A week ago, I’d just arrived in Chicago for work, having flown in from Atlanta. While there were worries around COVID-19, and people were taking precautions, everything seemed very normal. I went for a walk around the city and visited some coffee shops. That weekend now feels a very, very long time ago.
The day after I arrived, Sunday, 15th March, the Governor of Illinois announced the closure of all bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes to all except takeaway customers, and I made the decision to return home. I flew to Boston the following day and on Tuesday, I flew from a near-empty airport on a near-empty flight back to Heathrow.
Since then, I’ve been trying to readjust to life at home and practice social distancing, while continuing to work (I’m fortunate that I work remotely anyway and, for now, work is carrying on as normal). I’m also trying to support my local coffee businesses as best I can and for as long as I can.
Am I taking unreasonable risks? I don’t know. Am even doing the right thing? I don’t know. All I can tell you is that I’m asking myself those questions every day, re-evaluating, every day.
With the COVID-19 situation getting worse every day (all UK coffee shops closed as of last night), now seems like a good time for a new Meet the Roaster feature.
I first visited Ue Coffee Roasters back in 2014 for a feature in Caffeine Magazine. In those days, the roastery, on Windrush Industrial Park, a couple of miles west of Witney, was a standalone operation. These days, it’s been joined by a lovely café & kitchen, which occupies the front of the building, the roastery still in its same old spot, a large, warehouse like space at the back, which you can see through the windows behind the counter. Even better, the café’s toilets are in the roastery, so you have a legitimate excuse to nose around!
Ue Coffee made its name as the UK’s only wood-fired roaster. However, it’s come a long way since then, launching a sister company, Jeeves & Jericho, offering artisan loose-leaf tea and opening not one, but two coffee shops. While still doing much of its roasting on its bespoke, wood-fired roaster, there’s a new, gas-fired 30kg Giesen, along with a sample roaster, reflecting a new emphasis on high-scoring single lots and micro-lots. There’s also a plan for a new organic roastery in Cheltenham, due to open later this year. With all that in mind, Amanda and I had a tour with head roaster, Jon.
Since I was last in Sheffield, the city’s speciality coffee scene has undergone quite an expansion. Amanda and I were driving past a couple of weeks ago, so we decided to call in and see what was going on. Sadly, we only had time to visit a single shop, choosing Whaletown Coffee Co, which opened at the start of last year, one of several places I’ve found through Instagram (and in particular Coffee Girl Needs).
Whaletown is in Crookes, in the hills to the west of the city centre, which made it relatively easy to get to as we were driving through. A simple, minimalist, Scandi-inspired place, Whaletown is a multi-roaster with a different roaster each month on espresso (two options) and filter (two or three options) although sometimes (as it was during our visit, when Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters was in the house) the same roaster appears on both.
Whaletown offers the usual espresso-based options, batch brew and pour-over (V60 or Chemex for two) as well as several specials. This is backed up by a small but tasty food offering based around sourdough bagels, rye bread, sausage/vegan rolls, granola (for breakfast) and cakes (for those with a sweet tooth).
I first went to Witney in 2014 to write about Ue Coffee for a feature in Caffeine Magazine. Back then, it was just a roaster (albeit the UK’s only wood-fired roaster), but Ue Coffee’s come a long way since then, launching a sister company, Jeeves & Jericho, which offers artisan loose-leaf tea, as well as opening not one, but two coffee shops in Witney. And then, if that wasn’t enough, it’s also opened a cafe at the roastery (for more on the roastery, check out the Meet the Roaster feature),
Ue Coffee’s on the Windrush Industrial Park, a couple of miles west of Witney, occupying a large, two-storey unit. Other than an eye-catching sign at the industrial park entrance, you wouldn’t know it was there, but despite that, the cafe was doing a roaring trade on the rainy Tuesday when Amanda and I visited.
Not that this is any old coffee bar attached to a roastery. Ue Coffee Roastery Cafe & Kitchen, to give it its full name, has a wide range of coffee, including any of the roastery’s single-origins or blends through V60, Chemex or Aeropress, plus the whole Jeeves & Jericho range of tea. If you’re hungry, there are full breakfast, brunch and lunch menus plus a generous cake selection.
I first went to Witney 2014 to visit Ue Coffee Roasters, out on the Windrush Industrial Park, a couple of miles west of the town. Since then, Ue Coffee has opened a pair of coffee shops, which I discovered when I returned in 2017. The first was the Ue Coffee Roasters True Artisan Café & Store, which opened on the High Street in 2016. The second followed the next year, located in The Old Smithy on Market Square, at the other (southern) end of the High Street. However, it wasn’t until this week that I had a chance to return to Witney to check it out, a mere 2½ years later…
The Old Smithy is a lovely old building (I couldn’t find out exactly how old, but I suspect several hundred years), with Ue Coffee occupying a single, ground floor room plus two more upstairs, the second one over the neighbouring opticians. It offers an espresso-based menu, with Ue’s house-blend joined by its decaf and a monthly guest. Alternatively, there’s a range of loose-leaf tea from sister company Jeeves & Jericho, with a range of cakes and a small selection of savoury items (sausage rolls and muffins) if you’re hungry.
This is the original Coffeeology, which opened in the heart of Richmond in 2017 (there’s now a second branch in Chiswick). Although small, occupying a compact section of the town’s old Victorian fire station, with an equally cosy outside seating area, its relative lack of size is no limit to its ambition, with a house-blend on espresso, joined by decaf, plus a single-origin from the current guest roaster. You can also have a V60 or Aeropress made using whatever retail bags Coffeeology has available.
The house-blend and decaf are from Black Saint, Coffeeology’s roasting arm, while the guest roaster is one of three roasters, who are represented in rotation: Plot Roasting from nearby Woolwich, Colonna Coffee from further afield in Bath and, casting the net even wider, Italy’s Gardelli. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a small toast-based all-day breakfast menu, several sandwiches, soup and lots of cake.
In true Coffee Spot fashion, I have visited Kiss the Hippo’s (currently two) locations in reverse order, starting with the Fitzrovia coffee shop in October last year before visiting this, the original coffee shop/roastery in Richmond. Kiss the Hippo, perhaps the UK’s most unusually-named coffee business, opened its first coffee shop in 2018. Occupying the first two floors of a three-storey building in the heart of Richmond, the spacious and bright ground floor contains the counter, laptop-free seating and, right at the back, the roastery. The smaller upstairs is more welcoming to laptop users and, as well as additional seating, contains a training room and a small library.
All the coffee is roasted on the Loring S15 Falcon at the back of the store, with the seasonal George Street house-blend joined by a single-origin and decaf on espresso, while there are two more single-origins on pour-over via the Kalita Wave. If you’re hungry, there’s brunch until 3 pm (4 pm on Fridays and the weekend), plus cake throughout the day. Naturally, all the coffee’s available to purchase in retail bags, along with a selection of coffee-making equipment and merchandising. Note that Kiss the Hippo is cashless, so bring your cards!
139 Coffee continues a fine tradition, combining coffee and cycling inside Cycle Exchange in Kingston Upon Thames. Just off Richmond Road, north of the centre, Cycle Exchange occupies a long, thin concrete shell with windows on three sides, making for a surprisingly bright, open space. It’s an unlikely location at first sight, so much so that I was double-checking Google Maps before I found it.
139 Coffee is at the front on the left, with seating followed by the counter, while the rest of the space is occupied by the cycle store. Outside, a broad, paved space to the left holds a pair of tables. 139 Coffee has a traditional espresso-based menu using the Caveman blend from Ground Coffee Society, plus beer and wine, all backed up by a small, but tasty-looking brunch menu and plenty of cakes. Impressively, all the food is made in the open kitchen behind the counter.
There was a time when speciality coffee was hard to find in Chester. Then, suddenly there was a boom, with multiple places opening each year, a pace that shows no sign of slowing down. Bridge St Coffee, pleasingly on Chester’s Bridge Street, a few doors up from veteran Jaunty Goat joined the fray in 2018. In common with Jaunty Goat and other coffee shops under Chester’s famous Rows, such as Chalk Coffee and Panna Chester, Bridge St Coffee occupies a long, thin, basement-like space, with plenty of seating inside, plus a large outdoor seating area on the pavement of the pedestrianised street.
Although it proudly displays a Probat roaster in the window, that’s not yet in use, Bridge St Coffee using Manchester’s Heart & Graft for the time being, having a Colombian blend on its espresso-based menu. If you don’t fancy coffee, then there’s a selection of nine teas, nine juices/shakes plus hot chocolate. Bridge St Coffee is equally strong on its food offering, using local supplies to provide a comprehensive all-day breakfast menu, including various eggs-on-toast and avocado options, plus porridge, sandwiches, panini and soup of the day, which is backed up by a tasty selection of cakes.
Chester’s speciality coffee scene has been steadily growing over the last few years, particularly right in the city centre, along the twin axes of Bridge and Watergate Streets. Taking the second of these, Watergate Street has seen the likes of Chalk Coffee (2018) and Panna Chester (2019) opening in recent years, but predating them both, and somewhat unnoticed by me (my bad) is today’s Coffee Spot, The Flower Cup, which opened in 2016, putting it amongst Chester’s speciality coffee veterans.
Unusually for a city where coffee shops seem to specialise in the basement-like spaces under the Rows, The Flower Cup is on the upper floor on the south side of the street. A self-proclaimed “botanical coffee shop”, with a sister shop next door, The Violet Palm (a one-stop shop for houseplants), it’s true to the title, being festooned with flowers and plants. However, it’s a lot more than that, with coffee from Liverpool’s Neighbourhood Coffee on espresso and Clever Dripper, and an extensive, vegetarian- and vegan-friendly brunch menu of which it is rightly proud. It also has a lovely, warm, welcoming atmosphere, making it the sort of place where people linger for ages over their coffee or after their brunch.