Espresso Base

An espresso at London's Expresso Base, in an interesting, ribbed, handleless cupTo 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.

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Lemana Café Update

A Has Bean coffee sack hanging from the counter at Lemana Coffee & Kitchen.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.

November 2018: since I wrote this update, Lemana has changed hands and now uses local roaster, Coffee Monger’s Roasting Company. To see what else has changed, see my latest Coffee Spot Update.

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6/8 Kafé, Millennium Point

The 6/8 Kafé logo, the numbers "6/8" in black, with the words "six eight" in red beneath them.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.

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Fernandez & Wells, Somerset House

A stumpy (a sort of mini flat white), in a glass, sitting in the sun in the courtyard of Somerset House at Fernandez and WellsAlmost a year after featuring Fernandez & Wells for the first time, with the delightful Exhibition Road branch, I thought it about time that I got around to writing up the Somerset House branch, where I’ve been a semi-regular visitor through the year. Set within Somerset House itself, with stunning views of the courtyard and, in the summer, copious outside seating, it’s one of the most physically appealing Coffee Spots that I’ve been to. Inside, high ceilings and large windows give it an immense sense of light and space, while multiple rooms, on a par with Paris’ La Caféothèque, means that there’s something for everyone.

A cross between wine-bar, deli and coffee shop, F&W’s food and coffee are as outstanding as the setting. Somerset House has a similar offering to Exhibition Road, with perhaps a slightly more extensive menu, which never fails to amaze and delight me. The coffee’s from Has Bean, with a bespoke house-blend on espresso. Open late into the evenings, it’s the perfect spot for an after-hours coffee or a bite to eat and while I haven’t tried it, the wine selection looks excellent. In the summer, it’s one of the best outdoor cafés in London.

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Mrs Atha’s

The Mrs Atha's Logo: the words "Mrs Atha's" in gold capitals, with the words "Coffee & Tea" written beneath, all above the word "Leeds" written in script.On the pedestrianised Central Road, located, appropriately enough, right in the centre of Leeds, is the delightful Mrs Atha’s, perhaps one of the most complete coffee shops I’ve been to in ages. With a lovely interior, cosy little basement and small outside seating area, there’s plenty of seating options.

The coffee is provided by stalwarts Has Bean, with a house-blend, the charmingly-named “Mrs Atha’s Little Tipple”, on espresso and a single-origin on filter. There’s also a selection of single-origin filters from regularly-rotating guest roasters, quite often from Europe. Typically, I arrived the day before Mrs Atha’s new espresso machine, a Slayer no less, was due to be installed! Tea drinkers are also well catered for, with a wide selection of loose-leaf tea from Postcard Teas.

As good as the coffee (and tea) is, Mrs Atha’s is just as much about food, with a comprehensive all-day breakfast menu complimenting lunch and a selection of (very) specials, all of which are prepared in the basement kitchen. Add to that a wide range of extremely tempting cakes and you can’t really go wrong.

There is, by the way, a Mrs Atha: she’s the grandmother of the three brothers who own Mrs Atha’s.

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Brew Lab: Update

The (initially) bewildering coffee menu at Brew Lab. It all seems so simple now...Continuing from last week’s update on Wild & Wood Coffee, I present another of my Coffee Spot Updates, this time from my recent trip to Edinburgh. I first visited Brew Lab during my Coffee Spot tour of Edinburgh in December 2012. Back then, Brew Lab had just opened and it had a real impact on me. With its emphasis on filter coffee and various brew methods, each chosen for a specific bean, I felt the sort of sense of confusion when looking at the menu that someone who wants a “white coffee” must experience in a modern coffee shop…

When I returned at the end of April, a mere 16 months later, I was keen to see what had, and hadn’t, changed at Brew Lab. Well, the answer, much as it had been with Wild & Wood, was “very little”. The Slayer was still there, looking very sexy on the counter (although it’s since been replaced by a Black Eagle), Brew Lab was as busy as ever, and the interior still looked as if the decorators had downed tools and walked off mid-job…

However, there have been a couple of significant changes and one of them is quite important…

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Fernandez & Wells, Exhibition Road

The right-hand side of Fernandez & Wells on Exhibition Road, as seen from across the street.Fernandez & Wells is a small London-based chain with six (so far) branches, the original two in Soho, one in Somerset House, this one on South Kensington’s Exhibition Road and, since 2014, two more in London. A cross between wine-bar, deli and coffee shop, F&W offers a similar experience to Notes, albeit in (slightly) less grand surroundings.

The Exhibition Road branch opened in late 2012. On a pleasant, (almost) pedestrianised street, packed with cafes and restaurants, F&W fits right in, serving excellent coffee (roasted by Has Bean), an extensive wine list and an interesting array of dishes, with a strong focus on cured meats and cheeses, both of which you can buy to takeaway. The cakes are also pretty impressive and there was even a Slayer! (Although that’s now long gone.)

F&W has been on my radar for a while, although I’ve never actually managed to track one down until just before Christmas. However, with several hours to kill one Wednesday evening, the appeal of a coffee shop that does food and is open until 10 o’clock in the evening (shades of Notes again) was obvious. I was sufficiently impressed to come back again in the New Year for lunch…

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CoffeeWorks Project

The Slayer at Coffee Works Project, complete with bottomless portafiller, in actionLiterally a stone’s throw away from Monday’s Coffee Spot, Islington’s Tinderbox, we find relative newcomer, the CoffeeWorks Project, which recently celebrated its first birthday. In fact, you could see Tinderbox from the CoffeeWorks Project’s front window and vice-versa, were it not for the brick-built arcade, now occupied by a Jack Wills, which separates Islington’s Upper Street (Tinderbox) from the High Street (CoffeeWorks Project).

The CoffeeWorks Project, as the name implies, is all about the coffee, although that shouldn’t detract from the excellent sandwiches and cakes, plus the quirky layout and lovely garden (sadly closed in the winter). However, pride of place goes to the Slayer espresso machine, the only one in London and one of (I believe) just four in the country. Using this beauty, owner Peter and his team get the best out of their Has Bean coffee, throwing some very impressive pour-overs into the mix.

While I was there, the CoffeeWorks Project had two espresso single-origins, plus a decaf single-origin, to go with another three single-origin pour-over options and a bulk-brew filter thrown in for good measure. I did my best to sample them all, but may well have to return for another go!

December 2016: The CoffeeWorks Project is now a mini-chain with three branches (this, Leadenhall Market and Blackfriars Road) and, since the summer, it has been roasting all its own coffee.

September 2018: Good news and bad news. The CoffeeWorks Project is now a mini-chain with five branches, but sadly the Leadenhall Market branch has had to close.

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Vagabond N7

The interior of Vagabond N7, looking from just inside the door to the counter.How did it take me this long to visit the delightful Vagabond N7? For those not in the know, Vagabond N7 is the bigger offshoot of Vagabond N4, sitting on the Holloway Road at the north end of Islington. One of the gems of the London coffee scene, that I even visited it at all is down to The Café Cat who invited me along to talk coffee, café culture and Wales. I can’t even claim ignorance since my fellow coffee-bloggers have been raving about it for a while now…

What I’ve been missing is a lovely place with that just-moved-in-and-haven’t-decorated-yet unfinished look that is all the rage in trendy coffee shops. It’s the sort of look that, if you get it wrong, you just look naff, a wannabe trend-setter who missed the boat. Of course, if you get it right, like Vagabond, it looks the most natural thing in the world.

It helps that the coffee, from Has Bean, is excellent and the barista, Gabriel, is knowledgeable, passionate and committed. Rather disturbingly, it was the third Has Bean I’d had in a week that I liked and the first that I’d positively raved about. I think I’ve gone mad…

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The Barista’s, Chester

The logo of The Barista's, ChesterI’d describe The Barista’s in Chester (the apostrophe leaving me asking “the Barista’s what?”) as an old-fashioned coffee shop (“old-fashioned” meaning a mere 10 years ago!). Set in the bottom of an old building on Chester’s historic Watergate Street, it’s a lovely, relaxing place, with bare stone and brick walls belying the age of building (it dates from the 17th century, if not earlier).

As a venue, it’s worth it just for the experience, especially if, like me, you appreciate old buildings. There are also a couple of tables outside on the pavement; on a sunny day, I can see sitting outside being a great option, the pedestrianised Watergate Street making a very pleasant backdrop.

The Barista’s serves Has Bean, so you know that the coffee’s going to be more than just run-of-the-mill. In fact, The Barista’s achieved the unique distinction of serving me a Has Bean espresso which I drank without pulling a face! There is, as they say, a first time for everything!

Add to that a fairly typical coffee shop range of cake, sandwiches, Panini, soup and a less-than-typical selection of flatbreads and you have a credible alternative to the coffee chains in the heart of Chester.

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