sandwiches.
Obviously, the café, with a small amount of indoor seating, plus some “outdoor” tables, sheltered under the soaring glass roof of the station concourse, is the more accessible of the two, since you don’t need to buy a train ticket to visit it, so that’s the focus of today’s Coffee Spot.
Regular readers know of my soft spot for Doctor Espresso Caffetteria, which opened in 2013 opposite Fulham’s Putney Bridge station. Espressino is the fourth in the Doctor Espresso Stable, joining Doctor Espresso – Mama V’s in Clapham High Street (2014) and Doctor Espresso N3, five minutes’ walk from the original on Fulham High Street (2016). Regular readers may also recognise Espressino’s location, since it’s the successor to The Black Chapel, Doctor Espresso having bought the business from previous owner, the legendary Ant.
Although the space is essentially the same, with a tiny exterior and seating outside on Chapel Yard, in many ways, everything’s changed, including the famous lever espresso machine, replaced (for now) by a La Marzocco FB80. While The Black Chapel served single-origins from various guests on espresso and filter, Espressino uses Doctor Espresso’s traditional Italian blend (espresso only), backed up with Joe’s Tea, fresh smoothies and a small breakfast/lunch menu.
I feel that today’s Coffee Spot should be marked by fireworks or something. The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs has a long, distinguished history, opening its first branch on London’s Leather Lane in 2010. Since then it’s gone on to start roasting its own coffee and now has multiple branches in London (14 and counting), Manchester and Bristol, plus several in Chicago. It’s also acquired other operators such as TAP and Tradewind Espresso.
But here’s the thing. While I’ve always loved the coffee, I’ve never loved any of the actual coffee shops (and, believe me, I’ve tried many of them!). Until last week that is, when I walked into the new branch on Kingdom Street in Paddington Central. Quite why this one clicked with me when so many haven’t, I can’t say, but I knew as soon as I walked in the door. It helped that it was across the road from the office I was working in all last week, making me a daily visitor, but it’s that good, I’d go out of my way to visit.
There’s a blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, with two single-origins on batch brew, plus a wide range of cakes and savouries.
The Pilgrm is a small, boutique hotel almost directly opposite the front of Paddington station which just happens to have a speciality coffee counter in the lobby downstairs, run by Workshop. If that’s all there was to it, it would be pretty awesome, but there’s more. The Pilgrm also has an upstairs lounge and terrace, which, while catering primarily to hotel guests, is also open to the public, serving breakfast, lunch and, in the afternoon/evening, a range of small plates and drinks. And then there’s the coffee…
While the coffee counter works as a standalone operation, you can take your coffee and sit upstairs, or, alternative, sit upstairs, where there’s full table service, and order your coffee there, the barista bringing it up to you. Having spent most of my week in the Paddington area popping into Workshop for either an espresso or a flat white, usually on my way to the office, I decided I had to try the lounge, popping by on Friday afternoon for coffee and returning on Saturday morning for breakfast.
The Pilgrm is a small, boutique hotel in an old townhouse on London Street, almost directly opposite the front of Paddington station. In itself, it makes for quite an attractive hotel, but the icing on the cake is that in August last year, Workshop took over the coffee operation, installing itself behind the counter in the simple, well-appointed lobby, which is effectively a small (and beautiful) coffee shop. The coffee offering is equally simple, well-appointed and beautiful, with a concise espresso menu (with decaf getting equal billing with a single-origin option) backed up with another single-origin on batch-brew, both changing roughly once a week.
If coffee’s not your thing, there’s a small selection of tea and Pump Street hot chocolate, while if you’re hungry, Workshop has a small selection of cake, but nothing else. That said, The Pilgrm has a first-floor public lounge and terrace which serves a full brunch menu until 3pm each day, with snacks served thereafter. You can take your coffee up upstairs if you like, although it’s not very clear if you just wander in off the street. Alternatively, just take a seat upstairs and order your coffee there, which is just what I did at the weekend.
One of the (many) things that impressed me during my time in Prague was the number of coffee shops that stayed open really late. For example, both Pražírna Kavárna and Coffee and Riot are open until 10pm. Then there’s those that mix late opening with great coffee and great food. A prime example is Eska, which is a restaurant upstairs and a coffee bar downstairs (it reminded me of Caravan King’s Cross, with the obvious difference that Caravan’s only on a single level).
Another example is the subject of today’s Saturday Supplement, Kavárna Místo, one of three Prague coffee shops of renowned Czech roasters, Doubleshot. This is more like a traditional coffee shop that serves an all-day dining menu. Add that to the fact that it doesn’t close until 10pm each night (apart from Sunday) and you have the perfect casual dining location.
Indeed, Amanda and I first visited Místo for dinner, returning the following morning for coffee. You can read all about Místo the coffee shop in its own Coffee Spot. Meanwhile, this Saturday Supplement focuses on the food, cake and also the coffee tasting flight, which offers 150ml samples of all three single-origins on pour-over.