Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, Paddington Central

What’s The Story?, a washed Ethiopian single-origin espresso from Wegida in Yirgacheffe, served in a glass at the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs Paddington Central branch.I feel that today’s Coffee Spot should be marked by fireworks or something. The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs has a long, distinguished history, opening its first branch on London’s Leather Lane in 2010. Since then it’s gone on to start roasting its own coffee and now has multiple branches in London (14 and counting), Manchester and Bristol, plus several in Chicago. It’s also acquired other operators such as TAP and Tradewind Espresso.

But here’s the thing. While I’ve always loved the coffee, I’ve never loved any of the actual coffee shops (and, believe me, I’ve tried many of them!). Until last week that is, when I walked into the new branch on Kingdom Street in Paddington Central. Quite why this one clicked with me when so many haven’t, I can’t say, but I knew as soon as I walked in the door. It helped that it was across the road from the office I was working in all last week, making me a daily visitor, but it’s that good, I’d go out of my way to visit.

There’s a blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, with two single-origins on batch brew, plus a wide range of cakes and savouries.

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The Black Penny

The front of The Black Penny on London's Great Queen Street, four small tables sheltering under the black awning.In my head, The Black Penny is one of a new crop of London coffee shops which I am slowly getting around to visiting. The reality is that it has been here for a while, having recently celebrated its third birthday. I guess the emphasis in the first sentence really should be on “slowly”. The Black Penny occupies the site of another London stalwart, Salt, which closed at the end of 2013, which might explain why I still think of it as new, long after it has become an established fixture in London’s coffee scene.

Perhaps as well known for its all-day brunch menu as its coffee, The Black Penny occupies a long, thin space, with a magnificent back room providing additional seating. There’s a bespoke house-blend on espresso, plus a single-origin on V60, both roasted for The Black Penny by The Roastery Department, the coffee-roasting arm of the Department of Coffee & Social Affairs.

During the week, there are salads at lunchtime, while there’s cake available through the day, seven days a week. For those that are so inclined, there’s a small selection of wine and beer, as well as an excellent range of soft drinks, plus tea.

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Balance

My flat white, in a glass, at Balance in Brixton.After the venerable Federation Coffee, Balance, on Ferndale Road, is one of the more established names in Brixton’s speciality coffee, recently joined by the likes of Stir Coffee Brixton and Brixton Blend, plus, across the road, the new Volcano/Assembly Roastery. Established in 2014 by the owner, Ali, who I had the pleasure of meeting, Balance is a tightly-focused shop selling espresso-based drinks, with beans from The Roastery Department and Assembly, freshly-blended juices and a small selection of pastries, toasties and sandwiches.

It’s a tiny place too, with just enough space inside for the counter, espresso machine behind, where you can order and wait for your coffee. If you want to sit down, you need to head outside (although you’re welcome to stand at the counter like I did and drink your coffee) where you’ll find a bench and a couple of two-person tables on the pavement.

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TAP, 193 Wardour Street

The trademark (with a small t) bicycle hanging above the door at No 193 Wardour StreetTAP (Tapped and Packed as was) is a chain of three (now four) central London coffee shops. I featured No 114 (Tottenham Court Road) earlier this year and thought it was time for another, the flagship No 193 on Wardour Street. TAP’s reputation is built on its coffee, all roasted in the Probat at the back of No 193. If you want to see it in action, you’ll need to visit on Tuesday (which, ironically, I’ve never managed).

TAP regularly rotates its coffee, having no house blend. At the moment there are two espressos, a blend (for milk) and a single estate (to have black). There are three single origins on the V60 filter: a Guatemalan, an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and a Rwandan Musasa Ruli.

As well as the attraction of watching the coffee roasting, No 193 is a lovely place to sit and drink said coffee. It’s the largest of the three, long and thin, but well-lit by a generous supply of windows. Inside it’s all wood, with bare floorboards and white-washed walls. The only exception is the coffee counter which is metal (albeit with a wooden top). The atmosphere is rounded off with quiet music and the gentle hum of conversation.

December 2017: TAP has been bought by the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs chain. I don’t know what this will mean for TAP and whether it will retain its own unique character, so watch this space!

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TAP, 114 Tottenham Court Road

The famous TAP bicycle above the door at the No. 114 branch on Tottenham Court RoadTAP, or Tapped and Packed as was, is a chain of three coffee shops (now four) in central London. The Tottenham Court Road branch was the first one I tried: I was there in February and again in April. Although TAP was packed (pun intended) and busy both times, I found it a lovely place to sit and chill for a while. I like its look and feel and love many of the little touches, such as the re-use of Black Treacle tins for sugar and jam jars for water. Milk for your filter coffee comes in dinky little glass flasks. Such small things please me.

TAP’s reputation is built on its coffee, particularly its single-origin beans which are rotated on a regular basis (perversely I had espresso; I know, I confuse myself at times). It also does a range of food and cake. Bizarrely, since I was there late on a Wednesday evening for my first visit when all the food was gone, I was told off by the staff and made to promise to come back at lunch time (which I did) so that I could see what else was on offer. You have to admire such passionate employees!

December 2017: TAP has been bought by the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs chain. I don’t know what this will mean for TAP and whether it will retain its own unique character, so watch this space!

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