The speciality coffee scene in and around Earl’s Court and Hammersmith has really taken off in the last few years, led by the likes of Over Under Coffee, with the original opposite Earl’s Court station and its shoebox-sized addition at West Brompton. Pretty much slap bang between the two is Black Rabbit Speciality Coffee, a relatively new addition to the area, which opened last year.
Occupying a sunny corner on the north side of Old Brompton Road, it’s a small, but charming spot, flooded with light from large windows along the front and left-hand sides. If you don’t mind the traffic, you can sit outside at one of two pavement tables, or you can retreat inside, where there’s a similar number of tables, plus a couple of window-bars.
The coffee is from old friends Allpress, with the standard Allpress blend, plus decaf, on espresso, while there’s a regularly-changing guest roaster on batch-brew. Although it’s small, that doesn’t limit Black Rabbit’s ambition, with a decent selection of cake on the counter, plus impressive breakfast, brunch, sandwich, salad and wrap menus. If you’re wondering how the staff manage it, there’s a kitchen tucked away in the basement (but, alas, no seating).
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic may have caused a country-wide closure of coffee shops this spring, but that hasn’t stopped a growing number of brave entrepreneurs from opening new coffee shops. Chief amongst these are siblings Grace and Victoria, who had originally planned to open Queens of Mayfair, their high-end coffee shop located, appropriated enough, in Mayfair, back in March 2020. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t happen, but despite the COVID-19 setback, they carried on, with Queens opening in August instead.
Queens is an upscale venue, offering table service, a brunch menu until 3:30 pm and a “nibbles” menu in the evening. There’s cake, of course, plus hot chocolate, tea and a fully-stocked bar offering cocktails and other delights. However, it was the coffee that made the headlines, even catching the interest of the mainstream press. The reason? The UK’s most expensive cup of coffee, coming in at £50 a serving!
This is something so special that it has a Saturday Supplement all of its own. In the meantime, this Coffee Spot focuses on Queens as a coffee shop, where you can order from the more affordable espresso-based menu, based around a Brazilian Daterra, roasted for Queens by Difference Coffee.
I’ve known about Carbon Kopi ever since it opened almost exactly a year ago, on October 8th, 2019. The owners invited me to visit, but my travel schedule being what it was, I couldn’t take them up on the offer. Then, on Tuesday, I unexpectedly found myself in Earl’s Court, a 15-minute walk from Carbon Kopi, so I knew what I had to do.
Carbon Kopi is on Margravine Road, in a quiet, residential part of Hammersmith, standing on a shady corner at the junction with Gastein Road. There’s a small outdoor seating area at the front, a light-filled main area, with a cosy nook off to the side, and a larger, partially-covered outdoor seating area at the back.
Square Mile is on espresso, although rather than the ubiquitous Red Brick, there’s a seasonal single-origin which changes every two to three months. A monthly guest roaster provides two batch brew options, while if you’re hungry, there’s soup of the day, a small selection of toasted sandwiches and a range of very tempting cakes, all on display on the counter. Just be aware that because of COVID-19 restrictions, Carbon Kopi only uses disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.
Over Under Coffee, which seems to specialise in tiny coffee shops, has done much to bring speciality coffee to Earl’s Court/Hammersmith in West London, starting in 2017 with the original, opposite Earl’s Court Station. After branching out with a slightly larger coffee shop in Ham Yard, just off Piccadilly, which closed almost exactly two years ago at the end of October 2018, Over Under returned to its roots, the subject of today’s Saturday Short opening just outside West Brompton Station in January 2019. Since then, there have been two more Over Unders in London (Ladbroke Grove and Wandsworth Town) and one in Manchester.
Over Under Coffee at West Brompton is even smaller than the ones that came before it, the tiny interior offering standing room only, with just two small stools on the pavement outside. Despite this, there’s a concise espresso-based menu, backed up with batch brew filter, the coffee, as always, coming from Assembly. Even more impressively, given the size, is the brunch menu, cooked in the kitchen downstairs, plus various pastries and filled croissants.
It takes a special business to open in the middle of a global pandemic, which is exactly what The Collective, in Caversham, did. In fairness, the plan had been to open a lot earlier, but in a story I hear all too often, there were problems with the fit out and then, just as The Collective was due to open in March, along came the COVID-19 shutdown.
Many would have given up at that point, but not Caversham residents, Sam and Susie, the driving force behind The Collective. Instead they pushed on, The Collective opening in June, initially for takeaway only, before fully opening for table service in mid-September. There’s a brunch menu, which is joined at 11 o’clock by the lunch and toastie menus, all the food cooked in the open kitchen behind the counter. This is backed up by a concise espresso-based menu featuring Extract Coffee Roasters’s Rocket espresso.
Anonymous Coffee Co., which is located inside the Tasting House on Chain Street, in the heart of Reading, is the latest venture of old friend of the Coffee Spot, Phil Carter. Technically, Anonymous extends no further than the neat wooden counter just inside the door, but in reality you’re free to roam anywhere over the Tasting House’s two floors, including the large upstairs seating area. The Tasting House, by the way, is a wine merchant/wine bar with a range of wines on (self-service) tap, so you can try multiple wines in one sitting if you want.
Returning to Anonymous, there are two options on espresso (“comfort” and “adventure”) with two more on pour-over through the V60. One espresso and one filter come from Union Hand-roasted, with the others coming from a regularly-changing guest roaster (during my visit, it was Walthamstow’s finest, Wood St Coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cakes available from Anonymous, or you can have something from the Tasting House kitchen, which offers toasties, charcuterie, crostini and various bar snacks.
It’s typical. I go away for a couple of weeks and someone opens a coffee shop in Guildford. I think every opening in the last three years has been while I’ve been away… The newcomer in this case is the Ceylon House of Coffee, an offshoot of the London House of Coffee, which, ironically, is in Colombo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon, as was). Meanwhile the Ceylon House of Coffee is in Guildford, occupying the old American Express building at the bottom of the High Street, a lovely, spacious spot with floor-to-ceiling windows, and plenty of well-separated tables and sofas.
What makes the Ceylon House of Coffee stand out from the crowd is that it only serves coffee from Sri Lanka, with the owner, xxx, attempting to recreate something of Sri Lanka’s heyday as a coffee-producing nation in the mid-19th century. For now, there’s only a single-option on espresso, along with a selection of Sri Lankan tea, plus a wide range of cakes.
The shop, meanwhile, is operating on reduced opening hours while everyone finds their feet, with drinks being served in disposable cups, although the staff are happy to accept customers’ reusable cups, so don’t forget to bring yours along!
In many ways, COVID-19 was a blessing in disguise for Chris and Monika, the Swedish couple behind Surrey Hills Coffee. Temporarily released from the day-to-day grind of running the coffee shop, they were able to focus on the roastery, realising that this was their true passion. When the COVID-19 restrictions were eased in England, allowing the coffee shop to reopen, Chris and Monika had a decision to make. They didn’t want to close the coffee shop, but they also didn’t want to go back to the day-to-day management.
Fortunately, the solution presented itself in the shape of Koja, which opened on Thursday, 13th August, initially for takeaway only, but with plans for sit-in service in due course.
Today’s Coffee Spot marks something of a first for me. Up until now, I’ve been revisiting existing Coffee Spots as they reopen following England’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions. In contrast, The Gardens of Caversham, the latest venture from Reading’s Workhouse Coffee, is somewhere I’ve never been before, although I’ve been aware of it since it opened early last year. So, when I was in Reading last week, I headed across the Thames to say hello.
The Gardens of Caversham is on the right-hand side as you go north over Caversham Bridge, directly opposite the junction with the A4074. Initially it reopened for takeaway service in June, reopening the indoor seating just two weeks ago, although the staff said that the current seating provision is considerably reduced compared to pre-COVID times. The coffee offering, however, is as extensive as ever, with a healthy selection of beans for sale as well, all roasted in-house.
When it comes to food, there’s a wide range of cakes and pre-prepared savouries, all baked in the kitchen at the back, although the more extensive breakfast and lunch menus are on hold for now. Also, keep an eye on opening times, which are under constant review.
Just before the full onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent a day exploring Wicker Park, one of many Chicago neighbourhood clustered along Milwaukee Avenue. I visited three coffee shops along the way, Fairgrounds Craft Coffee and Tea, Purple Llama (now sadly permanently closed) and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Intelligentsia. It’s appropriate that, in the week that I wrote about Canopy Coffee, the first coffee shop I visited since the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, that I should also feature the last coffee shop I visited before COVID-19 forced many coffee shops to close.
As regular readers know, I have a soft spot for Intelligentsia, one of Chicago’s pioneering roaster/coffee shop chains. I first visited its coffee bar in the Monadnock Building on Jackson Boulevard in 2003, long before my Coffee Spot days. The Wicker Park location is a more recent addition, occupying an open, light-filled space on the ground floor of an apartment block on the corner of Division and Ashland. There’s the usual Intelligentsia offering of coffee, Kilogram tea, cakes/savouries and a large retail selection. There are three espresso options: Black Cat, single-origin and decaf, while pour-over and batch-brew each have their own single-origin.