This is where it all started for The Gentlemen Baristas, on Union Street in Borough, when the first Gentlemen Baristas opened at the end of 2014. I took my time, leaving a whole two years before I finally visited, so it’s only fitting that I left it even longer before my return, this time chalking up a gap of four years. In the intervening period, The Gentlemen Baristas has been busy, opening multiple new coffee shops. Three of these, including its London Bridge coffee shop, are in a tight cluster around the original, while another four, including its Holborn coffee shop, are in central London. These are balanced by an eastern outpost at Canary Wharf, a western one in Hammersmith and its own East London roastery.
Returning to the original after so many years, it all felt rather familiar. The counter has had a facelift, but otherwise, the downstairs layout remains largely unchanged. Upstairs, however, things are a little different, the training room having moved out, replaced by a kitchen, while the rooftop garden has undergone a complete revamp. The coffee remains excellent, although there’s no longer any pour-over. On the plus side, there’s now a full brunch menu.
Over Under Coffee, the coffee shop, brunch and cocktails chain specialising in tiny coffee shops, branched out south of the Thames when it took over the old CWTCH site at Wandsworth Town Station in 2019. Currently there are five Over Unders, all associated with stations: the original at Earls Court, its near neighbour at West Brompton and the flagship Over Under at Ladbroke Grove, while Wandsworth Town has since been joined south of the river by Clapham Old Town.
Occupying a large kiosk right outside the station on the quiet Old York Road, you might think that the outdoor setting would cramp Over Under’s style. However, neither this nor the lack of space is a problem for Over Under, which manages to fit in a full kitchen, the only compromise being cocktails, which isn’t that surprising since Over Under closes at one o’clock in the afternoon (two at weekends)!
There’s the usual concise espresso-based menu, along with batch brew filter, the coffee, as ever, coming from Assembly. This is backed up with tea and hot chocolate, while the brunch menu offers a range of fillings in either a sourdough or brioche roll, plus banana bread and a selection of pastries.
Nostos Coffee opened in May this year, occupying a small, quirky space next to Battersea Park station, the penultimate stop on the line into London Victoria, and just across the road from Battersea Park. Despite being a newcomer to the area, there was a steady stream of customers during my visit, each one being greeted like a long-lost friend by the barista, Edison.
The coffee, by the way, is excellent, with Kiss the Hippo and Ue Coffee Roasters providing contrasting options on espresso (plus decaf), along with multiple choices from the current guest roaster on pour-over through the Kalita Wave filter. There’s batch brew if you’re in a hurry, plus tea, hot chocolate and a selection of iced drinks. If you’re hungry, this is all backed up with a selection of cakes/pastries from a range of local bakers.
Let me tell you a story. A story about coffee, in fact. Story Coffee started life in 2014 on St John’s Hill, between Clapham Junction and Wandsworth, although very much at the Clapham Junction end. Story Coffee made its name serving awesome brunches and excellent coffee in a fairly small, sunny spot before adding the even smaller, more grab-and-go orientated Story Works to the family in 2018. Then, in early 2020, along came Story Coffee in the Ram Quarter, Wandsworth.
The latest Story Coffee is huge. You could easily fit the first two inside and have plenty of space left over. There’s a neat coffee bar area at the front, a dedicated dining area towards the back, and a large, outdoor seating area out front. The same staples that originally made Story Coffee its name remain: excellent coffee and awesome brunches, but now with wine added to the mix.
There’s the familiar Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine on the counter, with a bespoke house-blend roasted by Modern Standard gracing the hopper of the Mahlkönig grinder. There’s also decaf, plus a single-origin on batch brew (both Modern Standard/Story Coffee), while various guests are available on pour-over via the SP9/Kalita Wave.
After an 18 month hiatus, Travels with my Coffee, the series where I take my coffee to all the best places, is back, visiting its most northerly location yet. As you probably know, Amanda and I went to Iceland last month, spending a lot of time wandering around the capital, Reykjavik, where there are lots of speciality coffee shops (and some excellent museums and restaurants which we also visited). The weather was a bit grim for the early part of the trip, but when it lifted, we managed to get out of the city on a couple of day trips, plus we took the ferry to Viðey, a small island in the bay.
Naturally, our coffee came with us, Amanda and I each owning a Travel Press (Amanda’s is fancier than mine, so now I have Travel Press envy). We’d also each brought our travelling coffee kit, which we didn’t use that much on account of the aforementioned speciality coffee shops providing most of our coffee needs. However, we did have breakfast in our hotel room a couple of times, as well as afternoon coffee and pastries. The unquestionable highlight though, was having coffee overlooking a live volcanic eruption!
The original Java Roastery occupies a pair of units on the west side of Alcester Road, set back from the traffic. There’s plenty of room on the pavement for a large, outdoor seating area, while inside, even accounting for COVID-19 precautions, there’s plenty of seating. Even better is the cosy basement, about half the size of the upstairs, full of tables and sofas. The coffee is all roasted in-house with two seasonal blends and decaf on a standard espresso-based menu, plus there’s batch brew filter. If you’re hungry, Java Roastery has a simple, all-day breakfast menu, grab-and-go sandwiches and plenty of cake.
Saint Kitchen, on the south-eastern edge of St Paul’s Square in the Jewellery Quarter, has long been a part of Birmingham’s speciality coffee scene, starting life as Saint Caffé. I first visited in 2014, not long after it had undergone the transformation to Saint Kitchen, with the new owner, Will, a chef, combining Saint Caffé’s already excellent coffee with equally great food. Since then, I’ve visited on several occasions, the latest of which was at the start of July when I popped in to catch up on the latest chapter in Saint Kitchen’s adventures.
After more than five years in charge, Will decided to sell up and move on to pastures new. In November 2019, he passed the reins to the owners of Warwick Street Kitchen in Leamington Spa. In many ways, the new owners operated on the principle that if things weren’t broken, then why fix them? They kept the name and the essential offering of great coffee and great food, although the process of winning over Saint Kitchen’s faithful customer base was somewhat disrupted by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. However, as the COVID-19 restrictions have eased, the customers have come flooding back.
Regular readers know that I don’t often write about coffee books, so today’s Saturday Supplement is the exception that proves the rule. Coffeeland, by Augustine Sedgewick and published in 2020 by Penguin Books, was a chance discovery in my local bookshop while I was looking for something else (Howul, if you’re interested, an excellent debut novel by my friend David Shannon).
Back to Coffeeland: I hadn’t previously heard of the author, and was completely unaware of the book, but there it was, sitting on the shelf. I was intrigued by the title, so picked it up, read the blurb on the back and made the impulse decision to buy it.
Coffeeland is ostensibly a history of coffee in El Salvador (the “coffeeland” of the title), with the focus on James Hill, who went from the slums of nineteenth-century Manchester to El Salvador, where he founded one of its great coffee dynasties. However, Coffeeland is a lot more than that, a fascinating, multi-threaded book which weaves together many strands of the modern, industrial world to tell the story of coffee from the perspective of those who produce it. A harrowing read at times, it shines a light on some of coffee’s darker corners.
In many ways, the second Jaunty Goat is more like the original used to be, that is, a coffee shop. However, in a bold move, the new Jaunty Goat is completely vegan, right down to there being no dairy option for the milk-based coffees. Talking of which, the coffee’s all roasted in-house, with a standard espresso-based menu, shots pulled on a Victoria Arduino Eagle One, with its three Mythos One grinders (house espresso, guest espresso and decaf). There are also filter options: AeroPress, V60 or Chemex (for two), plus loose-leaf teas. If you’re hungry, the all-day brunch menu’s available until four o’clock, backed up with sandwiches and cake.
Monday’s Coffee Spot is Reykjavik Roasters, Ásmundarsalur, the third of (for now) three Reykjavik Roasters in Reykjavik (there’s a newly-opened fourth location just outside the city). In a rare display of doing things in the right order, it’s also the third one that Amanda and I visited after the original (Kárastígur) and the second (Brautarholt). Ásmundarsalur, which opened in 2018, is in the art space of the same name, occupying the ground floor, with some more seating in the garden at the front.
Although we only visited once, near closing time on Sunday afternoon, it was by far the most relaxed of the three. If you’ve been to Reykjavik Roasters before, everything will be familiar, with a concise espresso-based menu, daily batch brew and a choice of single-origins on pour-over, with either an AeroPress for one or Kalita Wave for two. There’s tea, hot chocolate, a small range of cakes and pastries, plus equally concise breakfast and lunch options. Unlike the other two, Ásmundarsalur has a choice of white or red wine (one of each) by the glass or bottle, plus beer, champagne and a handful of coffee cocktails. And, of course, the usual retail selection of coffee.