I went to London last week for my first sit-in coffee shop experiences since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I visited three coffee shops, starting with Notes and ending with Attendant, both of which I’d first written about in 2013. In contrast, the middle one, Kafi, had only opened last year. A lovely little spot in Fitzrovia, it felt at the time like a throwback to the cutting-edge coffee shops of five to 10 years ago, which, sadly, London has mostly lost.
Kafi reopened in the middle of June offering a takeaway-only service. However, unlike other shops, which have taken advantage of the easing of COVID-19 restrictions to offer a sit-in service, Kafi has remained takeaway only. Kafi has stayed true to its founding principles, deciding not to reduce its coffee offering. As a result, Kafi still has two options on espresso (both single-origins), plus decaf, as well as three more single-origins on filter, one each on V60, AeroPress and siphon. It also, unusually, still allows customers to use their own reusable cups.
On Tuesday, I caught a train to London. I went to visit coffee shops, something I once took or granted, but which, thanks to COVID-19, I hadn’t done for almost exactly four months. Although I didn’t have a firm itinerary (I intended to wander around, see who was open, and take things from there), there was one coffee shop which I planned to visit, heading straight there from Waterloo.
Notes is on St Martin’s Lane, a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square, which is how it gets its name. Like Attendant, where I ended Tuesday’s short excursion, I first wrote about Notes back in 2013, although, unlike Attendant, which had recently opened, Notes was already well-established by that point. Since then, I’ve visited several other Notes and have always been impressed by the quality and attention to detail.
Notes had reopened just four days before my visit, on Saturday 11th July, but I knew from its social media posts that it was offering a sit-in service, which I was keen to try. More than anything, I wanted to see how the reality of sitting in a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic matched my (perhaps gloomy) musings on the matter.
On Tuesday, for the first time in four months, I boarded a train. With the recent easing of restrictions on coffee shops in England, I was on my way to London, where I knew some coffee shops had started serving sit-in customers. And, if I’m honest, after four months of not going further than I could walk, I needed a change of scene. I didn’t have a firm plan: I was just going to take the train to Waterloo, cross the river, then wander around. I knew that some shops had reopened from their social media posts, but I wanted to check for myself. Mostly, though, I was just getting the lie of the land.
Of all the speciality shops that I found, the one that I least expected to be open was Attendant’s original location in Fitzrovia, the speciality coffee shop in a (disused) Victorian (men’s) public lavatory. And when I think of enticing places to have coffee during COVID-19, a small, underground coffee shop with no windows was not top of my list. But there it was, open and inviting me to come in and take a seat. Intrigued, I knew I had to try it out.
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, coffee shops in the UK have adapted. At first, this meant pretty much universal closure, followed by a slow, cautious reopening as takeaway-only operations, exemplified in Guildford by Canopy Coffee and Krema Coffee. Now, with the UK Government relaxing its social distancing rules, this has paved the way for hospitality industries in England, including coffee shops, to reopen for sit-in customers on July 4th.
In Part II of this short series on where we go next, I looked at the Government’s guidance and pondered what it might mean for coffee shops. However, I was prompted to start this series by this tweet from Wrecking Ball Coffee in San Francisco which argued, in essence, that just because coffee shops could reopen, it didn’t mean that they should. It’s this question that I’m returning to in this, the third and final part of the series.
The same disclaimers apply here as in Parts I and II. First, I don’t work in coffee shops, I write about them, so this series focuses on the consumer viewpoint. Second, this is about on what might happen in England since, due to devolution, the rules differ elsewhere in the UK.
As was widely expected, the UK Government made its much-trailed announcement this week that has paved the way for hospitality industries in England, coffee shops included, to reopen for sit-in custom on July 4th, now just over a week away. In Part I of this series, I looked at what this may mean for speciality coffee shops, asking many questions along the way, but providing few answers. Now that the Government’s guidance has been published, this post (Part II) looks at what a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic might look like.
The same disclaimers apply here as in Part I: First, I don’t work in coffee shops, I write about them, so these posts are focused on the consumer viewpoint. Second, this is very much focused on what might happen in England (due to the devolved nature of the UK, while the announcement was made by the UK Government, it only applies to England). If you are interested, you can download the UK Government’s guidance for the hospitality industry or read it online. I’m basing my thoughts on the version that was issued on June 23rd. For further practical advice from a UK industry perspective, try United Baristas.
Not long after Canopy Coffee, Guildford’s multi-roaster speciality coffee shop, reopened on Saturday, 16th May, I was walking home past Krema Coffee, another of Guildford’s speciality coffee shops. Looking in the window, I saw an encouraging sign: Krema was reopening on the following Monday, 1st June. Naturally, I made sure I popped along and have been back a couple of times since.
Unlike Canopy, which has re-invented itself as a takeaway coffee shop, converting a side door into a serving hatch, Krema looks more like the coffee shop of old, although for now it is only offering a takeaway menu, with cake, having temporarily closed its kitchen. It’s still serving from the counter inside though, making use of its greater space to create an excellent one-way system, guiding customers from the door to the counter and back out again, all while keeping everyone at a safe distance from each other.
I hope that I’m not jumping the gun, but it’s almost certain that the UK Government will announce an easing of social distancing rules this week, enabling hospitality industries, including coffee shops, to reopen in two weeks’ time on July 4th. What will this mean for the speciality coffee industry? Just because coffee shops can reopen, does that mean that they should? In theory at least, they could have remained open, offering a takeaway service, throughout the last three months, but most chose not to.
The inspiration for this series of posts came from the USA, via a tweet from Wrecking Ball Coffee in San Francisco. You can see the original tweet in the gallery, but the gist of it is as follows: while Wrecking Ball can legally put out chairs and tables for its customers, it’s decided not to and is encouraging others to follow suit. Which got me thinking: should UK coffee shops reopen when they are allowed to? Do I want them to reopen? This series of posts (of which this is Part I) is an attempt to frame, and then maybe answer these questions, or at least provide some pointers as to which direction to go in.
Welcome to the fourth instalment of my Vietnamese Travel Spot, covering my trip to Vietnam from exactly three years ago. I wrote some of it up at the time, but never completed the posts about my train journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, a 36-hour epic which I did in three stages.
This, the final stage, covers my time in Huế, plus the last leg of my journey, from Huế to Hanoi. This involved another sleeper, which left Huế late in the evening and arrived in Hanoi just before midday the following morning. I then had three days to explore the Vietnamese capital before flying back late on the evening of the third day, first to Ho Chi Minh City, then back to Heathrow and home. This, incidentally, was the first time that I flew in business class!
Nozy Coffee is a well-established name in Tokyo’s speciality coffee scene which I discovered at the lovely Nem Coffee & Espresso during my first visit in April 2017 before visiting its coffee shop/roastery (The Roastery by Nozy, which is under different ownership) on my return during 2018’s heatwave, when I sought refuge in its cool, basement-like interior. The Roastery is a very recent development, while Nozy itself has been going much longer, as I discovered when I visited its original coffee shop (which also used to be the roastery) in Setagaya City, southwest of Shibuya.
A tiny spot compared to The Roastery, Nozy Coffee occupies the ground floor and open basement of a narrow, three-storey building with a residence above. Although small, and with very limited seating, it has an impressive array of coffee, with a choice of eight single-origins, one of which is decaf. These are all available as filter coffee through the cafetiere, while two (which change daily) are available on espresso, where the extremely concise menu offers espresso, Americano or cafe latte. These last two come in three sizes (small, medium and large) and can be had hot or iced. A selection of coffee kit and retail bags are also for sale.
December 2019: Nozy Coffee has closed for good and will be sadly missed. Thanks to Maja for the updated information.
Welcome to this, the fifth and (for now) final instalment of my Coffee at Home sub-series looking at coffee. I started the series with the concept of direct trade, explaining why knowing where your coffee comes from is important. I followed that by considering blends, the art of combining different coffees in order to create a specific taste profile. In the third instalment, I introduced the idea that pretty much everything has an impact on how your coffee tastes, all the way from the farm to the roaster, before looking at what are, for me, the two biggest factors: processing and roasting. Which brings us neatly to this fifth instalment, how preparing and serving your coffee affects how it tastes.
At a very basic level, how you prepare your coffee obviously effects its taste. An espresso tastes very different from a pour-over, even using the same bean. However, the effects can be more subtle than that, which is what I want to explore in this post. It also goes beyond the basics such as preparation method. Almost everything changes how you perceive flavour, from the temperature of the coffee right down to the shape of the cup.