25 May 2016

Coffee, Cupping and Cocktails with The Roastery Department

I've long been a fan of the cafes in the small but growing Department of Coffee and Social Affairs empire. There are nine now, in various locations from Piccadilly to Spitalfields, each serving speciality coffee. Last year, they launched their own roasting department called — you guessed it — The Roastery Department, who organised a coffee cupping and cocktail event for bloggers last week. The invitation was a bag of Costa Rican beans; how cool is that?

We gathered in the newly refurbished basement of the Spitalfields Department of Coffee, where we were welcomed by Department of Coffee CEO Ashley Lopez, Roastery Department head roaster Dumo Mathema and account manager Thom Bevan-Jones, as well as Bertie Sewell from green-coffee trader, Schluter Coffee.

Bertie talked about the importance of building good relationships with farmers and producers in order to secure the best quality beans in a sustainable way (the 'social affairs' aspect of the Department is just as important as the 'coffee'). Dumo then gave us a whistle-stop tour of coffee-processing techniques, from washed and natural to honey-processed (which doesn't actually involve honey; it just refers to the sticky, sugary substance that surrounds the coffee seed after the pulp is removed). Changing the processing method can alter the flavour of the coffee considerably, as can all the other variables, including the roasting itself. There are computer programs that can help you determine the best roast profile for a particular coffee, but when you have a guru like Dumo, you don't need them.

I've done a few cupping sessions and I still need a lot more practice, but each time, I learn a little more. Dumo showed us how to sniff the freshly roasted dry coffee grounds, then add hot water and sniff again. Next, we had to break the crust — piercing the thick layer of grounds floating on the surface of the water with a spoon and dragging backwards. After scooping away the grounds, it was finally time to perfect our slurps; not the most glamorous skill in the world, but it was kind of fun. Slurping just requires you to take a small spoonful of coffee and to slurp it back as hard as you can, ideally spraying the coffee across your palate to really appreciate those subtle notes. As it was an evening event, spittoons were provided (what did I just say about glamour?), but I have long since acquired the ability to drink coffee all day and night without any impact on my sleep.

Armed with an SCAA flavour wheel, we had to guess which coffee was processed using which technique and to describe the flavour profiles. The flavour wheel includes terms like 'rubber', 'skunky' and even 'onion', which, in case you hadn't guessed, aren't usually signs of a good coffee. 'Strawberry', 'jasmine' and 'chocolate', on the other hand, may be more appealing, depending on your taste in coffee.

I always say that my favourite coffees come from Central America — I'm partial to Costa Rican and Guatemalan varieties, in particular — yet whenever I do a blind tasting, it's usually the African varieties that I prefer. The natural-processed Ethiopian Sidamo, which was fruity and sweet, ended up being my favourite. The Roastery Department arranged some fantastic goodie bags for us, which included a bag of freshly roasted Sidamo beans; it's been tasting great brewed in my Hario cold brew maker.

After the cupping, it was time for a nightcap. Two, in fact. We tried a couple of different cold-brew cocktails, one involving vodka and ginger, and one with a delicious rum from Hackney-based Pirate's Grog. The rum was the perfect complement to the cold brew and, as we received a small bottle of it in our goodie bags, I made a fab mojito at the weekend. The bottle also looks cooler on my bar cart than Bacardi!

Engagement and advocacy is a big part of the Roastery Department's mission. They run a training school and hold cupping sessions, and it's clear that the whole team are really passionate about making speciality coffee accessible to a broad range of people: you don't have to be a coffee snob to enjoy a well-made, high-quality cup of coffee, after all.

I had a really fun evening — thanks again to The Roastery Department and the Department of Coffee for having me. It was also lovely to see some coffee-blogger friends and to meet a few new ones — I spent hours talking (coffee) shop with Jess from Eating East, Dan from Cups of London Coffee, Jamie from Bean There and Tayler from GRE&D.

The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs | Instagram | Twitter
The Roastery Department | Twitter

23 May 2016

Vietnam Coffee Guide II: Hanoi

This is the second part of my Vietnam coffee guide, which focuses on the cafes I discovered in Hanoi. (You can read the first part, which covers Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An, here.)

I spent two full days and three evenings in Hanoi, which wasn't nearly enough time to explore all that the Vietnamese capital has to offer, but I did manage to visit eight cafes. Hanoi is famous for its unusual coffee concoctions, such as egg coffee and coconut coffee, which I had to sample, but I also found a few good spots for western-style speciality coffee. The map below includes coffee shops from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An, so you will probably need to use the zoom.

Boeing Coffee Shop
I visited Boeing Coffee on the way back to the Old Quarter from Maison de Tet Decor (see below). As the name suggests, it is a cafe that has been designed to look like the inside of a Boeing aeroplane. It overlooks Trúc Bạch Lake and serves Vietnamese coffee and espresso-based drinks. In a failed attempt to cool down, I ordered an iced black coffee (30,000 VND; £1), which I sipped while I enjoyed the views. The menu also includes some intriguing blended ice drinks, such as 'Cookie Calamity' and 'The Elegant Irish'; I suspect they are probably much too sweet for me, but if you like that sort of drink, you may be in luck.

Boeing Coffee Shop is located at 29 Trúc Bạch (Ba Đình). Facebook. Instagram.

Cafe Phố Cổ
The rooftop of Cafe Phố Cổ  has a great view over Hoàn Kiếm Lake, which is lucky, because it takes a little bit of effort to get there! You enter through a silk shop on Hàng Gai, proceed through the alleyway and climb several increasingly precarious flights of stairs, one of which was being guarded by an extremely cute ginger cat.

The view is well worth it, though: you can see down to the lake's Turtle Tower and Thê Húc Bridge, and that high up, there was a rare breeze. I had an iced black coffee (30,000 VND; £1), which was pretty good, although not amazing. In case it isn't already clear, the view is the primary reason for heading to Cafe Phố Cổ.

Cafe Phố Cổ is located at 11 Hàng Gai (Old Quarter). TripAdvisor.

Càfê RuNam
Attracted by the cool copper coffee machine on the bar, I noticed RuNam on my first evening in Hanoi, but didn't visit until my last day, after I realised that it also came with a Fancy a Cuppa endorsement. Aside from the beautiful decor, RuNam has an extensive coffee, tea and dessert menu. They serve espresso-based drinks but as it was my last coffee before leaving Vietnam, I decided to have a final iced, black, Vietnamese-style coffee. At 81,000 VND, it was the most expensive Vietnamese coffee of my trip, although at £2.50, it was hardly breaking the bank. The coffee was very well prepared and had a complex, fruity taste. It was also exquisitely presented on some gorgeous blue ceramic tableware. RuNam also has several sister cafes and bistros in Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Nha Trang.

Càfê RuNam is located at 13 Nhà Thờ (Cathedral District). Website. Instagram.

Cộng Càphê
There are 16 coffee shops in Cộng Càphê's mini-empire. I went to one of Old Quarter branches for a post-dinner treat one evening. The decor was both cosy and quirky, with floor cushions and low tables for relaxing over a coffee, and vintage posters and military-themed objets d'art on display. I had heard that this was a great place to try a coconut coffee, so that's what I ordered (45,000 VND; £1.40). Very sweet and not unlike a Frappuccino, the drink blended coffee, coconut milk, fresh coconut and ice. It was delicious, although in my opinion, much more of a pudding than a coffee.

Cộng Càphê is located at 41 Hàng Điếu (Old Quarter). There are 15 other branches in Hanoi and other cities. Website. Twitter.

Đinh Cafe
This cafe was recommended to me by My from Rosie's Cafe in Hoi An as an authentic place to grab a Vietnamese-style coffee. It is hidden away down a very unpromising alleyway on the busy road that runs along the north side of Hoàn Kiếm Lake. At the end of the alley, you head upstairs into a small, dark room filled with young Hanoians. There is a small balcony that looks out onto the lake and I was lucky enough to find an empty seat in prime position. The egg coffee is supposed to be very good here, but I had already had my fill, so I just ordered an iced black coffee instead (a bargain at 17,000 VND; 50p). The coffee was good, although not outstanding, but the view and the ambience were both excellent.

Đinh Cafe is located at 13 Đinh Tiên Hoàng (Old Quarter). Facebook.

Giang Cafe
When in Hanoi, you have to try one of the fêted egg coffees, which combine coffee, whisked egg yolk and condensed milk. I wasn't convinced I would like it, but several people told be that Giang Cafe, in the heart of the Old Quarter, was the place to give it a go. The cafe is tucked down a little alleyway and early on a weekday morning, the upstairs cafe was heaving. I managed to find a seat at one of the many small, low tables and ordered the coffee (20,000 VND; 60p). It was actually a lot more pleasant than I was expecting: smooth and very creamy, although too sweet for my taste. Giang Cafe itself is rather characterful with a nice ambiance and local artwork on the walls.

Giang Cafe is located at 39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân (Old Quarter). Website.

Maison de Tet Decor
I visited Maison de Tet on the recommendation of Trung from The Espresso Station in Hanoi. It is located on a quiet street overlooking West Lake, a good 45-minute stroll from central Hanoi, but it was well worth the effort. It serves a wide range of single-origin coffees and coffee blends, with beans from Vietnam and further afield, which are roasted on site each day in small batches. Each coffee can be prepared with an impressive variety of brew methods, including espresso-based drinks, pourovers, Vietnamese-style coffee and cold brew.

I was hot and tired when I arrived but the Ethiopian ('Wind') cold brew (60,000 VND; £2) really hit the spot. It was smooth and refreshing, and came with a little serving of honey, which I didn't try, and a biscuit, which I did. I also tried a Vietnamese-style coffee (45,000 VND; £1.40), made using the 'Thunder' coffee (a blend of arabica and robusta coffees from Vietnam). I had the coffee with condensed milk — when in Vietnam, and all that — which was too sweet for my liking, but the coffee was very well prepared.

You can buy bags of beans, and the cafe also serves sweet treats and has an amazing-looking brunch menu. I sat in the cool downstairs patio, but the upstairs section has a great view over the lake; the cafe's interiors, meanwhile, are stylish and chic. I just wished Maison de Tet was a little closer to the city centre so that I could have gone back for brunch.

Maison de Tet Decor is located at 36 Từ Hoa Công Chúa (West Lake). Website. FacebookInstagram.

Oriberry Coffee
Oriberry is a fair-trade coffee company and social enterprise with a small cafe just opposite St. Joseph's Cathedral. There are a handful of small tables inside and the shop also stocks bags of Oriberry beans and a great selection of beautiful fair-trade ceramics from Indigenous. They had some particularly beautiful monochrome ceramic coffee drippers. They serve Vietnamese-style coffee and espresso drinks. I had a macchiato (35,000 VND; £1.10), which was rich and smooth.

Oriberry Coffee is located at 36 Ấu Triệu (Cathedral District). Website. Twitter.

20 May 2016

At Second Shot Coffee, Cafe Meets Society

This weekend sees the opening of a new coffee shop, a generous stone's throw from Bethnal Green Tube station. Second Shot Coffee will serve a range of espresso-based and filter coffees and a selection of locally sourced cakes and sweet treats. So far, so standard, but Julius Ibrahim, Second Shot's founder, has a broader vision that focuses as much on social enterprise as on the quality of its food and drink.

I stopped by during a pre-launch event for press and bloggers and Second Shot was already in great shape a week ahead of the launch. The compact cafe is located on Bethnal Green Road and has just a few small tables, as well as a fold-down perching table; eventually, the plan is to have a bench on the pavement outside. The art, which hadn't quite made it onto the walls during the launch, is sourced from art sessions run by local homeless organisations, with all of the proceeds going to support the artists.

In fact, Second Shot's ambitions to provide support, training, skills and a sense of community to homeless individuals are at the core of what they do and I think the cafe's name captures this philosophy perfectly. Second Shot is partnering with various organisations to hire and train formerly homeless individuals to work in the cafe, and after hours, Ibrahim plans to re-open as a community hub for homelessness.

They aren't the first cafe to offer a pay-it-forward system — whereby a customer can pay £1 for a drink and add the purchase to the pay-it-forward wall for someone else to take later, free of charge. But they are the first that I've seen to allow customers to pay £1 and receive three stamps on a loyalty card that they can hand over to a person in need. You can also 'pay forward' a cake (£2) or a meal (£4).

It was important for Ibrahim, who cut his teeth at Bleecker St Burger, among other places, to ensure that the food and coffee were up to scratch too, though. I tried several drinks: a very fine macchiato and a great flat white, brewed by Head of Coffee, Emilio Rodriguez, using the chocolatey Eden espresso blend from Cast Iron.

They also had five or six different filter coffee varieties on offer, from roasters based in London and further afield. I was intrigued to see a coffee from a Hungarian roaster, but we sampled an Ethiopian variety from Amsterdam-based Sweet Cup. Rodriguez brewed it through the Chemex, which really brought out the subtle strawberry notes. They will serve a continually changing selection of filter coffees, which can be brewed with a V60, Aeropress or Chemex; perfect for filter-heads like me.

Although I wasn't particularly hungry, by the time I'd left, barista Ephy Beckford had persuaded me to try almost all of the cakes they were serving. (OK, I didn't need much persuading!) The individual banana bread loaf (served with its own banana chip garnish) was particularly good — perfectly moist — but I also enjoyed the carrot cake and the brownie. The sweet treats come from Rise Bakery and Luminary Bakery, and the grilled-cheese sarnies will have bread sourced from The Dusty Knuckle.

Second Shot is a small cafe with big ambitions, although the coffee alone is worth the trip to Bethnal Green. Today is their soft launch, ahead of their launch tomorrow, Saturday 21 May, so if you are in the neighbourhood (and even if you aren't), you should consider stopping by.

Second Shot Coffee. 475 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2 9QH (Tube: Bethnal Green). Website. Twitter. Open: 7–6 (M–F) and 9–7 (S–S).

18 May 2016

"The Intersection Between Life and Art" — Before the Fall Review

At the centre of Noah Hawley’s novel Before the Fall is a plane crash — a private plane crash, which, within the first few pages, has killed nine people, leaving two survivors. The crash happens so swiftly that the rest of the novel is spent trying to unravel what happened — and why — through flashbacks that explore the lives of the passengers and crew.

Scott Burroughs, a troubled and struggling painter “of catastrophe”, is the one passenger who seems out of place on the private flight from Martha’s Vineyard to New York. He has been invited by Maggie, a casual acquaintance whose wealthy and powerful husband David has organised the flight. Also on board are David and Maggie’s young children, their good friends, a bodyguard and three crew.

We soon learn that Scott survives the crash and, in fact, becomes a hero after swimming to shore with another less-able passenger. His heroism is soon questioned, however, once the investigation into the crash begins and once the media begin to ponder why a has-been artist was on board a private flight with the super-wealthy. He does have one apparent ally, though, in the form of Gus Franklin from the National Transportation Safety Board, who is trying to establish whether the crash was indeed an accident or, for example, an act of terrorism.

Hawley intersperses Scott’s post-crash experiences with the back-stories and political intrigues of the other passengers and the result is a languorous, sad and beautifully told story. Scott’s career as an artist — particularly one who paints disaster scenes from the news — is not without relevance to the story and the “intersection between life and art” is central to the novel. Scott compares the mystery to an apparently blank canvas, explaining that, “the naked eye alone will never be able to uncover the story” but if you run your hand over it, “the topographic truth” will seep through.

Before the Fall is a slow-burner and the ending is not quite as satisfying as I was hoping, given the set-up but the conceit and its execution are both very effective in Hawley’s skilled hands. Before the Fall is an engaging mystery and a great summer read — although perhaps not if you are a nervous flyer!

Disclaimer: Before the Fall will be published by Grand Central Publishing on 31 May 2016. I received a pre-release copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

16 May 2016

Vietnam Coffee Guide I: Saigon and Hoi An

I had planned to put together a single coffee guide highlighting all of my favourite coffee and cafe discoveries from my recent trip to Vietnam. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover a lot of great places on my two-week trip, so I've decided to split the guide into two parts. This first part covers Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hoi An; part two, which I will post next week, will focus on Hanoi. I also spent two days in Hué but didn't find any particularly good coffee shops.


With the tours I took to the Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta, I only had a day and a half to spend in central Saigon. I would have liked an extra day to visit some of the other coffee shops on my list and, hopefully, to make some new discoveries. Still, I thought that finding two excellent speciality coffee spots and a further restaurant that serves good coffee was pretty good going. I drank a lot of Vietnamese-style coffee too — mainly cà phê đen đá (iced black coffee) — but mainly from hole-in-the-wall joints while I was on the go.

The Workshop
The Workshop occupies a gorgeous, light-filled space on the top floor of a building just over a block from Nguyen Hué, a pedestrianised street at the heart of district one. It's a bit of a climb to the third floor but once there, you will be rewarded with a calm (and thankfully air-conditioned), industrial-chic haven dedicated to the worship of great coffee. At its centre is a large, 360-degree brew bar that hosts all of the coffee-making kit you can imagine; there are communal benches and smaller tables.

During my visit, there was a single-origin espresso on offer, along with three single-origin filter coffees (one from Vietnam, one from Ethiopia and one from Indonesia), all of which are roasted on site. Naturally, I went for the Vietnamese coffee, which was from My Son's farm in Da Lat. With so many brew methods available, it was hard to choose, but a) the barista suggested that the coffee I had chosen would work well in an Aeropress and b) I thought it might be the last Aeropress-brewed coffee of my trip, so I opted for that.

The coffee was very well prepared and I enjoyed sitting at the bar watching and chatting to the friendly barista. I also tried a cold brew shot — an appealing prospect given the 36-degree heat outside — which had a rich and smooth taste. With a croissant and the two coffees, my bill came to about 250,000 VND (about £7.80). There is also a great-looking egg-centric brunch menu that I would have tried if I had had a bigger appetite.

The Workshop is located at 27 Ngô Đức Kế (third floor), District 1. Facebook.

Klasik Coffee Roasters
Although Klasik Coffee Roasters is only a block or two away from The Workshop, I decided to save it until later in my one full day in central Saigon. Klasik is a slim and stylish cafe close to both Nguyen Hué and the Saigon waterfront. The long, wooden coffee bar has an attractive geometric pattern and hosts the vibrant red La Marzocco. As well as espresso-based drinks and Vietnamese-style coffee, Klasik serves a wide range of hand-brewed filter coffee options. More impressive still, they had 12 coffee varieties on offer; there weren't any Vietnamese beans, but Laos and Yemen both featured.

I wish I had tried the Laos coffee, but the Kenyan Nyeri Gaturiri Peaberry I tried was excellent brewed through the Chemex (75,000 VND (£2.40)). I went back on my last morning to check out the nitro cold brew (50,000 VND (a bargain at £1.60)). I also chatted to the owner about the Saigon speciality coffee scene, which is, by all accounts, close-knit, collegial and burgeoning. Long may that trend continue!

Klasik Coffee Roasters is located at 40 Mạc Thị Bưởi, District 1. Website. Facebook. Instagram.

More of a restaurant and concept store than coffee shop, L'Usine is still worth a stop if you are looking for a decent western-style coffee in the heart of District 1. I went for an early brunch — the Aussie-influenced brunch menu looks great, although I was so hot I only wanted a refreshing Vietnamese salad. I also had a flat white (75,000 VND (£2.40)), which was pretty good, if slightly too hot, and had particularly good latte art. If you aren't in the mood for coffee (and if not, why not?!), they have a big selection of juices, beers and wines.

L'Usine is located at 151 / 1 Dong Khoi (first floor), District 1. A second location has opened at 70 Lê Lợi, District 1, HCMC. Website. Instagram.

I've included in my map three further cafes that came up in my research but that I didn't have time to visit: Bosgaurus Coffee (92 Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, District 2); Mockingbird Cafe (14 Tôn Thất Đạm (fourth floor), District 1); and, in the same building as Mockingbird, Things Cafe (14 Tôn Thất Đạm (first floor, District 1).

Hoi An

The Espresso Station
The Espresso Station was my first port of call on arriving in Hoi An. Unfortunately, it was closed for several days, but I did manage to visit on the last morning of my stay. The cafe is a couple of blocks north of the heart of Hoi An's Old Town and is hidden away down a small alley (look for the 'but first, coffee' sign) but is well worth seeking out. There is a lovely courtyard garden at the front and a few small tables in the cosy cafe.

I took a seat at the petite coffee bar, where I chatted to the owner/barista Trung, whose intense passion for great coffee comes through in every cup. I ordered an iced V60 pourover, which Trung prepared using a single-origin Papandayan coffee from Indonesia (70,000 VND (£2.20)). The coffee was one of the best of my trip: I could really taste some of the more subtle and delicate flavour notes. I didn't have time to have a macchiato too, sadly, but Trung's latte art is also rather good. The Espresso Station is a great place for speciality coffee made by coffee-lovers for coffee-lovers.

The Espresso Station is located at 28/2 Trần Hưng Đạo. Facebook. Instagram.

Mia Coffee
I was happy to discover that Mia Coffee was located less than a block from my Hoi An hotel, an easy 10-minute stroll from the Old Town. I stopped by several times during my visit and it was always busy. The cafe has a relaxed atmosphere and is popular with both tourists and locals. They roast their own coffee in the little roaster in the corner of the cafe and serve Vietnamese-style coffee and espresso-based drinks, as well as juices, smoothies, breakfast and lunch.

On my first visit, I had a piccolo (35,000 VND (£1.10)) and a black Vietnamese-style drip coffee (30,000 VND (£1)). I had a few mediocre Vietnamese coffees during my trip — I suspect that the widespread use of Robusta coffee may have had a role in this — but Mia Coffee made me a really smooth and flavoursome drip coffee. The piccolo was very good too, as was the iced latte (40,000 VND (£1.25) I had to try to cool myself down before cycling out to the beach. The staff are really friendly and Mia Coffee is a great little neighbourhood coffee spot.

Mia Coffee is located at 20 Phan Bội Châu. Facebook.

Rosie's Cafe
I discovered Rosie's Cafe, which was opened by two young women — My and Thuy — about a month ago, when they posted a comment on my Instragram. I probably wouldn't have found their cafe otherwise — it's located slightly west of the Old Town, just west of the Japanese Covered Bridge, and is tucked away down a quiet alley. I'm glad I did, though, because My and Thuy have created a really lovely cafe. The two friends love coffee and have always wanted to start their own business together. The result is Rosie's Cafe, which is named for the heroine of one of their favourite films (Love, Rosie), who inspired them both to follow their dreams. They have set up Rosie's Cafe essentially by themselves and are already doing a great job.

Rosie's Cafe serves Vietnamese-style coffee (20–25,000 VND) and cold brew (50,000 VND (£1.60)), which they brew for eight hours in a siphon using coffee from Cau Dat in the Vietnamese highlands. The cold brew, which was really delicious, comes served in an Instagram-ready bottle designed by a friend of the girls from Indonesia. There are also cold-pressed juices and snacks and sweet treats on the menu. The cafe itself is tastefully decorated — you feel as though you are in the living room of someone cool — and there's a small courtyard at the back.

Rosie's is still very new so if you are in Hoi An and looking for cold brew, do consider stopping by. The coffee is good and I also found My and Thuy's story very inspiring.

Rosie's Cafe is located at 8/6 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai (it's a little tricky to find, but cross to the west of the Japanese Covered Bridge and then walk along Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai until you see a sign for the Nguyen Tuong Family Chapel and then turn right; the cafe is down the alley on the right-hand side). Facebook. Instagram.

Hoi An Roastery
There are several Hoi An Roastery cafes in the Old Town and I visited the Tran Phu location a couple of times. They serve pourovers, French press, siphon and espresso-based drinks as well as Vietnamese-style coffee, using coffee they roast at their roastery. The pourovers I tried (45,000 VND (£1.40)), made using coffee from Da Lat, were both pretty good, although the serving size was very small — closer to the standard Vietnamese-style coffee serving than a standard pourover; I wonder if grind size was an issue. Regardless, for a quick and decent coffee stop in the Old Town, you will rarely be more than a few minutes' walk from a Hoi An Roastery. They sell beans too.

Hoi An Roastery is located at 135 Trần Phú; there are also a few other locations, including 57 Lê Lợi. Website. Facebook.

While I was in Hoi An, there were two national holidays and several of the cafes I wanted to check out were closed for the weekend. I had been looking forward to visiting Reaching Out Teahouse (103 Nguyen Thai Hoc) in particular but wasn't able to; Not Just Another Milla has a beautiful review of this cafe.