Coffee Shop Review #21 Bellwether

Down in Denver, exploring new coffee shops per usual. Categories out of 5.

Location-3.5(Way down on East Colfax Bellwether stands alone as a destination rather than a spot to stop in on a walkabout. However, Bellwether serves as a four stops in one shop featuring a cafe, small racks of clothing, a barbershop and a whiskey bar at night. The neighborhood is definitely up and coming and there are some emerging restaurants. as well as, the three great Denver music venues: The Bluebird, The Gothic Theater, and The Ogden. However, you will need to drive anywhere you are trying to go so it is best to square away some quality time and stay in rather than order coffee to take).

Barista Cuteness-4(The baristas at Bellwether are 1 for 1 so they are batting a 100 so far. The man serving us was so pleasant and in lieu of other customers hung about our table to discuss the changing Denver scene and tell us about the cafe. He was very well-dressed, which reflected the aesthetic of the store and clothing for sale very well. A peak in the back barbershop revealed well-coiffed attractive hipsters as to be expected).

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Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4.5(We ordered two cappuccinos and a Kenya pour over to sample the coffee selection for taste, variety, and consistency. Bellwether serves coffee from Boxcar Coffee Roasters, a well-known Boulder/Denver roaster that is on the rise.  The cappuccinos were a bit dry (more foam) and the espresso did not have an unctuous taste, it was drier as if the beans were older and roasted to be more bitter. The Kenya pour over was served in a massive tin camping mug which was a great start. The coffee was flavorful, full bodied and was carefully prepared to bring out the fruity flavors).

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Ambiance-5(The design is where Bellwether truly shines. The all black and white color palette oozes a coolness that is very effortless. Simple chairs and tables complement focal design touches like the sewing table desk, overstuffed Winchester sofas, and fantastic Ducati motorcycle. Floor to ceiling windows on the street-facing wall let in ample light to brighten the dark features. The whiskey and coffee bar is very simple, neat and uncluttered which confirms the crisp, unfussed vibe).

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Food/Pastry Selection-3.5(A very meager single glass pastry stand held a few savory and sweet muffins, scones, and cookies. The selections did look appetizing and sound original but clearly was an afterthought for the cafe. Without having sampled any particular baked good I would ventrue to say they looked like they would tast very good but will need to confirm).

Overall Rating:4,1

What do you mean you don’t have filter coffee? A Guide to London Coffee Shops

I wish I had been diligent enough to do a proper coffee shop review of every cafe I visited in London but at this stage in the game that would be simply impossible. I am going to attempt to backtrack through all the coffee shops I have visited giving them quick scores and pointing out the ideal features of each. Coffee is truly blossoming in London so don’t be intimidated by the perceived ‘only tea’ culture.

As the title of this posts hints at, the one thing yet to develop is strong cups of black, filter coffee. Artisanal shops that will be explored in this post do have pour-over, chemex and V60 options but they are simply lacking good ready made coffee–paper filters, large batches, hot mugs you can wrap your hands around simply do not happen in most London shops which is a huge shame. Looking past this, visiting cafe is an awesome way to see London, each neighborhood can be characterized by they handful of coffee shops that reside in it. So I’ll break it down by region, trying to record every coffee shopI can recall. It’s going to look like a daunting list but life is better when drinking good coffee. The Southbank and East London have unfortunately been painfully neglected in my coffee pursuits but I will try to outsource some recommendations for these areas. The greatest London coffee blog for filling in the blank map spaces is Cups of London Coffee. They have an interactive map that has displays the massive density of London’s coffee shops allowing you to zoom and click cafes to display recorded times and information. It’s brilliant!

As a reminder coffee shop reviews go a little something like this: cafes are marked out of 5 on location, barista cuteness, coffee knowledge/expertise, ambiance, and food/pastry selection.

Convent Garden/Aldwych

  1. Lundenwic-4(Lundenwic is a newer shop on Aldwych that is teeny tiny. the place has two tables and a three-seat counter so not ideal for working or hanging out but if you do snag a table you are right in the middle of the action, merging with the queue of people and baristas bustling about from the mysterious kitchen downstairs. From this basement emerges a selection of toasties and salads for lunch. I have had hits and misses with lunch but highly recommend the cranberry sauce, chicken, and squash toastie if they have it. The sandwich tastes like Thanksgiving dinner between two slices of sourdough bread. Be wary of the amount of kale and fennel in the salads, it’s a lot of kale and fennel. The location is ideal if you are a uni student at LSE, which this writer might be. Unfortunately if you our not headed to lecture there is really no reason to be walking along Aldwych as it has no tourist appeal and is crowded with students and professionals. However, Lundenwic is near some theatres so if you are headed to a play and worried you will not stay awake either because it looks to be extremely dull or you are very tired, grab a strong flat white, and chat with the extremely handsome baristas before the show).
  2. Fernandez and Wells-Somerset House-4.5(There are two things keeping F&W from receiving a 5 much to my dismay. First, the coffee is just simply not that good. The espresso is often burnt and flavorless so it is best to get tea because they will top up your pot with hot water, give you honey and even steamed milk if you like. The service is certainly not lacking at Somerset House that is for certain. Second, while the Spanish-style savory options at F&W are divine, their pastry selection is weak and very expensive. Now that we have those critiques out of the way let’s move to the highlights. Somerset House, is one of my favorite places in all of London and you can see my full post here. The setting of the cafe is minimal and airy, the light wood furniture and large tables makes it a fantastic place to spread out and do work. Their music selection is consistently on point, playing an eclectic mix of soul and indie songs. Most of the the baristas are incredibly friendly and the table service for food is quite enjoyable, I highly recommend their soup specials, particularly the chicken tangine. The soups come in a huge steaming bowl with some crucial pieces of sourdough bread for soaking up the last bits).      13102718_10208147040907100_3434636631585142432_n
  3. The Black Penny-4.5(The Black Penny will always hold a special place in my heart for the lunch deal they used to have which included three salads and a protein for under 10 quid, although the lunch deal is no longer the food selection is still expansive and delicious. The coffee is top notch quality as well. The place is nicely situated off the dense crowded Convent Garden area closer to Holborn station. It’s ideal for a longer uni lunch or a break from the tourist scene. The inside is very rustic and warm Edison bulbs hang from the ceiling and the back has a large communal table and several squished two-tops.There are shelves adorned with books and magazines  situated over built in cubbies for single seating. The exposed brick wall adds to the Brooklyn chic vibe. The baristas and servers match the warm interior and are very friendly, and always more than happy to point out their favorites of the day).
  4. New Row Coffee-4(This tiny kiwi-owned coffee shop sits on New Row Street in Convent Garden. New Row rivals Lundenwic in it’s size as it only has two tables and two counter seats. The pastries are all homemade daily by Tom, the owner of the shop. The coffee quality is stellar and the small space is not over designed or sparse. There is a coffee grinder serving as an expensive flower pot. The teal dishes add a little quirk and brightness. I’d recommend getting a cappuccino and specifying without cocoa powder because it tends to overpower things. The tall lanky baristas are the essence of the London aesthetic so no need to worry about that. I recommend the Anzac cookies and almond croissants).img_4253
  5. Fleet River Bakery-3(Fleet River is not in a very idealic location sandwiched between Kingsway and Lincoln Fields Inn, in a non-descript part of Holborn. Again, for an LSE student it is pretty convenient. Known for their pastries, correction expensive pastries It’s best to run through either to get a goof cup of coffee or quick lunch. I have never been too impressed with their offerings but people swear by their toasties and salads so I’ll leave a little hope. The space is very drafty and unadorned, Fleet River is packed at lunch so try to grab a spot quick or check out their downstairs area. If you are in a hurry, Fleet River is also not the most expedient so be aware).
  6. Fleet Street Press
  7. Notes-Convent Garden

Soho

  1. TAP No. 193-5                                                                    12809736_10207890381890785_2470534023979204042_n
  2. Flat White-4
  3. Nordic Bakery-3.5
  4. Foxcroft and Ginger-3

Fitzroviia

  1. Kin-5
  2. Attendant-5                                                                                                                                                   13184660_10208941295280255_1076025989_oimg_4319 img_4321
  3. Kaffeine-4

7 Dials

  1. Monmouth Coffee
  2. Timberyard
  3. Department of Coffee and Social Affairs

Shoreditch

  1. Fix 126(Fraser’s Pic)
  2. Attendant
  3. Shoreditch Grind

Clerkenwell

  1. Workshop

Islington 

  1.   Vagabond No. 7 4.5(This coffee shop tucked away in Islington is a hidden gem in the London coffee scene. The narrow space is bigger than it appears with repurposed wooden spools as tables in the front area and  a cozy back room. Studying in the back room, you can work amongst the roaster, espresso machines and sacks filled with coffee–ideal for any person who literally runs on coffee. You are also working on a suspended wood table that has ample room to spread out your books, coffee, and food. On to the food, the almond croissant I had was the best almond croissant I have ever had in London, let me repeat—the best. That is saying something. The prepared sandwiches are also simple and hearty. There is also a kitchen tucked away that manages to pump out full English breakfast among other brunch fare served all day long. On my last trip to Vagabond, I discovered the secret side courtyard that is quaint and peaceful. Filled with mismatched iron furniture, the outdoor space is somehow sandwiched in a small, awkward corner between two buildings, Vagabond is an architecture marvel that seems to expand after you enter. The coffee shop also has a derelict appearance with crumbling walls and vacant fireplace stuffed with a combination of junk and books, it almost resembles the ruin bars of Budapest. A friendly staff serves high-quality coffee to match their impressive food fare and interesting space. I am only docking it for its location, north Liverpool Road is not quite a cultural hub but the hipsters are sure to come).

 

Coffee Shop Review #16: Malmaison

Blowing dust off the DC map and bringing you a new Washington coffeehouse. Categories out of 5.

Location-3.5 (The location of Malmison can be seen as both very good but also inconvenient. Malmaison is located off the Georgetown Waterfront on K Street and is the last warehouse before the Potomac Parkway begins. Once you manage to get all the way down to Mailmaison’s cafe you are rewarded with coffee and treats that you can take to the waterfront and enjoy).

Barista Cuteness-3.5 (The baristas at Malmaison are cute and charming. They are not out of this world gorgeous but so genuine instead. Some are more experienced than others and are eager to talk coffee with you. Other baristas just carry friendly general conversation).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-3.5 (Due to Malmaison’s location I only travel there to spend have a beautiful waterfront day. This makes for my main purchase to be iced coffee. However, the ice coffee they prepare is very unique. Last time I tasted my iced coffee it was so striking I had to compliment the barista and inquire on the preparation method. I learned that he pulled a single origin Guatemala drip through an espresso machine to make the drink, so weird but so good! The result was very bright brew that was super zesty and fruity. The cafe serves up Mad Cap a great roaster out of Grand Rapids, Michigan that has a Lab and Training Facility in D.C.).

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Ambiance-2.5 (Another reason I only visit Malmaison during the Spring and Summer season is because there is indoor season. Malmaison is also a full fledged restaurant serving brunch and dinner so you are going to have to battle the diners for the limited seating. The interior is very posh and lux, which supports the modern French mood but it is not the most warm and inviting atmosphere for a coffee shop. If you do sit inside you will probably be subjected to the upstairs lounge, which becomes a club at night so it is far too swanky for casual coffee sipping).

Food/Pastry Selection-4.5( the pastries at Malmaison are absolutely phenomenal. I am completely addicted to their almond croissant, which is filled with creamy marzipan and topped with toasted almonds. The treats are crafted by the French pastry chef, Serge Torres, a cousin to the famous Jacques Torres chocolatier. Baking certainly runs in the family because his desserts shine at Malmaison. I have also sampled an apricot pastry and was not disappointed. Next on my list to try is the macaroons. I wish there were some savory options to pair with the cakes, cookies, and other sweet baked goods locked under glass domes at the coffee bar).

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Overall Rating: 3.5

 

Coffee Shop Review #15 St. Mark’s Coffeehouse Denver

The long-awaited next coffee shop review installment has come at last. If you can still recall, from way back when, categories are out of 5.

Location-4.5 (Taking a break from the coffee wasteland that Boulder has become, I headed down to Denver to meet my awesome friend Serena for an after work cafe catch up. We drove to St. Mark’s Coffeehouse which is near City Park in Northeast Denver. This parkside neighborhood is super cute and has lush trees covering up small, ornate houses. The neighborhood is not the most easily accessible from say downtown Denver and parking can be hit or miss but it has carved out it’s own little niche of the student/worker vibe).

Barista Cuteness-5 (For the first time, I think in my coffee outing lifetime I saw a single barista behind the bar handling everything from ringing up customers, doling out baked goods, and, of course, finessing the espresso machine. This single barista was also quite handsome and very personable. He executed all of his jobs with great ease and he served up perhaps the most efficient service I have ever seen. Sometimes less is indeed more).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4 (The simple menu yielded the standard cappuccino test but I did see a line of jars of coffee beans that I will be eager to scan more thoroughly on my next visit. The barista made some cute and comical attempts at naming his coffee art blobs and the espresso had a bit of a singed, bitter taste. This saddened me, as I had high hopes for the amazing creamsicle colored espresso machine and the man behind it).

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Ambiance- 4 (Both inside and out were eclectic and humming with a nice relaxed tone. One table was paired with two chairs with insanely large sculpted backs that almost connected to make a canopy over the table. A bar very reminiscent of an Italian stand-up espresso shop sat empty and a touch out of place in the middle of the room. The outside was very pleasant with lots of umbrella coverage and sturdy iron tables. However, the creaky, metal folding chairs were in dire need of some love and oiling. The huge open sliding window gave a great view into the front of the cafe which had perfectly reasonable tables for working and chatting with Edison bulbs strung over them).

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Food/Pastry Selection-4.5 (From the case of glistening cookies, cakes, scones, croissants and more we elected to share a peach tart. The pastry was extremely buttery and light while the peach filling was nice and tangy, not too sweet. It was quite a hard choice to make so another trip back will surely be needed to satisfy further pastry indulgences. The panini menu looked simple and was actually quite affordable as far as coffee shop standards go, with sandwiches ranging in price from $5-$6. A group across the way got a savory treat that smelled very good so I have a feeling that the taste probably lined up).

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Overall Rating: 4.4

 

 

Coffee Shop Review #11 The Cup Espresso Cafe

What are Boulder’s Baristas serving up? Find out (categories out of five).

Location-5(Located in Boulder, Colorado The Cup Espresso Cafe is competing with a fleet of independent coffee shops on Boulder’s downtown pedestrian walk, the Pearl Street Mall. The main drag of Boulder covers about 5 blocks and includes, restaurants, retail, and lots and lots of coffee options as aforementioned. Ambling on the mall is a Boulder must and the east end of the mall, where the Cup is located, is steadily growing in popularity).

Barista Cuteness-4.5(The barista’s are rocking it at The Cup, as you would expect from a exceptionally fit and healthy town. They are also  very charming and happy to chat. My only note would be that, while yes, good drinks take time to prepare, there always seems to be an exceptionally long wait time for beverages).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4(The Cup is all about their fair trade coffee, so for the environmentally conscious it is definitely a great option.  Conscious Coffees provide all the beans for the cafe, which is kind of a no brainer. The selection of beans is almost overwhelming and you can really get the exact flavor your heart desires. Espresso drinks are good at The Cup, but my main staple is their Florentine-divine! Whatever the swirling chocolately goodness is that they are pairing with the drip coffee is wonderful. The espresso drinks are prepared with the correct quantities of milk, foam, and espresso but the espresso seems to be very mellow in flavor, making the drinks a little flat). 

Ambiance-4(What The Cup lacks in inspiring design they make up for partly in their garage door opening and outdoor seating. Since it is sunny almost every day of the year in Colorado, I would highly recommend basking in the sun and watching the troves of bikers pass by. The interior is pretty basic with very standard wooden tables and chairs. There is a nice area of additional seating in the back of the cafe that is a pleasant, quieter space to do work).

Food/Pastry Selection-4.5(I have only every had one treat miss at The Cup and this can be partially blamed on pure faulty ordering, really you should never order a gluten-free carrot or apple anything-it’s just bound to be dry, chunky, and overall distasteful. However, the rest of the sweets at The Cup are great, and the cookies are massive and exceptional. If the peanut butter cookie is present, which is off and on,you are a outright fool if you don’t snatch one or five up. The Cup also serves up lots of sandwiches and bagels if you are in the mood to make it a meal. Everything is made fresh, in house, which is the benefit of having a full kitchen in a coffee shop, a luxury that many more urban cafes can’t get away with. I recently branched out from my cookie obsession and got a a rosemary scone that was perfectly baked and full of flavor, so make sure to try something new too).

Overall Rating: 4.4

Coffee Shop Review #10 Wormhole Coffee

This windy city coffee shop will blow you away, delightful gusts of praise out of 5.

Location-5(Browse through any recent post on my blog and you will see I am buzzing about Wicker Park and Wormhole Coffee lies at the heart of all the goodness on N. Milwaukee amidst records shops, thrift stores, and all sorts of other delightful wonders. The coffee shop is open from 7am to 11pm so it accrues all sorts of interesting  people to eye as you sip your espresso).

Barista Cuteness-4.5(The baristas are certainly handsome at the Wormhole and will even periodically clear off your empty dishes after you have finished munching and sipping).

Coffee Knowledge/Selection-4.5(I’m going to dock Wormhole Coffee a half a point for only having one roaster on the menu while I was there but beyond this small critique, the selection was superb. The cafe housed 5 rotating single origins prepared with 4 different brewing methods, really quite impressive.The different pours served as a strong indicator that the staff knew coffee, and knew how each coffee would be best served. I first got an Ethiopian Guji from Halfwit Roasters, which was extremely good, a little lighter than the Yirgacheffe but still holding on to lots of rich flavors that were more on the fruity side.  After an initial eye-roll when asked what size I wanted my cappuccino to be, I promptly got over it when after answering “for here, small” the barista affirmed my choice with an “excellent, traditional”. The cappuccino was rich and robust which was very nice and adorned with some classic and beautiful latte art).

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Ambiance-5(At the Wormhole there is a very cozy and quaint atmosphere that feels very intimate and inviting. Old movie posters are pasted on the wall along with a row of collectable lunch boxes and other kitschy items. The coffee shop has mismatched thrifted couches, chairs and tables, which are basically essential to creating a hip and authentic feel. There is ample seating to recline and relax but also a cool line of stools at a wooden bar peering in at the espresso machine front lines and chemex crafting artisans).

Pastry/Food selection-5(The baked good case is small but mighty in Wicker Park at the Wormhole and has an exceptional array of donuts, croissants, tarts, and other tempting items. Treats are made by Fritz Pastry and they know what they are doing when it comes to an almond croissant. Fritz also has it going on when it comes to the exotic doughnuts. While the French Toast Doughnut was probably too sweet for one, when appropriately shared by two it gives you just the right sugar buzz).

Overall Rating: 4.8

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