If you ever need evidence that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for operating a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic, I present Kaffeine, the London-based chain of precisely two coffee shops. I’ve already looked at how the original Kaffeine, on Great Titchfield Street, has adapted to COVID-19 and today it’s the turn of Kaffeine Eastcastle, which reopened at the start of September. Although less than five minutes’ walk apart, how the two shops are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is quite different.
Of course, there are similarities, with both adhering to the same underlying principles, but in each case, the response has been moulded to/by the needs of the individual shop. Perhaps the biggest difference is that while Great Titchfield Street offers table service, Eastcastle, with its lower footfall, has a more traditional counter service model.
In terms of what’s on offer, little has changed. The espresso-based menu still has Square Mile’s ubiquitous Red Brick at its heart, along with a single-origin option, while there’s also a single-origin filter, which changes monthly. The concise brunch menu is served until 2 pm (3 pm at weekends), supported by an all-day selection of salads, tarts and toasted sandwiches, plus cake, of course.
On the whole, I’ve found that the speciality coffee sector has coped well, but it’s certainly not out of the woods yet. As we approach the end of September, a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases has led to further countrywide restrictions, plus a wide range of stricter local/regional restrictions.
This post looks at the impact of these further restrictions and what they might mean for speciality coffee shops in England as we head into autumn/winter. Please bear in mind that this is just my opinion: you can find specific UK Government advice on-line, while industry bodies such as UKHospitality also publishes its own advice.
92 Degrees Coffee, Liverpool’s first combined speciality coffee shop/roaster, has come a long way since I first visited at the end of 2015. Then it was just a single shop at the top of Hardman Street, the roaster tucked away in a small space behind the counter. Now it’s a chain of three, adding a larger shop in the Baltic Triangle, which does food, and a smaller shop five minutes’ walk from the original, catering more to the students (and only recently reopened). The roaster has also moved since my original visit, first to the Baltic Triangle, then to a dedicated roastery/office back in the same building on Hardman Street (which, sadly, isn’t open to the public).
This update is about the original which looks and feels very much how I remember it from my visit almost five years ago. There are a few COVID-19 changes, such as a thinning out of the seating and a move to disposable cups (so don’t forget to bring your own). However, the basic offering is the same, with the house blend on espresso and three options through the Kalita Wave, along with tea, hot chocolate, plus a selection of cakes, bagels and prepared sandwiches/salads.
It’s been a busy time, coffee-wise, in my hometown of Guildford, so I thought I would take the unusual step of writing a Coffee Spot Update for the town itself, rather than for each individual coffee shop. Perhaps the most exciting news is that, since the start of September, Guildford has a brand new coffee shop, the Ceylon House of Coffee, which I featured at the start of the week as Monday’s Coffee Spot. However, there have been plenty of other changes, including reopenings, changes of hours and a couple of places opening up their indoor seating. In fact, I think that the only place that hasn’t changed since I was last in town (in August!) is Canopy Coffee.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Guildford’s speciality coffee scene seems to be doing well. Depending on what you count, Guildford now has six specialty coffee shops, with only the Surrey Hills Coffee pod (serving the offices in London Square) unable to reopen at the moment. As with elsewhere in the country, however, circumstances are still challenging and, in light of recent events, the future is even more uncertain than before, so please do support your local coffee shops if you can.
It’s typical. I go away for a couple of weeks and someone opens a coffee shop in Guildford. I think every opening in the last three years has been while I’ve been away… The newcomer in this case is the Ceylon House of Coffee, an offshoot of the London House of Coffee, which, ironically, is in Colombo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon, as was). Meanwhile the Ceylon House of Coffee is in Guildford, occupying the old American Express building at the bottom of the High Street, a lovely, spacious spot with floor-to-ceiling windows, and plenty of well-separated tables and sofas.
What makes the Ceylon House of Coffee stand out from the crowd is that it only serves coffee from Sri Lanka, with the owner, xxx, attempting to recreate something of Sri Lanka’s heyday as a coffee-producing nation in the mid-19th century. For now, there’s only a single-option on espresso, along with a selection of Sri Lankan tea, plus a wide range of cakes.
The shop, meanwhile, is operating on reduced opening hours while everyone finds their feet, with drinks being served in disposable cups, although the staff are happy to accept customers’ reusable cups, so don’t forget to bring yours along!
In this, Part II, I’m looking more at physical modifications, such as seating layout and physical barriers, as well as more processes, including cleaning and contact tracing. As before, I’m highlighting what has worked for me in terms of what has made me feel extra secure when visiting a coffee shop (whether I’m actually any safer is another matter). I’ll also illustrate my points with specific examples from coffee shops that I’ve visited over the past two months in London, Reading, Chester, Birmingham and Liverpool.
The usual caveat applies: these are my personal opinions and this post should not be taken as a “must do” (or “mustn’t do” for that matter) guide. And, of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolving, who knows what the future holds?
Obscure had only been open for two weeks at that point. While the basic set-up is the same, there have been plenty of changes since my first visit a year ago, some of which pre-date COVID-19. The seating has been upgraded in the front section, while Obscure no longer serves pour-overs, instead concentrating on its concise espresso menu, backed up by batch brew through the Moccamaster. The coffee is still from Climpson and Sons, while the warm, friendly welcome is as warm and friendly as ever.
Bold Street Coffee, a legend of Liverpool’s speciality coffee scene, was opened in 2010 by the equally legendary Sam Towil (who, incidentally, now lives in Llangollen, where he runs Sam’s Coffee). I visited in 2013, returning almost exactly seven years later to see how it was faring during the COVID-19 pandemic. In between, Bold Street Coffee has been through a lot, including having to leave its beloved Bold Street home in January 2018, only to return at the end of the year, bigger and better than ever.
Then came 2020 and COVID-19 which forced Bold Street Coffee to close, along with everyone else, in March. Bold Street Coffee partially reopened in May, offering an extremely popular weekend take-out service, before fully reopening in early July, following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in England.
If you’re familiar with Bold Street Coffee of old, the new layout is very similar, only with a larger, open kitchen and more seating at the back. There are also three tables outside on the temporarily-pedestrianised Bold Street. The menus are slightly limited for the moment: there’s no second option on espresso, while filter is restricted to batch-brew, but hopefully things will be back to normal soon.
Since the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in England at the start of July, I’ve been visiting coffee shops again, including some in London, Reading, Chester, Birmingham and Liverpool. Although I haven’t been anywhere I’ve felt unsafe, there are big differences in how individual coffee shops have interpreted and implemented the COVID-19 guidelines and the measures that they’ve put in place.
This post (the first of two) looks at some of these different measures, highlighting what has worked for me in terms of making me feel extra secure when visiting a coffee shop (whether I’m actually any safer is another matter). Wherever possible, I’ve illustrated my points with specific examples from coffee shops that I’ve visited.
That different coffee shops have chosen to implement the guidelines differently doesn’t surprise or bother me, since this was always going to be the case, often dictated by the physical layout of the shop. Similarly, I’d hate this post to be taken as a “must do” guide, although there are things that most coffee shops could do to improve. It’s also worth saying that I’ve deliberately tried to visit coffee shops when they are quiet, although over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed places getting busier across the board.
The last stop on my brief tour of Birmingham is Ngopi, which exclusively serves single-origin Indonesian coffee, all of which is roasted in the little roaster visible through the front window. Ngopi was my find of 2019, after the staff opened my eyes to the variety and sheer quality of Indonesian speciality coffee at that year’s Birmingham Coffee Festival.
Like the rest of the UK’s speciality coffee shops, Ngopi was forced to close by COVID-19, only reopening in July following the relaxation of restrictions in England. The obvious COVID-19 precautions are now in place (Perspex screens on the counter, reduced seating, etc) but otherwise, Ngopi is very much its old self. In particular, the coffee is just as good as I remember it, while there’s a menu of light Indonesian dishes and desserts which, had I not just come from lunch at Wayland’s Yard, would have been very tempting.