Of all the coffee shops that I’ve visited since the COVID-19 restrictions were eased in England, Chalk Coffee can make a claim to be the one with the least physical changes. Located on Watergate Street, it’s part of the rapid expansion of Chester’s speciality coffee scene that has seen numbers swell in the last few years. Like many of the city’s speciality coffee shops, it has a basement-like feel, stretching a long way back under the famous Rows and it looks, and feels, remarkably like it did on my last visit in 2019.
However, there have been changes. As well the (admittedly minor) physical ones, you’ll find a clear sign outside on the pavement reminding you that you must wear a mask. Meanwhile, there’s a QR code on the counter that you can scan, checking you in on the NHS COVID-19 app. Not all the changes are COVID-19 related though. Chalk Coffee used to use Origin for its house espresso, but it’s recently changed to Colonna Coffee, although Origin is still on decaf, while a regularly-changing guest roaster provides the second espresso option and filter. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, the usual cast of premade sandwiches and cakes are still available.
Today’s Coffee Spot Update features the last of the six coffee shops that I visited in Chester at the start of August, taking us to Hoole, on the other side of the train tracks from the city centre. This is home to Little Yellow Pig, a much-loved local institution which has been serving great coffee and awesome food to locals and visitors alike since 2014. I was a bit slow on the uptake though, my first visit not coming until the summer of 2018, although since then I’ve made a point of popping in a few times.
Little Yellow Pig reopened in June for takeaway coffee, fully reopening in July, when the restrictions were relaxed in England, although this has meant a reduced capacity due to social distancing requirements. While Little Yellow Pig is operating on temporarily reduced opening hours, the good news is that a full brunch menu is on offer, which is available for takeout as well. And, of course, there’s coffee. When I visited, Little Yellow Pig was moving its house roaster to the (relatively) nearby Hundred House Coffee, which will be supplying the house espresso and decaf, with regularly-rotating guests in the second hopper.
Today’s Coffee Spot takes us back to last summer and Prague, when I visited The Miners Coffee and Characters (to give it its full name) in Vinohrady. The first of a planned series of coffee shops, it was very new when I visited in June last year, having only been open for three months. In contrast to everywhere else I’d visited that weekend, Miners had an ultra-modern, Scandinavian feel to it, with clean, open lines, pale woods and white walls.
It also had the latest equipment, its brand-new Mark II Slayer espresso machine matched with a pair of Victoria Arduino Mythos 1 grinders. For all the high-tech espresso equipment, pour-over is still done by hand (albeit with an uber boiler, backed up with a couple of temperature-controlled kettles). The coffee is from the UK’s Colonna Coffee, although Miners has plans to roast its own, to be used in conjunction with Colonna. There are three options on espresso, including decaf, and three more on pour-over through the V60. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes, a choice of three toasted sandwiches (one vegan) and three standard weekend brunch options (two vegetarian: French toast and scrambled eggs; and one vegan: avocado toast).
Today’s Saturday Short, Reference Coffee, is the second half of my Dublin double-header, which began with Monday’s Coffee Spot, Meet Me in the Morning. The two share common ownership, occupying adjacent terrace houses on Dublin’s southside. Although physically linked, Reference Coffee operates as a standalone coffee bar, as well as making all the coffee for Meet Me in the Morning. Aside from three small tables on the pavement outside, it’s standing-room, so if you want a seat, you’re better off heading next door.
Reference Coffee is a multi-roaster with a pair of single-origins (one for black drinks, one for milk-based) and decaf on espresso, all from Colonna Coffee. The filter coffee comes from a guest roaster, with different options on batch brew and pour-over. There’s a selection of cake and a small range of savouries to go with your coffee, but if you want something more substantial, head next door.
I visited Tonbridge in July for Out of the Box, taking the chance to pop into 65mm Coffee. However, that was 65mm’s last day in the Old Fire Station, where it had started as a three-month pop-up in 2017, before becoming a permanent fixture. Sadly, the Old Fire Station’s management was taking all catering in-house, hence the move, with 65mm shifting to Gilbert House. After a swift refit, 65mm re-opened in its new home at the end of the July, although I wasn’t able to visit until the end of September.
65mm’s new home has an amazing location, directly opposite the castle, which you can see from the front windows. Although much smaller than the Old Fire Station, the new location is a lovely, cosy spot. When it comes to coffee, the house espresso is, as always, a washed Colombian Caturra de Altura from the local Cast Iron Roasters. This is joined by a guest espresso and a filter option through the Kalita Wave. These change roughly every month and, during my visit, were both from Belfast’s White Star Coffee. There’s also loose-leaf tea, small brunch and lunch menus (with everything cooked on-site) and a range of cakes and pastries.
Chalk Coffee, which opened in August last year, might be a new name to Chester’s growing speciality coffee scene, but it has considerable pedigree, having been set up by Ed, who was one half of Jaunty Goat (the other half being his twin brother, Patrick). Like Jaunty Goat, Chalk is right in the heart of historic Chester, just around the corner, in fact, on Watergate Street, which also puts it just across the street from another Chester veteran, The Barista’s and newcomer, Panna. The shop itself is lovely, stretching a long way back under the rows above, giving it a basement-like feel, especially at the back.
Chalk Coffee’s focus is firmly on the coffee, offering Origin on both espresso, through a Victoria Arduino Black Eagle, and on batch brew. It started by offering the Pathfinder blend, but since the start of this year, Chalk has been experimenting with single-origins as well as blends. The Resolute blend was on during my visit, with a Colombian single-origin next in the rotation, Chalk switching over as and when the current coffee runs out. There’s also a single-origin on batch brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of sandwiches and wraps, plus there’s a selection of cake.
July 2020: Chalk Coffee has reopened following the COVID-19 shutdown over the summer. It’s also changed its house espresso to Colonna Coffee while adding a second espresso from a rotating guest roaster. You can see what I made of it when I visited in October.
With all the travelling I’ve been doing recently, it’s been increasingly hard for me to get around the UK like I once did. Even so, I was rather embarrassed to discover that it’s been three years since I last visited Edinburgh. Unsurprisingly, rather a lot has changed since my last visit, including plenty of new faces and a few changes at some well-known old faces.
Where to start? Well, let’s try Lowdown Coffee on George Street, right in the heart of Edinburgh, which opened in February 2016, just across the way from old favourite and Edinburgh stalwart, Wellington Coffee. Like Wellington, Lowdown Coffee follows the tried-and-tested Edinburgh tradition of locating your coffee shop in a basement, which gets a thumbs up from me.
However, that’s where the similarities end. Lowdown Coffee is on a mission to do things differently. For starters, there’s table service, a refreshing change from queuing at the counter. The coffee, which changes weekly, is drawn from some of the best roasters across Europe, with one option on espresso and two on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. How about the daily food menu? Or the water, with different formulations for different beans? And that’s just for starters…