The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic may have caused a country-wide closure of coffee shops this spring, but that hasn’t stopped a growing number of brave entrepreneurs from opening new coffee shops. Chief amongst these are siblings Grace and Victoria, who had originally planned to open Queens of Mayfair, their high-end coffee shop located, appropriated enough, in Mayfair, back in March 2020. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t happen, but despite the COVID-19 setback, they carried on, with Queens opening in August instead.
Queens is an upscale venue, offering table service, a brunch menu until 3:30 pm and a “nibbles” menu in the evening. There’s cake, of course, plus hot chocolate, tea and a fully-stocked bar offering cocktails and other delights. However, it was the coffee that made the headlines, even catching the interest of the mainstream press. The reason? The UK’s most expensive cup of coffee, coming in at £50 a serving!
This is something so special that it deserves a Saturday Supplement all of its own (which will be along in due course). In the meantime, this Coffee Spot focuses on Queens as a coffee shop, where you can order from the more affordable espresso-based menu, based around a Brazilian Daterra, roasted for Queens by Difference Coffee.
The very first coffee shop I visited following the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions in England was Notes, Trafalgar Square. I doubt I could have chosen better, to be honest, with Notes’ customary quality shining through. My coffee, a cortado, was served in a glass, while my food came on a proper plate with real cutlery. So, when I was looking for somewhere to have coffee and some food before catching my train on Monday, I immediately thought of Notes at Pancras Square, sandwiched between King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. The fact that my train was leaving from Euston, a 15-minute walk away, was entirely secondary in the decision-making process.
King’s Cross was one of three Notes locations that reopened in July and is probably the best suited of all, with a large outdoor seating area. There are changes, obviously, to account for COVID-19, but these are minimal. Online ordering at your table is encouraged, while the upstairs seating area is understandably closed, but otherwise, this is very much like the Notes of old. And, even better, with the area still really, really quiet, sitting out in Pancras Square meant blissful silence. Make the most of it while it lasts!
The container is back! Yes, that’s right, Beany Green, that little container of sunshine at the foot of the Hungerford Bridge on the South Bank, is back! It had actually reopened a few weeks ago, but when I went up to London in mid-July, I discovered that it was closed again due to essential bridge repairs. However, I was not to be denied and, when I went through London on Monday, I made of a point of calling in to find that it was open again!
For those that don’t know, this is one of the original Beany Green coffee shops, which opened in June 2014. These days it’s more a bar serving good coffee, although during the day it still has a coffee shop vibe. Essentially an outdoor operation, it hasn’t been too badly affected by COVID-19, although it (and the surrounding area) is much quieter than it used to be.
On Tuesday, I caught a train to London. I went to visit coffee shops, something I once took or granted, but which, thanks to COVID-19, I hadn’t done for almost exactly four months. Although I didn’t have a firm itinerary (I intended to wander around, see who was open, and take things from there), there was one coffee shop which I planned to visit, heading straight there from Waterloo.
Notes is on St Martin’s Lane, a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square, which is how it gets its name. Like Attendant, where I ended Tuesday’s short excursion, I first wrote about Notes back in 2013, although, unlike Attendant, which had recently opened, Notes was already well-established by that point. Since then, I’ve visited several other Notes and have always been impressed by the quality and attention to detail.
Notes had reopened just four days before my visit, on Saturday 11th July, but I knew from its social media posts that it was offering a sit-in service, which I was keen to try. More than anything, I wanted to see how the reality of sitting in a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic matched my (perhaps gloomy) musings on the matter.
Today’s Coffee Spot takes us back to last summer and Prague, when I visited The Miners Coffee and Characters (to give it its full name) in Vinohrady. The first of a planned series of coffee shops, it was very new when I visited in June last year, having only been open for three months. In contrast to everywhere else I’d visited that weekend, Miners had an ultra-modern, Scandinavian feel to it, with clean, open lines, pale woods and white walls.
It also had the latest equipment, its brand-new Mark II Slayer espresso machine matched with a pair of Victoria Arduino Mythos 1 grinders. For all the high-tech espresso equipment, pour-over is still done by hand (albeit with an uber boiler, backed up with a couple of temperature-controlled kettles). The coffee is from the UK’s Colonna Coffee, although Miners has plans to roast its own, to be used in conjunction with Colonna. There are three options on espresso, including decaf, and three more on pour-over through the V60. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes, a choice of three toasted sandwiches (one vegan) and three standard weekend brunch options (two vegetarian: French toast and scrambled eggs; and one vegan: avocado toast).
I became aware of Fairgrounds Craft Coffee and Tea when I discovered the Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar inside my office building at River Point North. Although Infuse runs in-house coffee bars, the staff told me about Fairgrounds, Infuse’s sister company which runs cafés. That was in 2017, when Infuse had just opened, although it’s taken me another 2½ years before I’ve managed to visit Fairgrounds, although for once I’ve done it right, visiting its Bucktown location, which, like Infuse, opened in 2017, along with another Fairgrounds in The Loop.
Although it started in Chicago, Fairgrounds now has cafés in Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Los Angeles to join the (currently) three Chicago locations, plus two more in the suburbs. They all have the same mission, which is shared with Infuse: to serve a wide range of excellent coffee on espresso and filter, plus cold brew, nitro brew, various elixirs and tea. To this end, there’s a blend, decaf and rotating single-origin on espresso, plus three more blends, a further three single-origins and a decaf on pour-over, sourced from roasters across America. If you’re hungry, Fairgrounds had an all-day breakfast menu, sandwiches, salad bowls and soup, plus various snacks, bites and cake.
Until Monday, I’d never been to Atlanta. The closest I’d come was passing through Peachtree Station en-route to New Orleans two years ago. I also managed a brief stop at the airport in January on my way to Portland. However, on Monday this week, Amanda and I stepped off Amtrak’s Crescent Service (the very same train that I caught to New Orleans) and I was in Atlanta. Naturally, our thoughts to turned to coffee, and where better to start than with Octane?
Octane was a pioneer of Atlanta’s speciality coffee scene until it was bought in 2017 by Revelator Coffee, much to the consternation of many. Octane had several locations in the city, but the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Octane: Westside, is, I believe, the original and the only one to retain the Octane name.
Located in a converted garage, it’s a large, spacious place, with a small amount of outside seating and limited parking. The Petunias blend is on espresso, with two single-origins on pour-over via the Chemex. If you want something stiffer, there’s a full bar, offering a wide range of drinks from 11:30 each day. If you’re hungry, there’s a broad selection of cakes and savouries.
Monday’s Coffee Spot takes us back to last summer in Prague, when I found so many great coffee shops that I’m still writing about them! Today is the turn of Dos Mondus, another well-established player, which has had a coffee shop/roastery in Vinohrady, east of the centre, since 2013, with a second café opening across the river in Holešovice in 2017.
Typically, I visit places in reverse order, but this time I got it the right way around, trying the original coffee shop/roastery on Korunní first. Occupying a pair of adjoining rooms, the seating is all on the right, while the left-hand side holds both the counter and the roastery, with the roaster, a lovely-looking 6kg Giesen, taking pride of place in the window.
All the coffee is roasted on-site on Mondays and Thursdays, with two options on espresso and one on batch brew. The specific options change daily, drawn from a seasonal selection of up to 10 single-origins from around the world (Dos Mundos had seven single-origins on offer during my visit), all of which are available through V60, Aeropress or Chemex. Naturally, all the beans are available to buy as well, along with a selection of coffee-making kit.
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.
July 2020: Both Gourmet Coffee Bar & Kitchen kiosks have reopened at Crewe station. You can see what I made of the one on Platform 5 when I visited in early August.
I’m still missing the warm, winter sun of Arizona, so today’s Coffee Spot takes us back to last summer and Prague, when Amanda and I visited Coffee and Riot, a lovely little place in the backstreets of the Nové Město (New Town). Occupying two small rooms on the ground floor of a tall, old building, it’s combines the traditional Central European café/bar with speciality coffee.
That means that was well as serving coffee from Rebel Bean (on espresso) and guests (on filter), there’s a wide range of alcohol, including beer, cider, wine, cocktails and gin, served late into the evening (10 o’clock each night except Sundays). There’s also a selection of food, including toast, cakes, quiche and a range of sandwiches.
Coffee and Riot uses Rebel Bean as its house roaster, with a single option on espresso, which changes every few weeks. This is joined by a guest roaster on filter, which can come from anywhere in Europe, although when we were there, it was The Naughty Dog from nearby Jilove u Prahy. There’s a choice of V60 or Aeropress, with the beans all available in retail bags, the roaster changing when Coffee and Riots gets through its current stock.