Fortitude Bakehouse, tucked away in the heart of Bloomsbury behind Russell Square Tube Station, opened in the summer of last year, an event which largely passed me by, perhaps explaining why I left it until the start of this month to pay it a visit. It is, as the name suggests, a bakery, reminding me, in concept at least, of the original Exploding Bakery in Exeter.
There’s a single counter running the entire width of the shop, behind which the bakery bustles away, turning out sourdough sweets and savouries, all of which you’ll find laden on the counter. Even better, at the far end, a Victoria Arduino White Eagle espresso machine dispenses drinks from a concise espresso menu, using a single-origin from Has Bean. Although aimed mostly at the takeaway trade, there’s a small amount of seating inside, while outside on the quiet street, you’ll find six two-person tables.
I first came across Panna in Liverpool at the end of 2015, where owners Ivana and Peter, a friendly, welcoming Slovak couple, had turned a potentially unpromising basement in Silkhouse Court into a lovely, warm, welcoming café. There was some excellent food, along with coffee from Has Bean and local roasters Neighbourhood Coffee.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Silkhouse Court was sold and Ivana and Peter decided to relocate to Chester, opening five weeks ago on 15th August 2019, not long after my previous visit to Chester! In so doing, they’ve moved up in the world, quite literally in fact, swapping a basement for a ground floor space on Chester’s famous Rows on Watergate Street.
The good news is that they’ve brought the same warm, friendly atmosphere with them. For example, although it’s been four years since we last met, I was greeted like a long-lost friend! They’ve also brought the excellent food along in the shape of an all-day brunch menu with plenty of cakes and pastries. And then there’s the coffee, with two Has Bean blends on espresso and multiple guests on filter using a variety of brew methods, including Chemex, V60 and Aeropress.
Chester’s Bean & Cole has been on my radar since it opened in June 2018, but circumstances have always conspired against me. Until now, that is. Occupying a fairly small ground floor shop in a lovely old building on the semi-pedestrianised Frodsham Street, Bean & Cole is part of Chester’s growing speciality coffee scene, which has seen a flurry of openings in the last couple of years.
Bean & Cole serves Has Bean, with the ubiquitous Jailbreak Blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a guest. There are several filter options, including an Aeropress or V60 for one and a Chemex for two. The guest espresso and filter options are drawn from a wide variety of roasters and change every few weeks. There’s also a small selection of loose-leaf tea, a concise brunch menu with the likes of granola and various things on toast, plus a small range of cakes.
Although a semi-regular visitor to Birmingham for many years, I tend to stick fairly close to the centre, coming and going via Birmingham New Street station. For that reason, while I’ve heard much about the excellent coffee scene in Harborne, the suburb to the west of the centre, I’ve never made my way out there. Until Saturday, that is, when, driving up to my Dad’s in North Wales, I realised that it made a good break-point for my journey, provided that I didn’t mind a 15-minute detour.
I therefore made a beeline for The Steam Room, which opened in early 2017 and which I’d heard several good things about. A little to the north of Harborne High Street in a very residential area, it’s a gem, serving weekly single-origins from Has Bean on espresso (including decaf), batch-brew and pour-over, with the decaf being given equal billing on the menu (always nice to see). There’s a decent selection of tea, plus craft beer and ciders, as well as wine by the glass/bottle. If you’re hungry, check out the regular brunch menu, with breakfast and lunch specials on the menu behind the counter, plus a generous cake supply from old friends, Cakesmiths.
Coffee shop chains are strange things. Sometimes places expand quickly, adding shop after shop, building a strong brand name. Other times, a second branch is only added after long, careful consideration. And sometimes, that second branch is so far removed in look and feel from the original that, until the barista tells you about the connection, you are completely clueless.
So it is with Mother Espresso, the Liverpool outpost of Manchester’s finest, North Tea Power, which opened a mere eight years after its parent and is about as different as can be in terms of look and feel. In my defence, as soon as the barista told me, I remembered, having read about the opening at the end of 2017 on social media, but by the time I came to visit, I’d completely forgotten about the connection, the name “Mother Espresso” not exactly screaming “North Tea Power” at me.
Like its parent, Mother Espresso does many things, excelling at them all, from coffee through tea, craft beer, wine and cocktails to an impressive food menu. The coffee is from Has Bean, with a pair of single-origins on espresso (for milk and black drinks respectively), while there’s also pour-over and batch-brew.
Normally, I’m reluctant to feature a pop-up on the Coffee Spot. However, when that pop-up is by renowned roasters, Has Bean, and it’s the first Has Bean coffee shop in 14 years, I’ll make an exception. I also wouldn’t normally visit a shop two days after it had opened, but when it’s only open for 72 days, time is of the essence.
So it was that on Monday, I popped down to Oxford Street to visit Made by Hand Coffee ([H]AND for short). Located on the third floor of the UniQlo clothing store, [H]AND is tucked away at the back, but easy enough to find. There’s a simple coffee bar, grinders at either end, a row of four Kalita Wave filters between them. Personally, in that sort of setting, I prefer standing up at the bar to drink my coffee, but if you want to sit down, there’s a cluster of four sumptuous armchairs around a coffee table (with USB power sockets).
However, the coffee’s the star, with a choice of four single-origin pour-overs. You can pick one or have a tasting flight of three. Similarly there are four teas, with the same offer on the table. And that’s it.
June 2017: [H]AND has now closed. Hopefully it will reappear somewhere at some point in the future, so watch this space!
Panna, located in Liverpool’s business district, just north of the centre, is tucked away in the basement of Silkhouse Court on Tythebarn Street. In a city full of lovely, old Victorian buildings (such as the nearby old Exchange Station), this is a disappointing slice of modern, stark, concrete functionality. The setting notwithstanding, Panna’s a lovely spot and, for somewhere that’s effectively a basement and entirely below street level, it’s surprisingly bright.
Panna opened in 2013, offering baguettes and coffee. However, the offering’s steadily expanded as demand has grown. These days there’s an interesting and innovative breakfast menu (to 11.30) and an equally interesting and innovative all-day brunch/lunch menu, with all the food prepared in the small kitchen behind the counter. Sandwiches are still available, as is a range of cakes and cookies.
The coffee side of Panna has also grown, with Has Bean providing the espresso blend and, since last summer, local roasters Neighbourhood Coffee offering a selection of single-origin filters through the V60. These were introduced to give customers something different from the typical Americanos, Panna being rewarded with a slow migration to pour-over. There’s also an interesting range of alcohol-based coffees and loose-leaf tea, served in individual infusers.
August 2019: Panna has now closed its doors at Silkhouse Court following the sale of the building and relocated to Chester, where you can find it on Watergate Street.
To mark my return to the UK, Monday’s Coffee Spot is somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for all most as long as I’ve been doing the Coffee Spot. Expresso Base is in the courtyard of St George’s Church, near the British Museum and just across the way from the original site of Wild & Wood. It’s easy enough to miss and is closed over the weekend, which might go some way to explaining how I’ve managed to not go there for almost four years (which, incidentally, is how long Expresso Base has been going, having opened a few months before I started the Coffee Spot).
Essentially an outdoor café, Expresso Base occupies the right-hand side of the churchyard, with plenty of seating and a gazebo at the back which houses the two-group La Marzocco. If it’s raining, additional umbrellas, etc, can be put up to provide shelter, but on a sunny day, there’s nothing better than sitting on one of the wooden benches and enjoying your coffee in the sun. The coffee, from Has Bean, is always a single-origin and changes on a regular basis, while there’s a small selection of cake if you are hungry. There’s also a guest roaster which changes every week.
Lemana, in Lymington, just outside the New Forest, has been a favourite of mine since my first visit in November 2013. A friendly, family-run, community-based café in a small town, it had excellent food and outstanding cakes, plus one of the warmest welcomes you’ll find. The only thing I didn’t rave about was the coffee.
However, when I heard on twitter that Lemana had started serving coffee from Staffordshire legends, Has Bean, my ears perked up. A return visit was quickly pencilled in as part of my annual trip to Naish, just along the coast from Lymington (which, contrary to my initial belief, is in Hampshire, not Dorset).
The switch to Has Bean is the most obvious of the changes, which have included taking a range of loose-leaf tea from Dorchester’s Gilded Teapot. Fortunately the warm welcome, excellent food and outstanding cakes remain, while other changes have been more subtle.
The original 6/8 Kafé (now sadly closed), one of Birmingham’s first specialty coffee shops, was a cosy, compact spot on Temple Row, right in the centre. The new 6/8 Kafé is about as far away from that as you can get in almost every respect except that both serve excellent coffee. Located in Birmingham’s new Millennium Point development, the new 6/8 is filling a valuable niche: serving speciality coffee in a mass-market setting.
Millennium Point is a science centre extraordinaire, housing Birmingham’s Thinktank science museum and faculties from both Birmingham City University and Birmingham Metropolitan College. And 6/8 Kafé. Frankly, I take my hat off to Devinder, 6/8’s owner, both for getting such a high-profile spot and for having the bravery to go for it. It’s exactly the sort of spot you’d expect to see a run-of-the-mill chain, so it’s refreshing to see somewhere serving excellent coffee.
And make no mistake, although Millennium Point lacks the original 6/8 Kafé’s cosy atmosphere, the quality’s every bit as good. The only compromise is dispensing with hand-pour filters, sticking instead to a single Has Bean blend on espresso. That said, it’s a pleasant place to sit and drink your coffee or quickly refuel before/after visiting Thinktank.