I recently learned in conversation with a noted coffee person that while in the UK, we consume yearly on average 3 kilos of coffee per capita, the Danes manage a whopping 11 kilos. On my recent trip to Copenhagen, I sought out and found some amazing places to have coffee, some doing the artisan coffee thing brilliantly, some pushing the boundaries of roasting.

The planning phase.

The planning phase.

Scandanvia obviously has a rich recent history of coffee. With Tim Wendelboe in Norway and Koppi in Sweden, innovative roasters have been working out of the area for a while now, bringing superb coffee to the rest of Europe. The Danish scene has expanded rapidly in the last few years, with Jens Nøgaard from Café Europa 1989 and fellow pioneers Trœls Parken and Martin Hildebrand spreading the word of artisan coffee. Estate Coffee also opened in 2000 and five years later opened a micro-roastery run by founder Søren Sylvest. At around this time, Jens helped set up the Copenhagen Coffee Academy which improved the quality of Danish roasting and serving techniques, as well as locating a coffee think-tank in Copenhagen, removing the necessity to go further afield to learn about the various skills involved in roasting and running a café. The Nordic Barista Cup, which revolves around various venues in the cold north, has also brought a new focal point to the coffee community of which Denmark is now a large part. I learned much of this in conversation with John Laird, who used to work for Verve Coffee in Santa Cruz, but has now relocated, in part at least, to Europe and is working on new projects. It is indicative of the vitality and excitement of the Danish scene that I found John in Democratic Coffee, evangelising about the quality of Danish roasters and cafés. I found the same and can heartily recommend a visit to Copenhagen to experience it all. I would also recommend this post from Giulia over at Mondomulia which has lovely pictures and good suggestions, some of which I followed.

Here is a brief survey of what I discovered.

Democratic Coffee

Krystalgade 15, 1172 Copenhagen 

Democratic Coffee.

Democratic Coffee.

Democratic Coffee is the first and, surely, the best of the places I found. DC was set up by the lovely Oliver Oxfeldt in a long, bay-windowed adjunct to the atrium of the main city library, which automatically makes it a wonderful thing. The coffee is locally sourced from roasters Great Coffee and it’s safe to say they are not labouring under any misapprehensions. The filter, a Negele Gurbitu Yirgacheffe, was reminiscent of mulled wine, all plums and sweetness. The espresso blend, roasted by Søren Stiller Markussen from a Honduran Santa Marta, had woody shades with an aftertaste of chocolate and apricot. It worked beautifully alone or in a cortado. The venue itself is airy, light, and welcoming, and you can see Oliver fussing behind the counter over buttery, freshly baked croissants or hearty-looking sandwiches. Oliver also played cricket and football with local team Akademisk Boldklub before making the leap into coffee, which is simply further evidence of his all-round greatness. The café is long and thin, with high benches on one side and seating at the bar on the other. There isn’t a huge amount of room, but when we were there, which was several times, it was common to see people standing and chatting among themselves, or to Oliver. It’s exactly the kind of quality product married to a strong ethos of community and conversation that I really admire in coffee shops, and DC is better than most of the places I find regularly lauded in the UK. Superb.
Website with details.

Coffee Lab

Boldhusgade 6, 1062 Copenhagen

Coffee Lab.

Coffee Lab.

Down a steep set of stairs off the street, tucked away in a side street, is Coffee Lab. Set up by some of the original characters from the Aarhus coffee scene, Sally, Peter, and Claus, they roast their own buying it in from Nordic Approach and doing some very interesting things. I had a ferocious espresso, with smacks of grapefruit zinging across the palate. The café is lovely as well, a kind of basement area stuffed with coffee gadgetry in the main room, but with a quiet, more typically ‘cool’ back room with muted tones and a record player. This place serves excellent coffee but is also pushing the micro-roastery agenda and pushing it hard and with good results. It would have to be my second shout after DC for a must visit place.

Coffee Collective

Jægersborggade 10, 2200 Copenhagen (though I went to a smaller one; this is the main one and better, by all accounts)

Coffee Collective.

Coffee Collective.

The third of the more specialist coffee places we visited, CC is well-established in Copenhagen, with three venues across the city, the largest being the one whose address I have furnished you with. The great lure of CC is the huge array of roasts they sell for home-brewing, and the range is excellent. One of the first roastery-cum-cafés to set out their stall, they have a spot in the foodie Mecca of Torvehallerne, a kind of Borough market but with, to me at least, a more relaxed atmosphere. The staff were really friendly and even invited me to a party later on in the day. The Ethiopian Yukro, which I had as a filter, was beautifully complex, with hints of cardamom and lemon. If you want to bring any coffee back with you, this is the place to stock up.
Website with details.

Kaffebarren

Istedgade 40, 1650 Copenhagen

Kaffeebarren.

Kaffeebarren.

This place is a drop-in spot among the slightly odd environs of Istegade, which is kind of a Kings Cross-meets-Soho in terms of a general patina of seediness with a few gems sprinkled in among the sex shops and itinerants. It’s near the train station, or near enough, and stays open late. The coffee is perfectly decent, a strong, ballsy espresso roast which is dark and warming up until the slightly bitter after-taste: a decent metaphor for the area, perhaps. The café also does a strong line in teas and, while small, is snug and perfect for a quick, evening coffee before heading out or heading home.

Bang & Jensen

Istegade 130, 1650 Copenhagen

Bang & Jensen

Bang & Jensen

Bang & Jensen reminded me of the kind of café-cum-bar that I found in Poland. The décor was fantastic, large vintage sofas and chairs, random antique lampshades, and a higgledy-piggledy interior with little anterooms and hidden sections up small flights of stairs. The café is clearly vey popular with all kinds of punters, not just the normal coffee crowd, but hipsters, old couples, and young professionals having a beer after work. I wouldn’t particularly go here for the coffee, but the atmosphere is fun and busy and I assume that most of my readers are as partial to a beer or glass of wine as they are a coffee, so for that, I would heartily recommend it.

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As you may know, I have been writing for Caffeine magazine since its second issue, and something which keeps coming up, both in the Knockbox piece I wrote for issue #2 and in conversations with café owners like Shelagh Ryan, is the idea of cafés being associated with gentrification. One of the places Shelagh specifically pointed out was Clapton, E5, saying to me that it was one of the places that was on her radar and being on the up-and-up. And so when I heard about 119 Lower Clapton, via my sister’s friend India, who is cheffing there on the weekends, I felt that it was too good a chance to pass up on.

Catching the bus down from Stamford Hill, it was clear that if this area was being gentrified, it did have some way to go. The vista of sprawling, red brick or grey towered estates which sit either side of the road is imposing, and there is a heaviness that sits over much of the upper Clapton area. The more south you head, though, the brighter and more vibrant it gets. I would never wish to seem judgemental about a place, but it’s hard not to feel that certain parts of London seem so liminal, so cast off, that the prospect of positive change seems very, very far away. The shame, corruption, or lack of care of countless councils and housing associations is chronicled in better and more astute places than this, a coffee blog, but it isn’t something to be forgotten.

119But enough of that! I am not here to pass sociological judgement or chronicle social deprivation, but to cheer change when it manifests in the form of a lovely, interesting new coffee shop, which it has done in the form of 119. The venue looks like a former shop, which I’m guessing is what it was. A massive bay window opens onto the street, flooding the place with light/views of passing buses. The furniture looks like it’s been grabbed for any number of possible locations, but it doesn’t result in the homely clutter of St David or feel like it’s a deliberately staged ‘upcycling’ cool thing. It actually reminded me a little of a fantastic Polish café/restaurant in Wrocław, a sort of utilitarian school-room feeling, which I really like.

The coffee served is Workshop’s Cult of Done, which I’ve had at a few places now and I have to say, I really like. It’s sharp and fruity on the up and then bottoms out with sweetness and cocoa and syrup. The cortado was very milky, and I think probably on reflection I’d ask for it to be a more balanced ratio, but it was creamy and soft and very well-made. The espresso shot was done well too, the extraction ensuring that the bitter notes which can come through quite strongly in the roast were checked and balanced by the sweeter tones. It seems clear that the relaxed, low-key attitude of the venue hasn’t resulted in any sloppiness where the coffee is concerned.

Opened 119by Erica, who is local to the area and decided to open up near home having considered a variety of other, further afield locations, 119 is very low-key, a touch thrown-together, and clearly on the way to be a massive local favourite. Personally I like places which are as much about atmosphere as they are good coffee. Atmosphere is generated by friendly service, decor, and all the little immeasurables which you don’t necessarily notice as individual points, but whose sum results in a great experience. 119 has enough of these little touches, as well as a very relaxed attitude. The barista was friendly and chatty and talked me through how she would make a cortado to check that would be good for me. I saw several customers come in and be greeted like long-lost friends, a sign that people are returning and that the venue is building a loyal customer base, and a smiley, waving one at that. I was encouraged to say the least.

I am always a little wary of places which open up in areas which are being gentrified, particularly if those areas are north-east of Hoxton and Shoreditch, because I worry that because an area is becoming ‘cool’, cafés which open there feel they have to come across a certain way. There is a pressure I believe, because I pick it up from the feel of certain venues and certain baristas, to live up the hipness of the area, or worse still, to be some sort of pace-setter, a self-appointed indicator that an area is on the turn. Coffee, as I’ve argued before, needs to be especially careful of this, given that as a discrete field, a field which relies on specialist knowledge of product and venues, and a field which is so closely associated with certain tribes or areas which are ‘cool’, it is always running the risk of becoming exclusive and deliberately abstract. This is doubly a risk for those areas which are going through the process. I did see a few customers in 119 who were very Shoreditch/Dalston, if you know what I mean – but their too cool for school attitude has definitely not translated to the café itself.

119The thing which always irks me about that sort of thing is that ‘cool’ becomes ‘cold’, that enthusiasm, friendliness, and inclusivity are seen as bad because they’re not sufficiently reserved or they open things up beyond the preserve of a few arbiters of what passes for taste. I have been to coffee houses where the atmosphere is like that, usually because too many of the customers are, or because the baristas are (not going to name names, but you’ve all encountered similar stuff I’m sure). The trick, for me, is for a café to welcome everyone without taking on too much of any of their customers’ personalities. Unless, of course, all their customers are awesomely friendly, happy, lovely people. It would have been very easy, I think, for 119 to fall into that trap, but they haven’t. They provide good coffee in a place where there currently isn’t much, and they do it in an unfussy, welcoming way, while delivering high quality. This place has its own character, its own qualities, and hasn’t felt the need to buy into the idea that as Clapton is becoming more hipster, it has to be too. And for that, as much as the fact it delivers a damn good coffee, I salute it.

119 Lower Clapton, Lower Clapton Road, E5 0NP

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @119lowerclapton

NB – as I said, I know the chef who works at weekends, India. She is an old friend of ours. I haven’t reviewed the food and this review is based on a subjective assessment of the coffee, and not influenced by being friends with someone who works there. In case anyone wondered.

This Easter weekend arrived, bright and cold, and a trip long-planned was finally realised by the accomplice and me. We set off for Forest Hill with a dual purpose, to visit the gloriously named Horniman Museum, recommended a while back by the lovely Fiona W., and to drop in on St David Coffee House. I have for too long failed to get to grips with south of the river, due largely to travel times and a self-confessed ignorance of the area. I was glad I set that right.

Forest Hill seems to be a largely residential area, comfortable and family-friendly, London but not quite London if you know what I mean. It was not developed a great deal until the mid-19th century and retains an unhurried feel, with green spaces and trees abounding. In this respect, St David nestles neatly in the general milieu, as much substitute front room as café.

St DavidA quick word on the Horniman Museum though. It is quite the most bizarre collection of items I think I’ve ever seen. Having visited the Pitt-Rivers in Oxford, I was expecting a similar array of material culture and creatures in formaldehyde, and in this I was not disappointed. There are some wonderful badgers, an ill-stuffed walrus of significant bearing, a tuba the size of an NBA player, terrifying masks, and some very odd puppets. I would counsel anyone to go, if for no other reason than because you won’t have seen some of the objects anywhere else and are unlikely to find them anywhere else either. The gardens are well kept and there was an exciting-looking gourmet pizza/flatbread van parked up as well. The view from the top of the hill at the back of the museum is fantastic and gives a panoramic vista of London from the south, a sort of Suicide Bridge scene but from the other side of the river. The museum was, however, totally packed with children. I’ve no complaints; it was Easter weekend after all. But after swimming through tides of pushchairs, ears bombarded with the caterwauls of excitable young’uns, we both needed somewhere to kick back and slough off the manic hyper-stimulation of the previous two hours. And so we went to St David Coffee House.

And kicking back seems to be what St David is all about.

To get there, you walk up a little side road that becomes an elevated pedestrian path. The café is thus set back and up from the road, and feels pleasantly distant from the hubbub of passing traffic. It is laid out somewhat chaotically, chairs and tables crammed in among books, records, and other odds and ends. The toilet is through the kitchen area, and you have navigate past the neighbour’s cat, known erroneously as Rudy (he actually goes by Rumi, but the change has stuck, in St David at any rate), who is curled up in a bespoke cardboard house and as chilled out as everyone else. The whole feel is friendly and very calm, which when it was as busy as it was we when went, is a masterfully difficult thing to pull off.

St David

And what of the coffee? It is Square Mile’s Redbrick blend which, I must confess, I am starting to tire of slightly. I suppose it is dependable and does the job, but there are so many different and exciting choices out there now, it does feel a bit tame. Having said that, you still have to handle the stuff well, and there were no complaints at all about the quality of the coffee from St David. Both the espresso and the macchiato were well-crafted, thick enough to feel strong and lithe enough to avoid clagginess and retain a smooth, gentle feel. The accomplice vouched strongly for the tea, direct from Suki, and also a very moist and bitey lemon cake which I did manage to steal one bite of (I agreed with her verdict). All in all, if you just want to know that your coffee is going to be good to spot-on, St David will not be a disappointment.

But, and to me it is now a big but, this place is a lot more than coffee. I suppose we are now getting to the stage where there are a lot of places which do provide almost generically ‘good’ coffee. Is that a bad thing? Heavens no, but it does mean that for a place to be worth making that extra trek for, there needs to be something that elevates it above the ordinarily good. London’s coffee naissance is a glorious thing for consumers and is also a great spur for places to find their niche, to find what it is they want to do that will make them stand out from the crowd. The wonderful thing is that your niche can be whatever you want it to be. It might be that you hold other events, it might be food, it might be a joint enterprise with a book-shop, it might be a focus on the different ways to make coffee, or a host of single origins and so on. But in a field where skilled baristas are appearing all the time, and good quality coffee is either available to buy from a wide range of sources or, in some instances, now even being roasted in-house, I am increasingly looking beyond coffee for reasons to visit a place.

To me, St David’s great strength is its tone, its atmosphere. There is a skill to creating an environment which feels like it hasn’t been created. If that makes sense. St David feels like Jordan and Russell have opened their house, arranged some furniture, stuck on a record, invited a load of friends round, and just happen to have a La Marrazzo in the kitchen. It feels like the sort of place where strangers chat, that people who’ve left the area come back to, that people who’ve just moved there quickly establish as ‘their’ haunt. And to me, it doesn’t feel like a ‘London’ café to an extent. It is too warm, too unhurried, and too unbothered by its own rough edges. It is not trying to be cool or exciting. It doesn’t seem to be trying at all. St David just succeeds, and that’s why you should go to Forest Hill and try it. That, and the walrus.

St David Coffee House, 5 Davids Road, London, SE23 3EP

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @StDavidCoffee

Once upon a time, there was a coffee cart on Bridge Approach. This little conduit to Primrose Hill from Chalk Farm was a lovely spot to sit and relax and the coffee was good. And then, it was no more. Owner Gavin was forced to up sticks and move, the victim of rent increases and, perhaps, other forces which I won’t go into here. How glorious, then, to find Gavin back, and ensconced in the salubrious settings of the railway arches next to Kentish Town West overground with The Fields Beneath.

The Fields Beneath is The Fields Beneathnamed after a history of Kentish Town, and it’s very clear from spending fifteen minutes in this small, warm space, that Gavin is already well-established within the community of Kentish. The number of commuters getting on or off the train who pass through is an immediate clue as to the impactive quality of the coffee and the baristas (it was particularly nice to see Aviv again, who I know from Coffee Circus and Vagabond, now working there). I also heard numerous comments showing that customers were coming back for things a second or third time, asking after the baked goods which Gavin’s mum produces for the café, and engaging with Gavin in that relaxed, conversational way which suggests loyalty and enjoyment.

The coffee was from Roundhill Roastery, a roast from the Rwandan Musasa cooperative which is also beloved of Hasbean, which has a light, citrusy zing to it. There are gentle slivers of lemon in the espresso, which also gave me a clean, fruity mouth-feel and a useful kick (I had to get up early to get there before work, but fortunately FB is open from 0730 to catch the early-bird railway-goers). The baristas use naked portafilters which leave a gloriously thick crema, dappled and reddy, and make for a fabulous shot of coffee. They also reduce cleaning, which Gavin likes, but I’m keener for the first reason. The macchiato was similarly good, with a sweet and soft texture, the milk settling pleasingly through the shot and augmenting, rather than smoothering, the fruity notes of the shot. This is an excellent roast, excellently handled. Both drinks are priced at a standard £2, and you won’t be disappointed.

Fields BeneathThe venue is, as I’ve said above, fairly intimate. There is some work to be done, by Gavin’s own admission, but this venue has only been open a month, and it’s been developed from scratch, so any minor issues with layout are totally forgiven. The space is intriguing, being as it is under a railway arch, and, apart from Arancini Brothers about five minutes walk away, it occupies a void between the cart of Bean About Town by Kentish Town underground station and the coffee houses and stalls of Camden Town. The Fields Beneath is well set to establish itself as the place to go in this area, boasting as it does a mixture of coffee know-how, useful location, and awesome croissants and granola (going off customer comments, not personal experience).

All of which is great to see. Gavin is a lovely, enthusiastic coffee man to his boots. The independent coffee market is a robust but, at times, unforgiving, place, and the way that Primrose Hill lost Gavin’s coffee could well have left a sour taste in the mouth. Instead, Gavin has come back stronger and opened a really excellent café, planting the seeds for a business in an area which is clearly delighted to have him. The addition of Aviv as a barista only confirms my sense that the roots put down by The Fields Beneath are about coffee and community, about bringing something developed and made with care and knowledge and sharing it enthusiastically. The fact that Gavin’s mum contributes so much to the business is indicative of his approach, and he is also looking to source other food products from local businesses.

At its best, independent coffee is about just this. It’s a place to go and buy good coffee, yes, but it’s also a place to meet, to chat, to share a love of something and use that love to facilitate other interactions, other opportunities. As I’ve said many times before, the best enterprises grow organically because their quality speaks for them, and allows them to bed into an area, to develop relationships with customers, other coffee places, reviewers, and so on. I’m not naive enough to think it’s not about profit too; why open a business otherwise, right? The point is that profit comes with quality. People respond to good coffee and good people, develop a relationship with them which goes beyond simply the exchange of money for goods. In my opinion, The Fields Beneath will flourish for just this reason. And it deserves to.

The Fields Beneath, Kentish Town Overground, Prince of Wales Road, Nw5

Twitter: @FieldsBeneath

Harris + Hoole are an insidious attempt by a supermarket chain to steal our coffee affections. Harris + Hoole are democratising coffee and elevating the quality of ‘high street’ coffee. Harris + Hoole are somewhere between an independent and a chain and will sink in the confusion of their own, slightly nebulous identity. These are just some of the opinions which have been posited in the wake of Tesco’s decision to finance and keep a forty-nine per cent stake in Harris + Hoole, a coffee chain set up by the family behind Taylor Street. The opening of the chain’s first enclave in Amersham attracted more than the usual level of interest for the establishment of such a venture: see the Guardian’s piece here, for example. The place of independents and chains in the affections of community stake-holders received a certain amount of attention with the Harris + Hoole development, as well as the Totnes Costa battle, and caused a degree of thinking here and elsewhere about the nature of cafés and coffee purveyors. And so I thought it only fair to suspend judgement until I’d visited. And lo, an H + H sprung up in my very own Crouch End, and it was decided.

It is only fair to address the coffee before discussing anything else. Harris & HooleI had my customary double of drinks, ordering an espresso and a piccolo, as I felt that would be the closest approximation to how I like to drink a macchiato (the semantics of coffee nomenclature in this one drink being a spectrum of confusion, depending on where you are). The chain uses Union’s hand-roasted Guatemalan Finca Montanita, a cheery, fruity blend which tends work fairly well with milk, but sometimes seems a little shy on its own. The espresso was well-made, immediately drinkable, indeed almost a little too cold if anything. The crema was thick enough though the body felt a little insipid, which I think is a fault of the roast, not the barista. The piccolo was a little too foamy on top but the fruity accents of the blend held their own well. The milk was well stretched and warming, and it was a superior drink to the espresso. There is a board behind the machines which lists details of extraction times, temperature, and weights, which I think is marvellous (for those who care: 25 second extraction at 93 degrees on an 18 g in the basket, 29 g in the cup drink). The public acknowledgement of the complexities of good production is a most welcome sign, as is the information that all baristas undertake a four day, pass-or-fail, course to hone their skills. This is where the Taylor Street chaps and chapesses come in, providing the know-how. And, all things considered, they’ve done a good job. The coffee is not amazing but it’s significantly better than your Starbucks etc. Indeed, if somewhere like Prufrock is a ten, and Starbucks is a one, then H + H is six and a half, creeping to seven.

Harris & HooleIf Taylor Street are bringing the coffee, Tesco are bringing the financial muscle and, probably, the ethos. The layout of the venue speaks of genuine quality. This is not a musty, damp Starbucks, seats stained with the sweat and spillages of countless tourists (yes, New Oxford Street branch, I’m thinking of you when I say this), but very clean, warm, and artful – like a Byron for coffee, perhaps. There are two new machines and two new, large grinders, and the investment is obvious. Staff levels are more on a par with independents than chains, too. There are around seven or even eight people serving and all are friendly, chatty, and happy to talk coffee. The venue may be fairly new, but there is still a palpable sense of enjoyment at working there among the staff, which is more akin to most independents (perhaps the consistently über-serious Monmouth aside). But, and here’s the crucial point, from everything I can see and infer from the way Harris + Hoole is structured, independents are not their primary competition. Under the details of how the coffee is made I quoted above, there is a statement: “Quality – this is what sets us apart from other high street coffee shops.” To my mind, that phrase suggests that Nero, Costa, and Starbucks are the competition. Arguably, the independents might suffer from a well backed, higher quality competitor, but I don’t get the sense that Harris & Hoole is out to displace that sort of venture; indeed, it would be odd that Taylor Street would collaborate if H + H were (though James Daunt did jump to Waterstones, so who knows?).

My feeling is that Tesco saw a trend, that independents were increasingly shaping demand among certain segments of society when they came to buy their coffee. People have come to expect higher standards, standards not delivered by Nero et al. when compared to the Prufrocks and Vagabonds of this world. They have also come to associate good coffee with friendly baristas, fun and interestingly-designed venues, and a sense of community which none of the chains have ever, in my opinion, delivered. Harris + Hoole seems like a deliberate positioning to grab people from the high street chains who want better, but were maybe put off by the unfamiliarity of some independents: consumers build relationships, which is why people still go to Starbucks, even when it’s crap and they know there’s better out there; they default to what they know in case the grass isn’t actually greener. Harris + Hoole can achieve a market penetration, with Tesco’s help and the numerous vacancies left on high streets all over the country by the recession, which allows them to become that familiar face (the tax evasion uproar won’t harm them either). This is, I suspect, why the independents won’t be badly affected. And if more people are exposed to better coffee, to a process which acknowledges the skill of a barista and the work behind a good drink, then some will start to venture further afield and feel comfortable with menus that don’t include frappucinos. And that is no bad thing.

Harris + Hoole, 9 The Broadway, Crouch End, N8 8DU

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @HandH_CrouchEnd and @HarrisAndHoole

Wrocław – a survey

December 8, 2012

Where better in the depths of winter to journey on holiday than the freezing Silesian city of Wrocław, you might ask, and with some justification. There are around seven hours of proper daylight if you’re lucky, biting winds, snow, and no-one else seems to go there at this time of year. To which the accomplice exclaimed, ‘Exactly’, and we booked our tickets. Of course, the above conditions do suit a traveller who goes everywhere with half an eye at least on where to huddle against such inclemency while sipping a cup of the good stuff, as they afford a rare excuse to avoid wanderings (though there were plenty of those too), and hunker down with a good book and, in two notable instances, a really excellent cup of coffee. And so I present: the cafés of Wrocław…

(A parenthetic word of warning: most ‘cafés’ in Poland are really bars which also serve coffee, but that’s not their primary function. They have Starbucks and two main local chains, Empík and Coffee Heaven, more of which below, but independents such as you find in the UK are few and far between).

PestkaWell, some of them. I visited seven in total. Two were in the up-and-coming district of Nadodrze, which is to the north of the old city across the various rivers, canals, and islands which sprawl around the tightly bunched centre of the city. Nadodrze is the students’ enclave in a university city, a touch run-down but inexpensive for rent and within walking distance of the university buildings. There is talk of a redevelopment plan, and so the cafés have moved in first, as true in Wrocław is it is in London. The first, and dearest to our hearts, was Café Pestka, which means ‘seedling’. The emblem is a tree, which warmed the accomplice’s heart. Pestka was set up only a month ago by Gabriela and her bearded, warrior-like friend (see picture). For somewhere open only a month, this is a café of staggering quality. Its newness means you won’t find it in guidebooks but it’s already being recommended by other places in town, which is a great sign. The layout is simple and clean, Scandinavian in tone and temperament, and the elegantly simple bar area displays a variety of coffee-making equipment. The welcome was very warm and they both speak excellent English. And what of the coffee? The espresso, a double shot at 7 zl. (around £1.60 at current rates), is roasted by Kofeina in Opole, a town around an hour from Wrocław. A blend of Brazilian Pereira and Guatemalan Finca la Bolsa A, it has delightful hints of blackcurrant and wood, a strong, muscular body, and a sublime crema. Though Gabriela wasn’t sure what a cortado was, once I had explained, I was served a beautifully silky cup, sweet and slick. These baristas are skilled and innovative and really care. If this place were picked up and placed in central London, it would be drowning in customers. It is one of the finest places I have visited, and I can say no more than that.

The second place which deserves almost as high praise was Café Rozrusznik, similarly in the Nadodrze district. The coffee here is from Irie, a roastery based on the outskirts of town, and was of high quality. It was a dark roast, thick and angry, but the bitterness was tempered by the precision extraction. A shade over or under and I suspect this would have been too sharp, but the machine was well-set and the barista good. The venue itself was a bit Womad for my tastes, and clearly somewhere the cool, young things of Wrocław head to, but it was most encouraging to find another, really good coffee house so near Pestka. Clusters of quality breed more quality, and there is an obviously vibrant and growing scene in Wrocław, with knowledgable coffee people seizing on the mix of students, cheap rates, tourism, and promised urban regeneration, to build really excellent businesses.

Cocofli

The third, and much loved, venue we visited was Cocofli (pictured). Cocofli is just down the road from Sarah’s, a sublime Jewish restaurant where I had latkas to cherish for all eternity, and the accomplice spied Cocofli as we were wandering nearby, drawn, no doubt, by one wall being entirely made of books. Cocofli is a café-bar in the style mentioned above, and the coffee is not especially good. An espresso is the standard 7 zl., and quite bitter, but the venue is a delight. It sells books as well as coffee, a selection made by the people who work there, and it also clearly serves as a get-together for young intellectuals and language students. It plays unusually good music for a Polish venue, and we sat and read for several hours without ever being hassled to order more. It would be misleading of me to say that the coffee is worth the trip, but this venue is a must for anyone visiting for its charm, its relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and its proximity to Sarah’s incredible food.

Of the other four places visited, the most honourable mention goes to Sufi Café, which lies just off Rynek, the main square in the old city. The interior is gaudy to the point of emetic, but the coffee is strong and well-made, as shown in the third photo, and the barista pointed us in the direction of Pestka and Rozrusznik, and so that endeared him to us greatly. The second place, Kawiarnia Literatka, is also on the main square, and is very much a bar-café. The coffee is actually quite poor, but it’s warm and snug and full of cool young things, so I thought you should at least have the option. The next place, Afryka Coffee Tea House, was right next to our hotel. The interior manages to make Sufi look restrained and well-devised, and the coffee was dishwatery. Apparently, Afryka is quite the post-dinner schmoozing spot, but I wouldn’t personally say much for it. The last, and arguably worst, place was the chain café Empík. I asked the accomplice nicely if we could visit, just to see, and she kindly acquiesed, but we both rather wish she hadn’t. It is like a faecal-coloured Starbucks, as expensive as the sublime venues above, but with all that you’ve come to expect from a chain. Do not go here.

SoSufi, a quick summary…I didn’t travel to Poland with the expectation of finding anything especially good. While Wrocław is quite an up-and-coming city, culturally Poland is not as attuned to bespoke, independent coffee houses as it is to bars and café-bars which meld the two. However, Wrocław appears to have not only the right ingredients to foster such enterprises, but two places at least which are excellent and, in the case of Pestka, exceptional. The love and care and interest in coffee was palpable at Pestka, and I would say it is comfortably within the top five venues I have ever visited.

In terms of connecting with these places, a word of warning. Twitter is not popular in Poland, largely due to a weak penetration of smart phones into the market, and Facebook is by far-and-away the easiest way to locate and interact with venues. Our guidebook, the wryly written Wrocław In Your Pocket (available at the airport), was written before Pestka and Rozrusznik were set-up, but does rate Sufi. Sadly, it also rates Afryka, so don’t place all your faith there. As ever, word of mouth from other baristas is a good way to find places. And if you seek, you shall find. Enjoy!

Café Pestka – św. Wincentego 45, Wrocław

Café Rozrusznik – ul. Cybulskiego 15, Wrocław

Cocofli – ul. Włodkowica 7-9, Wrocław

Sufi Café – ul. Kuźnicza 65-66, Wrocław

Kawiarnia Literatka – Rynek 57, Wrocław

I must admit, I was a little daunted by the prospect of putting fingers to keyboard on this one. T&P has long been one of my favourites, and I often drop in on my bike while at work and enjoy what I consider to be one of the best macchiatos in London. Having long recommended the place to friends and colleagues alike, I felt it was time to commit to an actual review. So here goes…

Umm so I sort of gave away what I think there, already, didn’t I?

T&P, TCRTottenham Court Road is another of my unduly fetishised arterials, but there is little to commend it. It links the wash of the West End to the grittier Euston corridor and Somers Town and Regent’s Park, a buffer zone of estates and commercial spaces before the chaos of Camden Town. It’s a straight of electronic shops and prostitute cards, of chain cafés and sandwich shops, and of side roads that lead off to better things, like Bedford Square, or dead-end facias of blocks of flats or delivery bays. In other words, I’m not an enormous fan. The street’s name derives from a farm which used to stand at one end, and its adjoining house, Tottenham Court, but there is no bucolic residue to enjoy. TCR embodies, for me, the worst of the soulless urban sprawl which dominates some of central London, a facet of the dilution of community that so many of the more vibrant areas of the city have not suffered. Among this, though, sits T&P, at 114 TCR, along with its sister shop on Rathbone Place, just around the corner.

And, in my opinion at least, thank God. You can’t polish a turd, but you can find, sometimes, a diamond in one. And that’s a succint, if slightly unwholesome, summary of how I view T&P. It’s marvellous, from beard to tail. I first had an El Salvadorian single origin from Hasbean. It was gloriously fruity, with an almost port-like aftertaste, giving a really warm, fulsome finish to a clever, complex roast. It felt strong and rich and comforting, a sort of after dinner pick-me-up at midday. I then had the macchiato. I’ve said before that I consider T&P’s macchiato to be one of the trinity of best macchiatos I’ve enjoyed, the others being at Colonna & Smalls and at the Piano Bar in Camden Market. Once again, T&P delivered. It’s a mark of real quality and consistency when you go in expecting it to be brilliant, rather than being pleasantly surprised when it is. The drink was made using the playfully named Cat That Got The Cream roast by Hasbean, one of their blends designed to be used as a base for milky coffees, and the result was spectacular. The macchiato was soft and dreamy, stretched milk swirling into a caramelly shot which left a sweet but crisp taste on the palate. The espresso was £1.80 and the macchiato was £2, and they have the second best loyalty card, an elongated bicycle to which gets added little cycling men (the first best is still Bread and Bean and their poised owls), and six coffees get you a seventh free.

T&P, TCR The venue itself is a joy too. As you can see from the picture, the place abounds with pleasing little touches, like up-cycling glass jars into water vessels. They always come beautifully frosted too, which I really like. There is a tree trunk in the middle of the shop, which you can see a photo of on my FB page if you’re so minded. The staff are overwhelmingly happy and talkative, and know their coffee too. As I’ve said before, when a barista takes you through the coffees available and chats with passion and understanding about what they do, I feel the whole experience of visiting and enjoying the product augmented by that interaction. Sociability should be, in my mind, at the core of every coffee shop. Or a tree trunk. But mostly sociability. The place is usually heaving, but there are benches outside too, and if somewhere is worth going for coffee alone, even if you can’t always sit in and enjoy it, it’s Tapped & Packed.

So, that’s Tapped & Packed. This review has been shorter than most, I think, because there isn’t really a great deal more to say. And the accomplice says my reviews are a bit text heavy anyway. If you want a consistently excellent cup of coffee, in a vibrant, stylish environment, served by knowledgeable, friendly people, then it’s pretty obvious your wants will be sated by a journey here. Or the Rathbone Place concern, which is just as good. More than anything, the fact that I’ve never had an even vaguely disappointing coffee here speaks volumes for the care they take over their product. Now, if we could just that farm going again…

Tapped & Packed, 114 Tottenham Court Road, W1, or 26 Rathbone Place, W1

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @tapcoffee