Koja by Surrey Hills Coffee (COVID-19 Update)

My flat white, made with the Surrey Hills Coffee Holmbury Hill blend and served in my HuskeeCup at Koja.Koja, a Swedish word meaning “a cosy little den”, came into being in August this year. On the one hand, it can be seen as the rebirth of Surrey Hills Coffee on Jeffries Passage, but it’s also very much its own place, resisting the temptation to become a clone of what had gone before.

When I visited, on Koja’s second day of trading, it was just offering takeaway service. As summer turned to autumn, Koja introduced limited seating downstairs, although I never seemed to be in the position to visit, either passing by at closing time (at the relatively early hour of two o’clock in the afternoon) or else it was a Saturday and very busy. With the tightening of COVID-19 restrictions in England at the start of November, Koja returned to takeaway only, and I thought it was high time I popped back to see how things were going.

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Canopy Coffee (COVID-19 Update 2)

One of the beautiful coffee artworks on the wall of Canopy Coffee in Guildford, showing the branch of a coffee tree and cross-sections of the coffee cherry.Back in May, after two months of only drinking coffee I made myself, I visited the newly reopened Canopy Coffee, which, in the face of COVID-19, had reinvented itself as a takeaway coffee shop. On the back of that visit,  I wrote my first COVID-19 update, which has grown into a series (with more than 25 posts), charting how coffee shops are adapting to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

In many ways, of all Guildford’s speciality coffee shops, Canopy was probably the best-placed to weather the new phase of England-wide COVID-19 restrictions, which came into force at the start of November. While other coffee shops, such as Krema Coffee, re-opened their indoor seating over the summer, Canopy, having effectively pivoted from being a sit-in coffee shop, has remained takeaway only throughout the pandemic. Earlier this week, I went back to where I started my COVID-19 Updates to see how Canopy was coping.

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Caravan Exmouth Market (COVID-19 Update)

The Caravan logo from the sign outside the original Exmouth Market branch.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…

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COVID-19 Update

March 22nd, 2020, and the last flat white I was to have for several months, from Surrey Hills Coffee, served in my HuskeeCup.On Thursday, new national COVID-19 restrictions came into force in England, effectively closing all coffee shops, except for takeaway service. Although this is being referred to as a second national lockdown, it differs in several crucial respects to the initial (UK-wide) restrictions which were in force from March until their relaxation in England at the start of July. Perhaps just as crucially, coffee shops can draw on their experience of the last eight months to help them through the new restrictions.

Continuing the series which I began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this post looks at what the latest restrictions might mean for speciality coffee. I also discuss how you can help support the industry. With apologies to my readers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (and, indeed, the rest of the world), I’m focusing on England, since this is where I live and where I have first-hand experience of the impact of the various restrictions which have been in force at different points through the year.

As always, these are my personal opinions, written from the perspective of someone who visits (rather than works in) coffee shops. You can find the official UK Government advice and guidance on-line.

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Chalk Coffee (COVID-19 Update)

The A-board outside Chalk Coffee is a sign of the times, reminding you that you need to wear a mask (from October 2020).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.

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Kaffeine Eastcastle (COVID-19 Update)

The front of Kaffeine, door to the left, windows to the right, with a pair of benches in front of the window acting as tables.If you ever need evidence that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for operating a coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic, I  present Kaffeine, the London-based chain of precisely two coffee shops. I’ve already looked at how the original Kaffeine, on Great Titchfield Street, has adapted to COVID-19 and today it’s the turn of Kaffeine Eastcastle, which reopened at the start of September. Although less than five minutes’ walk apart, how the two shops are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is quite different.

Of course, there are similarities, with both adhering to the same underlying principles, but in each case, the response has been moulded to/by the needs of the individual shop. Perhaps the biggest difference is that while Great Titchfield Street offers table service, Eastcastle, with its lower footfall, has a more traditional counter service model.

In terms of what’s on offer, little has changed. The espresso-based menu still has Square Mile’s ubiquitous Red Brick at its heart, along with a single-origin option, while there’s also a single-origin filter, which changes monthly. The concise brunch menu is served until 2 pm (3 pm at weekends), supported by an all-day selection of salads, tarts and toasted sandwiches, plus cake, of course.

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COVID-19: The Next Steps

Details from a sign on the door at Quarter Horse Coffee in Birmingham, requesting that you wear a mask or face covering at all times.The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the UK hospitality industry hard, including speciality coffee shops. First came the mandatory shut down of pretty much the whole industry, followed by the slow reopening of a handful of places offering takeout services. Then, following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in England at the start of July, increasing numbers of coffee shops have reopened around the country. I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege of being able to visit quite a few in places such as London, Reading, Chester, Birmingham and Liverpool, as well as my hometown of Guildford.

On the whole, I’ve found that the speciality coffee sector has coped well, but it’s certainly not out of the woods yet. As we approach the end of September, a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases has led to further countrywide restrictions, plus a wide range of stricter local/regional restrictions.

This post looks at the impact of these further restrictions and what they might mean for speciality coffee shops in England as we head into autumn/winter. Please bear in mind that this is just my opinion: you can find specific UK Government advice on-line, while industry bodies such as UKHospitality also publishes its own advice.

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92 Degrees Coffee (COVID-19 Update)

The 92 Degrees logo, taken from above the counter on the Hardman Road coffee shop.92 Degrees Coffee, Liverpool’s first combined speciality coffee shop/roaster, has come a long way since I first visited at the end of 2015. Then it was just a single shop at the top of Hardman Street, the roaster tucked away in a small space behind the counter. Now it’s a chain of three, adding a larger shop in the Baltic Triangle, which does food, and a smaller shop five minutes’ walk from the original, catering more to the students (and only recently reopened). The roaster has also moved since my original visit, first to the Baltic Triangle, then to a dedicated roastery/office back in the same building on Hardman Street (which, sadly, isn’t open to the public).

This update is about the original which looks and feels very much how I remember it from my visit almost five years ago. There are a few COVID-19 changes, such as a thinning out of the seating and a move to disposable cups (so don’t forget to bring your own). However, the basic offering is the same, with the house blend on espresso and three options through the Kalita Wave, along with tea, hot chocolate, plus a selection of cakes, bagels and prepared sandwiches/salads.

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Guildford (COVID-19 Update)

Guildford's famous Guildhall clock on the High Street with the Hog's Back in the background.It’s been a busy time, coffee-wise, in my hometown of Guildford, so I thought I would take the unusual step of writing a Coffee Spot Update for the town itself, rather than for each individual coffee shop. Perhaps the most exciting news is that, since the start of September, Guildford has a brand new coffee shop, the Ceylon House of Coffee, which I featured at the start of the week as Monday’s Coffee Spot. However, there have been plenty of other changes, including reopenings, changes of hours and a couple of places opening up their indoor seating. In fact, I think that the only place that hasn’t changed since I was last in town (in August!) is Canopy Coffee.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Guildford’s speciality coffee scene seems to be doing well. Depending on what you count, Guildford now has six specialty coffee shops, with only the Surrey Hills Coffee pod (serving the offices in London Square) unable to reopen at the moment. As with elsewhere in the country, however, circumstances are still challenging and, in light of recent events, the future is even more uncertain than before, so please do support your local coffee shops if you can.

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Ceylon House of Coffee (COVID-19)

The logo of the London House of Coffee, the parent to the Ceylon House of Coffee, on the front of the counter.It’s typical. I go away for a couple of weeks and someone opens a coffee shop in Guildford. I think every opening in the last three years has been while I’ve been away… The newcomer in this case is the Ceylon House of Coffee, an offshoot of the London House of Coffee, which, ironically, is in Colombo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon, as was). Meanwhile the Ceylon House of Coffee is in Guildford, occupying the old American Express building at the bottom of the High Street, a lovely, spacious spot with floor-to-ceiling windows, and plenty of well-separated tables and sofas.

What makes the Ceylon House of Coffee stand out from the crowd is that it only serves coffee from Sri Lanka, with the owner, xxx, attempting to recreate something of Sri Lanka’s heyday as a coffee-producing nation in the mid-19th century. For now, there’s only a single-option on espresso, along with a selection of Sri Lankan tea, plus a wide range of cakes.

The shop, meanwhile, is operating on reduced opening hours while everyone finds their feet, with drinks being served in disposable cups, although the staff are happy to accept customers’ reusable cups, so don’t forget to bring yours along!

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