TAP, Russell Square

A beautifully-presented filter coffee at TAP, Russell Square, served on a wooden tray with the coffee in a metal jug and a tulip cup on the side.TAP, or Tapped And Packed, as it used to be known in the early days, was one of the pioneers of London’s speciality coffee scene. From its original shop on Rathbone Place, it rapidly expanded to become a mini-chain of three, adding branches on Tottenham Court Road and Wardour Street, both of which I visited in the Coffee Spot’s first year, although I’ve still never been to the original! TAP was also a pioneer coffee shop/roaster, installing a roaster at the back of No 193 (the Wardour Street branch), which supplies all the shops.

However, after that initial rapid expansion, everything went quiet for five years, TAP happily going about its business, roasting and serving excellent coffee from the three stores. Until the end of the summer, that is, when, on the eastern edge of Russell Square, the fourth TAP appeared, extending the mini-chain beyond its Fitzrovia heartland and into Bloomsbury.

If you’ve been to the other three TAPs, then the new branch will hold no surprises. There’s a beautifully-concise espresso-based menu, plus three single-origins on pour-over through the V60. There’s also a selection of sandwiches and salads, plus a range of excellent cakes, all available until 4.30 each afternoon.

December 2017: TAP has been bought by the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs chain. I don’t know what this will mean for TAP and whether it will retain its own unique character, so watch this space!

September 2018: The TAP on Russell Square has closed and will be re-opening as branch of Bea’s of Bloomsbury, now also owned by the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs.

November 2019: After a year as a branch of Bea’s of Bloomsbury, this location now appears to be permanently closed.

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Coffee Island, St Martin’s Lane

An information card for a micro-lot from the Cerro de Jesus farm in Nicaragua, supplied by Coffee Island in St Martin's Lane.Coffee Island is, unusually for the Coffee Spot, a chain and an international one at that, which started on a Greek island in 1999 and now has over 300 shops throughout Greece, Cyprus and south-east Europe. However, its branch on St Martin’s Lane is (so far) the only UK one. Opening earlier this year with a considerable media push, I was away at the time and so missed all the fuss. I popped in later in the year and I liked what I saw…

A modest exterior hides a surprisingly-large coffee shop with plenty of seating and a mezzanine level at the back. I’d describe Coffee Island as coffee geeks meet the mainstream, so while there’s a house-blend, decaf and five single-origins, there’s also flavoured coffee, which is not something you normally associate with the speciality end of the market. There’s also a large retail section (beans and equipment), tea and food, the latter in the shape of salads, sandwiches and cake.

There’s an excellent range of options for the coffee including espresso, Greek coffee (Ibrik), bulk-brew or pour-over using the V60, Aeropress or Chemex (for one or two). If you want to compare coffee or methods side-by-side, it’s awesome!

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La Gelatiera, New Row

A shot of the eponymous espresso blend from Terrone & Co, served at La Gelatiera on New Row in London.As much as I like ice cream, ice cream parlours normally don’t appear on the Coffee Spot (Philadelphia’s iconic Franklin Fountain being, until now, the only exception). However, while wandering along New Row to check on New Row Coffee (which, following its change of ownership last year, has rebranded as The Espresso Room) something caught my eye in the window of La Gelatiera: a coffee menu offering two espresso blends from none other than Terrone & Co! Well, that was my choice made for me: who doesn’t love coffee and ice cream? Especially on a hot day…

Although ice cream’s the main reason to visit La Gelatiera, it’s great to see non-coffee places (like Crosstown Doughnuts) serving speciality coffee and doing it well. La Gelatiera’s pretty small, with most customers grabbing their ice cream to go, but there are some tables and a small bar if you want to stay.

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Lever & Bloom

My flat white in my Ecoffee Cup on a lovely patterned tile at Lever & Bloom.Lever & Bloom is a coffee cart on the corner of Byng Place in Bloomsbury, London, with the magnificent Church of Christ the King as its backdrop. Come rain or shine, Lever & Bloom is open throughout the year from eight to five, five days a week, serving top-quality espresso, the shots pulled on a lovely lever machine.

Lever & Bloom has been on my radar for a couple of years now, ever since it moved onto its new pitch in fact, but it wasn’t until yesterday, on my way to Euston Station, that I was able to actually stop by and say hello to Mounir, the owner. Serving Climpson and Sons’ Baron on espresso, there’s also decaf, a range of Birchall teas and a small selection of cakes, all made by Mounir’s wife. Needless to say, it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.

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Thumbnail - Frequency Ltd (20160826_083227)Frequency is a new addition to the coffee scene around King’s Cross Station. Owned by a lovely couple, Justo and Joey, it’s slightly off the beaten track, it’s down King’s Cross Road in the direction of Exmouth Market, tucked away in a little parade of shops. It’s been open all of two months, serving coffee from Workshop and tea from Joe’s Tea, both local suppliers. This is backed up by an interesting breakfast selection, sandwiches and, of course, plenty of cake.

When it comes to coffee, there’s a commendably concise espresso-based menu, plus a choice of three single-origins on filter (one of which is the same bean in the hopper for the espresso). You can have your filter coffee as either a pour-over through the V60 or an Aeropress, with the beans changing on a seasonal basis. The beans, by the way, are also for sale.

Frequency itself is a cosy space, long and thin, with seating at the front and in a little room at the back if you want to escape the coming and going of the other customers. There’s also a small table outside the front of Frequency, where it sits in a beautifully-tiled entrance.

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Espresso Base

An espresso at London's Expresso Base, in an interesting, ribbed, handleless cupTo mark my return to the UK, Monday’s Coffee Spot is somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for all most as long as I’ve been doing the Coffee Spot. Expresso Base is in the courtyard of St George’s Church, near the British Museum and just across the way from the original site of Wild & Wood. It’s easy enough to miss and is closed over the weekend, which might go some way to explaining how I’ve managed to not go there for almost four years (which, incidentally, is how long Expresso Base has been going, having opened a few months before I started the Coffee Spot).

Essentially an outdoor café, Expresso Base occupies the right-hand side of the churchyard, with plenty of seating and a gazebo at the back which houses the two-group La Marzocco. If it’s raining, additional umbrellas, etc, can be put up to provide shelter, but on a sunny day, there’s nothing better than sitting on one of the wooden benches and enjoying your coffee in the sun. The coffee, from Has Bean, is always a single-origin and changes on a regular basis, while there’s a small selection of cake if you are hungry. There’s also a guest roaster which changes every week.

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The Espresso Room (was New Row Coffee)

The New Row Coffee logo, taken from the sign hanging outside the shopNew Row Coffee has been around for several years, pleasingly occupying a spot on New Row, just off St Martin’s Lane, midway between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. I’ve walked past on several occasions, but never had reason to stop, always being put off by its size (or lack thereof). However, on a recent visit to Freed’s on St Martin’s Lane to buy some new dance shoes, I decided it was time to pay a visit. I was so impressed that I came back the following week with my camera, and exactly one week later, here it is on the Coffee Spot!

New Row’s one of those small coffee shops that thinks it’s actually much bigger. For somewhere with just two tables and a pair of seats at the counter, it serves a range of coffee that would put many larger rivals to shame. Joining the obligatory espresso menu, built around Caravan’s ubiquitous Market Blend, there’s a regularly-rotating filter coffee (also Caravan) through Aeropress, V60 or Syphon. Add to that a decent range of cakes and, a recent addition, a small sandwich and savoury tart selection, and you have a place for all occasions. If you can find a seat!

July 2017: Following the change of ownership (see after the gallery), New Row Coffee has been rebranded The Espresso Room. The Market Blend is still on espresso, but it’s been joined by various guests, both on espresso and pour-over. Otherwise, little appears to have changed.

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The front of Finisterre, with a three-part window, part-glazed door to the right. There is bench on the pavement in front of the window and an A-board next to the door.Finisterre is a surf shop, a surf shop which, for the last four months, has been home to a lovely little espresso bar. Tucked away on Earlham Street, between the busy Seven Dials and the even busier Cambridge Circus at the intersection of Charing Cross Road and Shaftsbury Avenue, it’s a haven of tranquillity and excellent coffee. Supplied by Brighton’s Small Batch, Finisterre doesn’t try to do too much, instead concentrating on serving top-notch espresso in a lovely environment, something which it does exceedingly well. The coffee menu is concise and to the point, with Finisterre making good use of Small Batch’s versatile Goldstone Blend.

There’s not a lot to Finisterre, although that statement holds true only if you’re looking at it as a coffee shop, which is a little unfair. Finisterre is also the flagship London branch of the Finisterre surf chain and, as a surf shop, there’s quite a lot to it. That said, the coffee shop has definitely got pride of place (and the best spot), sat in the front of the store and occupying the window, with a convenient bench outside on the quiet street.

May 2018: I’ve recently learnt that Finisterre is no longer doing coffee, although there are plans to reintroduce filter coffee, so watch this space.

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Fernandez & Wells, Somerset House

A stumpy (a sort of mini flat white), in a glass, sitting in the sun in the courtyard of Somerset House at Fernandez and WellsAlmost a year after featuring Fernandez & Wells for the first time, with the delightful Exhibition Road branch, I thought it about time that I got around to writing up the Somerset House branch, where I’ve been a semi-regular visitor through the year. Set within Somerset House itself, with stunning views of the courtyard and, in the summer, copious outside seating, it’s one of the most physically appealing Coffee Spots that I’ve been to. Inside, high ceilings and large windows give it an immense sense of light and space, while multiple rooms, on a par with Paris’ La Caféothèque, means that there’s something for everyone.

A cross between wine-bar, deli and coffee shop, F&W’s food and coffee are as outstanding as the setting. Somerset House has a similar offering to Exhibition Road, with perhaps a slightly more extensive menu, which never fails to amaze and delight me. The coffee’s from Has Bean, with a bespoke house-blend on espresso. Open late into the evenings, it’s the perfect spot for an after-hours coffee or a bite to eat and while I haven’t tried it, the wine selection looks excellent. In the summer, it’s one of the best outdoor cafés in London.

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Villiers Coffee Co

Thumbnail - Villiers Coffee Co (20141118_142643)Following the likes of Notes and Fernandez & Wells into the food, wine and coffee market, is Villiers Coffee Co, which opened this summer. It’s tucked away, appropriately enough, on Villiers Street, which runs alongside Charing Cross station, linking the Strand with the Embankment. Villiers, or to give it its full name, Villiers All Day Dining & Coffee Co (we’ll stick with Villiers) does what it says on the tin (or more accurately, the awning): all-day dining and (excellent) coffee. Plus wine. And cake. Which aren’t on the awning.

During the day, Villiers looks and feel like an upmarket coffee shop, with a dining room at the back. There’s breakfast (commendably served until five o’clock) with lunch from noon until five. From noon onwards, the all-day dining menu is also served. In the evening Villiers morphs into a wine bar at the front, with an atmospheric, candle-lit dining room at the back.

The coffee is from James Gourmet Coffee and, as far as I know, Villiers is the only place in London where you can get it on a regular basis.

I visited twice: in the summer for lunch, not long after Villiers opened, and again in November for dinner.

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