Seesaw’s one of Shanghai’s speciality coffee pioneers. The coffee shop/roaster started in 2012, and now has 12 branches in Shanghai, three in Shenzhen, two in Suzhou and one in Beijing. My first introduction to Seesaw was at the flagship Seesaw 433, but sadly this has recently closed, the landlord requiring the building back. Therefore, when wandering Pudong’s IFC Mall in search of the Metro Station, I immediately changed my plans on seeing Seesaw on a list of shops.
Tucked away at the far end of the mall, next to the cinema, Seesaw occupies an open, triangular space. The back wall forms one side, while the two-part counter, along with a square pillar in the corner, forms the remaining two sides. There’s limited seating, with tables along the back wall and stools along the counter, but despite its modest size, you get the full Seesaw treatment, including proper cups for sit-in customers (something Shanghai’s other chains could learn from) and a full range of coffee, with the Giraffe blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a single-origin, another seven available on pour-over through the V60. There’s also a retail selection, small breakfast, lunch and afternoon menus, plus a generous cake selection.
I first became aware of Little Bean on my first trip to Shanghai in October 2016, when I tried its coffee at AUNN Café & Co. On my return in December 2017, Little Bean’s flagship, Little Bean Roastery, was one of that trip’s highlights. These days, there are five Little Beans, but back then, there were just two, the second being the Little Bean Coffee Museum, located in the basement of the K11 Mall, right in the heart of downtown Shanghai.
I managed to visit in 2017, but didn’t get a chance to write it up, so on my return in 2019, I made a point of visiting, even though modern shopping malls are very low on my list of places I want to spend any time in. However, the lure of Little Bean, tucked away in the basement, was too much to resist (and the good news is that you can get there straight from the Metro, so you can bypass K11 altogether).
What you get is the usual Little Bean offering of a Brazilian single-origin on espresso, plus another Brazilian single-origin on pour-over through the V60, where it’s joined by a selection of single-origins sourced from Nordic Approach.
Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for Intelligentsia, the Chicago-based roaster/coffee shop chain with six branches in the city and others in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. Some of my earliest speciality coffee experiences came in its branch in the Monadnock Building on Jackson Boulevard and, in many ways, it wouldn’t be a visit to Chicago without at least one coffee from Intelligentsia. Since I’ve been confined to my hotel on my current trip by the freezing temperatures (down to -30°C, so cold that even the coffee bar in the lobby was closed), I thought I would take us back to warmer times, when I popped into Intelligentsia’s Logan Square branch on my previous visit to Chicago in August last year.
There’s the usual Intelligentsia offering, with a choice on espresso: the classic Black Cat blend, a seasonal single-origin and decaf, plus another single-origin on pour-over and a third through batch-brew. Unusually for speciality coffee, the pour-over is priced to reflect the extra effort required, coming in at twice the price of the batch-brew. If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s a good tea selection, plus, if you’re hungry, there’s a range of cakes and doughnuts.
One of the more famous names in Chicago’s independent coffee scene, I can’t say exactly when or where I first heard of Gaslight Coffee Roasters, but it’s a name that keeps coming up when people talk about places to visit. Like so much of Chicago’s speciality coffee, it’s on North Milwaukee Avenue between the Blue Line stops of Logan Square and California, the trains thundering close by Gaslight on the elevated section before disappearing underground at Logan Square. In terms of other speciality coffee shops, it neatly fills the gap between the cluster to the northwest (Logan Square), featuring the likes of Passion House Coffee Roasters and Intelligentsia, and the cluster to the southeast, starting with Ipsento/ Ipsento 606.
Roaster, retailer and coffee shop all-in-one, Gaslight is rare in American speciality coffee circles in that it also has a full kitchen, serving five or six seasonal dishes until three o’clock each afternoon. This is supplemented by a day-long selection of cakes and pastries. Roasting takes place three times a week in a separate room to the rear of the store. A small selection of single-origins is produced, which is rotated through espresso/batch-brew, with two single-origins on espresso and one on batch-brew.
Is it a coffee shop? Show room? Retailer? Actually, Dispatch Coffee is all of these and more. It’s also a coffee truck, or it was. When I first came to Montréal in 2013, several people mentioned a coffee truck (Dispatch), but I didn’t have time to visit. Fast forward 5½ years and Dispatch has a roastery/café in Mile End, a coffee counter at McGill University and a beautiful coffee shop/showroom on Boulevard Saint Laurent, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot.
Dispatch roasts its own coffee, all single-origins, at its Mile End location, emphasising fresh, seasonal coffee, all available to buy in-store. When I visited, there were six different origins, one of which was a decaf. One of these, plus the decaf, is available as espresso, another as batch-brew and any of them can be had through the Aeropress. The espresso and batch-brew options change regularly, the staff putting on two or three bags at a time, then moving on when they’re done. This means that they can easily have two different espressos on each day, although the batch-brew changes more slowly, maybe just once a day. There’s also a small selection of cakes, pastries and pre-prepared salads if you’re hungry.
Kickapoo Coffee is another of those Midwest coffee names that I became aware of when I spent some time in Madison last year, particularly from my visits to Bradbury’s Coffee. Based in Viroqua, Wisconsin, Kickapoo has been roasting there since 2005, with an emphasis on direct trade. This is its first coffee shop, which opened in 2015, with two more following, one in Viroqua itself and the other in Bayfield, on the shores of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. I’ve always enjoyed Kickapoo’s coffee, so since I was passing through Milwaukee, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Kickapoo occupies a bright, airy spot in the historic Third Ward, down where Milwaukee’s three rivers converge before flowing into Lake Michigan. A bright, airy, open, modern space, it’s somewhat at odds with the neighbourhood’s older roots as a harbour/industrial area, but that doesn’t stop it being a delightful place to enjoy your coffee. There’s plenty of seating inside and out, plus a simple breakfast menu if you’re hungry. However, the real draw is the coffee, with the Full Spectrum blend joined by a single-origin on espresso, another blend on batch-brew and three single-origins on pour-over through the Kalita Wave.
My first taste of Nozy’s coffee was at the lovely Nem Coffee & Espresso during my first visit to Tokyo in April 2017. I also walked past The Roastery, on Tokyo’s famous Cat Street, while taking a circuitous route back from the office, but I didn’t have time to stop. However, The Roastery was high on my must-visit list on my return, so a week ago today, I headed out early to beat the crowds, making a bee-line for The Roastery.
With the odd exception (Blue Bottle Coffee in Aoyama for example) the speciality coffee shops I’ve visited in Japan have been small. The Roastery bucks that trend, occupying a large space set back from the street, with a large outside seating area and a similarly-sized interior which doubles as a roastery, producing all Nozy’s coffee.
The coffee offering is just as big and impressive. There are no blends, just two single-origins for the limited espresso menu and another eight on pour-over, while you can buy all the beans to take home in retail bags of various sizes. There’s a small range of sweet and savoury snacks, plus perhaps the biggest draw of all in summer: soft-serve ice cream.
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.
Bluestone Lane is the Aussie-inspired chain which, having started in New York, made its way to Philadelphia in November 2015 and now boasts branches as far afield as San Francisco and Los Angeles. I first came across the Broad Street branch in Manhattan’s financial district. Small and cosy, this was very much a coffee shop, one of 17 that Bluestone Lane now boasts. At the other end of the scale, Rittenhouse Square is very much a café, currently one of eight such Bluestone Lane establishments, offering full table service and an Aussie-inspired all-day brunch menu, containing such Aussie standards as banana bread, avocado smash and various egg-based dishes, all backed-up by an interesting selection of cake. Large, bright and airy, it’s as far as you can get from my experience in Manhattan.
Turning to coffee, there’s a standard (for Australia/UK) espresso-based menu with a single-origin espresso, plus a blend (Maverick) that’s used in milk-based drinks, which include piccolos and flat whites alongside the more familiar (for America) cappuccinos and lattes. Pleasingly, all are served in suitably small-sized glasses/cups. There’s also bulk-brew for those who fancy filter. Having originally sourced its coffee from San Francisco’s Sightglass, it’s now all roasted in-house.
Coffee Island is, unusually for the Coffee Spot, a chain and an international one at that, which started on a Greek island in 1999 and now has over 300 shops throughout Greece, Cyprus and south-east Europe. However, its branch on St Martin’s Lane is (so far) the only UK one. Opening earlier this year with a considerable media push, I was away at the time and so missed all the fuss. I popped in later in the year and I liked what I saw…
A modest exterior hides a surprisingly-large coffee shop with plenty of seating and a mezzanine level at the back. I’d describe Coffee Island as coffee geeks meet the mainstream, so while there’s a house-blend, decaf and five single-origins, there’s also flavoured coffee, which is not something you normally associate with the speciality end of the market. There’s also a large retail section (beans and equipment), tea and food, the latter in the shape of salads, sandwiches and cake.
There’s an excellent range of options for the coffee including espresso, Greek coffee (Ibrik), bulk-brew or pour-over using the V60, Aeropress or Chemex (for one or two). If you want to compare coffee or methods side-by-side, it’s awesome!