Alex Coffee

The single-origin Brazilian espresso from Red Bank Coffee served in an over-sized, classic white cup at Alex Coffee.Fitzrovia, in London’s West End, has, despite recent closures such as the much-loved Curators Coffee Gallery, a booming speciality coffee scene which comes in all shapes and sizes, including such oddities as Attendant (in an old public lavatory). However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot is easily the smallest of them all, a title vacant since 2016 when Goodge St Espresso closed.

Alex Coffee is as small as they come, just a door and a window opening onto a simple interior, counter at the back and enough room for two small stools. Indeed, there’s more seating outside at the four-person table in front of the window. The coffee, from the Lake District’s Red Bank, is similarly simple: a concise espresso-based menu, plus batch brew and a cafetiere for two. If you don’t like it hot, there are almost as many iced options, plus hot chocolate and a selection of tea.

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Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, Paddington Central

What’s The Story?, a washed Ethiopian single-origin espresso from Wegida in Yirgacheffe, served in a glass at the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs Paddington Central branch.I feel that today’s Coffee Spot should be marked by fireworks or something. The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs has a long, distinguished history, opening its first branch on London’s Leather Lane in 2010. Since then it’s gone on to start roasting its own coffee and now has multiple branches in London (14 and counting), Manchester and Bristol, plus several in Chicago. It’s also acquired other operators such as TAP and Tradewind Espresso.

But here’s the thing. While I’ve always loved the coffee, I’ve never loved any of the actual coffee shops (and, believe me, I’ve tried many of them!). Until last week that is, when I walked into the new branch on Kingdom Street in Paddington Central. Quite why this one clicked with me when so many haven’t, I can’t say, but I knew as soon as I walked in the door. It helped that it was across the road from the office I was working in all last week, making me a daily visitor, but it’s that good, I’d go out of my way to visit.

There’s a blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, with two single-origins on batch brew, plus a wide range of cakes and savouries.

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Upstairs at The Pilgrm

Some lovely latte art in my flat white upstairs at the Pilgrm, made with Workshop's Los Naranjos single-origin Colombian espresso.The Pilgrm is a small, boutique hotel almost directly opposite the front of Paddington station which just happens to have a speciality coffee counter in the lobby downstairs, run by Workshop. If that’s all there was to it, it would be pretty awesome, but there’s more. The Pilgrm also has an upstairs lounge and terrace, which, while catering primarily to hotel guests, is also open to the public, serving breakfast, lunch and, in the afternoon/evening, a range of small plates and drinks. And then there’s the coffee…

While the coffee counter works as a standalone operation, you can take your coffee and sit upstairs, or, alternative, sit upstairs, where there’s full table service, and order your coffee there, the barista bringing it up to you. Having spent most of my week in the Paddington area popping into Workshop for either an espresso or a flat white, usually on my way to the office, I decided I had to try the lounge, popping by on Friday afternoon for coffee and returning on Saturday morning for breakfast.

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Workshop Coffee at The Pilgrm

The Workshop Coffee logo from the front of the counter at The Pilgrm.The Pilgrm is a small, boutique hotel in an old townhouse on London Street, almost directly opposite the front of Paddington station. In itself, it makes for quite an attractive hotel, but the icing on the cake is that in August last year, Workshop took over the coffee operation, installing itself behind the counter in the simple, well-appointed lobby, which is effectively a small (and beautiful) coffee shop. The coffee offering is equally simple, well-appointed and beautiful, with a concise espresso menu (with decaf getting equal billing with a single-origin option) backed up with another single-origin on batch-brew, both changing roughly once a week.

If coffee’s not your thing, there’s a small selection of tea and Pump Street hot chocolate, while if you’re hungry, Workshop has a small selection of cake, but nothing else. That said, The Pilgrm has a first-floor public lounge and terrace which serves a full brunch menu until 3pm each day, with snacks served thereafter. You can take your coffee up upstairs if you like, although it’s not very clear if you just wander in off the street. Alternatively, just take a seat upstairs and order your coffee there, which is just what I did at the weekend.

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Ziggy Green

The sign from the back wall of Ziggy Green in Mayfair, a quote from David Bowie's Space Oddity:Ziggy Green, in Mayfair, is the latest addition to the ever-expanding Daisy Green Collection, which started life with eponymous Daisy Green and various Beany Green coffee shops. While most recent openings, such as Timmy Green and Scarlett Green, are in the brunch and dinner category (a restaurant serving great coffee as opposed to a coffee shop serving great food), Ziggy, which opened in January, sits between the two ends of the Daisy Green spectrum.

On the one hand, with its table service and characteristic brunch menu, it’s aiming at the restaurant end of the market, but on the other hand, there’s no dinner menu, so it’s not going after the evening diners. However, sitting upstairs with my laptop, surrounded by brunching couples and groups, I definitely felt like I wasn’t in a coffee shop with the character say, of Beany Green at Regent’s Place.

All the Daisy Green staples are there though: excellent espresso-based drinks, with a bespoke house blend from The Roasting Party, plus a single-origin on batch brew, along with cocktails for those seeking something with a little more buzz. The food, meanwhile, is as tasty and innovative as ever, with brunch, lunch and small plates on offer.

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Birmingham Coffee Festival 2019: Food Glorious Food

Part of the menu from Dim Sum Su from Manchester, one of six street food vendors at the 2019 Birmingham Coffee Festival. Shown on the menu are Salt 'n' Pepper Fries, Chicken Popcorn, Crispy Broccoli Bites and Crispy Beef Bao.Welcome to the third of my detailed write ups of the third annual Birmingham Coffee Festival. I can’t believe a whole month has gone by since I was in Birmingham, exploring all things coffee. I got things underway with my write-ups by starting with traditional festival round-up, before moving on to talk all about the wonderful roasters I met in the Meet the Roasters feature. Today it’s the turn of all the lovely food-related stuff I found at Birmingham Coffee Festival.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: Birmingham is one of the better catered coffee festivals, which is important to people like me who are going to be there all day. Yes, with the wristband system, you can pop out and get something to eat at one of several excellent cafés in the Custard Factory (the festival’s venue) but ideal I want something I can quickly grab, eat and get back to the action, which is where the excellent street food village came in.

However, it wasn’t just the street food. This year, we also had plenty of cake stands, led by old friends, Cakesmiths, while there were also chocolate companies and a specialised Turkish catering company.

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Brew Lab Update

Detail from the menu board at Brew Lab in Edinburgh, showing one of two espresso choices, this one (a washed Guatemalan from Union) for use in drinks with milk.I first visited Brew Lab in December 2012, part of the Coffee Spot’s first-ever road trip to Edinburgh. Back then, I found it all rather bewildering, Brew Lab playing a large part in my transition from an innocent coffee lover to my headlong descent down the rabbit hole that is speciality coffee. Over the years, Brew Lab has gone from bewildering to familiar, almost a home-from-home. Along the way, there have been a few changes, some of which I wrote about when I returned in April 2014. However, the biggest change occurred when London roasters and speciality coffee pioneers, Union Hand-roasted, bought Brew Lab in 2018.

Naturally I was keen to find out what, if anything, had changed as a result of the new ownership, popping back at the end of last year to check out the “new” Brew Lab (annoyingly, I missed visiting exactly six years after my first visit by a single day). The good news is that Union seems to have taken an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, leaving Brew Lab to carry on much as I remember it, providing great coffee on espresso and filter, including guest roasters, which is an excellent sign.

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Pavilion Café

The word CAFE in white on the side wall of the Pavilion Cafe in Victoria Park, glass dome soaring above.The Pavilion Café, a fixture at the western end of Victoria Park in Bethnal Green, has been going strong for over 10 years, serving excellent coffee and locally sourced all-day breakfasts for over 10 years. These days, the Pavilion Café has been joined by pair of bakery cafes in London (Broadway Market and Colombia Road) and an outpost in Newquay, Cornwall, which opened earlier this year.

The Pavilion Café occupies a circular, glass-domed pavilion (hence the name) on the eastern side of the park’s West Lake. During the winter, there is seating inside, but in the summer, it spreads out the lakeside which provides some of the best views in London. These days the coffee is from Cornwall’s Origin, with a single-origin on espresso. Although the default seems to be to serve all the drinks in takeaway cups, there are proper cups available. You just need to ask when ordering.

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Birmingham Coffee Festival 2019: Meet the Roasters

The Ngopi logo, taken from the stand at the 2019 Birmingham Coffee Festival.Welcome to the second of my detailed write ups of the third annual Birmingham Coffee Festival, where I had a fabulous time, exploring all things coffee. I can’t believe where the time has gone though: was it only two weeks ago that I was in Birmingham? Apparently so! Last week I got things underway with my traditional festival round-up, while this week it’s the turn of the roasters, who came from far and wide, although with a definitely focus on local roasters from the city and the wider West Midlands are.

I’ve split this into three, starting with familiar faces, before moving to some (old) new friends that I made at last year’s event (where, sadly, I didn’t have time to do a detailed write up on all the wonderful roasters I met) before finishing with my (new) new friends that I met this year. Although Birmingham Coffee Festival has always had a focus on local roasters, this year’s event clashed with World of Coffee in Berlin, where quick a few of the higher profile UK roasters were in attendance, so I want to say a special vote of thanks to those who made the effort to attend both Berlin and Birmingham.

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Birmingham Coffee Festival 2019 Round Up

The Birmingham Coffee Festival logoThis time last week I was at the third annual Birmingham Coffee Festival, taking place at the Custard Factory in Digbeth, Birmingham. I went for the first time last year, enjoying it so much that I decided to return to Birmingham this year, even though it meant missing the World of Coffee in Berlin. In all I spent two days there, Friday and Saturday, skipping the final day (Sunday). Of the two, Friday was much quieter, as you would expect.

If you’ve attended any of the UK’s smaller coffee festivals (Manchester or Glasgow for example), then you’ll know roughly what to expect: coffee, coffee equipment and handful of related stands. Alternatively, if you’ve been to London Coffee Festival, then the Birmingham festival is much smaller and far more relaxed, featuring mostly local roasters and coffee shops, with a handful of national names.

As I usually do for coffee festivals, I’m going to write up my visit over a series of posts, starting today with a general round-up of the festival and the space. Subsequent posts will deal with the various roasters I visited, all things food-related, plus there’ll be a general round post covering everything else (including tea of all things!).

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