I’m always surprised that there aren’t more speciality coffee shops in barbershops/hairdressers since they seem a natural fit to me. That said, London’s been at the forefront of this particular niche, ever since the first incarnation of Sharps Coffee Bar on Windmill Street. The latest entrant is Dark Woods Coffee x Ruffians on Maiden Lane, just south of Covent Garden.
Ruffians is a small barbershop chain, originating in Edinburgh, with this, it’s first London outpost, opening eight years ago. The coffee, in that respect, is a recent innovation, starting with a small pour-over bar before really taking off last spring with the addition of the Sanremo espresso machine, which coincided with the move to Dark Woods Coffee.
The result is a lovely little coffee bar at the front of the barbershop, with a concise espresso-based menu, pour-over and a small retail selection. Everything is served in disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own, although you’re welcome to one of the four yellow stools at the windows at the front, or the bench outside.
Today’s Coffee Spot has been a long time coming, three years in fact, which is how long it’s been since Marmalade opened Holywell, the town where I was born and grew up. I’ve been a customer since it first opened in 2018, but travel and then the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way, and despite many visits on my returns to Holywell, it never seemed the right time to write it up. Until now, that is.
Marmalade is on Holywell High Street, literally at the entrance to the mews leading to the Coffee Bean, home of Sarah’s Caring Coffee. There’s not much to Marmalade, with almost as much seating outside on the broad pavement (three tables) as there is inside (a pair of tables and two window-bars). The coffee is from Dark Woods Coffee, with a standard espresso-based menu, while there are neat breakfast and lunch menus, plus plenty of cake.
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.
Although I don’t visit Chester that often, Moss Coffee, conveniently located between the bus and railway stations, has become a handy calling point when I’m in the city and in need of coffee before I catch my train. Like everyone else, Moss closed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, before reopening to provide a takeaway-only service, a decision largely dictated by the size/shape of the shop. Naturally, when I visited Chester on Friday, Moss Coffee was high on my list, and I was delighted to be able to call in, catching up with the owner, Daniel, over a flat white.
Other than Daniel wearing a mask, the only obvious change is the absence of seating. The stools are no longer at either the counter or the bar at the back, while the table in the window is similarly gone. Other than that, Moss looks (and is) remarkably similar, with Dark Woods still gracing the espresso machine, although since my last visit, Daniel has added batch brew to the menu, using the Sage Precision automated brewer. More good news, while Daniel only serves takeaway, Moss Coffee is one of the few places that is currently accepting customers’ own reusable cups.
Tib Street, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter (itself replete with multiple speciality coffee shops) is a busy place. At one end, there’s the venerable North Tea Power, while if you progress northeast, you’ll soon reach newcomers, Just Between Friends Coffee, closely followed by the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Siop Shop, across the road from the recently-closed Ezra To Go.
Siop Shop is a relative newcomer itself, having been open for precisely one week when I was last in Manchester (for the 2017 Manchester Coffee Festival). As a result, it didn’t quite make my radar, but on my return this year, it was high on my list. For those that don’t know, Siop (pronounced “shop”) is Welsh for shop. Iwan, who owns Siop Shop along with his partner, Lucy, is Welsh, Siop Shop providing a small slice of Wales in Manchester, complete with bilingual signs. You can even say hello and order in Welsh if you like!
Siop Shop made its name through its awesome doughnuts, but there’s also full breakfast and lunch menus, plus cake and sandwiches. Local roaster, Dark Woods, provides a bespoke house-blend (Coffi Coffee) on espresso, while there’s a daily guest on espresso and another on V60.
Having grown up just over the border in North Wales, Chester is, in many ways, my home city. I frequently pass though on my way to/from my Dad’s, but rarely stop, partly due to circumstance, but also because, when it comes to coffee, there’s not much to entice me to get off one stop earlier at Chester Station. However, with the arrival of the likes of Moss Coffee, that’s slowly changing.
Chester has struggled a little with speciality coffee. Apart from the well-established The Barista’s and Jaunty Goat, coffee shops, such as Moon Beer & Coffee, have tended to come and go. Hopefully Moss Coffee can buck that trend. It’s off to good start, serving an espresso-based menu with the Arboretum blend from Dark Woods, along with a small selection of locally-baked cakes. The owner, Daniel, is keeping things simple for now, with plans to expand in the future.
June 2020: Moss Coffee has reopened for takeaway coffee. You can see what I made of it when I visited at the start of August.
One of two outlets for La Bottega Milanese in Leeds, the branch in the Light pre-dates the recently-opened branch in Bond Court. Naturally, this being the Coffee Spot, I visited them in reverse order, first calling into Bond Court before venturing to The Light (which is a shopping and retail centre built around the old headquarters building of the Leeds Permanent Building Society).
The Light itself is a wonderful structure, of soaring brick facades and glass ceilings. La Bottega Milanese occupies a corner spot on the ground floor, just by the escalators up to the cinema. You can sit “outside” on the street without having to worry about being rained on, since it’s all enclosed by a glass ceiling.
If you’ve read my piece on Bond Court, you’ll already be familiar with La Bottega Milanese’s offering. If not, La Bottega Milanese expertly blends Italian espresso tradition with modern, third-wave roasting know-how from Dark Woods (having previously used Grumpy Mule until the start of 2016). The food’s pretty decent too: in the morning, pastries and other breakfast goodies, replaced at lunch by sandwiches and salads, which in turn give way to cake in the afternoon. Finally, come evening, there are small plates, tapas and beer/wine. Truly a café for all occasions!
June 2020: I heard the sad news that La Bottega Milanese has had to close its espresso bar at The Light, although Bond Court is still going strong.
Bringing the best of Milanese espresso bar culture to Leeds might be one way of describing La Bottega Milanese. However you care to describe it though, there’s a distinctly modern, Italian feel to the new branch of La Bottega Milanese on Bond Court, which I was fortunate enough to visit back in June, a few weeks after it opened.
Compared to the intimate charm of, say, Laynes Espresso (before it’s expansion in 2017), or the brick-and-wood grandeur of Mrs Atha’s, La Bottega Milanese is a different kettle of fish entirely. It also doesn’t have a basement! On the other hand, few can boast a 26-seat communal table, which is clearly the pride and joy of owner, Alex, nor do they have the generous outside seating that Bond Court affords La Bottega Milanese.
La Bottega Milanese blends Italian espresso tradition with modern, third-wave roasting know-how to produce a really lovely cup of coffee courtesy of local roasters, Grumpy Mule (although La Bottega has now switched roasters to Dark Woods at the start of 2016). The food’s pretty decent too: in the morning, pastries and other breakfast goodies, replaced at lunch by sandwiches and salads, which in turn give way to cake in the afternoon. Finally, come evening, there are small plates, tapas and beer/wine. Truly a café for all occasions!