Caravan Exmouth Market

The Caravan logo from the sign outside the original Exmouth Market branch.Caravan is a rather successful chain of three coffee shop/restaurants, with a significant in-house roastery, supplying coffee shops all around the country with a variety of blends and single-origins. However, this is where it all started back in 2010 on the corner of London’s Exmouth Market. This is the original Caravan, which is still going strong, coffee shop by day, restaurant by night, serving excellent coffee and food throughout the day. Unlike others of its ilk, such as Notes and Grind, both of which now roast their own coffee, Caravan was a roaster from the start and, indeed, the original roaster is still down in the basement at Exmouth Market.

Caravan sits on a sunny, south-facing corner, windows on two sides, outside seating spilling out on Exmouth Market itself. Inside, coffee excellence is taken as standard, with a blend and single-origin on espresso, two more on pour-over and a third on batch-brew. However, Caravan is also about food, with table service to match. There’s an excellent, extensive breakfast menu until 11.30, with an all-day menu of small/large plates from noon. At weekends, brunch takes over from 10 until four. There’s also beer, cider, cocktails, spirits and a massive wine list.

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Taylor Street Baristas, The Shed

The opening times, and a grinning skull, taken from the door of Taylor St Baristas, The Shed.Taylor Street Baristas, one of London’s best-known mini-chains, seems to specialise in quirky locations in slightly out-of-the-way places, such as the Taylor Street Gallery, tucked away down an alley behind Monument. The Shed, as its Shoreditch branch is known, is arguably harder find, and is one of the oldest Taylor Street Barista branches.

Housed in an actual garden shed, it’s well-named: a tiny, intimate spot, where the outside seating, in the shape of multiple tables and chairs, easily outnumbers the four seats inside, which are at two bars, one in the window between the two doors and one along the back of the left-hand wall.

Despite its size, The Shed has a decent range of coffee, with two options, plus decaf, on espresso, a single-origin on bulk-brew, and a selection of loose-leaf teas from London’s Postcard Teas. This is backed up with various breakfast goodies and cakes throughout the day.

September 2019: as part of the sale of Taylor Street Barista’s coffee shops to the Black Sheep chain, The Shed has closed.

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CoffeeWorks Project, Leadenhall Market

The window of the CoffeeWorks Project in Leadenhall Market in London.The CoffeeWorks Project is a small chain of three London coffee shops, which, since the summer of 2016, has also become a roaster as well. I first came across is towards the end of 2013 when there was just one, the original in the Angel. Despite liking it immensely, it’s taken me three years to visit its second branch in Leadenhall Market in the heart of the City.

One of the many attractions of the original is the rambling space it occupies, which includes several interconnected spaces and a gorgeous downstairs garden to the rear of the property. In contrast, I went past the Leadenhall Market branch several times, but, from the street, it never looked that appealing. Its chipboard walls and counter gave it a slightly unfinished look and it never struck me as somewhere I would enjoy sitting and having my coffee, so I passed on by.

However, fate has a way of resolving these things. Last year, I met up my friend Oksana for coffee and we went to the Leadenhall Market CoffeeWorks Project. Far from finding it unappealing, I loved it and so I returned with my Coffee Spot hat on late one afternoon in December…

September 2018: Sadly I’ve learned that the Leadenhall Market branch has closed. However, the good news is that CoffeeWorks Project is going strong and how has  five branches!

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Silhouette Cheapside

From the sign outside Silhouette on Cheapside.Wander down Cheapside, away from St Paul’s Cathedral, and you’ll find a branch of Hummus Bros. on the left-hand side. This, in itself, is unspectacular since Hummus Bros. is a familiar sight in London. However, this one’s special: look closely and you’ll see that it houses none other than Silhouette, a speciality coffee shop run by one of coffee’s nicest couples, Lee and Syirin (although these days Syirin’s rarely in the shop).

The space itself is nothing special: long and thin with a makeshift counter two-thirds of the way down on the right, housing Silhouette’s trusty La Marzocco espresso machine. From this surprisingly small space, you’ll find Lee dispensing excellent espresso-based drinks from Notes and occasional guests (although rumour has it that if you ask nicely, you can get pour-over, although it’s not on the menu). Even more impressive is the small, but tasty, toast-based menu & some excellent cakes.

July 2017: Sad news. Silhouette has closed. Not sure if Lee and Syirin will be back with another venture, but I certainly hope so!

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MacIntyre Coffee

The store front of MacIntyre Coffee on St John's Road, London.MacIntyre Coffee, on St John Street, just south of the Angel tube station, is the permanent home of what was originally a pop-up in Shoreditch, followed by another at Old Street Roundabout. Heritage aside, what makes MacIntyre stand out from the crowd is the equipment: home to one of (I believe) just four Modbar espresso and steam installations in London, it’s also the only UK speciality coffee shop that I know of which uses the Alpha Dominche Steampunk machine for filter coffee and tea.

There’s not a lot to MacIntyre, just a simple rectangular layout, window at the front, counter at the back, seating at bar along the right-hand side, all of which puts the focus firmly on the coffee, which is supplied by Modern Standard. There’s a single-origin on espresso and another through the Steampunk, the grinding done on demand by the ubiquitous EK-43. The options change every week or two, while there’s a wider selection of beans for sale.

The coffee is backed up with a selection of breakfast options baked on-site. There are pastries, cookies and sandwiches, most of which are gone by lunchtime, plus Mörk hot chocolate from Australia and an interesting selection of loose-leaf tea.

November 2019: I’ve learnt (via Phil Wain’s excellent map of closed London coffee shops), that MacIntyre Coffee is no more.

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Taylor Street Gallery

A latte-art style fern above the words "taylor st baristas" with "finely crafted coffee" written underneath, all in white on a black oval.I’ve long been a fan of Taylor Street Baristas, one of London’s best-known mini chains. However, I came to Taylor Street through its much-loved (now sadly-missed) branch on Brighton’s Queen Street. Until last week, the only Taylor Street Baristas I’d visited in London was the equally lovely Mayfair branch. That I tracked down the diminutive Taylor Street Gallery (sometimes known as the Monument branch) is due to a chance encounter with the manager, Lisa-Laura, at this year’s London Coffee Festival.

Taylor Street was founded in 2006 by the three Tolley siblings, who run the company to this day. Until recently, a variety of roasters appeared at the various cafés, but Taylor Street now roasts its own coffee. While production ramps up, the Gallery’s the only one exclusively using Taylor Street Roasted, with other branches taking it as a guest espresso/filter.

The Gallery itself is a delightful place which seats about 20 in a slightly subterranean setting, with two more small tables outside in the narrow alley it calls home. Despite the size, there’s a single-origin on espresso, two more on filter (batch-brew or V60), the coffee changing every couple of days. There’s a decent range of cakes and savouries too.

September 2019: as part of the sale of Taylor Street Barista’s coffee shops to the Black Sheep chain, the Gallery has closed.

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Shoreditch Grind

The Shoreditch Grind logo, written on the wall of Shoreditch Grind.Shoreditch Grind is where London’s rapidly-expanding Grind chain (to-date, six, with a seventh coming next month) began in 2011, on the north side of London’s famous Old Street roundabout. In true Coffee Spot fashion, I’d already visited a couple of the other Grinds (the now-closed Piccadilly Grind and the still-going-strong Soho Grind). With that in mind, I decided it’s about time the Coffee Spot features the Grind mother-ship…

Although all the Grinds are different in terms of layout and atmosphere, this is the (successful) template that all the other Grinds follow, establishing the now-familiar formula of coffee by day and cocktails by night, along with an impressive (and evolving) food offering. This includes a full breakfast menu (served, as it should be, until three in the afternoon), sandwiches, cake and, in the evenings, small plates and more recently, pizza.

Grind will be roasting its own coffee in the near future, but for now Hove’s Small Batch fulfils that role, roasting the bespoke, seasonal house-blend (used in milk drinks), single-origin (used for espresso & short/long blacks) and the decaf, which all grace Grind’s espresso machines. There’s also Sandow’s cold brew on tap and a well-stocked bar for those evening cocktails.

January/May 2017: Grind is now roasting its own coffee. You can see what I made of it at London Grind (January) and Exmouth Market Grind (May).

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Fix 126

A flat white in a glass from Fix 126, sporting particularly impressive latte art.The sister branch to Fix Coffee, a long-standing Shoreditch coffee shop which first opened its doors in 2009, Fix 126 arrived not long after on Curtain Road. Serving a bespoke espresso blend plus a single-origin V60 pour-over (both from Climpson and Sons), Fix 126, like its roaster, flies a little bit under the radar, quietly doing its own thing, while, over the years, more illustrious names have popped up on neighbouring streets.

A bright, airy space, with exposed-brick pillars between the numerous windows and a lovely, wooden floor, it has the “hipster coffee shop look” nailed, except Fix was doing it several years before it was trendy.  The layout is simple and uncluttered, with communal tables in the centre, window-bars around two of the four walls and a cosy little nook at the back.

That I made it to Fix 126 at all is down to fellow blogger, Jess, of EastingEast, who invited me to a pre-London Coffee Festival breakfast, a proposition I agreed to with unnecessary haste, before regretting as I dragged myself out of bed on Saturday morning an hour earlier than was strictly necessary. However, all was forgiven when I discovered what a gem Fix 126 is.

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Curators Coffee Studio

A nine-leaf tulip latte-art pattern in a classic white cup, seen from above.Fitzrovia’s Curators Coffee Gallery has long been a favourite of mine, a convenient stopping off point when going to the BBC Radio Theatre for recordings. However, until the start of this month, in typical Coffee Spot fashion, I’d never been to the original, the Curators Coffee Studio in the heart of the City of London. I’d been past a couple of times, but I’d always been in a hurry and, like last week’s Saturday Short, New Row Coffee, I’d always been put off by the (lack of) size. The loss has been all mine…

Curators, as the name “studio” suggests, is small, no more than a rectangle on a corner, principally catering to the office takeaway trade (it’s shut at the weekends). Despite this, if you’re staying in, the coffee is served in proper cups and there’s a neat window-bar/table, plus some handy seating outside.

The coffee is from Nude Espresso, who provide the house-blend, while there’s also a guest espresso (from Square Mile while I was there), plus decaf and bulk-brew (another Square Mile during my visit). If you’re hungry, Curators has a limited, but decent, range of cakes and sandwiches, plus, as the benches outside proudly proclaim, breakfast.

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Origin, Charlotte Road

A glass Kalita Wave Filter sitting on a glass Kalita carafe which itself is on a pair of black Acaia scales. The ground coffee has been put in the filter paper, ready for brewing.Once upon a time, it was quite hard to get Cornwall’s Origin Coffee Roasters in London, with Selfridges being your best option, along with Artigiano Espresso. These days there’s also the likes of Jika Jika on Euston Square and now, there’s Origin’s own café on Charlotte Road in Shoreditch (where else?). This is very much a flagship café, designed to showcase Origin’s considerable range of coffee, particularly the single-origins. It also doubles as Origin’s London training base, with a large training room in the basement below.

It’s not a huge space and it’s remarkably uncluttered, leaving the focus firmly on the coffee, something which is reinforced by reversing the normal order of things on the counter. A typical coffee shop puts the cake/food first so that customers will file past it on their way to order, hopefully tempting them as they go.

At Origin, the cake is tucked away at the far end of the counter and the prime spot, clearly visible through the window, is the filter bar. Here pour-over coffee is prepared in full view of anyone who wants to sit and watch, as well as anyone wandering past on the street outside. Now that’s a statement!

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