When discussing speciality coffee in northeast Wales, you really have to mention King Street Coffee Company, which was started by brothers Phil and Andy in 2016, and led to the opening of today’s Coffee Spot, Bank Street Social, a year later. While King Street Coffee Company, located in the bus station, closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bank Street Social, a few minutes’ walk away on (appropriately enough) Bank Street, is still going strong, as Amanda and I discovered when we visited a couple of weeks ago on our way back from North Wales.
Bank Street Social accurately describes itself as Wrexham’s only speciality coffee and craft beer shop. It’s a fairly small spot, with enough space inside for three tables at the front, the counter at the back and multiple shelves stocked with cans and bottles of craft beer (although I also spotted some cider as well). When it comes to coffee, Bank Street Social uses Neighbourhood Coffee’s Espresso Yourself blend to deliver a standard espresso-based menu, backed up by a selection of tea and hot chocolate, plus retail bags of coffee to take home. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of bagels and toasties, plus a selection of cake.
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.
Chester’s The Flower Cup, tucked away on the upper level of the city’s famous Rows on Watergate Street, had already been open for three years by the time I belatedly visited at the very end of 2019. Serving some excellent breakfasts, brunches and lunches, backed up by Neighbourhood Coffee on espresso and pour-over, I was immediately impressed. Keen to make up for lost time, I returned in February and then along came COVID-19 to temporarily put an end to things. So, when I heard that The Flower Cup had reopened following the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions, it was top of my list when I returned to Chester on Friday.
Everywhere I’ve visited since the start of July has done a good job in retaining something of the pre COVID-19 atmosphere, but none has managed it quite as well as The Flower Cup. Despite the obvious changes (the sign at the door, the one-way system and the staff wearing masks for example), it really felt like The Flower Cup of old, a tribute to owner, Milli, manager, Laura, and all the staff. What’s more, The Flower Cup has retained its full menu, serving everything on proper plates, the drinks in proper cups.
Chester’s speciality coffee scene has been steadily growing over the last few years, particularly right in the city centre, along the twin axes of Bridge and Watergate Streets. Taking the second of these, Watergate Street has seen the likes of Chalk Coffee (2018) and Panna Chester (2019) opening in recent years, but predating them both, and somewhat unnoticed by me (my bad) is today’s Coffee Spot, The Flower Cup, which opened in 2016, putting it amongst Chester’s speciality coffee veterans.
Unusually for a city where coffee shops seem to specialise in the basement-like spaces under the Rows, The Flower Cup is on the upper floor on the south side of the street. A self-proclaimed “botanical coffee shop”, with a sister shop next door, The Violet Palm (a one-stop shop for houseplants), it’s true to the title, being festooned with flowers and plants. However, it’s a lot more than that, with coffee from Liverpool’s Neighbourhood Coffee on espresso and Clever Dripper, and an extensive, vegetarian- and vegan-friendly brunch menu of which it is rightly proud. It also has a lovely, warm, welcoming atmosphere, making it the sort of place where people linger for ages over their coffee or after their brunch.
July 2020: The Flower Cup reopened on 4th July and is providing an almost identical service, albeit with slightly reduced seating capacity. You can see what I made of it when I visited at the start of August.
The Gentlemen Baristas, which started life at the end of 2014 on Union Street, just south of the Thames, boasts, at the time of writing, four branches, of which this, on nearby Park Street, can legitimately be said to be the baby. In terms of look and feel, however, it very much has the air of a miniature version of the original, albeit with a cut-down coffee menu featuring two options on espresso and another on batch-brew, pour-over having been sacrificed to save space.
This lack of space also means that seating is at a premium, with room for four inside and another four outside on two benches. That said, there’s still the space for a well-stocked set of retail shelves, selling retail bags of coffee/coffee kit on one side, and produce at the other, including pickles, preserves and condiments. Meanwhile if you’re hungry, there’s a range of cakes and sandwiches. Another victim of the lack of space is cups, The Gentlemen Baristas only offering takeaway cups, so bring your own, although there are some espresso cups knocking around.
The Gentlemen Baristas opened at the end of 2014 and is favoured by such luminaries as Bex (Double Skinny Macchiato) and Daniel (Cups of Coffee London). So quite why it’s taken me over two years to visit the original coffee shop on Union Street (now known as The Gentlemen Baristas Borough) is a mystery. And, frankly, the loss is all mine. From the street, a modest multi-paned square window next to a solitary door hides an unexpectedly large and glorious interior, consisting of several interlinked spaces spread over two floors, including a sheltered roof-garden and cosy back room. I can see the appeal already.
The Gentlemen Baristas projects a fun image, reminding me of Victoriana and, more specifically, Steampunk, but not in an in-your-face sort of way. If you’re just coming for a cup of coffee, don’t let it put you off. Talking of which, while The Gentlemen Baristas may be about fun, it’s very serious when it comes to the coffee, which is private-label roasted by Wogan Coffee in Bristol under The Gentlemen Baristas brand. There are several blends and single-origins available on espresso, with more single-origins on filter (Aeropress, V60, Kalita Wave and Chemex), where they’re joined by a guest roaster, currently Liverpool’s Neighbourhood Coffee (although all the coffee is now roasted in-house).
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.