Not long after Canopy Coffee, Guildford’s multi-roaster speciality coffee shop, reopened on Saturday, 16th May, I was walking home past Krema Coffee, another of Guildford’s speciality coffee shops. Looking in the window, I saw an encouraging sign: Krema was reopening on the following Monday, 1st June. Naturally, I made sure I popped along and have been back a couple of times since.
Unlike Canopy, which has re-invented itself as a takeaway coffee shop, converting a side door into a serving hatch, Krema looks more like the coffee shop of old, although for now it is only offering a takeaway menu, with cake, having temporarily closed its kitchen. It’s still serving from the counter inside though, making use of its greater space to create an excellent one-way system, guiding customers from the door to the counter and back out again, all while keeping everyone at a safe distance from each other.
March turned into April and April turned into May and, while I wasn’t short of good coffee at home, I missed my local coffee shops, missed my flat whites (while I make good home pour-over and espresso, I’m still rubbish at milk) and missed my friends who worked there. Then, on Saturday, 16th May, exactly three months after leaving Chicago, I was in Guildford, shopping, and what did I see? Canopy Coffee. And it was open! Naturally, I forgot everything else and made a beeline for it!
I first came across Surrey Hills Coffee in early 2016 at what was then Turn Fit Deli on Chapel Street in my hometown, Guildford. Although starting out as a deli, it quickly morphed into a coffee shop, supplied by Surrey Hills, which had started roasting in 2014, although Chris and Monika, the Swedish couple behind Surrey Hills, have a much longer involvement with coffee than that. In April 2016, Turn Fit decided to concentrate on its fitness business, and while Chris and Monika hadn’t planned on becoming coffee shop owners, they saw the opportunity and took over the lease to run the coffee shop themselves.
One thing led to another and by 2018, the original shop had moved to much bigger premises in Jeffries Passage. That same year, Surrey Hills opened its second coffee shop, The Pod at London Square, as well as growing a thriving, local wholesale business, supplying other cafes and retailers. Although the current COVID-19 pandemic has put the coffee shops on hold, this has, ironically, given Chris and Monika a chance to catch their breath and re-focus on the heart of their business, the roastery, which I learnt more about when we caught up last weekend.
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!