Wander down Cheapside, away from St Paul’s Cathedral, and you’ll find a branch of Hummus Bros. on the left-hand side. This, in itself, is unspectacular since Hummus Bros. is a familiar sight in London. However, this one’s special: look closely and you’ll see that it houses none other than Silhouette, a speciality coffee shop run by one of coffee’s nicest couples, Lee and Syirin (although these days Syirin’s rarely in the shop).
The space itself is nothing special: long and thin with a makeshift counter two-thirds of the way down on the right, housing Silhouette’s trusty La Marzocco espresso machine. From this surprisingly small space, you’ll find Lee dispensing excellent espresso-based drinks from Notes and occasional guests (although rumour has it that if you ask nicely, you can get pour-over, although it’s not on the menu). Even more impressive is the small, but tasty, toast-based menu & some excellent cakes.
July 2017: Sad news. Silhouette has closed. Not sure if Lee and Syirin will be back with another venture, but I certainly hope so!
Grindsmith’s always has interesting spaces. The Pod is just that, a pod/container with a coffee shop inside. Deansgate is at front of an amazing old warehouse, effectively the house-café for the Central Working/Rise co-working space. Meanwhile Media City is a bright, light-filled spot with a cosy mezzanine above the counter/kitchen.
The latest Grindsmith is a joint-venture with Chop’d, the London-based salad-bar chain, now rapidly expanding with this, its first branch outside London. The two share the space upstairs on Cross Street: if it’s food you want, the Chop’d counter is to the left, while if it’s coffee, the smaller Grindsmith counter is tucked away to the right, by the stairs down to the basement, where you’ll find additional seating.
November 2017: Grindsmith has ended its joint-venture with Chop’d. The coffee bar is still there, but the coffee is now from London’s Notes.
Kiosk: Project Space is an interesting little spot on York’s Fossgate. A little way down from old hands Spring Espresso, it’s right next to the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, so much so that when I first visited, I did a double-take, fearing that I had come to the wrong place before spotting it, tucked in to the right. Run by the wonderful Russ and Rebecca, who get bonus points for name alliteration, it is a hybrid: part gallery, part coffee shop and part kitchen, but 100% amazing.
The art/gallery comes in the shape of ceramics, textiles, fine art, jewellery and a whole lot more, all of which adorns the walls and shelves on both sides of Kiosk. While everything is for sale, it also acts as decoration, turning Kiosk into a wonderfully eclectic spot. The food appears from a tiny kitchen at the back, where impressive all-day breakfast and lunch options are turned out using a seasonal menu. The coffee, meanwhile, is from the wizards at Dark Woods, with a single-origin on espresso and another on filter through V60, Aeropress or Chemex (for two). The coffee is bought in 8 kg amounts and when it’s gone, another takes its place.
Café Integral is not somewhere that you easily stumble upon. I found it thanks to several recommendations, not least from my friends Heather & Tim, who I stay with in New Jersey (the recommendation was specifically from Tim, who is a semi-regular there). It’s actually across the street from one of my New York favourites, Gasoline Alley, so I must have walked past it many times before my visit. In defence of my usually infallible coffee radar, it’s tucked away inside a clothing store, American Two Shot, with only an A-board outside to let you know it’s there.
Other than its location, Café Integral’s main claim to fame is that it only serves Nicaraguan coffee, its owners, the Vega family, having close ties with several farms in the country. There are now two coffee shops in New York, and another in Chicago, which makes it a national chain. Sort of. All the coffee is sourced in Nicaragua and roasted in a facility over on Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn. There’s a blend on espresso plus two single-origins, a pour-over using the Kalita Wave, with the other available on bulk-brew. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s a selection of cakes and cookies.
May 2017: I’ve just learnt that Café Integral has shut its coffee bar in American Two Shot. Thanks to Nick for the heads-up. If you are in the area, then Café Integral now has its own coffee shop around the corner at 149 Elizabeth Street.
Intelligentsia has been part of my journey towards speciality coffee, long before the Coffee Spot came to be. In particular, I’ve been a semi-regular visitor to the Intelligentsia in the Monadnock Building, on Jackson Boulevard. Having written about it on my previous visit to Chicago last summer, I thought it was about time I visited another branch. Ideally, it would have been the original Intelligentsia in Lake View, but fate had other plans, so instead I found myself a few blocks away from the Old Town branch.
This is a relatively new addition to the Intelligentsia stable, having opened in 2013, the fifth of six Chicago branches. It was also the first Intelligentsia to share premises with another business, a model that was followed with the High Line Hotel in NYC. In the case of the Old Town branch, it shares with plum market, an upmarket grocery store which occupies the north end of the space, Intelligentsia tagged on at the southern end, a long, table-lined corridor connecting the two. As well as the usual Intelligentsia offering of espresso-based drinks, bulk-brew and pour-over, you can get food from plum market and bring it over to eat with your coffee.
I first discovered Modern Society in March when I was invited by roasters, Assembly, to a talk by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood on speciality coffee in capsules. Modern Society, on Redchurch Street in the heart of Shoreditch, is a life-style store with an excellent coffee bar at the front, one of a growing band of speciality coffee shops sharing space with other businesses. Sometimes the coffee side can be a separate business, although in this case, it’s fully integrated with Modern Society.
The result is a delightful, open, relaxed space, although if you think the coffee bar might be a bolt on or after-thought, think again. Modern Society has gone with cutting-edge roasters, Assembly, and has, to my knowledge, the first complete Modbar installation in the UK, with espresso, steam and pour-over modules. There’s also batch-brew through a Moccamaster.
To go with the excellent coffee, served from a very minimalist/concise menu which eschews names and simply lists sizes (espresso, black, 4oz, 6oz, 8oz), Modern Society also offers loose-leaf tea (prepared using the Modbar’s pour-over module) and a similarly-concise food menu, with breakfast and lunch options, all prepared on the counter, where you can sit and watch what’s going on if you like.
Finisterre is a surf shop, a surf shop which, for the last four months, has been home to a lovely little espresso bar. Tucked away on Earlham Street, between the busy Seven Dials and the even busier Cambridge Circus at the intersection of Charing Cross Road and Shaftsbury Avenue, it’s a haven of tranquillity and excellent coffee. Supplied by Brighton’s Small Batch, Finisterre doesn’t try to do too much, instead concentrating on serving top-notch espresso in a lovely environment, something which it does exceedingly well. The coffee menu is concise and to the point, with Finisterre making good use of Small Batch’s versatile Goldstone Blend.
There’s not a lot to Finisterre, although that statement holds true only if you’re looking at it as a coffee shop, which is a little unfair. Finisterre is also the flagship London branch of the Finisterre surf chain and, as a surf shop, there’s quite a lot to it. That said, the coffee shop has definitely got pride of place (and the best spot), sat in the front of the store and occupying the window, with a convenient bench outside on the quiet street.
May 2018: I’ve recently learnt that Finisterre is no longer doing coffee, although there are plans to reintroduce filter coffee, so watch this space.
Just a block down the street from the mighty North Tea Power, and a few steps along Oldham Street from its junction with Church Street, is relative newcomer to Manchester’s coffee scene, Fig + Sparrow. Established in 2013, it’s half life-style shop, half café, but 100% excellent. Serving an espresso-based menu using beans from London’s Climpson and Sons, with guest filters on Aeropress and Chemex, plus loose-leaf tea from Newcastle’s Ringtons, Fig + Sparrow also does food. There’s a small but excellent range of cakes, an all-day breakfast menu, lunch, with various specials, sandwiches and a separate toast menu. You have to admire a place that has a separate toast menu.
The front half of the store is given over to the retail arm, selling gifts and various items for the home. The back half houses the coffee shop, with two rows of seating and the counter right at the back. It’s beautifully laid-out, uncluttered and spacious, with wooden floorboards and whitewashed walls and ceilings. Although not much natural light reaches the back, the high ceiling and multiple light bulbs make it surprisingly bright. The result is a very relaxed atmosphere, with quiet, easy-listening music in the background.
The first and perhaps most difficult task I had was finding Wood Street Coffee. Tucked away in Walthamstow, in north-east London, this little gem of a place is well worth finding, and, thanks to Google Maps pulling its finger out, it’s now a relatively easy task.
As the name suggests, Wood Street Coffee has its origins in Wood Street. Google Maps used to helpfully place it right there in Wood Street Market, just off Wood Street. All was well and good until I actually got there, when I discovered that the market is closed. A boarded-up-don’t-come-in-here kind of closed. That’s when I realised that Google Maps, bless it, had Wood Street Coffee in its original location, although cunningly, with the correct address (39 Orford Road) listed, which is why I didn’t discover the error until I got there. Fortunately Google Maps now has it in the correct location!
A brisk, 20 minute walk later and I found Wood Street Coffee, tucked inside a shared shop on a lovely stretch of Orford Road. With coffee from Climpson and Sons and some splendid home-made cakes, Wood Street Coffee more than made up for the difficulty I had in finding it. Add to that a friendly welcome and quirky interior and you’ve got a winner on your hands!
December 2014: Whatever you do, don’t go to Orford Road! Wood Street Coffee has moved again, this time to a permanent home! It’s still in Walthamstow, but now at Blackhorse Workshop, 1–2 Sutherland Road Path, E17 6BX. You can see what I made of it when I visited in July 2019.
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…