Although it was Sam’s Coffee that brought me to Llangollen at the end of May, while I was doing my research, I quickly discovered that Sam wasn’t the only game in town when it came to speciality coffee. Literally across the road from Sam’s Coffee is Riverbanc, which started life as an outdoor activity centre before moving into the old Midland Bank building, in the process adding a speciality coffee shop and small hotel to its portfolio.
The coffee shop occupies the left-hand side of the ground floor of the three-storey building, with a modest, L-shaped seating area which wraps around the counter. As pleasant as the interior is, sitting inside means you miss out on the best part of Riverbanc, the expansive decking at the rear of the building, which is built out high above the bank of the River Dee.
When it comes to coffee, Riverbanc uses Has Bean, offering the reliable Jailbreak blend on espresso, along with a single-origin guest, plus decaf. There’s also loose-leaf tea, hot chocolate, various flavoured lattes and iced frappes, plus bottled beer and wine. If you’re hungry, Riverbanc has contemporary breakfast and brunch menus, plus plenty of cake to keep you going.
Llangollen, nestling on the banks of the River Dee in North Wales, is a beautiful town and one which I’ve visited many, many times over the years. However, until last summer, it had never registered on the Coffee Spot radar. Then, I visited Bold Street Coffee in Liverpool, where one of the baristas told me that Bold Street’s founder, the legendary Sam Towil, was now living in Llangollen, where he runs Sam’s Coffee. And, just like that, I started planning my visit.
Sam’s Coffee is inside Gales of Llangollen, a family-run wine bar, restaurant and 15-room hotel, all housed in a Georgian townhouse which feels, to me, like an old coaching inn. Sam’s Coffee is officially open from nine in the morning until two in the afternoon, offering a contemporary brunch menu, plus coffee from Has Bean, after which Gales takes over until late in the evening with a lunch/dinner (dunch? linner?) menu, plus beer, cider, spirits and, of course, wine. However, that doesn’t mean the coffee stops at two: as long as Sam is there, he’ll make you coffee. Although the menu is espresso-based, I spotted a kettle, Chemex and Kalita Wave, so I’m sure if you ask nicely…
Last week’s (very short) Coffee Spot Tour of the Wirral started at Wylde Coffee in Heswall and ended not long after in Parkgate with Elephant Lounge. Having previously said that I could see the Wirral from my parents’ house across the River Dee in Holywell, I am fairly sure that (with a large enough telescope) I could see Elephant Lounge itself!
Elephant Lounge has occupied its waterfront spot on the main road through Parkgate since 2016. It’s part of a small chain that includes Elephant Coffee, a coffee shop in nearby Neston, and its latest addition, Elephant Bank, a smokehouse and bar, which recently opened across the road from Elephant Coffee.
Coffee shop by day, and bar by night, Elephant Lounge bases its coffee menu around a bespoke seasonal espresso blend. During the day, porridge and various toast options are available for breakfast, with bagels and soup for lunch, backed up by a range of cakes. Then at four o’clock, Elephant Lounge switches over to pizzas for the evening, along with a range of draught and bottled beer, cocktails, gin, rum and wine. All this can be enjoyed in the spacious interior or in the large, shady garden at the back.
I have a complicated relationship with the Wirral, the peninsular in northwest England between the River Dee and River Mersey. Visible from the windows of my parents’ house in Holywell in North Wales, it was literally a backdrop to my childhood. Despite this, I’ve been an infrequent visitor, partly due to the difficulty in getting there. Although Heswall, home of today’s Coffee Spot, is less than 10 km away as the crow flies, it’s nearer 40 km by road and, typically, around two to three hours by public transport!
It’s also true that, until recently, there’s been little incentive to visit with my Coffee Spot hat on. However, that’s slowly changing and, on Monday last week, I set off to check out Wylde Coffee, which opened in November 2019 and has a second, more food-orientated location in West Kirby called Lateral. A self-styled Scandinavian-inspired bistro, Wylde Coffee serves a bespoke house blend roasted by old friends, Neighbourhood Coffee, with regular guests on batch brew/pour-over. There are breakfast and brunch menus, backed up with plenty of cake, all served in a bright, airy, relaxed space in a small parade of shops just off the A540, the main road through Heswall.
Today’s Saturday Short will do little to dispel Thinking Bean’s suspicion that all I do is drive along the M40, looking for coffee shops, since it is another gem that I discovered on my drive to North Wales exactly one week ago today. The place in question, Bruin Café, is in Wheatley, less than 10 minutes’ drive from Junctions 8/8A on the M40.
Physically, there’s not a lot to Bruin Café. It’s small enough to make it impractical for the owner, Louis, to reopen the indoor seating while social distancing restrictions remain in place. Instead, Louis and his colleagues serve from a converted hatch in the door. However, being small is no limit to Bruin Café’s ambition and it has an output that would put many larger coffee shops to shame.
The coffee is from Cornwall’s Origin and, at the other end of the scale, the Cotswolds’ Quintessential Coffee Roasters. I counted at least 10 single-origins across the two roasters during my visit, and while Louis will happily suggest something for you, all the coffees are available as pour-overs (plus espresso and that day’s batch brew). There’s also tea, a full hot food menu and plenty of cakes, all baked onsite.
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, 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.
Coopers Roastery & Coffee Bar has been on my radar for many years, but it’s one of those places that’s not too easy for me to get to without a car. However, last weekend I found myself with a car and in need of somewhere to stop for breakfast on my drive along the M40. Suddenly, Coopers became a very attractive option.
Occupying an old garage in a small industrial area at the eastern end of Marlow, Coopers Roastery & Coffee Bar is exactly what the name suggests, with the coffee roasters sitting at the back of a large, open space, while the coffee bar is on the left. However, it’s also a lot more than that, since you can add kitchen (in a separate room at the back), lounge (plenty of seating) and dog-friendly to the list.
Turning to coffee, Coopers offers its house blend, Jabbajaws, decaf and a featured coffee (currently a Brazilian single-origin) on espresso or filter as V60, AeroPress or Chemex (for two). There’s also Tregothnan Tea from Cornwall and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate, plus a concise brunch menu, backed up by a selection of cakes, all of which can be enjoyed sitting inside or out.
Today’s Coffee Spot was a chance discovery during last week’s Coffee Spot of tour Chiswick. Having been lured over the border into Hammersmith by my friend Adele’s recommendation of Coffee Notes, I was actually on my way there when I walked past Coffee Station and thought “that looks interesting”. So in I went and the rest, as they say, is history.
Coffee Station occupies a modest spot on the south side of King Street in Hammersmith, with a small outside seating area, but the true delight is inside, where the look and feel reminded me of Curio Espresso and Vintage Design in Kanazawa. I visited while Coffee Station was restricted to outside seating only, so was denied the best part of the shop, the large, bright seating area at the back, where the furniture (handmade by the owner) sits under a large skylight with a living wall as a backdrop.
The coffee is from Ozone, the Empire Blend being served from a standard espresso menu, along with a selection of Suki Tea. There are also various smoothies and freshly squeezed juice, while if you’re hungry, there’s a small but classic brunch menu, various salads and a range of cakes.
The Aircraft Factory in Hammersmith first came to the attention of the speciality coffee world as the West London outpost of Origin Coffee. However, in November 2019, it became the second location for Cable Co., which began life in Kensal Rise, and which now has a third coffee shop just off the Portobello Road in Notting Hill. Not that you would necessarily know, since The Aircraft Factory is not the sort of place you stumble upon.
There’s not a lot to Cable Co., which occupies a small, glass-walled spot on the right-hand side at the entrance to The Aircraft Factory. There’s a bench outside and a three-person bar against the wall inside, but that’s it for seating (for now). The coffee menu is similarly concise with an exclusive single-origin Colombian, plus decaf, from Climpson and Sons on espresso, backed up by a selection of pastries and cakes.
Back in the day, before I’d started the Coffee Spot, Ealing’s Electric Coffee Co. was one of a handful of speciality coffee shops in London. Fast forward 10+ years, and it’s fair to say that it’s now one of a handful of speciality coffee shops in Ealing, such has been the growth of the London scene. And that’s not the only thing that’s been growing. Since opening in 2008, Electric Coffee Co. has expanded its original coffee shop, started its own roasting operation, opened a second location (in St John’s Wood) and now there’s a third, on Goldhawk Road.
When I visited last week, seating was limited to the four outside tables, but as of this morning, the interior seating should be open, including the multi-roomed basement and the sunny room at the back. There are also plans for a small, outdoor terrace accessed through the basement. The coffee offering is fairly simple, with a concise espresso-based menu featuring the Rocket 88 blend. This is backed up by a range of toasted sandwiches and other savouries, plus cakes. Retail bags of coffee are for sale, where they’re joined, unusually, by a small range of Italian groceries.