Just before the full onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent a day exploring Wicker Park, one of many Chicago neighbourhood clustered along Milwaukee Avenue. I visited three coffee shops along the way, Fairgrounds Craft Coffee and Tea, Purple Llama (now sadly permanently closed) and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Intelligentsia. It’s appropriate that, in the week that I wrote about Canopy Coffee, the first coffee shop I visited since the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, that I should also feature the last coffee shop I visited before COVID-19 forced many coffee shops to close.
As regular readers know, I have a soft spot for Intelligentsia, one of Chicago’s pioneering roaster/coffee shop chains. I first visited its coffee bar in the Monadnock Building on Jackson Boulevard in 2003, long before my Coffee Spot days. The Wicker Park location is a more recent addition, occupying an open, light-filled space on the ground floor of an apartment block on the corner of Division and Ashland. There’s the usual Intelligentsia offering of coffee, Kilogram tea, cakes/savouries and a large retail selection. There are three espresso options: Black Cat, single-origin and decaf, while pour-over and batch-brew each have their own single-origin.
We could have gone straight to the airport, but instead we made a detour to the Midtown reason to visit Dancing Goats (or to use its full name, The Dancing Goats® Coffee Bar Midtown). Dancing Goats (part of Batdorf & Bronson coffee roasters) is one of four Atlanta-based coffee shops (with another five in Washington State, where it all started).
Dancing Goats is firmly in the speciality coffee world, but with a mass-market offering. There’s a small espresso-based menu combined with a much larger menu offering the typical American “large” drinks, featuring 20oz lattes amongst other things. The retail coffee offering mirrors this, with multiple blends supplemented by a smaller range of single-origins. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cake.
Although I spent a week in Atlanta with Amanda, we were in the suburbs, a 40-minute drive from the city, so I didn’t have much opportunity for coffee shop visits. With that in mind, when we arrived on the train from New York, we made a beeline for Octane: Westside and, from there, went to Firelight Coffee Roasters, which had come highly recommended (not least by the baristas at Octane).
Firelight began as a roaster in 2014, moving into its current premises, at the back of the Strongbox West co-working space, in 2015. It was much smaller then, but Firelight has slowly built out into the space, which now acts as both roastery and a small, cosy coffee shop. This serves as an in-house coffee shop for Strongbox tenants as well as a tasting room for curious visitors such as Amanda and me.
The coffee offering is straightforward, with a seasonal blend on espresso, daily single-origin on batch brew and the rest of the roastery’s output (typically five single-origins) on pour-over. Just be warned, however, that Firelight only opens from 09:00 to 13:30 and is closed at weekends, with roasting taking place out of hours on Monday and Saturday afternoons.
Last summer I spent a few days in Kanazawa in Ishikawa on Japan’s northern coast, where I found a small, thriving speciality coffee scene, not least the excellent Kanazawaya Coffee Shop Head Office. Both a coffee shop and roastery, it’s just outside the northern entrance to Kanazawa Castle, making it the ideal spot for a pre- or post-sightseeing coffee.
It’s part of the Caravanserai Coffeeshop, which has been going since 1980 in the nearby Omicho market, with Kanazawaya Coffee Shop Head Office opening in 2011. As well as being a lovely coffee shop, spread over two floors with a small outside terrace and traditional Japanese sitting area, it’s also a roastery, with a 6 kg Giesen tucked in downstairs beside the counter.
In keeping with many Japanese coffee shops, full table service is offered, with a range of coffee on offer, backed up by a selection of cakes and snacks. As well as a concise espresso-based menu with the house-blend, there are five blends available on pour-over as well as five single-origins, with roast profiles ranging from light to dark. All the beans are available to buy in retail bags, along with a range of cups, coffee kit and hand-carved spoons.
This is the original Coffeeology, which opened in the heart of Richmond in 2017 (there’s now a second branch in Chiswick). Although small, occupying a compact section of the town’s old Victorian fire station, with an equally cosy outside seating area, its relative lack of size is no limit to its ambition, with a house-blend on espresso, joined by decaf, plus a single-origin from the current guest roaster. You can also have a V60 or Aeropress made using whatever retail bags Coffeeology has available.
The house-blend and decaf are from Black Saint, Coffeeology’s roasting arm, while the guest roaster is one of three roasters, who are represented in rotation: Plot Roasting from nearby Woolwich, Colonna Coffee from further afield in Bath and, casting the net even wider, Italy’s Gardelli. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a small toast-based all-day breakfast menu, several sandwiches, soup and lots of cake.
My first trip to Dublin, back in 2014, saw me visit Brother Hubbard, a comparatively small spot with a reputation for excellent food as well as really good coffee, located just to the north of the River Liffey. Now, six years on, it’s expanded out of all recognition, maybe quadrupling in size, adding, amongst other things, a restaurant and an on-site roastery, Farmhand. Along the way, it rebranded itself Brother Hubbard North to distinguish itself from the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Brother Hubbard South, which, appropriately enough, is (some way) south of the Liffey.
Brother Hubbard South is spread over two rooms, with a large, covered outside seating terrace. The first room contains the counter, which is only of interest if you are ordering takeaway, while the second room has more seating. Brother Hubbard South follows in the footsteps of the original Brother Hubbard, combining excellent food and really good coffee, which it serves from a breakfast menu (until 11am), an all-day brunch menu and a lunch menu (from 12pm). There’s also an expanded weekend brunch menu, while the Farmhand house-blend is on espresso, with a single-origin on batch brew, joined by a range of other drinks, including prosecco.
139 Coffee continues a fine tradition, combining coffee and cycling inside Cycle Exchange in Kingston Upon Thames. Just off Richmond Road, north of the centre, Cycle Exchange occupies a long, thin concrete shell with windows on three sides, making for a surprisingly bright, open space. It’s an unlikely location at first sight, so much so that I was double-checking Google Maps before I found it.
139 Coffee is at the front on the left, with seating followed by the counter, while the rest of the space is occupied by the cycle store. Outside, a broad, paved space to the left holds a pair of tables. 139 Coffee has a traditional espresso-based menu using the Caveman blend from Ground Coffee Society, plus beer and wine, all backed up by a small, but tasty-looking brunch menu and plenty of cakes. Impressively, all the food is made in the open kitchen behind the counter.
There was a time when speciality coffee was hard to find in Chester. Then, suddenly there was a boom, with multiple places opening each year, a pace that shows no sign of slowing down. Bridge St Coffee, pleasingly on Chester’s Bridge Street, a few doors up from veteran Jaunty Goat joined the fray in 2018. In common with Jaunty Goat and other coffee shops under Chester’s famous Rows, such as Chalk Coffee and Panna Chester, Bridge St Coffee occupies a long, thin, basement-like space, with plenty of seating inside, plus a large outdoor seating area on the pavement of the pedestrianised street.
Although it proudly displays a Probat roaster in the window, that’s not yet in use, Bridge St Coffee using Manchester’s Heart & Graft for the time being, having a Colombian blend on its espresso-based menu. If you don’t fancy coffee, then there’s a selection of nine teas, nine juices/shakes plus hot chocolate. Bridge St Coffee is equally strong on its food offering, using local supplies to provide a comprehensive all-day breakfast menu, including various eggs-on-toast and avocado options, plus porridge, sandwiches, panini and soup of the day, which is backed up by a tasty selection of cakes.
Chester’s speciality coffee scene has been steadily growing over the last few years, particularly right in the city centre, along the twin axes of Bridge and Watergate Streets. Taking the second of these, Watergate Street has seen the likes of Chalk Coffee (2018) and Panna Chester (2019) opening in recent years, but predating them both, and somewhat unnoticed by me (my bad) is today’s Coffee Spot, The Flower Cup, which opened in 2016, putting it amongst Chester’s speciality coffee veterans.
Unusually for a city where coffee shops seem to specialise in the basement-like spaces under the Rows, The Flower Cup is on the upper floor on the south side of the street. A self-proclaimed “botanical coffee shop”, with a sister shop next door, The Violet Palm (a one-stop shop for houseplants), it’s true to the title, being festooned with flowers and plants. However, it’s a lot more than that, with coffee from Liverpool’s Neighbourhood Coffee on espresso and Clever Dripper, and an extensive, vegetarian- and vegan-friendly brunch menu of which it is rightly proud. It also has a lovely, warm, welcoming atmosphere, making it the sort of place where people linger for ages over their coffee or after their brunch.
I’ve been visiting Gourmet Coffee Bar & Kitchen at Crewe station for many years, picking up flat whites to go in my various reusable cups as I’ve changed trains, usually on my way to/from my Dad’s, so I thought it was about time I wrote it up. Gourmet Coffee has been going since 2007 and it’s been at Crewe since 2011. It now boasts coffee bars at 14 stations, mostly in the Midlands and North West, with outposts in Cardiff and Wrexham. There’s also a coffee bar on a Wrexham industrial estate.
Crewe has two Gourmet Coffee Bars, a smaller one on Platform 6 and the larger one on Platform 5, which I usually visit. Both have a similar offering, with a standard espresso-based menu and a range of sandwiches, crisps, cakes and pastries if you’re hungry. After years with Union Hand-roasted, Gourmet Coffee recently switched to Clifton Coffee Roasters.