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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Little Nap Coffee Roasters

Detail from the sign on the wall: Little Nap Coffee RoastersI discovered Little Nap, the Tokyo-based coffee shop/roaster chain (of precisely two locations) when I visited the original, Little Nap Coffee Stand, in the summer of 2018. During that trip I also popped over to the second location, Little Nap Coffee Roasters, a short, 10-minute walk to the southwest. However, for various reasons, I never managed to write it up, so last week, on my most recent trip, I returned to check that nothing had changed.

Little Nap occupies a narrow, three-storey, standalone building on the south side of the busy highway which runs through the southern end of Yoyogi Park to the east. Downstairs, at the front, is a compact coffee shop, while at the back is an equally compact roastery. The first floor is home to the Little Nap Record Shop and, during my visit in 2018, hosted a pop-up kitchen, while the top floor is a gallery with rotating displays.

Little Nap serves a house-blend from a concise, espresso-based menu, with four seasonal single-origins on pour-over (hot or cold), with all the coffee available to buy in retail bags. There’s also a small range of sandwiches and hot dogs, plus a selection of cakes if you’re hungry.

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Black Gold

A flat white, served in a classic black cup, at Amsterdam's Black Gold.I didn’t have very long to explore Amsterdam’s speciality coffee scene when I visited the city for the World of Coffee in June, but I noticed that the majority of places are outside of the centre, often to the south or west. In contrast, Black Gold, on a quiet, residential street, is just a short walk east of the red light district, making it one of the more easily-accessible speciality coffee shops for those on a more traditional tourist itinerary.

Black Gold is both a coffee shop and vinyl record shop, part of a small band of such establishments around the world. The front is given over the vinyl, although there is some seating and you are welcome to sit there with your coffee. Alternatively, there are a few more seats in the spacious rear of the shop. When it comes to coffee, Black Gold uses local roasters White Label Coffee, with a single-origin on espresso, where it’s joined by a guest roaster. There are also three single-origins on filter through V60, Aeropress, cafetiere and batch-brew, with the same single-origin guest espresso also available as one of the filter options, an innovation which only started in June.

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Hard Lines Coffee

Details from a sign outside the Castle Emporium in Cardiff, home of Outpost Coffee & VinylOn a trip to Cardiff a few years ago, I visited the Castle Emporium, a hub of independent one-off shops and businesses, including art, fashion and a barbershop, all set in the halls of what was originally a 1920s cinema. I distinctly remember thinking at the time that what the place needed was a speciality coffee shop. Fast forward to the end of 2016, and my wish became true as Hard Lines Coffee moved into the ground floor.

Hard Lines occupies a counter to the right of the entrance, with some seating opposite. Originally known as Outpost Coffee & Vinyl, Hard Lines sells both coffee and records, specialising in newly-released vinyl. When it comes to coffee, Hard Lines is just as specialised, a true multi-roaster, with rapidly rotating options on both espresso and batch-brew.

Bristol-based Clifton Coffee Roasters and Extract Coffee Roasters, along with Liverpool’s Neighbourhood Coffee, provide the espresso, which changes every week. Meanwhile various roasters appear on batch-brew, with a different one popping up each day. During the afternoon, if it’s quiet, you can ask nicely and staff will make you a pour-over on the Kalita Wave. Finally, if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cake from old friends Cakesmiths.

October 2017: I’ve learnt that Outpost has re-branded to Hard Lines Coffee, so to avoid confused, I’ve renamed it in this write-up.

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The LP Café

Some of the LPs for sale on the wall at Watford's The LP CafeThere aren’t that many places which combine speciality coffee and music, something that has always surprised me. Swindon’s Baila Coffee & Vinyl springs to mind, as does Oxford’s The Keen Bean Coffee Club (which I believe has changed hands since I last visited) while Porto’s Bop is a recent arrival. In fairness, today’s Coffee Spot, Watford’s The LP Café, has been on my radar for a while: I’ve just never had reason to go to Watford before now…

I’m very glad that I eventually made the trip though. The LP Café, as the name suggests, combines serving speciality coffee with selling vinyl LPs. It’s an interesting combination: one very much a recent thing (speciality coffee), the other very old school, but rapidly coming back into fashion (LPs).

The coffee (espresso only) is from London stalwarts, Climpson and Sons, a roaster, in speciality terms, almost as old as vinyl itself. Its Estate Blend is supplemented by a guest espresso (also from Climpson and Sons) on the second grinder. Breakfast and lunch options are joined by a tempting array of cakes. As well as the LPs (which you can buy on-line and collect in person), there are also bags of coffee for sale.

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A black-and-white cartoon of a man's head, holding a coffee cup to his ear, as if he is listening to it. This appears above the letters "BOP".Bop is the latest addition to Porto’s small, but growing (and home-grown) speciality coffee scene. Located just north of the city centre, it’s around the corner from the wonderful Mercado do Bolhão, an amazing, but rather run-down old-fashioned food market. From the outside, Bop looks much like any Portuguese café/bar. It’s only when you step inside that you begin to suspect that something’s not quite right.

For starters, there are record players in alcoves on the right-hand wall and hundreds of vinyl LPs stacked up behind the counter to the left. What’s that all about? Go up to the bar (or peruse the menu outside) and you see another clue. Alongside the obligatory espresso machine and an old-style bulk-brew filter machine, Bop offers a V60 option, the brew-bar front and centre on the counter. You’ve definitely come to the right place!

As if that wasn’t enough, Bop is actually the café/bar it looked like from the outside, with draught and bottled beer, wine and spirits, plus opening hours that extend into early morning! There are also separate breakfast/bagel, lunch and bar-snack menus. The coffee is from local roaster, Vernazza, with a blend on espresso, plus two single-origin options on V60.

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Baila Coffee & Vinyl

Detail of some of the drawing on the wall behind the bench in Baila Coffee & Vinyl, proclaiming Baila's fresh, brewed coffee and light roast espresso.Baila Coffee & Vinyl is on Swindon’s southern side, “up the hill” as the locals put it, in the part of old Swindon that actually looks and feels like a pleasant small town, rather than the post-war concrete shopping area that is the modern centre. Near the top of Victoria Road, Baila’s a coffee shop that buys/sells vinyl records rather than a record shop which serves coffee (The Keen Bean Coffee Club, for example).

As befits somewhere that’s all about vinyl (black), coffee (black too) and coffee with milk (white), the décor is predominantly black and white, with added touches of black and occasional splashes of white for variety. The floor is at least (dark) wood, as are the tables and chairs.

The coffee is from nearby Extract Coffee Roasters, with Extract’s standard espresso blend in the main hoper, plus decaf. Single origins make an appearance as filter coffee, Baila unusually utilising the Clever Dripper. There are also smoothies and loose-leaf tea.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, Baila reopens from seven in the evening until eleven as a bar, serving craft beers, gin, wine and spirits. The bar also makes an appearance from four until ten on Sunday afternoon/evening.

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The Keen Bean Coffee Club

The light blue and cream Crema Caffe Elektra espresso machine, complete with dog, at The Keen Bean Coffee Club, Oxford.The Keen Bean Coffee Club (aside from possibly having the best-ever name for a Coffee Shop) is just short stroll along Oxford’s Cowley Road from Monday’s Coffee Spot, Quarter Horse Coffee. As well as this close physical proximity, the two coffee shops almost share a birthday, Keen Bean having opened just two weeks before its near neighbour in 2012.

Typical, isn’t it? You wait ages for a decent coffee shop, then two come along at once! A lot like buses…

Keen Bean is one of that new breed, a coffee shop sharing premises with another business, a model pioneered by bookshops. In this respect, it’s like Zappi’s Bike Café, another star of the Oxford coffee scene, although Keen Bean’s inside a record store rather than a bike shop. Whereas Zappi’s was always planned as an integral part of the bike shop, Keen Bean approached the record shop, Truck Store, which was already well-established on the Cowley Road.

Serving coffee from local roasters, Ue Coffee, Keen Bean manages to pack a lot into a relatively small space, with a comprehensive espresso menu, individual pour-over coffee, tea and hot chocolate! Kean Bean is owned by the same people behind the recently-opened Brew.

September 2015: It’s all change on the Cowley Road. I’m aware that Brew no longer owns Kean Bean, which, I believe, is now operated by the Truck Record store itself. I’m hoping to get back for an update at some point…

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