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10 December 2018

Six Speciality Coffee Shops To Try in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a city so convenient to get to from London that it's rather embarrassing that my only previous visit was at the end of the last century. 2018 was the year I finally managed to right that wrong and top of my list of things to do was visiting some of the excellent speciality coffee shops and roasteries that the city now boasts. Of course, when friends and family ask why you're going to Amsterdam and you say, "for the coffee shops," a little clarification is required as to which type of coffee shop you mean. And of course, I meant the ones where I could drink a cup of freshly roasted, well brewed speciality-grade coffee. What were you expecting?

I only had two days in the city, arriving on Saturday morning and leaving on Sunday evening. The city centre is quite compact, however, and although I didn't have time to visit some of the further-out spots on my list, I did go to six coffee shops and was impressed with them all, both in terms of the quality of the coffee and the service. As usual, I've marked my absolute favourites in purple in the map below.

Back to Black
On a cold, grey December Saturday afternoon, seeking cosiness was the order of the day and I found it in abundance at Black to Black, a small cafe perched above the Lijnbaansgracht canal. It was packed when I arrived, but I managed to find a seat perched at the counter. The cute, if sleepy, resident ginger kitty was sadly not willing to share his seat with me.

As it was very busy, I did not order a pourover or other black coffee (as one probably should at Back to Black) but a cortado, which was well brewed by the super-friendly baristas. Back to Black has roasted its own coffee since 2015, and bags of retail coffee are available to buy. And if you're into pie, the apple pie here looked especially good.

Back to Black is located at Weteringstraat 48. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Bocca Coffee
Located between Prinsengracht (Prince's Canal) and Keizersgracht (Emperor's Canal), two of Amsterdam's three primary canals, Bocca Coffee's Kerkstraat location is a beautiful cafe that serves excellent coffee. After admiring the water fountain near the door — the now-outgrown and repurposed Probat coffee roaster Bocca first used — I then stopped to admire the colourful retail bags of beans. In the end, I decided to buy the Myanmar Hopong natural beans, although the Ethiopian Guji Dimtu Tero were a close second.

Luckily, the Ethiopian beans were available as a pourover at the brew bar, so I ordered one of those and took a seat at one of the small tables around the edge of the spacious, airy cafe. The wooden U-shaped counter occupies most of the space, but there are also cosy nooks with comfy seating if you don't fancy perching at the bar or at one of the high tables. The art, which relates to coffee production and origins, is also available to buy. In other words, Bocca's cafe is a coffee-lover's paradise.

My coffee arrived promptly, despite the cafe being quite busy, and came with a description of the coffee, whose forest fruit and orange flavour notes came through very nicely. I almost wished I'd bought the Ethiopian beans instead — but once I tried the Myanmar coffee at home, I was happy with my choice. With its relaxed atmosphere and friendly, knowledgeable staff, this is the kind of neighbourhood coffee shop every neighbourhood should have.

Bocca Coffee is located at Kerkstraat 96. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Frederix Roastery X Coffee Bar
After avoiding the rain for most of the day, the heavens finally opened when I was in the De Pijp neighbourhood, and on my way back to my hotel, I sought shelter at Frederix Roastery X Coffee Bar, a refined but unpretentious cafe on Frederiksplein, just south of the eastern end of Prinsengracht. As the name suggests, Frederix roasts its own coffee as well as serving coffee and other drinks, breakfast and lunch.

From the outside, it looks as though there are just a few seats near the counter, but following the counter towards the back reveals a surprisingly light-filled area with marble tables, bistro chairs and comfortable leather sofas. I ordered an Aeropress brew, which featured Frederix's current filter roast, which blends Indonesian, South American and Africa coffees. Although a slightly darker roast than I usually go for, the coffee was well made and a good match for the wintry day outside.

Frederix is located at Frederiksplein 29. Website. Instagram.

Amsterdam West
Friedhats FUKU Cafe
Given that I knew Friedhats was a Dutch roaster, which I first came across in a Colombian–Dutch cafe in Crouch End, I had assumed its name meant something in Dutch. But when I put the question to co-owner Dylan, who I met at Friedhats' FUKU Cafe, he smiled and told me that it was in fact an anagram of Headfirst, the first cafe he worked in. FUKU is about two miles west of central Amsterdam — an easy tram or bike ride, or, in my case, a 40-minute power walk. However you journey there, it's well worth the trip.

After selecting some beans to take home as a gift, I perused the menu. Unfortunately, I didn't have time for a hand-brewed filter coffee — the 'super-special' Colombian and Ethiopian options (€7.50) sounded particularly good — but I did have time for an espresso, which I drank at the bar. I opted for the Kenyan Karimikui, which was very fruity with blackberry and currant notes. With its signature pops of vibrant yellow, the coffee bar is nicely designed too and it was busy even on a Sunday evening. Unfortunately, I didn't have any guilders to spend at the coffee-bean vending machine; one for next time, perhaps, although I so rarely have any hand money on me that even getting Euros out is enough of a faff.

Friedhats FUKU Cafe is located at Bos en Lommerweg 136. Website. Instagram.

Lot Sixty One
Lot Sixty One is another Amsterdam coffee roaster I first discovered at the excellent Velasquez and Van Wezel in Crouch End. Their cafe–roastery is a short walk from the city centre and I decided to head straight there for breakfast on Sunday morning. The coffee bar is on the ground floor, and there are a few seats by the windows. It was busy when I arrived, however, so I headed down into the basement where there some more seats next to the roaster and training lab.

There weren't any hand-brewed filter coffee options on the menu so I ordered a cortado with the new Nosegrind espresso — a blend of two natural coffees, one Nicaraguan and one Ethiopian, which promises flavour notes of blueberries, chocolate and 'funk'. The latter isn't necessarily something I look for in a coffee, but the Nosegrind blend tasted great with a little milk — fruit, chocolate and a jazzy twist. Once again, Acme's lovely new dark blue cups made an appearance (I didn't realise that their colours are chosen to reflect New Zealand wildlife).

Bags of retail beans, with classy royal blue and white packaging, are on sale by the coffee bar, but sadly, I didn't have any room in my bag for any more coffee on this occasion.

Lot Sixty One is located at Kinkerstraat 112. Website. TwitterInstagram.

Monks Coffee Roasters
Last, but most certainly not least, is Monks Coffee Roasters, not too far from Lot Sixty One on Bilderdijkstraat. Beyond the charcoal grey shopfront is a lovely, lively cafe that was bustling at the brunching hour on Sunday. I had already made other brunch plans, which was a pity as I was getting some serious food envy while I waited for my coffee.

My disappointment soon faded when the coffee arrived. I chose an Ethiopian Guji from Boot Koffie in Baarn, which had subtle lemon and jasmine flavours. The staff were also very welcoming even though it was very busy. Laptops and tablets are verboten but if you need further entertainment, you can choose from the excellent selection of magazines. Finally, I came across the second unique tap-water provision of the trip: a tap connected directly to a pipe that runs along the wall, with a plant underneath ready to catch any drips.

Monks is located at Bilderdijkstraat 46. Website. TwitterInstagram.

27 November 2018

At Central Restaurante, a 16-Course Adventure across Peru

It goes without saying that if you want to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you need to book your trip a long time in advance. But there was another activity on my Peru to-do list that required a long lead time: dining at Central in Lima. Currently ranked number six on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, Virgilio Martínez's fêted restaurant, which applies modern techniques to Peruvian ingredients, has long been on my radar and my interest was further piqued by an episode of Chef's Table. I have high expectations, and the experience exceeds them, delighting my senses and taking me on a journey through the ecosystems of Peru that sets the stage for the rest of my holiday.

One morning six weeks before my arrival in Lima, I set the alarm for 6 am. Central bookings for September go live at midnight Peru time on 30 July and although I'm not sure my early start is necessary, it's worth it when I know I've secured a spot in the main restaurant at 8 pm. I check back on the website later in the day and the restaurant is fully booked on both of the evenings I will be in Lima so I feel vindicated.

I am booked in for dinner on my second night in Lima, a Saturday night. I try to eat carefully all day, worried I'll get sick — or ruin my appetite. The restaurant is located in the Barranco neighbourhood, about a three-mile journey from my hotel in Miraflores. I decide to walk to help me work up an appetite for my 16-course Mater Elevations tasting menu; I take an Uber home at the end of the night.

It's dark when I arrive and I'm guided through an attractive garden into the restaurant. I worry that as a lone diner, I will stick out like a sore thumb amid various romantic dates, celebrations and business dinners, but every member of staff is incredibly welcoming. I am seated at a table next to the kitchen and I can watch the staff at work through a large window. The table itself, as you will see in my photos, is a work of art, and there is enough space between the tables to allow a little privacy in the spacious, attractive room.

My first task is to choose a drink. There are wine and non-alcoholic pairing menus, but I start with a cocktail, the tart and fruity Selvático, which combines Amazonian Gin Company gin, kaffir lime and sacha cilantro. Like everything else I come to consume during the meal, it is delicious and beautifully presented. Later in the meal, I order the Arriba, which blends rum from northern Peru with cacao, lime from the Piura region and a tropical fruit called the mamey. It too jumps way up in my all-time list of best cocktails.

My waiter presents me with a circular menu, around which descriptions of the 16 courses wind in a spiral pattern. The text only hints at the complexity of each course, providing a name for the elevation — each course represents a different Peruvian elevation or altura — and a few ingredients, many of which aren't familiar to me. I have brought a notebook with me and I try to jot down as much as I can of the descriptions the wait staff serve up. And in case you are worried about making a food faux pas, each course arrives with exactly the right cutlery and/or tools — and instructions for how, and in which order, to eat each element.

Take dish number one, for example: red rocks, featuring percebes (goose barnacles) and clams from 10 metres below sea level. The waiter tells me to eat the orange clam with an edible flower on top with my fingers, and then use the stone spatula to add the barnacles to the crunchy wafer in the third bowl. The molluscs are fresh and taste exactly of the sea.

Another trio awaits me in course number two, edge of the desert. We've jumped to 180 metres above sea level, and the first bite is of what looks like a fuchsia piece of Turkish delight but is in fact a type of microalgae called sargassum, with cactus. Next, I eat the thinnest sweet potato leaf crisps, and finally, using the spoon, the beautifully creamy sea urchin.

The dish entitled dark purple root is perhaps the most diverse of the meal. The intricate maroon rose is made of mashua, an Andean root vegetable; it is simultaneously tart and creamy. The little tortilla tastes like a Weetabix with foie gras inside, although it's made of Chijchipa leaves with a sinfully rich mashua butter. The third vessel contains a few mouthfuls of duck tartare.

We skip down again to 106 metres for the forest cotton. The vibrant pink and purple morsel is river fish, and it is followed by a chaser of black bean broth, which is so smooth it reminds me of Coca Cola. The white bite is the cotton: it is soft and sweet, just as I expect, although there is a tanginess too.

The next course, jungle highlands, consists of two 'breads' made from the dale dale root. They are identical except that one (on the left) is prepared with ash, and one without. The former is served with a rich tree tomato butter and the latter with a butter flavoured with a cacao relative. The butters are the creamiest I've ever had, and much as I've been enjoying my tasting menu, I could have been persuaded to swap out a few courses for more of this bread and butter.

The courses start to get bigger now, with number six, ocean floor, being one of my favourites: scallop is paired with sweet cucumber (which reminds me of melon) and seaweed. The coastal foothills that comes next surprises and delights too. The central ingredient is a tuber called oca, and the dish includes elements that are crispy, salty and creamy, but there's also an unexpected passion fruit sauce.

It is almost inevitable that quinoa will appear on the menu in some form, and it's actually the grain's smaller, crunchier cousin kañiwa that pops up alongside the avocado and river shrimp in my foray into the high valley. This is followed by the only underwhelming item on the menu: the miniature 'jacket potato' served with a tangy green dipping sauce, which makes up the plant dyes of moray course. The sauce is nice but the tuber is a little dry. But I've already moved on because...eek: it's the piranha course (Amazonian waters)! Fortunately, the playful, piranha-head presentation is just for show and I only have to eat the sliver of crispy piranha skin with yucca root.

These vibrant colours fade to monochrome for the next course, jungle plains. The black and white foam contains Amazonian langoustines, cured meat and bellaco plantains. Foam also features in the next dish, deep sea coral, which is one of the prettiest courses. I have crockery envy for most of the evening, but particularly with these blue green dishes that coordinate so well with the squid and octopus foam, served with crispy sea lettuce (which tastes like nori).

"Now it's time for your main course," the waiter tells me. I chuckle. Although Andean slopes is the biggest dish of the night, it is also course number 13, and thus not exactly a classic definition of main course. I am treated to slow cooked baby goat, served with goat milk 'parmesan', and pink and yellow olluco root potatoes. I would never normally have ordered a dish like this but it is really good: the meat incredibly tender and flavoursome.

And then, it's dessert time. This is my kind of dessert menu, it turns out, because I get three. Amber woods, with yacón root, chestnut cream, a thin coffee biscuit and a slice of wrinkled lemon is first up; I am not usually fond of coffee-flavoured desserts, but it's hard to fault the combination of flavours in this dish. Hot on its heels is the cooling mountain rain, one of the most creative dishes on the menu. It comprises a super-intense cacao ice cream with a verdant matcha-like powder made from coca leaves and edible clay; a clear jelly represents the titular rain. This is so unusual and utterly delicious, although the cacao is so rich, I don't think I could have eaten any more. Finally, I drink the mil medicinal: an infusion containing jelly-bead-like microalgae. This is accompanied with a delicate wedge of 75% chocolate that contains the 'superfood' maca.

At the end of the meal, my waiter presents me with a lovely souvenir: a collection of illustrations and pressed flowers and leaves inspired by the ingredients on the menu. Then, it's time to settle up. My bill comes to about 650 PEN (about £150), including the tasting menu and two cocktails. Although tipping isn't especially common in Peru, I am happy to leave a tip here given the exceptional service. It is not a cheap meal but the quality of the food, the creativity of the menu and, indeed, the journey Virgilio Martínez has taken me on around the country of which he is so proud, make it extremely good value and an unforgettable experience. I have learned a lot about the country, its lands and its food. I have challenged myself to eat outside my comfort zone, and I feel as though I have eaten not just the rainbow but the whole Pantone colour system.

Suffice to say, I would highly recommend factoring a trip to Central into any Peruvian itinerary. It was a wonderful way to start my holiday and it was a meal that I will remember for years to come.

23 November 2018

The Caffeine Chronicles: Rosslyn Coffee

A few weeks ago, I tweeted about my frustrations of going into speciality coffee shops that offer hand-brewed filter coffee and asking for a pourover, only to be directed towards the batch-brew filter even when the shops aren't busy. I have the complete opposite experience when I pay a visit to Rosslyn Coffee on Queen Victoria Street in the heart of the City of London.

When I ask what coffee is available as a pourover, the baristas enthusiastically tell me about the Commonfolk coffee — roasted on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia — describing its flavours. They let me know that it is a little more expensive than the batch-brew, which is fine, of course, and offer me a choose of still or sparkling tap water.

This sense of hospitality continues throughout my visit and it's clear that the staff are keen to share their pride in the products they sell, from the coffee and the salted caramel Bread Ahead brownies, to the beautiful, bespoke ceramics from Melisa Dora. Sensing my interest in the coffee, one of the baristas brings me over a card with more information about the Young Blood filter blend I am drinking — which pairs two Ethiopian varieties, a Konga and a Worka, whose peach and lemonade notes really sing. Brewed through a Marco precision brewer, the coffee smells delicious as soon as it has been placed in front of me in the bench.

Named for the Melbourne street where one of the two owners used to work, Rosslyn Coffee certainly embodies that effortless Aussie coolness I encountered in many of the coffee shops I visited last year. They aren't afraid to put 'hard ballads' like Aerosmith on the soundtrack, just like Toronto restauranteur Jen Agg, who talks about such musical choices on Slate's excellent Women in Charge podcast. One of my favourite features is the newspaper pages pinned to the wall — the Pink 'Un, for this is the City, after all — a callback, perhaps, to Patricia Coffee Brewers, one of my favourite Melbourne coffee shops. Patricia is so tiny that there's barely even elbow room, hence the need to attach the newspaper to the wall. Rosslyn is more spacious — in the afternoon, at least — but with only slim high tables at which to perch, it's nice to have some reading material that doesn't require too much room.

Rosslyn is, by no means, style over substance, however, and my coffee, served in a glass beaker with one of the pink Melisa Dora cups, tastes wonderful. One of the two coffees is washed and the other a natural process, and they combine very well. This is a coffee shop that takes its coffee seriously without taking itself too seriously. As they note on their social media, they are, "Not concerned with trends, only what tastes good." Amen to that.

I wait until I've finished my coffee before starting on the brownie, which is very rich but delicious. And of course, I can't leave the premises without buying one of the ceramic cups. The only difficult decision is whether to choose the blue or the pink. In the end, I opt for the latter. I could have bought some coordinating Modern Standard coffee beans too, but I've already stocked up on some Ethiopian Catalyst coffee en route, which also comes in pink-accented packaging.

Rosslyn Coffee. 78 Queen Victoria Street, London, EC4N 4SJ (Tube: Mansion House). Website. TwitterInstagram.

For 100+ more of my favourite coffee shops in London, please check out my speciality coffee guide.

20 November 2018

The Caffeine Chronicles: Origin Coffee, Southwark

As I take a seat at one of the small wooden tables at Origin Coffee's new coffee shop in Scoresby Street, Southwark, the card from the Third Wave Coffee Tour I took in Portland, Oregon, falls out. It is an apt coincidence because the latest Origin shop, located inside one of the railway arches just east of Waterloo East, reminds me a lot of the laid-back, industrial-chic coffee shops I visited in the City of Roses, particularly those east of the Willamette River.

Like the other Origin coffee shops I've visited, in Shoreditch and on the Euston Road, Scoresby Street is beautifully designed, with its interiors showcasing the cafe's arched ceiling. A quartet of four Modbar espresso units hold court on the right-hand side of the counter, while the left-hand side — painted forest green and with three wooden stools — hosts the brew bar.

There's another forest green perching section near the door for those who like geometric designs. Wooden tables of various sizes fill most of the rest of the space. As usual, the petite posies that adorn most of the tables are really on point. If you ever need tips for small-scale flower arrangement, look no further than Origin!

There are the usual espresso-based drinks on the coffee menu, as well as a batch-brew filter and a special coffee available as a pourover: a Finca Nuguo Geisha natural coffee from Panama (near the Costa Rican coffee). I enjoy the coffee from the first sip, but it really comes into its own as it cools, the raspberry and chocolate notes coming through nicely. I keep raising the black ceramic tumbler to my face so I can keep inhaling the gorgeous scents. For those in the mood for a boozier brunch, there are a couple of cocktails on the menu, including one featuring a drink from Dan Fellows' recent World Coffee in Good Spirits victory.

I've arrived in time for brunch, which is served all day on Saturdays and Sundays. The brunch menu is fairly extensive, with nine dishes on the list, plus two specials. The brioche tartine (£6.50), with roast plum, vanilla ricotta, hazelnut butter and almonds, sounds delicious but I'm in the market for something more substantial. I order the brunch club (£10), a slightly fancier, brunchier take on the classic breakfast sandwich. Generous hunks of sourdough, spread with tabasco-mayo, share the plate with streaky bacon, a fried egg, roast tomato, avocado and rocket. I'm glad it is served as more of a deconstructed sandwich, because I think I would struggle to eat it with my hands. It tastes great and I leave a very clean plate.

I was pleased when Origin opened a coffee shop so close to my office in King's Cross, and now this latest addition is rather closer to him — and about midway along my commute to work. Given how bad the traffic has been on Blackfriars Road lately, perhaps I'll have to start breaking the journey at Scoresby Street.

Origin Coffee. 84 Scoresby Street, London, SE1 0XN (Tube: Southwark). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

For 100+ more of my favourite coffee shops in London, please check out my speciality coffee guide.