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.
Coffee@33 is one of Brighton’s hidden gems, a stone’s throw away from the station at No. 33, Trafalgar Street. I was originally put onto it Horsham Coffee Roaster back in 2013, not long after Coffee@33 had started using Horsham as a second roaster alongside Monmouth. Back then, Coffee@33 was so under the radar that it didn’t even have its name outside, but despite that potential drawback, it already had a fiercely loyal following.
Fast-forward five years and a rare excursion to Brighton, I finally managed to revisit Coffee@33, where I ran into Taras, who, along with his business partner, owns Coffee@33. In many ways, little had changed, with the coffee shop being instantly recognisable from my visit of five years ago. On the other hand, quite a lot has changed. There’s new equipment behind the counter, in the shape of a cutting-edge Mavam modular espresso system. Perhaps more importantly, Coffee@33 now roasts all its own coffee and has recently moved to using a new, modern Loring coffee roaster.
When is a Coffee Spot Update not a Coffee Spot Update? While it’s a question that probably only I care about, it arises in the case of Stoney Point, tucked away on Brighton’s Montpelier Place. Readers with long memories will recall that this was once home to Mr Wolfe, a delightful coffee shop specialising in homemade cake, which I visited in 2015.
Shortly after my visit, Mr Wolfe’s owner, Travis, returned to Australia, selling the business to the current owner, who, aside from the name change, has kept things much as they were, something I discovered when I finally returned to Brighton at the end of last year.
Like Mr Wolfe, Stoney Point serves a concise espresso-based menu using coffee from veteran roasters, Monmouth. Best of all, it’s kept the friendly, neighbourhood atmosphere that made Mr Wolfe so welcoming. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of cakes, and that’s about it.
Small Batch Coffee has been a cornerstone of Brighton & Hove’s speciality coffee scene for many years. Currently there are seven outlets in Brighton & Hove itself, including two carts (one at Brighton Station, the other at Hove Station), a new roastery in Portslade and the latest branch, just along the coast in Worthing. I’ve always been Small Batch fan, so it’s a bit odd that that I’ve only written up the Norfolk Square branch, and that was four years ago! So, on my return to Brighton at the end of last year, I made a Small Batch visit a priority and where better than where it all started, the original roastery/espresso bar at Goldstone Villas?
These days, of course, the roastery is no more, having moved out in September 2017. Instead, you effectively get two coffee shops in one, the old roastery having been converted into the Workspace, designed to attract remote workers, although anyone is welcome to use it. The offering is the same in both: a standard espresso menu using the Goldstone house-blend (or decaf if you prefer), plus a daily option on batch-brew. If you’re hungry, there are pre-prepared sandwiches and cake, with doughnuts on Saturday.
Stan’s Bike Shack has been on my radar for almost all of its 4½ years of existence. Between the villages of Partridge Green and Bines Green in West Sussex, it’s on the Downs Link, a 37 mile cycle route from St Martha’s Hill, near my home in Guildford, to Shoreham-by-Sea on the south coast. Heading south, Stan’s Bike Shed is about ⅔ of the way along, slightly too far for me to walk in a day, which might explain why it’s taken me so long to visit.
Stan’s Bike Shack is one of those places where the name pretty much says it all. It’s a shack (and a very nice one at that) located just off the road linking the two villages, which welcomes cyclists and walkers. It serves Craft House Coffee on espresso and batch-brew, with all-day breakfasts, sandwiches and cake, all prepared in the open kitchen behind the counter.
I first visited Lemana Café in Lymington in November 2013. Since then, it’s been a semi-regular feature of my annual trips to the area and I’ve watched it grow with interest. There was a rebrand in 2015, when it became Lemana Coffee & Kitchen, switching over to serve Has Bean coffee, but still retaining its roots as a lovely, friendly, family-run café with great food. Over the years I’ve also kept touch with various family members on social media, so it was something of a surprise when, in May this year, I learnt that Lemana had changed hands.
The good news is that Lemana Coffee & Kitchen had been taken over as a going concern, but would the new owner, Cathryn, want to change things? It was therefore with some trepidation that, last Friday, I ventured over to Lymington on my annual visit to see what had become of Lemana…
A fishmonger sells fish. And an ironmonger sells iron. Therefore, a coffee monger sells coffee. Obviously. Hence the delightfully-named Coffee Monger’s Roasting Company from Lymington in Hampshire, which I first came across at the London Coffee Festival in 2016, where I came away with a bag of its Regina espresso blend. Fast forward 2½ years and, on my annual visit to the area, I was reminded of Coffee Monger’s by Jass at Lemana, who told me that people were welcome to pop by the roastery and have a cup of coffee. Which, naturally, I did.
Coffee Monger’s is a little bit out of the way on an industrial estate just north of Lymington, the unit doubling as both roastery and retail outlet/coffee shop. In similar fashion, this post will double up both as a Coffee Spot in its own right and as a Meet the Roaster feature on Coffee Monger’s. Roasting six espresso blends and a number of single-origins, you can buy any of the coffee in retail bags, plus you can pop in for an espresso, Americano or flat white/cappuccino/latte, etc, from the Rocket Espresso machine, made with whichever blend is on at the time (decaf is also available).
For the longest time, London Square has just been a large office complex that I walked past on Guildford’s London Road, opposite London Road Station and Guildford High School. Not anymore. While I was flying around the world and swanning off to Manchester and Rome, Surrey Hills Coffee was busy opening a new branch, to go with this year’s relocation to Jeffries Passage.
Not that you’d know from walking past on the street. The new Surrey Hills Coffee is in a container-style cabin in the car park, its back to the main entrance, facing the offices. It’s cosy looking, instantly reminding me of the Grindsmith Pod in Manchester, only with fewer windows. There are a couple of tables outside, which will come into their own during the warmer weather, while inside a pair of three-person bars provide the seating. When it comes to coffee, the Holmbury Hill blend is on espresso, plus a range of cakes, snacks and, at lunchtime, soup and sandwiches/toasties. Even better, although the customers are primarily take-away, there are proper cups!