Little Woodfords (COVID-19)

The front of Little Woodfords on Congress Street in Portland, Maine, proudly flying its Progress Pride flag.I’ve been a fan of Little Woodfords in Portland, Maine, ever since I first visited in the summer of 2019. I was therefore rather worried when I heard, in July 2020, that it was forced to move from its original location in Woodfords Corner to a much smaller spot on Congress Street in downtown Portland. Fortunately, while this has meant an inevitable change of character, the friendly, inclusive welcome of the original, plus the awesome coffee from Vermont’s Vivid Coffee Roasters, remains as Amanda and I discovered on our visit last month.

The offering is much as it was as before, with a single option on espresso, batch brew and flash brew (a pour-over over ice, akin to a Japanese iced coffee). The coffee changes on a seasonal basis, and there’s also tea, hot cocoa and several latte-based specials. If you’re hungry, there’s a small, vegetarian/vegan breakfast menu, with various toppings on bagels/biscuits. While Little Woodfords has a small indoor seating (standing?) area at the front, it’s currently takeout-only due to COVID-19, although you’re welcome to sit outside, where you’ll find a bench out front, with a couple of picnic tables down the side, which catch the afternoon sun.

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Speckled Ax, Thames (COVID-19)

A lovely cappuccino, made with the Honduras El Cedro, a honey processed coffee, served in a classic white cup at Speckled Ax, Thames Street in Portland, Main.On my first trip to Portland, in June 2015, Speckled Ax was one of three coffee shop/roasters that I visited (the others being Tandem Coffee and Bard). Back then, Speckled Ax just had a single coffee shop on Congress Street, but in early 2020, two new locations opened, a coffee bar on Walton Street (attached to a new roastery) and a large café on the waterfront at Thames Street.

I’d planned to visit Portland in March 2020, but sadly the COVID-19 pandemic ruled that out, preventing me from returning for another 18 months. However, the travel restrictions were eased in November 2021, and I was finally able to return to America and to Portland, where I paid a long overdue visit to the new Thames location.

Speckled Ax occupies a spacious ground floor unit with views across Thames Street to the harbour. At the time of writing, the space is effectively split into two, with a takeaway section to the right, while the seating is at the front on the left. There’s a limited coffee menu (which still manages to offer two espresso options and two on batch brew filter), while the kitchen provides a concise breakfast and lunch menu.

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MyCloud Coffee (COVID-19)

A V60 pour-over being made using a gooseneck kettle at MyCloud Coffee.MyCloud Coffee is a family-run coffee shop that, according to its address, is in Ascot, although the immediate area, in spirit at least, considers itself part of Sunningdale. Just south of the A329, which connects Virginia Water (east) and Ascot (west), it sits on Silwood Road at the Sunningdale’s northern edge, part of a row of shops on the eastern side of the road.

Opening in 2015, MyCloud serves Square Mile coffee and other goodies. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it offered inside seating, but due to current restrictions, it’s decided to remain takeaway-only for the foreseeable future. There’s a standard espresso-based menu, plus pour-over, tea (from Brew Tea Co) and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate, along with a selection of pastries, cakes and pre-made sandwiches.

If you want a seat, a row of three tables outside on the pavement faces a line of tall, mature trees on the other side of the road. If you sit here, you’ll get a proper cup, but otherwise, it’s disposable cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.

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Open Grounds Café Update

An espresso in a classic blue cup at Open Grounds CafeOpen Grounds Café was one of the surprising number of speciality coffee shops which sprung up in Guildford during the COVID-19 pandemic. I visited not long after it first opened in December last year, during that brief period when sit-in customers were allowed in the run-up to Christmas. Then came further COVID-19 restrictions and Open Grounds switched to a takeaway operation.

I returned in April after the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions allowed coffee shops to serve customers at outdoor seating, something that Open Grounds, with its large terrace, was ideally placed to take advantage of. You still had to go inside to order, taking you through the equally large interior, which was off-limits until the COVID-19 restrictions were further relaxed in mid-May, allowing indoor service to restart. Giving Open Grounds a couple of weeks to settle in, I returned at the start of June to reacquaint myself with the wonderfully spacious interior.

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Bruin Café (COVID-19)

James, a barista at Bruin Café in Wheatley, making a V60 of the Trés Barras from Origin.Today’s Saturday Short will do little to dispel Thinking Bean’s suspicion that all I do is drive along the M40, looking for coffee shops, since it is another gem that I discovered on my drive to North Wales exactly one week ago today. The place in question, Bruin Café, is in Wheatley, less than 10 minutes’ drive from Junctions 8/8A on the M40.

Physically, there’s not a lot to Bruin Café. It’s small enough to make it impractical for the owner, Louis, to reopen the indoor seating while social distancing restrictions remain in place. Instead, Louis and his colleagues serve from a converted hatch in the door. However, being small is no limit to Bruin Café’s ambition and it has an output that would put many larger coffee shops to shame.

The coffee is from Cornwall’s Origin and, at the other end of the scale, the Cotswolds’ Quintessential Coffee Roasters. I counted at least 10 single-origins across the two roasters during my visit, and while Louis will happily suggest something for you, all the coffees are available as pour-overs (plus espresso and that day’s batch brew). There’s also tea, a full hot food menu and plenty of cakes, all baked onsite.

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FLTR Coffee (COVID-19)

The FLTR Coffee logo at the back of FLTR Coffee in Bicester.In my on-going search for alternatives to the motorway services, my eyes alighted on FLTR Coffee during my drive to North Wales last Saturday. Located in Langford Village, on the southeastern outskirts of Bicester, it’s conveniently less than 10 minutes’ drive from J9 of the M40 to the south, under 15 minutes from J10 to the north and, if you’re coming by public transport, a short (15 minutes) walk from Bicester Village Station. Part of a small parade of shops in an outdoor shopping centre, there’s ample free parking.

FLTR Coffee, which is owned by a church called Journey Communities, was made possible by donations from various charitable organisations, churches, neighbours and friends. When it comes to coffee, the house roaster is Dark Woods Coffee, so you know that you’re in excellent hands. During my visit, Dark Woods was on the concise espresso menu, while both options on pour-over (V60) were from Dark Woods too. Meanwhile, local roaster, Oxford’s NewGround Coffee, is on decaf, with FLTR Coffee offering a selection of tea and hot chocolate as well. If you are hungry, there are toast and toasted teacakes for breakfast, plus a range of toasties and cakes to tempt you.

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Coopers Roastery & Coffee Bar (COVID-19)

My flat white, made with the Jabbajaws blend at Coopers Roastery & Coffee Bar, served in a classic blue cup and enjoyed inside for the first time in 2021!Coopers Roastery & Coffee Bar has been on my radar for many years, but it’s one of those places that’s not too easy for me to get to without a car. However, last weekend I found myself with a car and in need of somewhere to stop for breakfast on my drive along the M40. Suddenly, Coopers became a very attractive option.

Occupying an old garage in a small industrial area at the eastern end of Marlow, Coopers Roastery & Coffee Bar is exactly what the name suggests, with the coffee roasters sitting at the back of a large, open space, while the coffee bar is on the left. However, it’s also a lot more than that, since you can add kitchen (in a separate room at the back), lounge (plenty of seating) and dog-friendly to the list.

Turning to coffee, Coopers offers its house blend, Jabbajaws, decaf and a featured coffee (currently a Brazilian single-origin) on espresso or filter as V60, AeroPress or Chemex (for two). There’s also Tregothnan Tea from Cornwall and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate, plus a concise brunch menu, backed up by a selection of cakes, all of which can be enjoyed sitting inside or out.

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Coffee Station (COVID-19)

A classic flat white, made with Ozone's Empire Blend and served in a classic cup at Coffee Station in Hammersmith.Today’s Coffee Spot was a chance discovery during last week’s Coffee Spot of tour Chiswick. Having been lured over the border into Hammersmith by my friend Adele’s recommendation of Coffee Notes, I was actually on my way there when I walked past Coffee Station and thought “that looks interesting”. So in I went and the rest, as they say, is history.

Coffee Station occupies a modest spot on the south side of King Street in Hammersmith, with a small outside seating area, but the true delight is inside, where the look and feel reminded me of Curio Espresso and Vintage Design in Kanazawa. I visited while Coffee Station was restricted to outside seating only, so was denied the best part of the shop, the large, bright seating area at the back, where the furniture (handmade by the owner) sits under a large skylight with a living wall as a backdrop.

The coffee is from Ozone, the Empire Blend being served from a standard espresso menu, along with a selection of Suki Tea. There are also various smoothies and freshly squeezed juice, while if you’re hungry, there’s a small but classic brunch menu, various salads and a range of cakes.

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Electric Coffee Co., Goldhawk Road (COVID-19)

A flat white in my HuskeeCup at Electric Coffee Co. on Goldhawk RoadBack in the day, before I’d started the Coffee Spot, Ealing’s Electric Coffee Co. was one of a handful of speciality coffee shops in London. Fast forward 10+ years, and it’s fair to say that it’s now one of a handful of speciality coffee shops in Ealing, such has been the growth of the London scene. And that’s not the only thing that’s been growing. Since opening in 2008, Electric Coffee Co. has expanded its original coffee shop, started its own roasting operation, opened a second location (in St John’s Wood) and now there’s a third, on Goldhawk Road.

When I visited last week, seating was limited to the four outside tables, but as of this morning, the interior seating should be open, including the multi-roomed basement and the sunny room at the back. There are also plans for a small, outdoor terrace accessed through the basement. The coffee offering is fairly simple, with a concise espresso-based menu featuring the Rocket 88 blend. This is backed up by a range of toasted sandwiches and other savouries, plus cakes. Retail bags of coffee are for sale, where they’re joined, unusually, by a small range of Italian groceries.

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The Coffee Traveller (COVID-19)

A classic espresso in a classic black cup, served at The Coffee Traveller in Chiswick.Having started my coffee tour of Chiswick at Chief Coffee, I then inadvertently spent the rest of it in Hammersmith, so I thought it best that my final stop should be The Coffee Traveller, a lovely spot by the Thames and very much in Chiswick. Located on Thames Road, a quiet street in a residential area, it’s in a row of eight terrace houses with shops on the ground floor and has a lovely, quirky interior which, come Monday, you’ll be able to sit in again. Until then, you have to sit outside, where you’ll find a pair of old school desks on the pavement, under the shade of an awning. Best of all, however, is the secret garden at the back, a wonderfully relaxing spot, the perfect place to end a long day spent visiting coffee shops.

The coffee is from old friends, Caravan, the Daily Blend served from a standard espresso menu, along with tea, hot chocolate and smoothies, plus craft beer and wine by the glass or bottle. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, the kitchen at the back offers the like of pancakes and omelettes to go with filled croissants, bagels, rolls and sandwiches, plus lots of cake.

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