Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Iceland

My British Airways Airbus A321neo on the stand at Reykjavik's Keflavik airport on a grey, rainy day in July.Welcome to the first Travel Spot since March 2020 where I’m writing about a trip I’ve just taken rather than something from my (extensive) backlog. I’m currently in Reykjavik in Iceland, having flown from Heathrow with British Airways. If you’re wondering why Iceland, the explanation is fairly simple: Amanda lives in America, while I live in the UK. With the odd exception, Americans can’t come to the UK and British people can’t fly to America. However, we can both go to Iceland, and, having not seen each other since I left Atlanta during that March 2020 trip, it was too good of an opportunity to miss! Plus, we have both always wanted to visit Iceland, which really made it a no-brainer.

Although I flew in Euro Traveller (economy to you and me), I am aware that I am in a very privileged position when it comes to flying. I still have all my status with British Airways, carefully built up over the three years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, when I flew around the world for work. In my case, this means that I have access to the First Class lounge at Heathrow, which makes the whole airport experience immeasurably better.

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Frozen Solid Coffee Project

My coffee, the Nano Lot N14, a Gesha grown by Creativa Coffee District in Panama, roasted by The Hub in Malaysia and served in a carafe, with a lovely ceramic cup on the side, all presented on a wooden tray, part of the Frozen Solid Coffee Project at Tilt in Birmingham.Something rather special is happening at Tilt, Birmingham’s speciality coffee, craft beer and pinball joint. Tilt has been serious about its coffee ever since it opened, but recently Tilt’s owner, Kirk, has taken things to a whole new level. For example, there is a continuous rotation of guest roasters on espresso, with Tilt using coffee from around the world. Right now, Tilt is serving a single-origin from Manhattan Coffee Roasters (from Rotterdam in the Netherlands), which replaced one from Onyx Coffee Lab (from Arkansas in the US). However, the really exciting thing, exciting enough to have this whole Saturday Supplement dedicated to it, is the Frozen Solid Coffee Project.

I was completely unaware of the Frozen Solid Coffee Project when I visited Tilt two weeks ago, only realising that it was there when Kirk pointed it out to me on the menu. Indeed, it’s the sort of thing that you can easily miss if you don’t already know about it. For the uninitiated, the Frozen Solid Coffee Project enables Tilt to offer an extremely wide range of single-origin pour-overs (29 at the time of writing!) from farms/roasters around the world, some of which are extremely rare micro- and nano-lots.

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Lily London, Shard

A flat white in my HuskeeCup at Lily London, ShardAt the start of 2021, when I was wondering if there would be any coffee shops I could write about, an unexpected bonus arrived in my hometown, Guildford in the shape of Lily London, a coffee shop in a telephone box! Since then, Lily London has opened three more coffee shops in telephone boxes in (appropriately) London, Eastbourne and Edinburgh.

The London telephone box is on St Thomas Street, around the back of London Bridge station and almost directly under the UK’s tallest building, The Shard. Passing through the capital last weekend, I thought it was about time that I paid it a visit. For those who don’t know, Lily London serves its own coffee, imported from Brazil by the owner, then roasted by Plot Roasting. There’s a standard espresso-based menu, along with retail bags of the coffee. Unsurprisingly, it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.

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Tilt Update

Details of the new (to me, at least) A-board from outside Tilt in Birmingham, promising craft beer, speciality coffee and pinball.To the best of my knowledge, Tilt is just one of two speciality coffee-and-pinball places in the UK, the other being Chiswick’s Chief Coffee, both of which opened in 2015. Mind you, Tilt’s not just coffee-and-pinball. It’s coffee-pinball-and-craft-beer, serving up to 18 different draught beers, plus there’s cider, wine, spirits, and cocktails, not to mention twelve different loose-leaf teas and five types of hot chocolate.

I first visited Tilt in January 2016, not long after it had opened. Back then, it just occupied the ground floor of an interestingly-shaped spot in Birmingham’s City Arcade, with work underway to open up the basement. Since then, it’s come a long way, not just opening the basement, but, during the enforced COVID-19 shutdown of 2020, adding an upper floor, both offering additional seating and more pinball machines.

These days, Tilt still bases its offer around pinball, beer and coffee, and its in this latter department that it perhaps has taken the greatest strides. Tilt was always serious about its coffee, but recently the owner, Kirk, has taken things to a whole new level with the Frozen Solid Coffee Project, an exciting development which I’ve dedicated an entire Saturday Supplement to.

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Sarah’s Leytonstone

An espresso extracting into a glass from a Rancilio Silvia espresso machine at Sarah's Leytonstone.Sarah’s Leytonstone is brought to you by the eponymous Sarah, who runs B-Tempted, the gluten-free bakers whose cakes you’ll find in various places as diverse as coffee shop chain, Notes, health food supermarket, Whole Foods Market, and supermarket, Morrisons (you can also buy cakes direct from Sarah via B-Tempted’s webshop). Sarah’s Leytonstone is Sarah’s latest venture, serving coffee, cakes and good cheer from the front of the railway arch that houses the B-Tempted bakery.

The set-up (for now) is a relatively simple. There’s a pair of tables on the quiet side street in front of the arch, while inside is a neat counter with the espresso machine, till, cakes and, of course, Sarah herself. For the moment, the coffee is from Perky Blenders, with a standard espresso-based menu, plus batch brew. However, things are evolving all the time, with plans for some indoor seating once COVID-19 restrictions allow, plus an expanded offering.

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Three Micro-lots from Crankhouse

The front of a tin of coffee from Crankhouse Coffee, in this case the Finca La Virginia from Rafael Amaya in Timana in the Huila region of Colombia. It is a double anaerobic processed pink bourbon variety with tasting notes of plum and apricot brandy with cinnamon.The Coffee Spot has always been more about places I like to have coffee than about the coffee itself, so I find it amusing that today’s Saturday Supplement is the fourth about coffee in a month! This can be traced back to the Freak & Unique that I received from Hundred House Coffee, the gift that keeps on giving. Along with the Freak & Unique, which spawned a second post when I tried it at Liar Liar, I received a bag of Fazenda Recanto, a coffee from the Cerrado Minerio region of Brazil, which is processed using a 64-hour fermentation technique.

The Fazenda Recanto was a nano-lot which Hundred House bought in conjunction with Crankhouse Coffee and Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters. I was trying to buy a bag from each roaster so that I could compare all three, but sadly, Crankhouse had sold out. However, while I was looking around the Crankhouse website, I came across three other very special coffees which caught my eye. All three coffees were processed, like the Fazenda Recanto, with various fermentation techniques, so I decided to buy them instead.

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Freak & Unique Update

The Freak & Unique (second edition) from Hundred House Coffee, pulled as an espresso shot by Liar Liar and served in a double-walled tasting glass.At the end of April, I visited the Hundred House Coffee roastery in the rolling Shropshire hills, coming away with an unexpected present: the last of the second edition of Hundred House’s Freak & Unique. This limited-edition range is designed to showcase the most off-the-wall coffees that Hundred House can find, highlighting the outstanding and abnormal.

The second edition of Freak & Unique was from the farm of Norma Iris Fiallos in Honduras, who used a macerated natural processing technique to produce a coffee which Hundred House gave tasting notes of “tree mastic, aloe vera and pine”. However, when I wrote about it, it was another coffee, from Fazenda Recanto in the Cerrado Minerio region of Brazil, which stole the show.

Not that there was anything wrong with the Freak & Unique. If anything, that was part of the problem. I really liked it, finding it a lovely, drinkable coffee, but not what I’d call “freak” or “unique”. Since I’d only had a small, 80 gram sample, I did wonder if I’d got the best of out it, so when I saw it on the counter at Liar Liar in Oswestry last month, I decided to try it one last time.

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Liar Liar Update

Artwork from the upstairs wall of one of the new rooms in Liar Liar, the head of woman with long, wavy hair in a black and white line drawing.I always feel guilty when, driving along the A5 to/from North Wales, I bypass Oswestry and, in the process, fail to visit Liar Liar. So, at the end of last month, on my way back from Llangollen, I made a point of calling in for a late lunch (my breakfast, which I’d had at Riverbanc, was still going down!) only to discover that since my previous visit, Liar Liar had expanded, more than doubling in size. I don’t know, you turn your back for a minute…

Liar Liar achieved this remarkable feat by taking over parts of the neighbouring building, which the landlord had been using for storage. Taking advantage of the forced closure of indoor seating due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Liar Liar fitted out the building and connected it to its existing space, working around the clock ahead of the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in mid-May which allowed Liar Liar to restart indoor service. The finishing touches were put in place late on Sunday night and the doors thrown open on Monday morning.

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Fazenda Recanto: A Tale of Two Roasters

Three bowls of coffee, seen from above, two roasted by Quarter Horse and one by Hundred House. But which is the odd one out?Last month I wrote a post called Freak & Unique (and Other Coffees), featuring the Freak & Unique range from Hundred House Coffee, along with two other coffees that I’d been given when visiting the roastery at the end of April. Originally, I’d intended the post to be mostly about the Freak & Unique, but it was actually another of the coffees, the Fazenda Recanto from Brazil, which is processed using a 64-hour fermentation technique, that became the star of the piece.

One of the interesting things about the Fazenda Recanto was that Hundred House bought it as an exclusive nano-lot along with two other roasters, Crankhouse Coffee and Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters. I really wanted to get my hands on more of the Fazenda Recanto, which is easily my favourite coffee of the year so far, and I was about to buy another bag from Hundred House when I had an idea: why didn’t I get a bag each from Crankhouse and Quarter Horse to see if the roaster made a difference to how the coffee tasted? So that’s what I did, except, of course, like most of my plans, things didn’t quite work out as I’d hoped…

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Open Grounds Café Update

An espresso in a classic blue cup at Open Grounds CafeOpen Grounds Café was one of the surprising number of speciality coffee shops which sprung up in Guildford during the COVID-19 pandemic. I visited not long after it first opened in December last year, during that brief period when sit-in customers were allowed in the run-up to Christmas. Then came further COVID-19 restrictions and Open Grounds switched to a takeaway operation.

I returned in April after the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions allowed coffee shops to serve customers at outdoor seating, something that Open Grounds, with its large terrace, was ideally placed to take advantage of. You still had to go inside to order, taking you through the equally large interior, which was off-limits until the COVID-19 restrictions were further relaxed in mid-May, allowing indoor service to restart. Giving Open Grounds a couple of weeks to settle in, I returned at the start of June to reacquaint myself with the wonderfully spacious interior.

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