The Table Update

A flat white in a HuskeeCup, served at The Table in Walsall.Walsall’s first and (for now) only speciality coffee shop, The Table opened at the start of April. I visited a few weeks later, when COVID-19 precautions were in full swing, restricting The Table to outside seating only. However, like The Old Roastery Coffee Shop in my hometown of Guildford, which I visited around the same time, you had to go inside to order, providing a glimpse of the lovely interior. And, like The Old Roastery, I vowed to return once the indoor seating was open to see what I was missing out on.

Since The Old Roastery is on my doorstep, I didn’t have long to wait, popping in four weeks later for a catch up. However, The Table had to wait a bit longer. My opportunity came on Saturday while driving up to North Wales with Amanda after her early morning arrival at Heathrow. Eschewing the usual crawl on the M6 around Birmingham, we took a detour to Walsall and The Table.

Other than the newly-opened interior, The Table has changed its house espresso (still from Odd Kin Coffee Roasters), added a pour-over option and expanded its food offering, with a simple breakfast menu and a range of sandwiches.

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The Gentlemen Baristas Borough Update

A flat white with some gorgeous latte art, poured by Ernie at The Gentlemen Baristas, Borough.This is where it all started for The Gentlemen Baristas, on Union Street in Borough, when the first Gentlemen Baristas opened at the end of 2014. I took my time, leaving a whole two years before I finally visited, so it’s only fitting that I left it even longer before my return, this time chalking up a gap of four years. In the intervening period, The Gentlemen Baristas has been busy, opening multiple new coffee shops. Three of these, including its London Bridge coffee shop, are in a tight cluster around the original, while another four, including its Holborn coffee shop, are in central London. These are balanced by an eastern outpost at Canary Wharf, a western one in Hammersmith and its own East London roastery.

Returning to the original after so many years, it all felt rather familiar. The counter has had a facelift, but otherwise, the downstairs layout remains largely unchanged. Upstairs, however, things are a little different, the training room having moved out, replaced by a kitchen, while the rooftop garden has undergone a complete revamp. The coffee remains excellent, although there’s no longer any pour-over. On the plus side, there’s now a full brunch menu.

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Saint Kitchen Update

The Saint Kitchen logo, taken from the facade above the windows on St. Paul's Square.Saint Kitchen, on the south-eastern edge of St Paul’s Square in the Jewellery Quarter, has long been a part of Birmingham’s speciality coffee scene, starting life as Saint Caffé. I first visited in 2014, not long after it had undergone the transformation to Saint Kitchen, with the new owner, Will, a chef, combining Saint Caffé’s already excellent coffee with equally great food. Since then, I’ve visited on several occasions, the latest of which was at the start of July when I popped in to catch up on the latest chapter in Saint Kitchen’s adventures.

After more than five years in charge, Will decided to sell up and move on to pastures new. In November 2019, he passed the reins to the owners of Warwick Street Kitchen in Leamington Spa. In many ways, the new owners operated on the principle that if things weren’t broken, then why fix them? They kept the name and the essential offering of great coffee and great food, although the process of winning over Saint Kitchen’s faithful customer base was somewhat disrupted by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. However, as the COVID-19 restrictions have eased, the customers have come flooding back.

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Rosslyn Off Menu Coffees

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Frozen Solid Coffee Project from TiltBirmingham’s speciality coffee, craft beer and pinball joint. The Frozen Solid Coffee Project involves vacuum-sealing, then freezing, individual doses of coffee, enabling Tilt to offer an extremely wide range of single-origin pour-overs from farms/roasters around the world. When a particular coffee is ordered, the individual dose is ground and brewed (as a Kalita Wave pour-over) from frozen.

When I visited Tilt at the start of July, the owner, Kirk, told me that Rosslyn Coffee in London had a similar project, its Off Menu Coffees, launched at the same time as the Frozen Solid Coffee Project. Passing through London the following week, I naturally called in at Rosslyn Coffee to check it out. Coincidentally this was almost three years to the day after my original visit, during which time Rosslyn has become one of London’s leading speciality coffee shops.

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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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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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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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The Old Roastery Coffee Shop Update

The coffee menu above the espresso machine at The Old Roastery Coffee Shop.Today’s Coffee Spot Update is a first of sorts. Over the last year, I’ve revisited Coffee Spots to see how they’ve been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this is the first time I’ve revisited somewhere that opened during the pandemic to see how it’s managing as the COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed. It’s also the first time this year that I sat inside a coffee shop to drink coffee.

The place in question is The Old Roastery Coffee Shop in Merrow. Part of Redber Coffee Roasters, I first visited exactly four weeks earlier, at the end of its first week of trading. Back then, you could only sit outside, but since the middle of May, the restrictions have been relaxed to allow customers to sit inside. I remember thinking at the time that the interior of The Old Roastery Coffee Shop looked lovely, so I thought I’d pop back to see if I was right!

Other than being able to sit inside, the main change is a move from the Café Français blend to the Signature Blend on espresso. However, The Old Roastery Coffee Shop is still only able to serve in disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.

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Guildford (Outdoor Update)

Guildford's famous Guildhall clock on the High Street with the Hog's Back in the background.Welcome to my third COVID-19 update on the state of speciality coffee in my hometown of Guildford. My first update was back in September 2020, which looked at how the town’s speciality coffee businesses, having survived the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, were opening back up. There was even a new coffee shop, Ceylon House of Coffee, to celebrate!

My second update came at the start of 2021, when it was back to serving takeaway only. However, despite all the problems that the hospitality industry was facing, there were two more new coffee shops to celebrate, although technically one of them, Lily London, is a telephone box, with the other, Open Grounds Café, part of Guildford Baptist Church.

Since then, Guildford’s speciality coffee businesses have weathered the dark days of winter and, with the coming of spring, have something to look forward to. Starting on Monday (12th April), coffee shops in England have been allowed to serve customers at outdoor tables. Unfortunately, due to their diverse locations, not all of Guildford’s speciality coffee shops have been able to take full advantage of the latest easing of restrictions, but the good news is that everyone’s open and serving again.

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Koja by Surrey Hills Coffee (COVID-19 Update)

My flat white, made with the Surrey Hills Coffee Holmbury Hill blend and served in my HuskeeCup at Koja.Koja, a Swedish word meaning “a cosy little den”, came into being in August this year. On the one hand, it can be seen as the rebirth of Surrey Hills Coffee on Jeffries Passage, but it’s also very much its own place, resisting the temptation to become a clone of what had gone before.

When I visited, on Koja’s second day of trading, it was just offering takeaway service. As summer turned to autumn, Koja introduced limited seating downstairs, although I never seemed to be in the position to visit, either passing by at closing time (at the relatively early hour of two o’clock in the afternoon) or else it was a Saturday and very busy. With the tightening of COVID-19 restrictions in England at the start of November, Koja returned to takeaway only, and I thought it was high time I popped back to see how things were going.

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