Blueprint Coffee & Books, in Whitstable, is at the northern end of Oxford Street, a stone’s throw from Oxford Street’s other speciality coffee shop, Garage Coffee. When it comes to bragging rights, however, Blueprint wins hands down, having started in 2013, with the shop opening in 2016. Not that I can claim anything in the way of moral superiority, having only heard of it a couple of years ago when Luke, who I knew from Water Lane Coffee in Canterbury, took over as manager. The loss, naturally, is all mine.
Blueprint Coffee & Books does exactly what the name suggests. Spread across two rooms, it’s a small bookshop with a select range of titles, while the coffee all comes from London’s Alchemy. There’s a concise espresso-based menu, the coffee served in three sizes: 4, 6 and 8oz, either with or without milk. You can choose from the house coffee, a guest or decaf, while for filter coffee, the options are V60 or Aeropress, each with its own single-origin, Blueprint also offering a Chemex for two.
If coffee’s not your thing, then there’s Blendsmiths hot chocolate, Jing Tea and soft drinks, while if you’re hungry, Blueprint has a small selection of cakes.
Garage Coffee first came to Whitstable with its 2018 pop-up, making things permanent when it took over its current location from Burgate Coffee House in January of the following year. This made it Garage Coffee’s second permanent location, following on from its coffee shop inside the Fruitworks co-working space in Canterbury. However, in October, Garage left Fruitworks and, staying in Canterbury, moved to the Canteen on nearby Sun Street. Technically, of course, this leaves the Whitstable outpost as Garage Coffee’s oldest coffee shop…
Compared to either of the Canterbury locations, the Whitstable café is a fairly modest affair, but it’s still a substantial operation, with a generous seating area at the front and a counter with minimal seating at the back. The coffee offering is the same, with everything roasted in-house. The Maypole blend is on espresso, joined by decaf and a single-origin, which changes every few days. There’s a daily single-origin on batch-brew while all Garage’s single-origins are available on pour-over through the V60, Aeropress or Chemex.
Although the food offering’s not as substantial as Canterbury, it’s still pretty impressive, with a toast-based all-day breakfast menu plus sourdough toasties and wraps, all prepared in the kitchen at the back.
When I first went to Canterbury, in May 2017, Lost Sheep Coffee was already a fixture in the city, having, in 2015, traded in its cart on the High Street for a neat black pod down by the bus station. By the time I returned, an awful lot had changed, starting with the neat black pod, which was no more, having been replaced by a much larger (although still small in the grand scheme of things) pod. In addition, Lost Sheep had started serving in its own coffee from its new roastery in Whitstable.
In fairness to Lost Sheep, had I returned six months after my initial visit, I’d have found both these changes. However, thanks to my extensive travels, it was 2½ years later, at the end of November 2019, that I finally returned to Canterbury, making a beeline for the bus station to check out the “new” pod.
Some cities never change. In others, change is almost constant, Canterbury being a good (for me, at least) example. Since my previous visit, 2½ years ago in May 2017, pretty much everything has changed. Of the places I visited, only the Micro Roastery is still going in the same place/format. Water Lane Coffee has gone, Lost Sheep has doubled in size and now roasts its own coffee, while today’s Coffee Spot, Garage Coffee, has left Fruitworks and taken over the Canteen, a few streets away, next to the Cathedral. Spread over three floors of a lovely, 500-year-old building, the contrast with the large, open spaces of Fruitworks couldn’t be starker.
The star of the show, of course, is the coffee, with a very similar offering despite the change of venue. All roasted in-house, there’s a blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, while any of the single-origins and decaf are available through V60, Aeropress and Chemex, with a daily option on batch brew. The Canteen part of the operation is represented by a range of options, all baked/cooked on-site. This includes various flatbreads, salads, sourdough toasties and multiple things on toast. There’s also soup, jacket potatoes and a range of cakes.
Although I love Canterbury, its narrow, winding medieval streets can get very crowded, so much so that sometimes I need to break from all the people, which makes today’s Coffee Spot, Coffee Curiosity, even more of a find. Recommended by practically everyone, but in particular Sally Gurteen, Mike Stanbridge and Dan from Lost Sheep Coffee, it’s a five-minute walk west of the city centre, an oasis of calm in the Tannery Square development.
Coffee Curiosity was opened in January 2018 by Chase, a barista I first met in G!RO Cycles almost four years ago to the day of my visit, catching up with him 18 months later during my previous visit to Canterbury, when he worked at Garage Coffee in its days at Fruitworks. Impressively, he recognised me the instant I walked through the door!
Coffee Curiosity is a reverse TARDIS, the interior far smaller than it looks. There’s an espresso blend from Coldblow, a local roaster from Tenterden, plus regular guests on filter, with a Kenyan single-origin from Cambridge’s The Brew Project during my visit. There’s also tea from local suppliers, Debonair Tea Company, a small selection of panini and a range of cakes, all baked by Chase’s father-in-law.
Speciality coffee shops on university campuses are something of a rarity, so imagine my surprise when this popped up on Instagram: a new speciality coffee shop on the University of Surrey’s Guildford Campus! I was in Ireland at the time, but I made visiting a priority on my return.
The Hideout is well-named since it’s not the easiest place to find, especially if you don’t know the campus (an address of University of Surrey, Guildford, doesn’t help!). It’s at the western end of campus in an old bank branch, opposite PATS Field. As an added bonus, it’s now on Google Maps.
Run by the welcoming duo of Beau and Charlie, it’s a large, relaxed spot, with an eclectic range of seating, from conventional tables to beanbags on the floor, plus there’s a bike shop on-site as well. The coffee is from old friends Union Hand-roasted, with the Bright Note blend on espresso, plus there are plans for batch brew filter in due course. In an interesting twist, The Hideout has done away with disposable takeaway cups, so don’t forget to bring your own cup if you’re not staying. Finally, if you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes and toast-based savouries.
I visited Tonbridge in July for Out of the Box, taking the chance to pop into 65mm Coffee. However, that was 65mm’s last day in the Old Fire Station, where it had started as a three-month pop-up in 2017, before becoming a permanent fixture. Sadly, the Old Fire Station’s management was taking all catering in-house, hence the move, with 65mm shifting to Gilbert House. After a swift refit, 65mm re-opened in its new home at the end of the July, although I wasn’t able to visit until the end of September.
65mm’s new home has an amazing location, directly opposite the castle, which you can see from the front windows. Although much smaller than the Old Fire Station, the new location is a lovely, cosy spot. When it comes to coffee, the house espresso is, as always, a washed Colombian Caturra de Altura from the local Cast Iron Roasters. This is joined by a guest espresso and a filter option through the Kalita Wave. These change roughly every month and, during my visit, were both from Belfast’s White Star Coffee. There’s also loose-leaf tea, small brunch and lunch menus (with everything cooked on-site) and a range of cakes and pastries.
Regular readers may well be aware of my dislike of barista competitions. Now, I will say at the outset that this dislike only really extends to my watching them: events such as the Barista Championships and Brewers Cup are vital, helping both the careers of those who have competed and the wider industry in terms of spreading knowledge and innovation. I value them immensely and have, in the past, supported initiatives such as the Beyond the Bean Barista Bursary. I just don’t enjoy watching them.
Until last weekend, there was one exception to this: the Cup Tasters Competition. Then I went to La Marzocco’s Out of the Box event at Tonbridge, which not only redefined my conception of what a coffee event could be, it introduced me to Crush the Rush, a new barista competition from La Marzocco. This first saw the light of day in the USA last year, but as far as I know, this was the first time it’s been seen on this side of the Atlantic. It’s a pretty simple concept: two teams race each other to produce eight different espresso-based drinks, testing their barista skills on a busy bar. But is it interesting to watch?
This time last week I headed off to Tonbridge, to attend La Marzocco’s Out of the Box event. I’ve been to a few of these before, but I’ve very much seen them as industry events, a party thrown by coffee people (at La Marzocco) for coffee people, the attendees being baristas, roasters, the odd coffee blogger and occasional coffee enthusiasts not in the industry. As such, it never occurred to me to write about them. Last Saturday, all that changed.
Out of the Box was held in Tonbridge Castle, a move which had plenty of us scratching our heads ahead of time (previous ones have always been indoors) and not knowing what to expect (although if I’d read the description, I might have known better!). What’s more, although not widely advertised beyond the industry, it was open to the public, so drew a very different crowd.
The result was a surprising and wonderful mini-coffee festival, including a new barista competition, Crush the Rush. Indeed, if you’ve never been to a coffee festival and were wondering what one was like, you could do worse than go to the next Out of the Box; it’s free and will give you a good feel for one. But what was it like?
Surrey Hills had a legitimate claim to be first speciality coffee shop in my home town of Guildford when it opened on Chapel Street in 2016. That shop is no more, Surrey Hills moving in the summer of 2018 to a much larger space a few streets over on Jeffries Passage. Since then, Surrey Hills has gone from strength to strength, including opening a second outlet in London Square.
When Surrey Hills moved into Jeffries Passage, it initially only occupied the downstairs, although even this was far bigger than the Chapel Street original. However, there is a bonus upstairs area which close to doubles the available space and which has been open for some time now. I popped in at the start of April to check it out before leaving on my latest trip. I also caught up with the latest developments in Surrey Hills’ on-going desire to reduce waste.