I’d originally planned today’s Coffee Spot for Saturday. Then the latest COVID-19 restrictions happened and, for a while, I wondered if I should postpone my write up until December at the earliest. However, since Caravan is still open for collection/delivery, I decided to go ahead, so welcome to Monday’s Coffee Spot, an update on Caravan Exmouth Market. Until the England-wide shutdown on Thursday, Caravan was going strong, serving its filling breakfasts, weekend brunches and innovative small plates and dinners, all backed up with some excellent Caravan coffee on espresso and filter.
Caravan is one of those legendary names in London coffee circles. Now with five restaurants/cafes/bars, plus a coffee bar in Harrods and a dedicated roastery, Exmouth Market was where it all began, back in 2010. As well as being the original Caravan coffee shop, it was also the original roastery (located in the basement), before that moved out to King’s Cross and then to the new facility at the Lamb Works. The smallest of the five, Exmouth Market is still my favourite, so when I found myself staying around the corner, I decided to call in for dinner. And then I came back for breakfast the following morning…
Visiting Canary Wharf for work at the end of May, I already knew about the likes of Taylor Street Baristas (now sadly gone) and Notes. I also knew that the speciality coffee scene had evolved considerably since my last visit in 2015. However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, 640 East, caught me by surprise, even though it’s been going since 2017. Located in Montgomery Square, right by the eastern entrance to Canary Wharf tube station, 640East was also directly outside my office, so I became a regular visitor, calling in most days for my morning (and sometimes afternoon) coffee.
Consisting of two reused containers facing each other across a large courtyard, the majority of 640East’s seating is outdoors, although one container has a small, indoor seating area. Serving a blend from Caravan on espresso, 640East does a roaring trade from the local offices, while in the evening wine, cocktails and beer take over (although all are available day and night). This is all backed up by a range of cakes and pastries, with a few savouries in the morning.
Note that 640East is takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own. It’s also cashless, so you’ll need a credit/debit card.
Abchurch Yard in the City of London, has been home to various coffee carts over the years, including Flat Cap (old Cannon Street site) and, most recently, Feijoa Tree. However, at the start of June, Matt took over the pitch, a lovely young man who I met in 2016 when he was in charge of the CanDo Coffee kiosk in Paddington.
Currently, Matt has a fairly simple set-up, with a single mobile stand sheltering under a large umbrella. There’s a single-origin espresso from Curve Coffee Roasters, along with a decaf from Caravan, served from a basic espresso menu, although, in a neat twist, everything costs £2.50. Matt also has matcha all the way from Japan, a small number of cakes and retail bags of various single-origins from Curve. It’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own, although there are some seats if you want to hang around.
When I first started working in Sheldon Square, behind Paddington Station, in the summer of 2013, there was nothing in the way of good coffee. Then came Beany Green in 2014, followed over the next couple of years by the likes of KuPP and Kioskafé. I stopped working there at the end of the 2015, at which point my office decided to upgrade its in-house café, bringing in Baxter Storey to run the operation, with coffee from Modern Standard. Not that I’m still bitter about that…
I didn’t quite escape Sheldon Square though, since my new job, which sees me travelling all over the world, also means I visit Sheldon Square about once a year, allowing me to keep tabs on the growing coffee scene, including the likes of Can Do Coffee and (the recently closed) Store Street Espresso. I was back there last week, when I found another crop of new places vying for my attention, including Darcie & May Green, twin barges tied up on the canal-side, another Can Do Coffee pitch and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, The Meal Ticket, which was then into its third week of operation, serving Caravan on espresso and batch-brew…
Crosstown Doughnuts has been a staple of several London coffee shops, as well as being available direct from Crosstown at various London markets. Then, Crosstown opened its own coffee shop, in Soho. And then another. And another. And, earlier this year, the fourth opened, in the new Nova development north of Victoria Station.
If you know Crosstown Doughnuts, you know what to expect. If you don’t, you’re in for a treat. However, that’s not all. As well as doughnuts, there’s coffee, and not just any old coffee. Crosstown serves Caravan, the ubiquitous Market Blend in the main grinder with a seasonal guest, always a single-origin, and also from Caravan, in the second.
The Victoria branch is a pod, a rather space-age looking contraption with outdoor seating. Inside, there are two small corner bars, each with two stools. Not really designed for customers who linger, it’s actually a really neat spot.
Caravan is a rather successful chain of three five coffee shop/restaurants, with a significant in-house roastery, supplying coffee shops all around the country with a variety of blends and single-origins. However, this is where it all started back in 2010 on the corner of London’s Exmouth Market. This is the original Caravan, which is still going strong, coffee shop by day, restaurant by night, serving excellent coffee and food throughout the day. Unlike others of its ilk, such as Notes and Grind, both of which now roast their own coffee, Caravan was a roaster from the start and, indeed, the original roaster is still down in the basement at Exmouth Market.
Caravan sits on a sunny, south-facing corner, windows on two sides, outside seating spilling out on Exmouth Market itself. Inside, coffee excellence is taken as standard, with a blend and single-origin on espresso, two more on pour-over and a third on batch-brew. However, Caravan is also about food, with table service to match. There’s an excellent, extensive breakfast menu until 11.30, with an all-day menu of small/large plates from noon. At weekends, brunch takes over from 10 until four. There’s also beer, cider, cocktails, spirits and a massive wine list.
October 2020: You can see what I made of Caravan when I visited for breakfast and dinner during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brooklyn Coffee, on the busy Commercial Street in the heart of Shoreditch, has been around for just over three years. During that time, plenty of people have sung its praises and, while I’ve called in a few times, I’ve never been in a position to write it up for the Coffee Spot. Until a fortnight ago, that is.
Brooklyn Coffee is, as the one-word A-board outside clearly states, all about the coffee. Admittedly, there’s a limited breakfast menu, a reasonable selection of cakes, cookies and pastries, plus beer straight from the fridge, but it’s the coffee, from local roasters, Caravan, that takes centre stage. Not that Brooklyn Coffee aims to dazzle you with variety: there’s one option (blend or single-origin) on espresso, with decaf on the second grinder, while filter drinkers have a single-origin available on bulk-brew. Finally, Caravan’s Special Bru blend makes an appearance for the iced coffee.
June 2019: Brooklyn Coffee has been taken over by The Watch House. Thanks to Phil Wain for the heads up.
In London, “Crosstown” is synonymous with “doughnut”. You can purchase these delightful creations from various Crosstown Doughnuts market stalls (I’ve visited both King’s Cross and Old Spitalfields) while they’re also available in several speciality coffee shops (again, from personal experience, Notes, King’s Cross and Origin at the British Library). However, for the last year, you’ve been able to get them in Crosstown’s own coffee shop in Soho, where you can wash down your doughnut with some excellent Caravan coffee. Or Kokoa Collection hot chocolate if you’ve not had a sufficient sugar rush!
It’s a small place, with enough space for a doughnut-laden counter (right) and a five-person bar (left). However, it’s worth paying a visit, if only because I know of nowhere else where you can sit in such close proximity to so many superb doughnuts. Beware though: Crosstown only has takeaway cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.
New Row Coffee has been around for several years, pleasingly occupying a spot on New Row, just off St Martin’s Lane, midway between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. I’ve walked past on several occasions, but never had reason to stop, always being put off by its size (or lack thereof). However, on a recent visit to Freed’s on St Martin’s Lane to buy some new dance shoes, I decided it was time to pay a visit. I was so impressed that I came back the following week with my camera, and exactly one week later, here it is on the Coffee Spot!
New Row’s one of those small coffee shops that thinks it’s actually much bigger. For somewhere with just two tables and a pair of seats at the counter, it serves a range of coffee that would put many larger rivals to shame. Joining the obligatory espresso menu, built around Caravan’s ubiquitous Market Blend, there’s a regularly-rotating filter coffee (also Caravan) through Aeropress, V60 or Syphon. Add to that a decent range of cakes and, a recent addition, a small sandwich and savoury tart selection, and you have a place for all occasions. If you can find a seat!
July 2017: Following the change of ownership (see after the gallery), New Row Coffee has been rebranded The Espresso Room. The Market Blend is still on espresso, but it’s been joined by various guests, both on espresso and pour-over. Otherwise, little appears to have changed.
Yorks Espresso Bar is a new addition to Birmingham’s growing Yorks chain, which started with Yorks Bakery Cafe on nearby Newhall Street. Technically the espresso bar is now the longest serving branch of Yorks, since Newhall Street closed at the end of 2015, the building undergoing a major refurbishment. This led to the mantel of Yorks Bakery Cafe being taken up by the new flagship cafe/roastery on Stephenson Street.
Regular readers know my love of Coffee Spots in Victorian Arcades, so it’ll be no surprise that I fell in love with the Espresso Bar the moment I saw it. Occupying a corner spot at the Colmore Row end of the Great Western Arcade, which joins Colmore Row with Temple Row (once home of the comparatively venerable, but now closed, 6/8 Kafé), it’s an amazing location. Spread over a compact, elegant ground-floor and a stripped-back, cosy mezzanine, it gives Faculty a run for its money as Birmingham’s most beautifully-situated (and beautiful) coffee shop.
Smaller than the Bakery Cafe, sacrifices have had to be made. The extensive menu and freshly-cooked food has been replaced by a small range of (equally freshly-made) sandwiches and cake. However, there’s no compromise when it comes to coffee, meaning the “espresso bar” tag’s a bit misleading, Yorks offering an extensive range from Caravan, including three pour-overs, two espressos and decaf.