In mid-March, I’d just arrived in Chicago and was looking forward to spending a couple of weeks exploring the city’s excellent speciality coffee scene, interleaved with a series of work calls in the late afternoons/evenings. In the end, I managed just one day before the COVID-19 pandemic cut short my trip and I beat a hasty path for home. Today’s Coffee Spot, Purple Llama, is one of three coffee shops that I managed to visit on my single day in Chicago.
Purple Llama is on West Division Street, where it runs along the southern edge of Chicago’s Wicker Park neighbourhood. It feels like it’s been on my list forever, since so many people mention it to me, but, in reality, it’s only been three years since Purple Llama first opened in April 2017.
Purple Llama combines speciality coffee and music, offering a range of vinyl records for sale alongside some outstanding coffee. A multi-roaster, the coffee is drawn from a selection of roasters across the US and Europe, with the specific beans on offer changing once a week. There are multiple options on espresso, batch-brew and pour-over, along with around 10 teas and a range of cakes if you’re hungry.
April 2020: Sad news. I believe that due to COVID-19, Purple Llama has decided to permanently close.
I became aware of Fairgrounds Craft Coffee and Tea when I discovered the Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar inside my office building at River Point North. Although Infuse runs in-house coffee bars, the staff told me about Fairgrounds, Infuse’s sister company which runs cafés. That was in 2017, when Infuse had just opened, although it’s taken me another 2½ years before I’ve managed to visit Fairgrounds, although for once I’ve done it right, visiting its Bucktown location, which, like Infuse, opened in 2017, along with another Fairgrounds in The Loop.
Although it started in Chicago, Fairgrounds now has cafés in Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Los Angeles to join the (currently) three Chicago locations, plus two more in the suburbs. They all have the same mission, which is shared with Infuse: to serve a wide range of excellent coffee on espresso and filter, plus cold brew, nitro brew, various elixirs and tea. To this end, there’s a blend, decaf and rotating single-origin on espresso, plus three more blends, a further three single-origins and a decaf on pour-over, sourced from roasters across America. If you’re hungry, Fairgrounds had an all-day breakfast menu, sandwiches, salad bowls and soup, plus various snacks, bites and cake.
Since I was last in Sheffield, the city’s speciality coffee scene has undergone quite an expansion. Amanda and I were driving past a couple of weeks ago, so we decided to call in and see what was going on. Sadly, we only had time to visit a single shop, choosing Whaletown Coffee Co, which opened at the start of last year, one of several places I’ve found through Instagram (and in particular Coffee Girl Needs).
Whaletown is in Crookes, in the hills to the west of the city centre, which made it relatively easy to get to as we were driving through. A simple, minimalist, Scandi-inspired place, Whaletown is a multi-roaster with a different roaster each month on espresso (two options) and filter (two or three options) although sometimes (as it was during our visit, when Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters was in the house) the same roaster appears on both.
Whaletown offers the usual espresso-based options, batch brew and pour-over (V60 or Chemex for two) as well as several specials. This is backed up by a small but tasty food offering based around sourdough bagels, rye bread, sausage/vegan rolls, granola (for breakfast) and cakes (for those with a sweet tooth).
Today’s Saturday Short, Reference Coffee, is the second half of my Dublin double-header, which began with Monday’s Coffee Spot, Meet Me in the Morning. The two share common ownership, occupying adjacent terrace houses on Dublin’s southside. Although physically linked, Reference Coffee operates as a standalone coffee bar, as well as making all the coffee for Meet Me in the Morning. Aside from three small tables on the pavement outside, it’s standing-room, so if you want a seat, you’re better off heading next door.
Reference Coffee is a multi-roaster with a pair of single-origins (one for black drinks, one for milk-based) and decaf on espresso, all from Colonna Coffee. The filter coffee comes from a guest roaster, with different options on batch brew and pour-over. There’s a selection of cake and a small range of savouries to go with your coffee, but if you want something more substantial, head next door.
Since I’m really late in posting today’s Coffee Spot, Meet Me in the Morning will form the first part of a Dublin double-header. It’s a coffee shop which, like many in the Irish capital, has made its reputation combining excellent food with speciality coffee. The second part of the double-header, Reference Coffee, has the same ownership as Meet Me in the Morning and makes all its coffee, but is a standalone coffee bar in its own right.
Together, Meet Me in the Morning (middle) and Reference Coffee (right) occupy two of three houses in a short terrace on the north side of Pleasants Street in Dublin’s southside. Meet Me in the Morning is spread over two compact floors, with a short row of tables outside in front of the solitary window. It offers full table service, with separate breakfast and lunch menus during the week and a combined brunch menu at the weekends, all cooked on-site using a range of Irish suppliers.
The coffee, meanwhile, is made next door in Reference Coffee, but delivered to your table, with a choice of espresso-based drinks or several filter options. For more on the coffee, please see Reference Coffee, which has its own Coffee Spot post.
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.
Second Shot made its name as a coffee shop and social enterprise, tackling homelessness one espresso at a time. Plenty of coffee shops offer help with pay it forward schemes, but Second Shot’s founder, Julius Ibrahim, went one step further, employing people affected by homelessness, giving them jobs in the short-term and careers in the longer-term.
Second Shot opened its first branch in Bethnal Green in 2016, but I didn’t manage to visit until two months ago. Then, just over a month later, Second Shot opened its second location, this time in Marylebone, between the station and Edgeware road. This time I didn’t want to leave it as long, so when the England vs Ireland Test Match at the nearby Lords’ Cricket Ground finished early, I saw my opportunity and went along.
Like the original in Bethnal Green, Second Shot stands on its own two feet as a speciality, multi-roaster coffee shop, up there with some of the best in London. It offers a different roaster on espresso and filter, along with a small brunch menu and a selection of cake. While the shop’s quite small, it’s larger than the original, plus there’s a specious basement/training room.
Liar Liar, in the small town of Oswestry on the England-Wales border, has been on my list for some time now. I first visited right at the end of 2017, on my way back to Guildford from my Dad’s, but I couldn’t stay very long. I vowed that I would return the following year, but what will all the travelling I have been doing, 2018 came and almost went before I was able to call in again, exactly one year to the day later, while (you guessed it) on my way back to Guildford from my Dad’s.
Liar Liar is a real gem, located in the (semi-pedestrianised) heart of the town, spread over three floors (only the first two are open to customers) of a lovely old shop right on the corner, giving it windows on two sides, plus plenty of outside seating. A multi-roaster, Liar Liar uses some of the best roasters in the country, including the nearby Hundred House Coffee & Manchester’s Ancoats Coffee Co., changing up the options (always single-origins) on espresso and filter (V60, Aeropress, batch-brew) roughly every monthly. There are interesting breakfast, lunch and panini menus from in-house caterers, Hayes Kitchen, plus plenty of cake.
Cheltenham’s come a long way, coffee-wise, since I first visited in 2013. On Monday, I wrote about The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, which has, along with Studio Coffee Roasters, been leading the way since 2014, although today’s Coffee Spot, The Coffee Dispensary, is not far behind, having opened just over three years ago in October 2015. Like The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, it’s right in the centre of town, on Regent Street, by the Regent Arcade.
There’s an impressive selection of coffee. Bristol’s Extract Coffee Roasters is the mainstay, supplying the house espresso (which changes every few months), while the weekly-changing guests provide multiple single-origins on both espresso and filter. The Coffee Dispensary wants nothing less than the best coffee from the best roasters: during my visit this included Bath’s Colonna Coffee and Round Hill Roastery plus Birmingham’s Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters. Filter coffee is usually available through V60, but the staff will also do Chemex, Aeropress or Kalita Wave, plus there’s batch-brew. All the coffee is available to buy in retail bags.
Alternatively, there are ten teas, six hot chocolates and five chai lattes. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of sandwiches, plus cakes for those with a sweet tooth.
Continuing my theme of visiting Edinburgh and calling in on a coffee shop shortly after it opened, I present Cult Espresso. Unlike my previous victim, Fortitude, which opened four weeks prior to my visit, Cult Espresso opened on Monday and I was there on Thursday! I was already aware of Cult Espresso from social media, and when I heard on twitter that it had opened, I pencilled it in as a must-visit on my first day.
Run by father-and-son team, Kevin & Gary, Cult Espresso is, I think, the first to bring coffee from Bath’s Round Hill Roastery to Edinburgh on a permanent basis. Before setting up Cult, Gary ran a coffee kiosk on Dalmeny station. Originally using Lavazza coffee, it wasn’t long before Gary progressed to Round Hill, so was natural to continue the relationship when Cult opened.
I’ve been to several coffee shops that are corridor-like in layout (Goodge St Espresso and, in particular, NYC’s Gasoline Alley spring to mind). However, Cult takes this one step further by seeming to actually be built inside the corridor between two tenement buildings! While this sounds an unpromising set-up, it results in a lovely space, full of multiple, intimate little areas.