Although it was Sam’s Coffee that brought me to Llangollen at the end of May, while I was doing my research, I quickly discovered that Sam wasn’t the only game in town when it came to speciality coffee. Literally across the road from Sam’s Coffee is Riverbanc, which started life as an outdoor activity centre before moving into the old Midland Bank building, in the process adding a speciality coffee shop and small hotel to its portfolio.
The coffee shop occupies the left-hand side of the ground floor of the three-storey building, with a modest, L-shaped seating area which wraps around the counter. As pleasant as the interior is, sitting inside means you miss out on the best part of Riverbanc, the expansive decking at the rear of the building, which is built out high above the bank of the River Dee.
When it comes to coffee, Riverbanc uses Has Bean, offering the reliable Jailbreak blend on espresso, along with a single-origin guest, plus decaf. There’s also loose-leaf tea, hot chocolate, various flavoured lattes and iced frappes, plus bottled beer and wine. If you’re hungry, Riverbanc has contemporary breakfast and brunch menus, plus plenty of cake to keep you going.
I returned in April after the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions allowed coffee shops to serve customers at outdoor seating, something that Open Grounds, with its large terrace, was ideally placed to take advantage of. You still had to go inside to order, taking you through the equally large interior, which was off-limits until the COVID-19 restrictions were further relaxed in mid-May, allowing indoor service to restart. Giving Open Grounds a couple of weeks to settle in, I returned at the start of June to reacquaint myself with the wonderfully spacious interior.
In my on-going search for alternatives to the motorway services, my eyes alighted on FLTR Coffee during my drive to North Wales last Saturday. Located in Langford Village, on the southeastern outskirts of Bicester, it’s conveniently less than 10 minutes’ drive from J9 of the M40 to the south, under 15 minutes from J10 to the north and, if you’re coming by public transport, a short (15 minutes) walk from Bicester Village Station. Part of a small parade of shops in an outdoor shopping centre, there’s ample free parking.
FLTR Coffee, which is owned by a church called Journey Communities, was made possible by donations from various charitable organisations, churches, neighbours and friends. When it comes to coffee, the house roaster is Dark Woods Coffee, so you know that you’re in excellent hands. During my visit, Dark Woods was on the concise espresso menu, while both options on pour-over (V60) were from Dark Woods too. Meanwhile, local roaster, Oxford’s NewGround, is on decaf, with FLTR Coffee offering a selection of tea and hot chocolate as well. If you are hungry, there are toast and toasted teacakes for breakfast, plus a range of toasties and cakes to tempt you.
Today’s Coffee Spot Update is a first of sorts. Over the last year, I’ve revisited Coffee Spots to see how they’ve been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this is the first time I’ve revisited somewhere that opened during the pandemic to see how it’s managing as the COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed. It’s also the first time this year that I sat inside a coffee shop to drink coffee.
The place in question is The Old Roastery Coffee Shop in Merrow. Part of Redber Coffee Roasters, I first visited exactly four weeks earlier, at the end of its first week of trading. Back then, you could only sit outside, but since the middle of May, the restrictions have been relaxed to allow customers to sit inside. I remember thinking at the time that the interior of The Old Roastery Coffee Shop looked lovely, so I thought I’d pop back to see if I was right!
Other than being able to sit inside, the main change is a move from the Café Français blend to the Signature Blend on espresso. However, The Old Roastery Coffee Shop is still only able to serve in disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.
Back in the day, before I’d started the Coffee Spot, Ealing’s Electric Coffee Co. was one of a handful of speciality coffee shops in London. Fast forward 10+ years, and it’s fair to say that it’s now one of a handful of speciality coffee shops in Ealing, such has been the growth of the London scene. And that’s not the only thing that’s been growing. Since opening in 2008, Electric Coffee Co. has expanded its original coffee shop, started its own roasting operation, opened a second location (in St John’s Wood) and now there’s a third, on Goldhawk Road.
When I visited last week, seating was limited to the four outside tables, but as of this morning, the interior seating should be open, including the multi-roomed basement and the sunny room at the back. There are also plans for a small, outdoor terrace accessed through the basement. The coffee offering is fairly simple, with a concise espresso-based menu featuring the Rocket 88 blend. This is backed up by a range of toasted sandwiches and other savouries, plus cakes. Retail bags of coffee are for sale, where they’re joined, unusually, by a small range of Italian groceries.
These days there’s plenty of good coffee to be had in the neighbourhood, but when Chief Coffee opened in Chiswick back in 2015, it was something of a pioneer, joining the nearby Artisan in bringing speciality coffee to this part of West London. As well as the coffee, however, Chief Coffee also made its name with its pinball lounge, something which makes it stand out from the crowd to this day (the only other speciality coffee and pinball place I am aware of is Birmingham’s Tilt).
As I write, Chief Coffee is restricted to just its outdoor seating, which, in the sheltered Turnham Green Terrace Mews, is a delight. However, as of Monday next week (17th May) it will be re-opening both the first-floor seating area and the ground floor pinball lounge. And, even better, there’s a new Japanese arcade games room on the top floor that will be opening for the very first time!
The coffee is unchanged throughout, with Allpress’s signature blend on espresso, plus a regularly changing pair of contrasting single-origins from Workshop on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. This is backed up by a small selection of tea, plus sandwiches, savouries and cakes if you’re hungry.
I first heard of Open Grounds Café, another new addition to Guildford’s speciality coffee scene, in November last year, when Jonathon of Canopy Coffee tipped me off about a new coffee shop opening in the Baptist Church on Millmead, down by the river. I duly popped down in December, during that brief period when sit-in customers were allowed in the run-up to Christmas, but I didn’t have time to write it up. Then came further COVID-19 restrictions and Open Grounds switched to a takeaway operation.
However, at the start of April, the COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed, allowing coffee shops to serve customers at outdoor seating. This was something that Open Grounds, with a large terrace in front of the church, was ideally placed to take advantage of. I made a brief visit (on my way to a wedding) and then returned last week for a more in-depth look.
Open Grounds is very much a lunchtime coffee shop, opening from 10:00 to 14:00, with a standard espresso-based menu built around a single-origin Brazilian from Ethicaladdictions, plus decaf and batch-brew filter. There’s tea, soft drinks, soup, a small selection of sandwiches and curry puffs, plus a range of cakes, scones and pastries.
The Green Wood Café is in Coalbrookedale, a narrow, steep-sided valley which leads south into the famous Ironbridge Gorge a few hundred metres west of the famous bridge. Located in the Green Wood Centre, it’s nestled between the road and the disused railway line. The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on The Green Wood Café, which has only recently reopened, having been shut over the winter. Like many places, it has had to reinvent itself, but the good news is that it’s done a fantastic job, with excellent, well thought out systems and lots of lovely outdoor seating, including tables in the adjacent orchard.
For now, everything is served in compostable, single use containers, with a full, all-day brunch menu, including street food and toasted sandwiches, backed up by the range of cakes. Everything is vegetarian, with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. When it comes to the coffee, which uses the café’s own bespoke blend, oat milk is offered as standard, with dairy and soya milk as options. There’s also a wide range of tea and alternative drinks such as chai, beetroot, matcha and turmeric lattes (all of which have iced versions), backed up with smoothies and soft drinks.
The Table, which opened at the start of April, can lay claim to the title of Walsall’s first (and, for now, only) speciality coffee shop. The brainchild of Abby and James, it was set up as a community hub with the backing of the Walsall Community Church. Occupying part of a lovely, old building on the corner of Lower Hall Lane and Caldmore Road, it’s a few minutes’ walk from the train station in the centre of town. It’s also a great alternative to the motorway services, being under 10 minutes from both Junctions 9 and 10 on the M6, with plentiful (cheap) parking nearby.
For now, the spacious interior (The Table goes a long way back) is off-limits until the next set of COVID-19 restrictions are lifted (hopefully in May). However, there’s plenty of outside seating, and, with its location on a south-facing corner, it catches the sun. When it comes to coffee, The Table uses Bristol’s Odd Kin Coffee Roasters, with Walsall’s own Coffee by the Casuals on filter, although there are plans to add more guests in due course. There’s also Kokoa Collection hot chocolate, a selection of tea and a range of cakes if you’re hungry.
Espresso Farm has been on my radar since it opened in February 2019, but Saturday was the first opportunity I had to pay a visit. Located within Umberslade Farm Park, it’s just south of the M42/M40 junction, making it an excellent alternative to the motorway services if you need a break when travelling in either direction. It’s also worth a visit in its own right and, while it’s easiest to get to by car, if you don’t mind a 35-minute walk along the lanes (or 20 minutes across the fields) it’s also served by Danzey Station on the Birmingham to Stratford line.
For now, just the outside seating is open, but the good news is that there’s plenty of it and the Espresso Farm has the most wonderful setting. It helps that the coffee, from the nearby Monsoon Estates Coffee Company, is excellent, and while Espresso Farm is currently using disposable cups, the staff are happy if you bring your own. As well as the usual espresso-based drinks, there’s batch-brew filter, hot chocolate and a range of tea. If you’re hungry, Espresso Farm can offer an all-day breakfast menu, a selection of toasties and a wide range of cakes.