When I was in Berlin last month, one of the highlights of my weekend exploration of the city’s speciality coffee scene was Bonanza Coffee Gendarmenmarkt. I spent the following day, a Sunday, strolling around Kreuzberg, arguably the birthplace of Berlin’s speciality coffee scene, where I popped by the Bonanza Coffee Roastery, which doubles as a lovely coffee shop. Well, I say “popped by”, but that understates the deliberate nature of my visit. Tucked away in a large courtyard, accessed down a long road from Adalbertstraße, the Bonanza Roastery is not somewhere you’d stumble across, or, indeed “pop by”, unless you already knew it was there.
It’s a lovely spot, quiet and sheltered, with plenty of outdoor seating and even more inside, where the coffee shop, at the front, shares the space with the roastery at the back. It was also incredibly popular and my original plan, which had been to write it up as a Coffee Spot, went out of the window almost immediately. However, I noticed something that I always love to see on the menu: a filter tasting flight. That, I thought, will make an excellent subject for a Saturday Supplement. And you know what? I was right!
This post was inspired by a recent tweet I saw, which (favourably) compared a decaffeinated coffee with “the real thing”. Now, let’s be clear: if you think that coffee and caffeine are synonymous, that the purpose of coffee is the caffeine, then this post is probably not for you. Frankly, it’s a bit insulting to decaf drinkers, not to mention all the farmers and roasters who go to great lengths to produce amazing-tasting coffee, extracting the maximum flavour from the beans, only to have their products reduced to a mechanism for delivering caffeine.
As James Hoffman pointed out in a recent video on his YouTube channel, if that’s what you’re after, there are far easier ways of getting your caffeine hit than making coffee (caffeine tablets, for example). For me, there’s so much more to coffee, including flavour, aroma and the whole ritual of making/drinking coffee. As I (and others) have written in the past, all this applies to decaffeinated coffee drinkers too, if not more so, since they’re not drinking coffee for the caffeine.
Which brings us back to the tweet. Leaving aside the patronising reference to decaffeinated coffee, what exactly is “real” coffee?
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.
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…
With a very few coffee shops for me to write about at the moment, I am once more searching for meaningful Coffee Spot content. Today’s offering is therefore another first as I turn my attention to the videos of James Hoffmann. Before I go on, it’s worth mentioning that I am not a great fan of video. First and foremost, I am a reader, followed by a listener. Video comes a distinct and distant third. So, how come I’m writing about videos, specifically James Hoffmann’s YouTube channel, in today’s Saturday Supplement?
I’ve known of James for many years (I even met him, once, for about 30 seconds, at a London Coffee Festival: I’m sure he had no idea who I was) and have vaguely been aware of his YouTube Channel for a couple of years. However, I only really discovered it while writing my own Coffee at Home series earlier this year, his videos frequently coming up on internet searches for a variety of topics. At first, I just watched them for research, but as I did, I discovered that I was really enjoying them. Now I am a regular viewer, slowly making my way through James’ back catalogue.
On Thursday, new national COVID-19 restrictions came into force in England, effectively closing all coffee shops, except for takeaway service. Although this is being referred to as a second national lockdown, it differs in several crucial respects to the initial (UK-wide) restrictions which were in force from March until their relaxation in England at the start of July. Perhaps just as crucially, coffee shops can draw on their experience of the last eight months to help them through the new restrictions.
Continuing the series which I began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this post looks at what the latest restrictions might mean for speciality coffee. I also discuss how you can help support the industry. With apologies to my readers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (and, indeed, the rest of the world), I’m focusing on England, since this is where I live and where I have first-hand experience of the impact of the various restrictions which have been in force at different points through the year.
As always, these are my personal opinions, written from the perspective of someone who visits (rather than works in) coffee shops. You can find the official UK Government advice and guidance on-line.
This summer, something very special happened in the heart of Mayfair with the opening of Queens of Mayfair, best described as a high-end coffee, brunch and cocktails spot. That in itself is not that special, since the coffee, brunch and cocktails market is already well served, particularly in London. What makes Queens stand out is the quality of the coffee, with an espresso-based menu featuring a Brazilian Daterra, roasted for Queens by Difference Coffee. However, I covered all that when I wrote up Queens in its own Coffee Spot earlier this week. So what is it that makes Queens so special?
The answer is its coffee service, which caught the headlines with what has been tagged as UK’s most expensive cup of coffee, which comes with an eye-watering £50. For that, you get a very exclusive micro-lot of an Ethiopian Cup of Excellence winner. However, in fairness to Queens, describing it as a £50 cup of coffee hardly does it justice since you are a paying for a whole lot more than just a cup of coffee. Instead, you are paying for a whole coffee experience, something which, when I visited Queens last week, I had to try for myself.
Welcome to the second (and final) part of my Saturday Supplement looking at how coffee shops around England have been interpreting and implementing the Government’s COVID-19 guidelines since the restrictions were relaxed at the start of July. In Part I, I looked at some of the many things that coffee shops have put in place, usually around processes (such as providing information and introducing things like door control, one-way systems, table service and on-line ordering).
In this, Part II, I’m looking more at physical modifications, such as seating layout and physical barriers, as well as more processes, including cleaning and contact tracing. As before, I’m highlighting what has worked for me in terms of what has made me feel extra secure when visiting a coffee shop (whether I’m actually any safer is another matter). I’ll also illustrate my points with specific examples from coffee shops that I’ve visited over the past two months in London, Reading, Chester, Birmingham and Liverpool.
The usual caveat applies: these are my personal opinions and this post should not be taken as a “must do” (or “mustn’t do” for that matter) guide. And, of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolving, who knows what the future holds?
COVID-19 has turned the world as we know it upside down. For speciality coffee, along with many others in the hospitality industry in the UK, it meant the near overnight closure of cafés and coffee shops. However, these started to return in May and June, initially for takeaway service, before the relaxation of restrictions (in England) on July 4th allowed sit-in service to resume.
Initially I was sceptical, worrying that the (entirely necessary) precautions required to keep everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic might ruin my coffee shop experience. However, after my early forays to London to visit coffee shops in July, I realised that my fears were unfounded, as I rediscovered the simple joy of sitting in a coffee shop. Since then, I’ve expanded my horizons: as well as several return trips to London, I’ve visited Reading and Chester, two contrasting places, each with their own ways of coping with COVID-19.
I should add a caveat: I time my trips for weekdays, completely avoiding the weekends, visiting around lunchtime and early afternoon, so I can’t comment on how busy places are outside these times. That said, many coffee shops open between 10:00 and 16:00, which tells you something!
For much of my life, coffee shops have been very happy places for me. I started the Coffee Spot in 2012 to celebrate all the great places where I like to drink coffee and, over the years, the Coffee Spot has become an all-consuming passion. You might think, therefore, that I welcomed the relaxing of the COVID-19 restrictions that came into effect in England on July 4th with open arms.
However, as I discussed in a series of articles in the run up to the relaxation of the rules, I had my concerns. Having read the Government guidance on reopening for sit-in customers, I worried that the (entirely necessary) precautions to keep everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic might ruin the coffee shop experience for me.
Come July 4th, I was rather sceptical, but, having giving things a week to settle in, I decided that, for better or for worse, I needed to see how things were for myself. Since none of Guildford’s three speciality coffee shops have reopened for sit-in customers, I decided, on Tuesday, July 14th, to catch the train to London, the first time in four months that I’d gone on public transport, and visit some coffee shops.