In Hong Kong’s relatively new speciality coffee scene, Barista Jam is one of its longer-standing members. It’s also, in a market dominated by small, independent chains, something of an oddity in that it’s a one-off. In a market that also spreads from the fairly basic (18 grams’ Causeway Bay branch, for example) to the fairly sumptuous (The Cupping Room and Coffee Academics chains), it’s definitely down at the basic end of the market.
It’s a bit ramshackle in both layout and approach, but it works, with a no-nonsense approach where the coffee speaks for itself. A combination of retail (downstairs), equipment sales room (upstairs), café (both levels) and roastery (off-site), it feels as if it’s just been thrown together, although I suspect that a lot more thought than that has gone into it.
Talking of coffee, there’s a house-blend on espresso, three different single-origins on ice-drip and no fewer than 10 single-origins available as filter (most of which are available to purchase). Although it’s a small space, there’s a fully-equipped kitchen tucked away under the stairs behind the counter. This produces an impressive array of western-style food, including all-day breakfast options, various pasta dishes, sandwiches and salads.
Although I didn’t visit the city on this trip, to celebrate my return to the Chicago area, I present Monday’s Coffee Spot, Café Integral. I first came across Café Integral in New York Citythis time last year when I visited its original location, inside the American Two Shot clothing store. Naturally, I was keen to try out the Chicago branch, which is in the lobby of the Freehand Hotel in Chicago’s River North. This came highly recommended by none other than champion flat white inhaler, Runaway Kiwi. She’d checked it out earlier in the year, declaring it her favourite place in Chicago. You can’t get a better endorsement than that!
What makes Café Integral stand out from the crowd is its focus on Nicaraguan coffee. The Vega family, which owns Café Integral, has close ties with several farms in the country. There is a standalone coffee shop in New York as well as this one in Chicago, which makes it a national chain. Sort of. All the coffee is sourced in Nicaragua and roasted in Brooklyn. There’s usually one option on espresso, bulk-brew and pour-over, all backed up by a small, but interesting food menu and decent cake selection.
May 2018: Café Integral now has coffee shops in three Freehand Hotels: Chicago (this one), Miami and Los Angeles, as well as a standalone coffee shop in New York. Sadly the original coffee bar in American Two Shot has closed.
And Coffee is a small, almost cubic space on the busy Wulumuqi Middle Road, the door on the left and a solitary window on the right. I found it completely by chance, something about it setting off my Coffee Spot radar. I’m not quite sure what, but I’ve learnt to trust my radar over the years.
There’s not much to And Coffee. The counter occupies the back of the room and there’s just enough space for an eight-person communal table in the centre, plus a four-person window-bar at the front. And that’s it. The décor is similarly plain, verging on the austere, with white-painted walls and ceiling, punctuated by a wooden counter-front and wooden table.
Coffee-wise, there are espresso-based drinks, single-origin pour-overs (with a choice of four beans) and cold brew, all using beans from the local Moon Coffee Roaster. There’s also tea, detox smoothies and, if you’re hungry, cake.
Ipsento 606 is the second branch of Chicago veteran, Ipsento, which has been serving great coffee for 10 years now from its home on Western Avenue. Ipsento 606, in contrast, opened this summer and while just a few blocks away on Milwaukee Avenue, it takes its name from The 606, the elevated walkway which is just a few steps away from its front door.
I can only speak to the coffee shop part of the operation, but anywhere with not one, but two Slayer espresso machines, plus a single-group Modbar dedicated to single-origin espresso must be doing something right! There’s also the obligatory bulk-brew, plus a range of single-origins on pour-over, all roasted in a dedicated facility just up the road.
Intelligentsia has been part of my journey towards speciality coffee, long before the Coffee Spot came to be. In particular, I’ve been a semi-regular visitor to the Intelligentsia in the Monadnock Building, on Jackson Boulevard. Having written about it on my previous visit to Chicago last summer, I thought it was about time I visited another branch. Ideally, it would have been the original Intelligentsia in Lake View, but fate had other plans, so instead I found myself a few blocks away from the Old Town branch.
This is a relatively new addition to the Intelligentsia stable, having opened in 2013, the fifth of six Chicago branches. It was also the first Intelligentsia to share premises with another business, a model that was followed with the High Line Hotel in NYC. In the case of the Old Town branch, it shares with plum market, an upmarket grocery store which occupies the north end of the space, Intelligentsia tagged on at the southern end, a long, table-lined corridor connecting the two. As well as the usual Intelligentsia offering of espresso-based drinks, bulk-brew and pour-over, you can get food from plum market and bring it over to eat with your coffee.
Manner Coffee was a recommendation from Anna, my barista at Monday’s Coffee Spot, Sumerian Coffee. Handily placed just a few streets away from Sumerian Coffee on the quiet Nanyang Road, I was very grateful for the tip since I’m not sure I’d have found it by myself, particularly since it doesn’t show up on any on-line maps that I know of and has no social media presence.
I’m not even sure I’d have noticed it if I was just walking past since Manner Coffee is literally a hole-in-the-wall operation (for the pedants out there, technically it’s a window-in-the-wall operation). However, the crowd of people standing outside, waiting to order their coffee, might have drawn my attention.
And what coffee! Despite its size, Manner offers espresso (house-blend) & pour-over (various single-origins) from a selection of beans, all roasted in-house. It’s takeaway cups only though, so don’t forget to bring your own.
My first taste of speciality coffee in Shanghai came from a chance discovery on twitter/Google maps when trying to find a coffee shop that someone in Hong Kong had recommended to me. I’ll say this for the Shanghai coffee scene: there are lots of great places out there, but they take some finding. I was very reliant on people that I met helping me out with directions and suggestions.
Sumerian Coffee is a roaster and coffee shop, which also specialises in bagels. Like most of the roaster/coffee shops I came across, Sumerian does its roasting in an off-site facility. The coffee shop itself is a fairly spacious, bustling spot, kitted out almost entirely in wood. While it wouldn’t have looked out of place in London, there was something of the local character about it.
Turning to the coffee, Sumerian has a house-blend on espresso, a very impressive-looking La Marzocco Strada taking pride of place on the counter. There are five single-origins, including a decaf, available as pour-over, plus cold-brew and various coffee-over-ice options. For food, there are the aforementioned bagels, plus a range of (western) cakes and homemade cookies. You can also buy any of the beans in 200g bags.
I began my exploration of the Hong Kong coffee scene with Thursday’s Coffee Spot, 18 Grams, which was the first place that I visited. I thought it would be fitting, now that I’ve left Hong Kong, to follow that up with the final place I visiting during my short stay, The Cupping Room in Central. I’d previously visited the Wan Chai branch, also on my first day in Hong Kong, coming away suitably impressed.
I was therefore keen to try the Central branch before I left. On my way to the airport, bags safely checked-in, I made the short detour from the airport train station to The Cupping Room Central for my Sunday morning breakfast and for what turned out to be my two final coffees before leaving Hong Kong.
Spread over two compact floors, The Cupping Room serves a house-blend and seasonal single-origin on espresso, plus five more single-origins on pour-over, with bulk-brew and iced-filter if you’re in a hurry. All the coffee is roasted for The Cupping Room by Sweet Bloom in America, before being flown over to Hong Kong. If you’re hungry, there’s an impressive range of (mostly Western) food served all day, plus some delicious-looking cakes.
18 grams is a local café/roastery chain based in Hong Kong, with eight branches spread out over Hong Kong Island and on the mainland in Kowloon. Founded in 2010, the Causeway Bay branch, just west of Victoria Park, is one of the first branches to open back in 2011. It’s a tiny spot, with just enough room for a handful of tables inside and a couple more outside down a side alley. However, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character. And excellent coffee, of course.
18 grams has a standard espresso-based menu, serving the Black Sheep house-blend. This is supported by interesting options, such as a Shakerato, and a range of single-origin filter coffees. 18 grams is currently roasting eight different single-origins, two of which are available as pour-overs through the V60, either straight up or over ice. There’s also bulk-brew or cold brew if you don’t want to wait.
You’d think that would be enough for such a small place, but no. 18 grams has an impressive range of food as well, all cooked on-site in the tiny kitchen space which is nestled behind the counter along with the espresso machine and grinders.