Coffee Stop Awards 2014

March 24, 2014

IMG_4502Chris Ward has launched the Coffee Stop Awards to celebrate and publicise all that is good about the London coffee scene, a welcome addition to the discussion that swirls around the panoply of good places where we lucky Londoners can get the black stuff. Obviously, the section I find most interesting is the bloggers bit, where I am privileged to have been nominated along with some truly great people. Other categories include Best Coffee Shop, Best New Coffee Shop, and Best Use of Social Media.

Two places I have reviewed, Look Mum No Hands! and Four Corners, are in the running for several awards, and Harris and Hoole, whose founders the Tolleys I interviewed recently, get a nod for best chain.

These are the categories, and who I voted for:

Best Coffee Shop: Tapped and Packed, various

Coolest baristas: Notes Barrows, all over (used to be Flat Cap)

Best for cyclists: Look Mum No Hands!, Old Street

Best coffee roasted in London: Climpson and Sons

Best chain: Harris and Hoole

Tastiest cakes and bakes: The Fields Beneath, Kentish Town

Best use of social: Four Corners, Lower Marsh

Best for working out of office: Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, Leather Lane

Best new coffee shop: Sharps in Windmill Street. I reviewed them for Caffeine, so no link. Sorry.

Best London coffee blog: seriously?

I would urge you to check out all the other blogs on the shortlist. One of the things that has most struck me about the ‘coffee blogging thing’ is how kind and welcoming everyone is; I am lucky enough to count Brian, Chloe, and Kate as friends as well as fellow bloggers.

Here are links to all the other bloggers listed ranked in no particular order:

Coffee Hunter with Peter

London Cafe Review with Jonathan

Cups of London Coffee with Daniel

The Faerietale Foodie with Chloe

Brian’s Coffee Spot with (obviously) Brian

A Southern Belle in London with Kate

Mondomulia with Guilia

So get behind this: it is always a good thing to recognise excellence, and the Best New Coffee Shop list is an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to try new places.

Love,

Alex

One of the self-confessed failings of this blog is that I don’t often manage to get out of London. I do try to find places when I can, such as the marvellous Colonna & Smalls in Bath, or the delightful and thoughtfully stocked Thyme & Tides in Stockbridge, but living in London and the frankly ineluctable London-centrism of the third wave coffee scene means that I can’t do much to rectify a fairly annoying bias in where I write about. So when I hear about somewhere out of London that is worth going to, I make an effort to get there and get some coffee down me. And so this weekend I found myself in Tetbury (well, technically, I was visiting a village near Cirencester on a book-retrieval odyssey, but we were able to drop into Tetbury first) to visit Veloton.

The outside of Veloton.

The outside of Veloton.

Veloton was recommended to me by the brilliantly named Hereward, who runs two bookshops in the Cotswolds area that go by the Yellow Lighted Bookshop moniker. These shops are worth visiting the area for alone; they stock interesting and varied selections guided by a genuine bibliophilia that means you can always get exciting and innovative recommendations.

Veloton is a new addition to Tetbury, a bike shop that also does coffee, or a coffee shop that also sells bikes. In fact, Veloton seems to do both very well, though I can’t pretend to know much about cycling.

The space is carefully and aesthetically composed. There is a lot of light, a lot of space, and the bikes are carefully arranged to maximise their visual impact. The spatial overlap between the two offerings is complete, so you can drink your coffee next to a beautiful workbench, backed with tiles, where various complex ministrations happen to chains and cogs and gears. Patrons are encouraged to wander the shop with their coffee, and the upstairs area, which is the main bike show-area, is lovely and worth a look regardless of your interest.

The coffee is from a small, bespoke roastery based in Brighton called Small Batch Coffee Company, and it is handled well. I had a nicely dark and feisty espresso, which had a good crema and came out at the right temperature and consistency. I also had a piccolo, which was smooth and soft and set the espresso off nicely with the creaminess of the milk. It was all nicely presented and I enjoyed sitting back in a comfy wooden chair while the light hubbub of the bicycle shop carried on around me.

Espresso and a book from YLB.

Espresso and a book from YLB.

This is not Look Mum No Hands!, but it’s not Micycle either. That is no judgement on any of the three venues: Veloton sits, I think, nicely in the middle of the three venues as a half-and-half enterprise (I would say the LMNH! is better at and more interested in coffee, but then it’s much larger and more established, and Micycle is somewhere you can drop in and get a decent coffee, but the focus is much more on bikes). But I did enjoy the coffee I had and it is of a very high standard, far better than many stand-alone cafes.

My only minor quibble with Veloton arose from the interaction I had with the owner. I asked, as you do, where the coffee came from. He didn’t seem terribly interested in answering my question: I had to put it to him a couple of times and his manner was a little abrupt. Maybe I’m just used to a different style of things given where I normally drink my coffee, but I’ve always been impressed and, indeed, inspired by the way most café owners will engage with customers, answer questions, and generally radiate interest and enthusiasm.

When writing my most recent review for Caffeine Magazine (it’s not out yet, so no spoilers), the owner of the café I visited made the very well-observed point that nowadays everyone is a journalist of sorts, in that everyone is able to and regularly does ‘review’ the venues they visit, whether it’s as a blogger, on a Facebook post, or simply by word of mouth. The plethora of available venues doing good things means that referrals from friends and family, as well as bloggers who do the foraging for us, are increasingly important as a means of spreading the word of whether places are good, bad, or indifferent. As a blogger, I get asked in person and via social media where I would recommend. I may have suggestions, or I may refer people on to other bloggers who have better knowledge of other parts of the country. The places I recommend are not always places I’ve reviewed either. The point is that everyone’s opinions count and, culturally, we are all now much more comfortable and adept at expressing them widely.

Making the coffees.

Making the coffees.

And so, if I or anyone else goes into a café, or restaurant or bookshop or anywhere else, we should be treated as someone whose opinion will likely be shared and disseminated. I am not for one moment arguing that good customer service should only be predicated on a desire to ensure no-one has something bad to say; good customer service should be a given, always. But, and especially if someone is asking questions about what you do, customers should be treated with respect and their interest met by yours, because you don’t know why they’re asking and you don’t know who will hear the answers.

To return to Veloton, I must therefore say I was disappointed by the attitude of the owner. But this was in marked contrast to another man who worked there and was clearly more on the bike side of things: he was enthusiastic, passionate, and engaged. The coffee was good, the bikes were great, and the area will benefit from having a quality coffee venue. Veloton is new and, I’m sure, these sorts of teething problems will be ironed out. I will return and, I suppose, find out. And I hope you will too.

Veloton, 22 Market Place, Tetbury, GL8 8DD

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @VelotonUK

First off, Look Mum No Hands! (mandatory use of punctuation there, regardless of what style guides the world over say about exclamation marks (one per one thousand words of text is standard, so I believe)), is surely the best name for a cycling-themed place of any description. It brilliantly conveys the excitement and enthusiasm of this at times maligned, at times controversial mode of traversing the highways and byways of the world. Of course, cycling is more than just a cheap, green way of getting from A to B. It is a cultural phenomenon, an artery of business couriering, a hobby, and, as recent protests have shown, a collective expression of the frustration felt by people of a shared ethos with changes and impositions brought on by, among other things, the Olympics. Old Street is a perfect location for LMNH! as well, sitting as it does at the nexus between the innovative young businesses of the area, the hipster hive of Shoreditch (for the slimline racer is their whizz-about of choice), and on a road when you can get a decent lick on, regardless of whether you deploy clip pedals.

LMNH!, Old Street  The best thing about LMNH! is that although it sets itself very clearly up as a bike-themed coffee shop, it is first and foremost great at coffee. I always worry a touch when a place seems to have a theme which overshadows its product, or a product is niched away within another business (coffee shops within book shops are often failures for this reason). LMNH! does its primary task superbly well. It serves Square Mile’s Red Brick as a standard roast, amusingly not half a mile from the Redbrick Estate, which I reckon has little or nothing to do with coffee, and as I have already opined, this zesty little roast has a lot going for it. The espresso was rich and fruity, with a woody depth to it. It was slick and oily and sank down to a pleasant, dappled finish, the crema intact to the end. Square Mile’s bite can reduce to a slightly bitter bottom of the cup, and it did here, but I think that can be the price you pay for the complexity of the top notes of a shot. I don’t smash my shots back because I don’t feel that you get the richness of the flavours that way, but such an approach benefits a Sq M shot, and you’d certainly receive a pleasingly solid caffeine punch in the chops for your troubles. The macchiato was very well made, with silkily stretched milk draped over the shot by a barista who looked like a corsair. What more could you ask for? The espresso was £2 and the macchiato £2.20, which is above average pricing, but there is a loyalty card whereby eight coffees get you a ninth free and they use a stamp which resembles a bicycle. There is also plenty of free water, sometimes with cucumbers in it, which is a nice touch.

LMNH!, Old Street

And what of LMNH! otherwise? Well, it isn’t cycle-friendly, it’s cycle-mad. It showed the Tour de France on large screens, and is, of course, showing the Olympic events as well. There is a repair shop adjacent to the coffee area, and you can even borrow a lock for your bike while you sit and knock back your coffee before preparing for the next hill climb. I couldn’t really tell whether the staff there do both things, but if my pirate fixes bikes as well as he stretches milk, I’d go there for both. The ambience is friendly and relaxed and a haven for the biking fraternity/sorority.

Cycling is, of course, in the spotlight for a variety of reasons. The astonishing achievements this year of Bradley Wiggins, including not only the Tour and becoming the most successful ever British Olympian, but a number of criteriums and other races too, which must stand as the most successful year by any British athlete ever (though I’ll accept submissions of alternatives), and the expected success of the rest of Dave Brailsford’s wheel-wizards, have shone a warm glow on the sport. But the political aspect to discussions of cycling is ever present too, and the debate always takes on a tragic aspect whenever there is an accident involving a cyclist. The awful proximity of the death of a cyclist last night to the Olympic park and, temporally, to Wiggo’s success, is a timely reminder of the inherent risks associated with cycling, whether you partake as a hobby, a sport, or a livelihood. Cyclists, especially in London, do form something of a bristling cohort, readily and angrily, and often quite justifiably, defending their own against accusations of unlawful or irresponsible riding, but the need for Wiggo to use his recent achievements as a credibility platform from which to call for the wider use of helmets shows how much there is to be done. The spread of cycling as leisure activity, and the availability of bikes through the cycle hire scheme, have introduced inexperienced cyclists onto some of the least hospitable roads in the country. More does need to be done to make things safer for them, and everyone else who hops onto two wheels now and again. But it’s crucial that cycling retains its sense of fun, its sense of collective enjoyment, and its justified importance in our city. In Look Mum No Hands!, cyclists of all types have a venue that celebrates everything that is good about cycling, that facilitates being a cyclist, and also does its core business of coffee wonderfully well. If you love the two wheels or you love coffee, it’s well worth going. As cycling takes off, I hope very much that Look Mum No Hands! continues to play a role in spreading the word about two things I happen to enjoy a great deal.

Look Mum No Hands!, 49 Old Street, EC1V 9HX

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @1ookmumnohands