Faculty (COVID-19 Update)

Faculty/Sixteen Kitchen has long been my go-to option when changing trains at Birmingham’s New Street Station. Located at the bottom of the Piccadilly Arcade, opposite the station’s New Street entrance, it’s a great breakfast/lunch option, courtesy of Sixteen Kitchen, although I’ve tended to call in the afternoon for coffee and cake at Faculty when changing trains, its proximity to the station making it perfect if you have a few minutes between trains.

Like many in the speciality coffee industry, Faculty has been feeling its way back, initially reopening for takeaway only, when it served from the door. Since then, it’s reopened its seating areas and is slowly expanding its opening hours as people return to the city centre. For now, the coffee offering has been reduced slightly, with just one option on espresso and another on pour-over. Similarly, Sixteen Kitchen is offering a cut-down menu, although you can always get cakes and a small selection of toasted sandwiches from Faculty.

The usual COVID-19 precautions are in place, including reduced seating to ensure social distancing, a queuing system at the door and Perspex screens on the counter. One non-COVID change is the appearance of a Modbar espresso system on the counter!

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G!RO (COVID-19 Update)

The sign hanging outside G!RO in Esher.On Tuesday last week, I got on a train again, this time heading to Surbiton and The Press Room, stopping along the way at G!RO in Esher. Both coffee shops had recently reopened for sit-in customers and I was keen to see how they compared to the likes of Notes and Attendant, which I had visited in London the week before.

I was last at what was then G!RO Cycles in 2015. Like The Press Room, it’s undergone quite a few changes since then. Some of these are clearly recent, allowing for safe reopening during COVID-19, while others, such as the large outdoor seating area, clearly predate that. There’s also been a subtle rebranding, with G!RO Cycles becoming G!RO, although you shouldn’t read too much into the dropping of the word “cycles” from the name. This is still very much a cycle-friendly café as well as a bike shop.

G!RO currently has an espresso-based coffee menu, plus batch-brew filter, although its extensive pour-over offering is unavailable for now. All the coffee is from Workshop, with a range of retail bags for sale. If you’re hungry, there’s a limited all-day brunch selection, backed up by sandwiches and a large range of cake.

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Firelight Coffee Roasters

The Firelight Coffee Roasters logo from the back wall of the coffee shop/roastery in Strongbox West, Atlanta.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.

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Purple Llama

The Purple Llama sign, hanging outside the coffee/record shop on West Division in Chicago.In mid-March, I’d just arrived in Chicago and was looking forward to spending a couple of weeks exploring the city’s excellent speciality coffee scene, interleaved with a series of work calls in the late afternoons/evenings. In the end, I managed just one day before the COVID-19 pandemic cut short my trip and I beat a hasty path for home. Today’s Coffee Spot, Purple Llama, is one of three coffee shops that I managed to visit on my single day in Chicago.

Purple Llama is on West Division Street, where it runs along the southern edge of Chicago’s Wicker Park neighbourhood. It feels like it’s been on my list forever, since so many people mention it to me, but, in reality, it’s only been three years since Purple Llama first opened in April 2017.

Purple Llama combines speciality coffee and music, offering a range of vinyl records for sale alongside some outstanding coffee. A multi-roaster, the coffee is drawn from a selection of roasters across the US and Europe, with the specific beans on offer changing once a week. There are multiple options on espresso, batch-brew and pour-over, along with around 10 teas and a range of cakes if you’re hungry.

April 2020: Sad news. I believe that due to COVID-19, Purple Llama has decided to permanently close.

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139 Coffee

A classic espresso (Ground Coffee Society's Caveman blend) in a classic cup, served at 139 Coffee.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.

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Voyager Craft Coffee, San Pedro Square Market

A Finca Las Ventanas from Costa Rica, roasted by Voyager Craft Coffee and served as an espresso in its new location in the San Pedro Square Market in San Jose.On my last visit to San Jose, in April 2019, B2 Coffee was a fixture in the San Pedro Square Market. However, like so much in San Jose speciality coffee since then, everything has changed, while at the same time feeling much the same. B2 Coffee has, sadly, closed, but, with pleasing symmetry, Voyager Craft Coffee, which took over from the original Bellano Coffee (B1 Coffee if you like) on Stevens Creek Boulevard, has now taken over from B2 as well.

The basic set-up is almost identical, Voyager occupying the same U-shaped counter located on one side of a large, communal seating area at the market’s northern end. You order here and find a seat (or sofa) in the communal area, or, alternatively, head outside, where there’s even more seating.

The coffee is all roasted in-house by Voyager, with seasonal offerings on espresso (Cascade blend, single-origin and decaf), batch brew and with up to five choices on pour-over. Add to that Voyager’s unique destination drinks, their ingredients inspired by places around the globe. If you’re hungry, there’s a concise toast-based menu, a selection of cakes, plus the food hall in the market is at your disposal. And there’s a bar!

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Pair Specialty Coffee & Tea

My espresso, a Colombian Geisha, roasted and served at Pair Speciality Coffee & Tea in Mesa, and presented on a square, wooden tray with a glass of water on the side.After five previous visits to Phoenix, where I’ve visited coffee shops in the surrounding cities of Scottsdale, Tempe and Chandler, this trip has seen me add Gilbert, Peoria and now Mesa to the list. Mesa, which is east of Tempe and north of Gilbert, is somewhere I’ve only previously driven through on my way to the Superstition Mountains. What caused me to stop on this occasion was Pair Specialty Coffee & Tea, which I was urged to visit by several people, including Fionn of The Pourover and Eric, at Mythical Coffee.

Pair Specialty Coffee & Tea started as a pop-up inside the tap room at Cider Corps, although it’s now migrated to a more permanent set up at the back of the main bar with plans to expand the opening hours in the next month or two. Pair roasts all its own coffee, with five single-origins on pour-over, two of which are also on espresso. These are backed up by five loose-leaf teas pus matcha, with all the coffee/tea available to buy in retail bags.

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Fortitude Bakehouse

My 6oz with milk (aka a flat white), made with an Ethiopian Ana Sora, a naturally-processed coffee from Has Bean, served in a glass at Fortitude Bakehouse, London.Fortitude Bakehouse, tucked away in the heart of Bloomsbury behind Russell Square Tube Station, opened in the summer of last year, an event which largely passed me by, perhaps explaining why I left it until the start of this month to pay it a visit. It is, as the name suggests, a bakery, reminding me, in concept at least, of the original Exploding Bakery in Exeter.

There’s a single counter running the entire width of the shop, behind which the bakery bustles away, turning out sourdough sweets and savouries, all of which you’ll find laden on the counter. Even better, at the far end, a Victoria Arduino White Eagle espresso machine dispenses drinks from a concise espresso menu, using a single-origin from Has Bean. Although aimed mostly at the takeaway trade, there’s a small amount of seating inside, while outside on the quiet street, you’ll find six two-person tables.

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Blueprint Coffee & Books

The Blueprint Coffee & Books logo taken from a tote bag in the shop in Whitstable.Blueprint Coffee & Books, in Whitstable, is at the northern end of Oxford Street, a stone’s throw from Oxford Street’s other speciality coffee shop, Garage Coffee. When it comes to bragging rights, however, Blueprint wins hands down, having started in 2013, with the shop opening in 2016. Not that I can claim anything in the way of moral superiority, having only heard of it a couple of years ago when Luke, who I knew from Water Lane Coffee in Canterbury, took over as manager. The loss, naturally, is all mine.

Blueprint Coffee & Books does exactly what the name suggests. Spread across two rooms, it’s a small bookshop with a select range of titles, while the coffee all comes from London’s Alchemy. There’s a concise espresso-based menu, the coffee served in three sizes: 4, 6 and 8oz, either with or without milk. You can choose from the house coffee, a guest or decaf, while for filter coffee, the options are V60 or Aeropress, each with its own single-origin, Blueprint also offering a Chemex for two.

If coffee’s not your thing, then there’s Blendsmiths hot chocolate, Jing Tea and soft drinks, while if you’re hungry, Blueprint has a small selection of cakes.

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Society Café, The Corridor Update

The mural on the wall of the basement in Society Cafe, The Corridor, in Bath, showing flowers growing in a coffee cup, with a small animal peaking its head out.Last month, Amanda and I paid a brief visit to Bath. After an afternoon exploring the fabulous Roman Baths, we retreated to the nearby Society Café in The Corridor, which I’d last visited just over five years ago, a quite shameful state of affairs that can only partly be blamed on my ridiculous travel schedule.

The second Society Café in Bath, after the original on Kingsmead Square, I found that, in many ways, little had changed, although for the last two years, Society has been using Origin as its house-roaster, rather than Round Hill Roastery (Round Hill still makes regular appearances as a guest). The upstairs had also received something of a makeover, introducing some more seating a giving the décor a little more colour.

However, the main change came when the basement was opened last year, doubling the amount of seating available. Naturally, Amanda and I had to explore.

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