Welcome to second instalment of the latest Brian’s Travel Spot, covering my journey to Tokyo, flying with Finnair via Helsinki, a new route and new airline (for me). Part I covered my journey from Manchester to Helsinki, while this, Part II, covers my onward flight from Helsinki to Tokyo’s Narita airport.
On my previous three trips to Japan, I’ve flown British Airways, and, wherever possible, I fly direct (one less thing to go wrong). However, since I was starting in Manchester, I had to change planes somewhere, so I decided to try the Manchester-Helsinki-Tokyo route, flying with British Airways’ One World alliance partner Finnair.
Compared to the route I would normally take, flying to Heathrow with British Airways and on from there, this meant a longer first leg, heading over the North Sea to Helsinki (approximately two hours in the air versus 35 minutes), followed by a shorter second leg, roughly 9½ hours as opposed to 11½ hours. That may not seem like much, but when you’re trying to sleep on the plane, that’s actually two hours less sleep, which can be crucial!
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself: my first challenge was to make my connecting flight at Helsinki.
Welcome to another Brian’s Travel Spot, quickly following on from the previous one, where I noted that I wasn’t writing many Travel Spots this year! This particular Travel Spot covers what is my fourth trip to Japan in a little over two years. However, whereas for each of the previous three trips, I’ve flown British Airways, this time I’m flying Finnair via Helsinki.
Wherever possible, I fly direct (it’s quicker and there’s less to go wrong). However, on this occasion, I was starting in Manchester, so I was going to have to change planes somewhere. Normally, I’d fly down to Heathrow with British Airways, taking a direct flight from there, but since Finnair is part of the One World alliance with British Airways, the Manchester-Helsinki-Tokyo route was shown as a (significantly cheaper) option, which prompted me to book it.
Since my Travel Spots run on the long-side, and since each flight is a considerable journey in its own right, I’ve split the trip over two posts. This first part covers the flight from Manchester to Helsinki, while Part II covers the onward flight to Tokyo. And hopefully there’ll be a Part III for my flight back from Tokyo with British Airways.
Mamacoffee is a Prague-based coffee shop/roaster chain, something of a veteran of the city’s speciality coffee scene, having started ten years ago. These days, there are six outlets in Prague, plus a mobile coffee bar. As luck would have it, the Londýnská branch in the New Town (Nové Město) was the very first Mamacoffee as well as being conveniently close to my hotel (and just around the corner from Pražírna Kavárna), so I got to make a couple of visits.
There’s not much to it, with more seating outside (from spring to autumn) on the raised decking area in front of the shop than there is in the cosy interior, where there’s just enough room for the counter and a small L-shaped arrangement of tables.
However, being small hasn’t prevented Mamacoffee from offering a full coffee service, with a wide selection of single-origins on offer. These are all directly traded and roasted in-house, with daily espresso and batch-brew options, the baristas deciding what to put on each morning. Meanwhile any of the single-origins on sale are available as a pour-over through the V60 or as an Aeropress. This is all backed up with a small range of cakes and savouries.
I first came across Antwerp’s Caffènation as a roaster when I visited Loustic in Paris in 2014 and again the following year at Kofra in Norwich. Ever since I’ve been a big fan of Caffènation’s coffee so when I had the opportunity to visit Caffènation in Amsterdam, I jumped at the chance. Note that despite the name, this is independent from the roastery/coffee shops in Antwerp, set up (with Caffènation’s blessing) by an ex-employee in 2014.
On the western side of Amsterdam, south of Rembrandtpark and west of Vondelpark, Caffènation sits on a corner, the shop spread over several levels upstairs, with a wonderful basement below. If that doesn’t appeal, you can sit outside on one of several folding chairs on the broad pavement.
Other than the building, the focus is all on the coffee, which comes from the Antwerp roastery. There’s a seasonal blend on espresso, used for milk-based drinks, with a weekly single-origin used for black drinks. Alternatively, Caffènation always has a Kenyan single-origin on batch-brew, which is joined by another weekly single-origin.
Toki, which opened in August 2015, is just a 10-minute walk northwest of Amsterdam’s Central Station. Despite being close to the centre, it felt to me more like a residential area and definitely not a tourist destination. A large, bright, open coffee shop, Toki’s made up of several smaller, interconnected rooms, the layout reminding me of Edinburgh’s Brew Lab (subject of yesterday’s Coffee Spot Update).
The coffee’s from Bonanza in Berlin, with a seasonal blend and single-origin on espresso and, typically, three single-origins on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. These change every month or so, depending on what Bonanza sends through (during my visit the choices were from Kenya, Indonesia and Ethiopia). The single-origin espresso changes more frequently, typically once a week, sometimes twice.
If coffee doesn’t take your fancy, there’s a wide range of loose-leaf teas, plus cold drinks and a fridge full of beer. Meanwhile, if you are hungry, there’s cake every day, while the kitchen, serving brunch, is open from 08:00 – 16:00, Wednesday to Friday, and from 09:00 – 16:00 at the weekends. Note that Toki is cashless, so don’t forget to bring a card!
Back to Black is a chain of precisely two Amsterdam coffee shops which, since 2015, has been roasting its own coffee from a small roastery/bakery which, sadly, is not open to the public. This branch is on Weteringstraat, south of the centre, near the Rijksmuseum and Heineken Experience, making it a good stop if you are out for a bit of sightseeing, and has a lovely, canalside location. The other branch, in contrast, is on Van Hallstraat, about a 30-minute walk west of the main station.
Back to Black is primarily a coffee shop, serving a range of cakes and savoury snacks, all baked in-house. The coffee, similarly, is all roasted in-house, with Back to Black only roasting single-origins. There’s a choice of two espressos, one that has a more conventional taste profile and the other which is a bit different. There’s also a choice of filter coffee, where you can have anything that’s on the shelves in retail bags through V60, Aeropress or Cafetiere, or, if you want to share Chemex or Syphon. The espresso changes on a regular basis, Back to Black moving to something new once the current one runs out, while the filter options are seasonal.
One of the (many) things that impressed me during my time in Prague was the number of coffee shops that stayed open really late. For example, both Pražírna Kavárna and Coffee and Riot are open until 10pm. Then there’s those that mix late opening with great coffee and great food. A prime example is Eska, which is a restaurant upstairs and a coffee bar downstairs (it reminded me of Caravan King’s Cross, with the obvious difference that Caravan’s only on a single level).
Another example is the subject of today’s Saturday Supplement, Kavárna Místo, one of three Prague coffee shops of renowned Czech roasters, Doubleshot. This is more like a traditional coffee shop that serves an all-day dining menu. Add that to the fact that it doesn’t close until 10pm each night (apart from Sunday) and you have the perfect casual dining location.
Indeed, Amanda and I first visited Místo for dinner, returning the following morning for coffee. You can read all about Místo the coffee shop in its own Coffee Spot. Meanwhile, this Saturday Supplement focuses on the food, cake and also the coffee tasting flight, which offers 150ml samples of all three single-origins on pour-over.
Kavárna Místo is one of three Prague coffee shops of renowned Czech roasters, Doubleshot. Although off the beaten (tourist) track in a residential area north of the castle, it came highly recommended by Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato. A lovely, L-shaped spot, there’s a range of seating, the space cleverly divided into multiple smaller spaces by walls with large openings. You can also sit outside at one of a handful of tables down the left-hand side.
Amanda and I visited twice, first for dinner (which is the subject of its own Saturday Supplement) then returning for coffee the following morning. As I’ve come to discover in Prague, service is of the highest standard, Místo offering full table service. There’s an innovative all-day dining menu (served until 10pm) with dishes suitable for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all backed up with a range of excellent cakes and desserts.
The real draw, though, is the coffee. There’s a seasonal espresso plus a single-origin, all the shots pulled on a lovely Kees van der Westen Spirit, along with a choice of three single-origins available through the V60, one of which is also on daily batch-brew. Finally, if you really can’t decide, the coffee tasting flight offers 150ml samples of all three.
Coffee Source is well-established in Prague’s booming speciality coffee scene, the roaster having been going for over 10 years. However, the coffee shop of the same name, on the busy Francouzská, just on the southern edge of Vinohrady, is a relatively new addition, having only opened this month. A delightful spot, it’s long and thin, with a classic, clean design, all pale woods and right-angles, quite a contrast to the Prague coffee shops I’ve been visiting on this trip. It also boasts the city’s first Modbar (and just the second in Czechia), two gleaming group heads and a pour-over module rising from the counter.
Coffee Source has a single-origin on espresso, served from a concise menu, with options on batch brew, Aeropress and V60 (through the Modbar pour-over module). If you are hungry, there’s a decent selection of cakes and pastries to choose from. As much as this is a coffee shop in its own right, it’s also a retailer, showcasing the entire output of the roastery. Currently the various blends and single-origins are available in retail bags, but in due course, a coffee dispensing system will be installed, allowing customers to bring their own containers, buying beans by weight.
SLOW Café was my first chance discovery in Prague. Although on my (very long) list of potential spots, I was on my way elsewhere for brunch when I wandered past, catching sight of the weekly brunch menu in the window. Consisting of just five items, each was intriguing, so since I was already hungry, in I went. Like Monday’s Coffee Spot, Pražírna Kavárna, SLOW Café has multiple rooms, although in this case, they’re on the ground floor, not in a basement. There’s also a wonderfully secluded courtyard at the back, albeit much smaller than the one at Pražírna Kavárna.
SLOW Café only works with roasters that the owners know personally, starting with Coffee Source, a local roaster with a coffee shop just down the street. Coffee Source provides the espresso (a natural Ethiopian during my visit), with SLOW Café offering an extremely concise menu of just espresso, flat white and cappuccino. This is joined by various filter options, the roasters drawn from around Europe. This includes Kaffa Roastery from Helsinki and, during my visit, Berlin’s Bonanza, plus SlowMov and Nomad (the owners had just been to Barcelona) on Aeropress and V60, while Helsingborg’s Koppi was on batch brew, although the options change regularly.