Saint Kitchen, on the south-eastern edge of St Paul’s Square in the Jewellery Quarter, has long been a part of Birmingham’s speciality coffee scene, starting life as Saint Caffé. I first visited in 2014, not long after it had undergone the transformation to Saint Kitchen, with the new owner, Will, a chef, combining Saint Caffé’s already excellent coffee with equally great food. Since then, I’ve visited on several occasions, the latest of which was at the start of July when I popped in to catch up on the latest chapter in Saint Kitchen’s adventures.
After more than five years in charge, Will decided to sell up and move on to pastures new. In November 2019, he passed the reins to the owners of Warwick Street Kitchen in Leamington Spa. In many ways, the new owners operated on the principle that if things weren’t broken, then why fix them? They kept the name and the essential offering of great coffee and great food, although the process of winning over Saint Kitchen’s faithful customer base was somewhat disrupted by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. However, as the COVID-19 restrictions have eased, the customers have come flooding back.
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.
This time last week, I went up to London and sat in a coffee shop for the first time in almost four months. Although I’d been nervous beforehand, everything went really well and, buoyed by my success, I set off again this week. However, rather than going all the way to London, I just went to Surbiton to visit The Press Room, calling in along the way at G!RO Cycles in Esher.
The Press Room is another coffee shop which I first wrote about in 2013, in the early days of the Coffee Spot. Although I’ve since visited the second Press Room in Twickenham, I’ve not been back to the original in many years. A return was therefore long overdue, especially once I’d learnt that it had reopened for sit-in customers on 4th July.
For now, there’s reduced indoor seating, with The Press Room operating the best door/table management system I’ve seen so far (albeit from a very small sample). If you don’t want to sit, you can order takeaway from the window at the front. Currently there’s a reduced menu, with just the Resolute blend from Origin on espresso, backed up by a good range of sandwiches and cakes.
On March 15th, I was in Chicago, visiting Fairgrounds, Purple Llama and Intelligentsia in Wicker Park. The following day, I flew home. Little did I know that they would be the last coffee shops I’d visit with my Coffee Spot hat on for more than three months. On my return to the UK, I did my best to support my three local speciality coffee shops, but within a week, last of them, Surrey Hills Coffee, had joined the other two in temporarily closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
March turned into April and April turned into May and, while I wasn’t short of good coffee at home, I missed my local coffee shops, missed my flat whites (while I make good home pour-over and espresso, I’m still rubbish at milk) and missed my friends who worked there. Then, on Saturday, 16th May, exactly two months after leaving Chicago, I was in Guildford, shopping, and what did I see? Canopy Coffee. And it was open! Naturally, I forgot everything else and made a beeline for it!
Last month, Amanda and I paid a brief visit to Bath. After an afternoon exploring the fabulous Roman Baths, we retreated to the nearby Society Café in The Corridor, which I’d last visited just over five years ago, a quite shameful state of affairs that can only partly be blamed on my ridiculous travel schedule.
The second Society Café in Bath, after the original on Kingsmead Square, I found that, in many ways, little had changed, although for the last two years, Society has been using Origin as its house-roaster, rather than Round Hill Roastery (Round Hill still makes regular appearances as a guest). The upstairs had also received something of a makeover, introducing some more seating a giving the décor a little more colour.
However, the main change came when the basement was opened last year, doubling the amount of seating available. Naturally, Amanda and I had to explore.
The Pavilion Café, a fixture at the western end of Victoria Park in Bethnal Green, has been going strong for over 10 years, serving excellent coffee and locally sourced all-day breakfasts for over 10 years. These days, the Pavilion Café has been joined by pair of bakery cafes in London (Broadway Market and Colombia Road) and an outpost in Newquay, Cornwall, which opened earlier this year.
The Pavilion Café occupies a circular, glass-domed pavilion (hence the name) on the eastern side of the park’s West Lake. During the winter, there is seating inside, but in the summer, it spreads out the lakeside which provides some of the best views in London. These days the coffee is from Cornwall’s Origin, with a single-origin on espresso. Although the default seems to be to serve all the drinks in takeaway cups, there are proper cups available. You just need to ask when ordering.
Chalk Coffee, which opened in August last year, might be a new name to Chester’s growing speciality coffee scene, but it has considerable pedigree, having been set up by Ed, who was one half of Jaunty Goat (the other half being his twin brother, Patrick). Like Jaunty Goat, Chalk is right in the heart of historic Chester, just around the corner, in fact, on Watergate Street, which also puts it just across the street from another Chester veteran, The Barista’s and newcomer, Panna. The shop itself is lovely, stretching a long way back under the rows above, giving it a basement-like feel, especially at the back.
Chalk Coffee’s focus is firmly on the coffee, offering Origin on both espresso, through a Victoria Arduino Black Eagle, and on batch brew. It started by offering the Pathfinder blend, but since the start of this year, Chalk has been experimenting with single-origins as well as blends. The Resolute blend was on during my visit, with a Colombian single-origin next in the rotation, Chalk switching over as and when the current coffee runs out. There’s also a single-origin on batch brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of sandwiches and wraps, plus there’s a selection of cake.
July 2020: Chalk Coffee has reopened following the COVID-19 shutdown over the summer. It’s also changed its house espresso to Colonna Coffee while adding a second espresso from a rotating guest roaster. You can see what I made of it when I visited in October.
It seems unfair to call The Press Room a chain, since there are precisely two branches, the Surbiton original and today’s Coffee Spot, in Twickenham. Both are close to railway stations and they’re also at opposite ends of the 281 bus route. I visited the Surbiton branch in June 2013, almost exactly a year after it opened in 2012, while the Twickenham branch opened in the summer of 2015. It’s taken me slightly longer to visit this one, a mere three years, but it was worth the wait!
The Press Room occupies a bright corner on London Road in Twickenham. It’s much bigger than the original, with a simple spacious interior. The basic offering remains unchanged, with a solid coffee offering, including pour-over, plenty of tea and a selection of cakes, with sandwiches and salads if you want something savoury. Originally, The Press Room used Staffordshire’s Has Bean, but switched to Cornwall’s Origin when Twickenham opened.
The Resolute Blend is the mainstay on espresso, where it’s joined by Origin’s seasonal decaf. There are usually two offerings on pour-over through the V60 which change every few months. During my visit, these were a pair of Nicaraguan single-origins, one washed, the other naturally-processed.
The City of London always had good coffee as long as you knew where to look for it. Initially, this was from a handful of pioneers, such as Alchemy Café and (the sadly msised) Taylor Street Baristas, but these days there seems to be great coffee everywhere! One of these is Rosslyn Coffee on Queen Victoria Street, which opened in February 2018, which has an interesting claim to fame (it’s in a building owned by Sir Alan Sugar).
Of more relevance is that it’s built itself a reputation for excellence in coffee. Although it was a new name to speciality coffee when it opened, the Aussie-Irish duo behind it had years of experience, having originally met working for Caravan (more Aussie connections). Although Aussie owned/inspired cafes are often known for their brunches as much as their coffee (eg Beany Green, Caravan), at Rosslyn, the focus has always been on the coffee, combined with Aussie hospitality.
Espresso and batch brew use different house coffees roasted by Origin, while pour-over (via the Marco Beverage Systems SP9/Kaltia wave) is from a rotating guest roaster. Most interesting of all are the Off Menu Coffees, a select group of unique coffees from around the world.
As I have noted before, Witney is not necessarily where you’d expect to find top-notch coffee shop. Impressive, then, that it’s home to several excellent places, including Coffeesmith, which was Witney’s first speciality coffee shop. These days Coffeesmith is part of a small chain of independent coffee shops, which include an old inn and an outpost in the Lake District, although this is where it all started just to the east of Witney’s Market Square on a quiet, pedestrianised street.
Occupying a simple, open space, with plenty of seats and a cluster of tables outside, Coffeesmith is a welcoming spot which attracts a wide-ranging local clientele, as well as the occasional passing coffee blogger. However, it’s far from the average café, with coffee from Origin on espresso and pour-over through V60/Aeropress. There’s also tea, hot chocolate, juices, smoothies and beer. If you’re hungry, the brunch menu features the likes of toast, porridge, bacon butties and various bagels and grilled sandwiches. If you fancy something less bread-based, there’s soup and salads, plus an ever-changing range of interesting specials chalked up above the counter. All of this is backed up with a range of cakes, while there’s fresh sourdough bread for sale.