Fortitude Bakehouse, tucked away in the heart of Bloomsbury behind Russell Square Tube Station, opened in the summer of last year, an event which largely passed me by, perhaps explaining why I left it until the start of this month to pay it a visit. It is, as the name suggests, a bakery, reminding me, in concept at least, of the original Exploding Bakery in Exeter.
There’s a single counter running the entire width of the shop, behind which the bakery bustles away, turning out sourdough sweets and savouries, all of which you’ll find laden on the counter. Even better, at the far end, a Victoria Arduino White Eagle espresso machine dispenses drinks from a concise espresso menu, using a single-origin from Has Bean. Although aimed mostly at the takeaway trade, there’s a small amount of seating inside, while outside on the quiet street, you’ll find six two-person tables.
Blueprint Coffee & Books, in Whitstable, is at the northern end of Oxford Street, a stone’s throw from Oxford Street’s other speciality coffee shop, Garage Coffee. When it comes to bragging rights, however, Blueprint wins hands down, having started in 2013, with the shop opening in 2016. Not that I can claim anything in the way of moral superiority, having only heard of it a couple of years ago when Luke, who I knew from Water Lane Coffee in Canterbury, took over as manager. The loss, naturally, is all mine.
Blueprint Coffee & Books does exactly what the name suggests. Spread across two rooms, it’s a small bookshop with a select range of titles, while the coffee all comes from London’s Alchemy. There’s a concise espresso-based menu, the coffee served in three sizes: 4, 6 and 8oz, either with or without milk. You can choose from the house coffee, a guest or decaf, while for filter coffee, the options are V60 or Aeropress, each with its own single-origin, Blueprint also offering a Chemex for two.
If coffee’s not your thing, then there’s Blendsmiths hot chocolate, Jing Tea and soft drinks, while if you’re hungry, Blueprint has a small selection of cakes.
Last month, Amanda and I paid a brief visit to Bath. After an afternoon exploring the fabulous Roman Baths, we retreated to the nearby Society Café in The Corridor, which I’d last visited just over five years ago, a quite shameful state of affairs that can only partly be blamed on my ridiculous travel schedule.
The second Society Café in Bath, after the original on Kingsmead Square, I found that, in many ways, little had changed, although for the last two years, Society has been using Origin as its house-roaster, rather than Round Hill Roastery (Round Hill still makes regular appearances as a guest). The upstairs had also received something of a makeover, introducing some more seating a giving the décor a little more colour.
However, the main change came when the basement was opened last year, doubling the amount of seating available. Naturally, Amanda and I had to explore.
Garage Coffee first came to Whitstable with its 2018 pop-up, making things permanent when it took over its current location from Burgate Coffee House in January of the following year. This made it Garage Coffee’s second permanent location, following on from its coffee shop inside the Fruitworks co-working space in Canterbury. However, in October, Garage left Fruitworks and, staying in Canterbury, moved to the Canteen on nearby Sun Street. Technically, of course, this leaves the Whitstable outpost as Garage Coffee’s oldest coffee shop…
Compared to either of the Canterbury locations, the Whitstable café is a fairly modest affair, but it’s still a substantial operation, with a generous seating area at the front and a counter with minimal seating at the back. The coffee offering is the same, with everything roasted in-house. The Maypole blend is on espresso, joined by decaf and a single-origin, which changes every few days. There’s a daily single-origin on batch-brew while all Garage’s single-origins are available on pour-over through the V60, Aeropress or Chemex.
Although the food offering’s not as substantial as Canterbury, it’s still pretty impressive, with a toast-based all-day breakfast menu plus sourdough toasties and wraps, all prepared in the kitchen at the back.
When I first went to Canterbury, in May 2017, Lost Sheep Coffee was already a fixture in the city, having, in 2015, traded in its cart on the High Street for a neat black pod down by the bus station. By the time I returned, an awful lot had changed, starting with the neat black pod, which was no more, having been replaced by a much larger (although still small in the grand scheme of things) pod. In addition, Lost Sheep had started serving in its own coffee from its new roastery in Whitstable.
In fairness to Lost Sheep, had I returned six months after my initial visit, I’d have found both these changes. However, thanks to my extensive travels, it was 2½ years later, at the end of November 2019, that I finally returned to Canterbury, making a beeline for the bus station to check out the “new” pod.
Some cities never change. In others, change is almost constant, Canterbury being a good (for me, at least) example. Since my previous visit, 2½ years ago in May 2017, pretty much everything has changed. Of the places I visited, only the Micro Roastery is still going in the same place/format. Water Lane Coffee has gone, Lost Sheep has doubled in size and now roasts its own coffee, while today’s Coffee Spot, Garage Coffee, has left Fruitworks and taken over the Canteen, a few streets away, next to the Cathedral. Spread over three floors of a lovely, 500-year-old building, the contrast with the large, open spaces of Fruitworks couldn’t be starker.
The star of the show, of course, is the coffee, with a very similar offering despite the change of venue. All roasted in-house, there’s a blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, while any of the single-origins and decaf are available through V60, Aeropress and Chemex, with a daily option on batch brew. The Canteen part of the operation is represented by a range of options, all baked/cooked on-site. This includes various flatbreads, salads, sourdough toasties and multiple things on toast. There’s also soup, jacket potatoes and a range of cakes.
Once upon a time, one of my regular coffee haunts when visiting the British Museum was Wild & Wood on New Oxford Street. Sadly, the building was closed for redevelopment in 2015, necessitating a relocation to London Wall, where it’s still going strong. For a long time, the site stood empty, but now the redevelopment is finally complete, and, occupying roughly the same spot as Wild & Wood, is a new coffee shop.
Opening at the start of last month, the new coffee shop is none other than the ninth branch of south London coffee juggernauts, The Gentlemen Baristas. The coffee offering is very similar to the other Gentlemen Baristas locations, with the Deerstalker blend and a single-origin on espresso, pulled on a Faema E71 espresso machine, joined by a single-origin on batch-brew, with plans for a pour-over option via the Kalita Wave. All the coffee is roasted in-house and available in retail bags. If you’re hungry, there’s soup, sandwiches and a selection of cakes and pastries, all served in an interesting, idiosyncratic space.
Although I love Canterbury, its narrow, winding medieval streets can get very crowded, so much so that sometimes I need to break from all the people, which makes today’s Coffee Spot, Coffee Curiosity, even more of a find. Recommended by practically everyone, but in particular Sally Gurteen, Mike Stanbridge and Dan from Lost Sheep Coffee, it’s a five-minute walk west of the city centre, an oasis of calm in the Tannery Square development.
Coffee Curiosity was opened in January 2018 by Chase, a barista I first met in G!RO Cycles almost four years ago to the day of my visit, catching up with him 18 months later during my previous visit to Canterbury, when he worked at Garage Coffee in its days at Fruitworks. Impressively, he recognised me the instant I walked through the door!
Coffee Curiosity is a reverse TARDIS, the interior far smaller than it looks. There’s an espresso blend from Coldblow, a local roaster from Tenterden, plus regular guests on filter, with a Kenyan single-origin from Cambridge’s The Brew Project during my visit. There’s also tea from local suppliers, Debonair Tea Company, a small selection of panini and a range of cakes, all baked by Chase’s father-in-law.
A well-established name in London Coffee circles, HR Higgins has been going in its current form since 1944. A family-run affair, now onto its third generation, I visited the lovely, old-fashioned store on Mayfair’s Duke Street in September, writing up the delightful basement coffee shop. Now it’s the turn of HR Higgins Coffee Man, which features in today’s Meet the Roaster as both roaster and retailer.
Whereas many modern, speciality coffee roasters have a few blends at most, along with a handful of single-origins, HR Higgins is from an era when coffee merchants carried a wide range of beans, reminding me of the likes of Soho’s Algerian Coffee Stores. HR Higgins currently has beans from 23 origins (two of which are decaffeinated), drawn from all the world’s main coffee growing regions, plus eight different blends. These are roasted anywhere from medium to very dark, and, while HR Higgins hasn’t succumbed to the modern trend of light roasts, it has been developing direct trade relationships with various coffee farmers.
If coffee’s not your thing, HR Higgins is also a tea merchant of some repute, with over 40 different loose-leaf teas available, although it received its Royal Warrant as a coffee merchant.
Worcester’s Steam Coffee Shop (not to be confused with The Steam Room, in nearby Birmingham), was a chance discovery from earlier this week. Amanda and I had stopped in Worcester for lunch, intending to visit another coffee shop, when we walked past Steam Coffee, the display of lightbulbs in the window initially catching my eye. A quick perusal of the menu increased our interest and, on discovered that the coffee was from old friends Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters, our decision was made.
Steam Coffee occupies the final shop on the eastern flank of Worcester’s Corn Market, a large, open space opposite St Martin’s Church on the eastern side of Worcester’s compact, medieval centre. Four outside tables on the broad pavement compliment another eight in the cosy interior, which has a simple layout, with the counter at the back. There’s a standard espresso-based menu, the coffee provided by Quarter Horse’s Dark Horse blend, along with a decaf option, while there’s also a wide range of loose-leaf tea from Golden Monkey Tea Co. in nearby Warwick. However, the real draw is the food, with innovative breakfast, sandwich and lunch menus, plus a range of cakes, all made using local ingredients wherever possible.