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.
Speciality coffee shops on university campuses are something of a rarity, so imagine my surprise when this popped up on Instagram: a new speciality coffee shop on the University of Surrey’s Guildford Campus! I was in Ireland at the time, but I made visiting a priority on my return.
The Hideout is well-named since it’s not the easiest place to find, especially if you don’t know the campus (an address of University of Surrey, Guildford, doesn’t help!). It’s at the western end of campus in an old bank branch, opposite PATS Field. As an added bonus, it’s now on Google Maps.
Run by the welcoming duo of Beau and Charlie, it’s a large, relaxed spot, with an eclectic range of seating, from conventional tables to beanbags on the floor, plus there’s a bike shop on-site as well. The coffee is from old friends Union Hand-roasted, with the Bright Note blend on espresso, plus there are plans for batch brew filter in due course. In an interesting twist, The Hideout has done away with disposable takeaway cups, so don’t forget to bring your own cup if you’re not staying. Finally, if you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes and toast-based savouries.
I first visited Brew Lab in December 2012, part of the Coffee Spot’s first-ever road trip to Edinburgh. Back then, I found it all rather bewildering, Brew Lab playing a large part in my transition from an innocent coffee lover to my headlong descent down the rabbit hole that is speciality coffee. Over the years, Brew Lab has gone from bewildering to familiar, almost a home-from-home. Along the way, there have been a few changes, some of which I wrote about when I returned in April 2014. However, the biggest change occurred when London roasters and speciality coffee pioneers, Union Hand-roasted, bought Brew Lab in 2018.
Naturally I was keen to find out what, if anything, had changed as a result of the new ownership, popping back at the end of last year to check out the “new” Brew Lab (annoyingly, I missed visiting exactly six years after my first visit by a single day). The good news is that Union seems to have taken an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, leaving Brew Lab to carry on much as I remember it, providing great coffee on espresso and filter, including guest roasters, which is an excellent sign.
Bean & Wheat is one of several London-based ventures by chef/restaurateur Adam Handling, who made his name by trying to eliminate waste in his establishments. Bean & Wheat started life in 2017 in Spitalfields Market, when it was a coffee shop and delicatessen, but moved to its current location on Old Street (literally backing onto The Frog Hoxton, one of Adam Handling’s restaurants) earlier this year, at the end of July. Originally the concept was coffee (bean) and bread (wheat), but it’s recently expanded its offering to include craft beer (also wheat, sort of).
The intersection of speciality coffee and craft beer is slowly growing, but with the exception of Bristol’s Coffee + Beer, I can’t think of another speciality coffee shop doing what Bean & Wheat is doing. Plus Bean & Wheat has gone one better, allowing you to drink the aforementioned beer on-site (Coffee + Beer only has an off-licence).
As well as the coffee and alcohol, Bean & Wheat also sells bread, plus there are breakfast and lunch menus, plus a selection of cakes. The coffee, by the way, is from Union Hand-roasted, with the old favourite, Bobolink, plus a guest as well as decaf on espresso.
Once upon a time, good coffee was relatively hard to find near Waterloo Station, but now it’s positively ringed by great options, from Four Corners and Coleman Coffee Roasters on Lower Marsh to For the Good of the People Coffee and Beany Green on the South Bank. However, the latest addition, Urban Baristas, on Waterloo Road itself, has the distinction of being the closest to the station, just across the road from the main Jubilee Line concourse.
Urban Baristas is a small chain which, starting in 2016, now has four locations, the Waterloo branch opening in October last year. It’s a tiny place, reminiscent of Goodge St Espresso, only smaller. Despite the size, there’s espresso from Union Hand-roasted and a rotating cast of guest roasters on batch-brew, plus cake, sandwiches and toast if you’re hungry. There’s also a selection of tea and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate.
Naturally it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own, while Urban Baristas has gone cashless at Waterloo, so you’ll also need a credit or debit card.
November 2019: Sadly, Urban Barista’s Waterloo outpost has now closed.
Airline coffee has a pretty bad (and, frankly, often well-deserved) reputation, but around the industry, steps are being taken to rectify this, with British Airways and Union Hand-roasted leading the way. The two have teamed up to provide Union coffee at British Airways’ UK lounges and, on long-haul flights, in the First Class and Club World cabins. Last month, I flew to Tokyo and back in Club World, giving me a chance to sample the coffee both on the ground and in the air.
I wrote up my experiences of the coffee on my way out to Tokyo and, on the back of that article, got an invitation from Geoff Cliff, the man at Union responsible for the day-to-day management of the British Airways account. A week after I returned, I popped over to Union’s East London roastery, where Geoff and I talked about the considerable undertaking of providing not just coffee, but also the training that goes with it, across the entire British Airways long-haul fleet.
Regular readers of my Brian’s Travel Spot posts will know that I have a poor opinion of airline coffee, and, as a result, I’ve taken to making my own coffee on long-haul flights over the last few years. However, to its credit, British Airways has also recognised this short-coming and has recently partnered with Union Hand-roasted to up its coffee game. Union is supplying coffee to the British Airways lounges and, in the first instance, to the First Class add Club World cabins on long-haul flights, although there are no immediate plans to roll it out to World Traveller cabins or to serve it on short-haul flights (I had originally thought that this would be the case, but I since learnt that I was wrong!).
As luck would have it, on Friday I flew with British Airways from Manchester to Tokyo, via Heathrow, not long after Union’s coffee was introduced, giving me the chance to experience it first-hand. Normally I would write this up as part of my longer Travel Spot covering the flight. However, these take me absolutely ages to write and, since there’s quite a bit of interest in this, I thought I would put it on its own, self-contained post, rather than burying it in a longer post.
I’ve already written about my ignorance regarding Lichfield when I visited the Melbourne in Lichfield coffee shop on Bird Street. However, this is where it all began in April last year, when the original Melbourne in Lichfield opened, a small kiosk on a narrow alley called Bolt Court in the heart of the city. There’s not much to Melbourne in Lichfield, but the output’s impressive, reminding me in ambition of Reading’s Tamp Culture, albeit with slightly more shelter.
It consists of a kiosk with a small, covered seating area to the left and with three bar stools at the counter, semi-exposed to the elements. The coffee is from Union Hand-roasted with a house espresso, Maraba, a single-origin from Rwandan, plus a guest espresso from either Union or a guest-roaster as well as decaf (Union again). There are retail bags from Union and various guests, plus a decent selection of cake.
I must confess that for many years, Lichfield was just a place name that I would have struggled to place on a map. It took more shape as Lichfield Trent Valley, a station that I sometimes passed through on my way to/from my parents in North Wales, which at least allowed me some idea where it was. However, it wasn’t until Melbourne in Lichfield burst onto my twitter feed a year ago that I really became aware of it.
Melbourne in Lichfield, it turns out, was a small coffee kiosk in an alley, Bolt Court, in the centre of this rather lovely West Midlands cathedral city. By the time I visited, a year after it opened, Melbourne in Lichfield had outgrown its humble origins and opened a second branch, a stone’s throw away on the broad, pedestrianised Bird Street. In contrast to the kiosk (which has since closed), this is a full-blown coffee shop, offering several, albeit small, rooms of seating.
There’s coffee from Union Hand-roasted and a regularly-changing guest roaster, with a house espresso, Maraba from Rwandan, plus a guest espresso and various options on pour-over through the V60. If you’re hungry, there are toasties, bagels and an impressive array of cakes.
February 2019: Melbourne in Lichfield now roasts its own coffee, although Union still makes regular appearances as the guest roaster.
Nkora is a relatively recent addition to London’s speciality coffee scene, joining the ever-growing crowd in and around the coffee hub of Shoreditch. A cosy spot, it’s bigger than it looks. Although the upstairs is small, with just a window-bar and a few tables, there is also a small back yard and, even better, a basement! This opened a couple of months ago and has two pairs of armchairs, plus a large, communal table.
With a small breakfast/lunch menu and an interesting selection of cake, Nkora’s focus is firmly on the coffee. The main roaster is Union Hand-roasted, which supplies the house-espresso, a single-origin Xejuyu from Guatemala. This is joined on filter by two or three single-origins, usually from Union and a guest roaster. These are available through either the V60 or Aeropress.
That I visited Nkora is largely down to Alexandra (aka AKBoogie on social media) who suggested it and joined me for coffee. Alexandra is perhaps best known (by me, at least!) for her ambitious 365 London Cafés project. You can follow her adventures on twitter and Instagram as she visits a (London) café every day over the period of a year. I told you it was ambitious!