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14 November 2018

The Caffeine Chronicles: Redemption Roasters, King's Cross

Redemption Roasters' first London coffee shop, located on Lamb's Conduit Street, is close enough to my King's Cross office that I can pop down for a pourover or to buy some beans in my lunch break. But I am even more excited when I hear that they will be opening a third cafe (the second being in Farringdon) in the shiny new Coal Drops Yard development at King's Cross.

Coal Drops Yard has been a work in progress for several years, as I've observed from the towpath on my lunchtime jogs, and finally opened up earlier this month. If you are into high-end lifestyle boutiques, you'll probably enjoy shopping at Coal Drops Yard, but I am more interested in the food and drink options, which include Casa & Plaza Pastór (a new eatery from one of my favourite Mexican restaurants) and Redemption Roasters.

The coffee shop occupies a small unit on Lower Stable Street, on the ground floor at the edge of the 'yard' below Granary Square. Although the new development has its fair share of modern glass and sleek metal, Lower Stable Street preserves a lot of the area's industrial heritage, housing shops and eateries inside the brick viaducts. There are a couple of tables outside Redemption Roasters, although given the recent weather, they may not get much use for the next few months.

Inside, the space features even more period details, but with some Redemption Roasters twists to the décor, like the mid-century school-style chairs. There are a few small tables, a larger communal table and then a few spots to perch — at the brew bar and at the window. There are also beans for sale — Redemption Roasters roasts their coffee in Aylesbury prison, where they train young offenders with roasting and barista skills — and a small but well-curated collection of coffee-making kit.

I've been to the newest Redemption Roasters location three times now, twice for a piccolo and once for a pourover. The coffee is prepared to the same high standards I've come to expect from this company. One of the piccolos, brewed with a particularly fruity Peruvian espresso, is particularly good and had faultless latte art. I was also pleased to see Acme cups and saucers in the dark blue colour, which also seemed to be popular in New York during my recent trip.

On another occasion, I have more time and order an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe brewed through the pourover. At £4.90, it's on the pricey side, but the coffee is very well brewed with the sweet and citrusy flavour notes coming through nicely. I also order scrambled eggs on a delicious sourdough. There are also assorted pastries, sandwiches, toasties and brunch dishes on offer. King's Cross is far from the speciality coffee black spot it once was, but I am really glad that Redemption Roasters have arrived in the neighbourhood.

Redemption Roasters. Stable Street, King's Cross, London, N1C 4AQ (Tube: King's Cross). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

12 November 2018

Autumn Snapshots from New York City

In addition to checking out various speciality coffee spots on my recent visit to New York, I had a little time to explore the city once I'd finished my days in our company's Financial District office. October is one of my favourite months to visit New York — as the constant stream of Facebook 'memories' suggest — and I was really lucky with the weather. It was crisp and sunny most of the time — perhaps a little too crisp on my last day — which was perfect for wandering around the city.

After working for eight days straight, I decided to do all of my favourite NYC things (including some from this long weekend guide) on my day off. First off was a morning run from my Lower East Side hotel over Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn and back via the Brooklyn Bridge — with a stop-off at the gorgeous new Cobble Hill branch of Stumptown Coffee. It was a beautifully clear morning and the views were fantastic. No matter how many times I cross Brooklyn Bridge, I still get a little thrill each time I step out onto the walkway.

As I'd done two of the three 'BMW bridges (a helpful mnemonic to remember the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges from south to north), I decided to walk over the Williamsburg Bridge from the LES to downtown Williamsburg, which took about 30 minutes. The weather wasn't quite as good as the day before but I still enjoyed the views.

After indulging in a little retail therapy, including at Baggu, Catbird, and Artists & Fleas, I wandered down to the riverfront for some street food at Smorgasburg. I don't know if it's always incredibly windy there or just when I go, but I did get a little chilly while I made the rounds of the food trucks, trying to narrow down my food choices. In the end, I went for some Mao's Baos, plus a massive dulce de leche almond doughnut from Dough, which I ate with a wonderful view of the Manhattan skyline.

One night after work, two colleagues and I went for cocktails at Elsa, a cool and beautiful cocktail bar in Cobble Hill. I'd actually visited Elsa's now-defunct East Village location some years ago and was happy to be back. As well as a cool neon sign, well-stocked bar and famously selfie-worthy bathrooms, Elsa's cocktails are spot on. I had the gin-heavy 'Hemp Ascot' and although I was a little sad the 'rainbow peppercorn' didn't translate into a rainbow-coloured cocktail, it was potent and very well mixed. In need of sustenance, we then hopped over the road to Table 87, sharing a massive coal-oven pizza with soppressata, which more than fit the bill.

Financial District
I spent the first couple of days of my trip in the Financial District, arriving from DC a couple of minutes too late to catch the sunset from Battery Park, although its aftermath was still pretty stunning.

Not wanting to travel too far or to wait in line for dinner, I decided to go to a new opening nearby called Pastagram. Although its name references Instagram, it isn't actually particularly Instagram friendly, mainly because the lighting isn't great. The pasta at the small eatery was pretty good, however. You can choose your noodle style and your sauce — or opt for one of their set dishes. I went for the 'don't touch my protein': chunky fusilloni pasta with ragù, which was tasty and filling.

After dinner, I went for a walk over to the Westfield mall inside the 'Oculus' World Trade Center transport hub. I took a few photos and did a little window shopping.

In the morning, I got up early to go for a run — and for coffee — snapping a quite photo of the old and new architecture on Trinity Street. And then I arrived at the office, where every visitor has to spend at least five minutes taking photos of the views of Lower Manhattan skyline and Liberty Island.

Lower East Side
For my last three nights, I moved to the Orchard Street Hotel in the heart of Lower East Side. October is a pretty expensive time to visit NYC, and even booking 3–4 months in advance didn't really yield any bargains. My room at the Orchard Street Hotel was tiny but had a great view, down to Lower Manhattan and up to the Empire State Building. It was also comfortable and quiet, and the hotel's location was ideal: in walking distance of or a short subway ride from most of the neighbourhoods I wanted to visit.

It definitely didn't hurt that my hotel was just one block down from new pizzeria Una Pizza Napoletana. I went one evening — try to go early if you don't have a booking — and ordered the margherita. Although expensive — the margherita was $22 plus tax and tip — it was absolutely delicious, with a puffy crust, creamy mozzarella and tasty tomato sauce, and the décor, ambiance and service were great too. Sometimes I forget how spoiled we are in London to be able to get world-class Neapolitan pizzas for under £10.

Soho & Nolita
It only took ten minutes to walk to Nolita from my hotel and I spent quite a bit of time there, shopping, coffee-shop hopping and wandering. I stopped into one of my favourite book stores, McNally Jackson (which is relocating but not closing, thankfully), a number of the clothing chains I like, and also the Amazon four-star shop, which stocks only items that have a four-star rating or higher on the Amazon website. I didn't buy anything but it was busy and there were plenty of tech, travel and kitchen items I could have bought.

On my last morning in the city, I went for breakfast at Egg Shop, which has been on my list for a long time. It was busy even at 9 am, but as I was dining solo I soon nabbed a spot at the bar. I had an excellent Egg Shop B.E.C. (bacon, egg, cheese) sandwich, with Vermont white cheddar, Black Forest bacon, tomato jam and pickled jalapeño. The coffee, which was good, is from Café Integral, which is located right next door.

West Village, Greenwich Village & East Village
Arriving in the city shortly before Halloween meant that the decorations and pumpkins were already out in full force. As I felt like doing a seasonal activity, I took a Boroughs of the Dead walking tour, one night. This entailed a two-hour wander through the East Village and Greenwich Village, ending near Washington Square. It wasn't supposed to be a 'scary' ghost walk, but there were lots of good historical stories — some rather tragic — and ghostly lore. Another time, I would like to take the 'forgotten dark histories of Lower Manhattan' tour.

It was 9.30 pm when the ghost tour finished and I was ravenous. I decided to go to Greenwich Village favourite, J. G. Melon, for a quick dinner. My no-frills bacon cheeseburger was juicy and perfectly medium rare. I probably didn't need a whole side of 'cottage fries', but they were tasty too.

Over in the West Village, I ate one of the best burgers I've ever had at Emily. Primarily a Detroit-style pizza restaurant, Emily also serves a limited number of burgers per day. With a double patty, American cheese, caramelised onions and 'Emmy sauce' on a pretzel bun, and curly fries on the side, this burger was immense and utterly delicious. At $26, it wasn't cheap, but I will definitely make a beeline to Emily on my next trip to New York.

For my last brunch of the trip, I went to Joseph Leonard in the West Village. I didn't book and had to wait about an hour for a spot to open up at the bar in the small, cosy restaurant, but I was able to leave my name and visit a few of my favourite shops in the area, like stationery store Greenwich Letterpress and travel book store Idlewild. Back at Joseph Leonard, I had a buttermilk fried chicken sandwich, which tasted great. Ahead of my flight home, I'd switched to mocktails, but like at their sister restaurant Jeffrey's Grocery, these are great too.

On this trip, I made my first visit to David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village, which has long been on my to-visit list. The signature pork belly ramen was comforting and delicious — just what I needed after a long day in the office and faced with a chilly evening. I arrived early and there was a seat available at the bar — by the time I left, closer to 7 pm, a line was starting to form at the bar. Speaking of David Chang, I binge-watched his excellent Netflix series Ugly Delicious, where each episode explores the culture and history underlying eight different popular foods. The first episode on pizza was particularly good.

I met an old friend for drinks at East Village bar Mace early one evening. Earning a place on the World's 50 Best Bars list, Mace has really excellent cocktails, each based around a different spice. Although the pink peppercorn listed on the menu wasn't available, the two drinks I tried (one acacia-based and one that invoked fragrant south-east Asian flavours and spices) were impeccable. We also got to sit by the window and watch the East Village stroll by.

Chelsea & Flatiron
I didn't spend much time above 20th Street on this trip but I did head up to see the Empire State Building lit up in blue and orange to celebrate the New York Knicks on my first night in the city. The stretch of Fifth Avenue and Broadway between 16th and 23rd Streets is one of my favourite places in the city to shop, so after I'd taken a few photos, I indulged in a spot of retail therapy too.

Further west, I also did my usual walk along the High Line one afternoon, which was busier than ever.

6 November 2018

New York Speciality Coffee Update — Autumn 2018

After my conference in DC ended, I took the Amtrak to New York. I spent a couple of days working in my company's Lower Manhattan office and then had a three-day weekend to enjoy the city, taking some tips from my own NYC long weekend guide. I was staying in the Financial District again for the first two nights and I had the chance to visit quite a few coffee shops in the area — some new to me, and others that I included in my 2017 FiDi coffee guide. Then, I moved up to the Lower East Side and my coffee shop visits covered a wider area, although nothing north of Union Square this time. Although it's not exactly breaking news that there is a strong Australian influence on the New York speciality coffee scene, I did find myself visiting more Aussie-style shops than usual this trip; this was entirely coincidental.

Scroll down to find out which coffee spots I discovered (and if you need more NYC speciality coffee guidance, my guide may help),

Stumptown Coffee Roasters
Portland-based Stumptown is one of my favourite US roasters and their Greenwich Village flagship store has long been one of my favourite New York coffee shops. I found out about their new Brooklyn cafe, located inside the former Cobble Hill firehouse, thanks to Lora of Third Wave Coffee Tours.

I stopped by one morning mid-way through my Manhattan Bridge / Brooklyn Bridge run. The first thing that struck me was how beautiful the coffee shop is. From the stunning, hand-painted La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machine to the sleek dark wood of the coffee bar and panelling, and the verdant front courtyard, every detail has been carefully thought out. I enjoyed perching at the marble high tables opposite the counter but through the arch at the back is another room with more tables and chairs.

The coffee was top notch too. I enjoyed a beautifully made cortado brewed using the Hair Bender espresso, which paired very nicely with a coconut and almond doughnut. If you're heading on to Brooklyn Bridge to walk back to Manhattan, it's just a short jaunt up Court Street to Cadman Plaza.

212b Pacific Street nr Court St, Cobble Hill, and other locations. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Oslo Coffee Roasters
With two locations in Williamsburg and one on the Upper East Side, Oslo Coffee Roasters has been on my list for some time. And indeed, the roaster has been in operation for 15 years so I'm late to this party. The small Bedford Avenue branch is at the southern end of Williamsburg's main drag, not far from the Williamsburg Bridge. I walked over from the Lower East Side, but if you're heading there by subway, do bear in mind the upcoming disruptions to the L train.

On a Saturday morning, the store was busy and I was lucky to find a spot to sit and read the New York Times while I waited for my coffee. The espresso shots are pulled with skill on the San Marco Leva lever espresso machine, and served with a smile. I ordered a cortado, which was smooth and well-balanced.

328 Bedford Avenue nr S. 2nd St, Williamsburg, and other locationsWebsite. Twitter. Instagram.

Financial District
Black Fox Coffee (revisit)
Although there were many of new-to-me coffee shops on my FiDi to-do list, I had to return to one of my all-time favourites, Black Fox Coffee. Luckily, it's only a 10-minute walk from my office, in the ground floor of a smart development on Pine Street. I arrived during the pre-work rush but the spacious cafe meant I still found a spot to perch at one of the wooden high tables opposite the counter.

As usual, single-origin coffees were available from an all-star list of North American roasters. I opted for an Ethiopian Guji coffee from Portland-based Heart Roasters, which was available as a 'small-batch brew'. I initially thought the barista meant it was a small-batch roast but it was a batch brew but made in a smaller quantity. The resulting coffee was delicious, with juicy peach and lychee notes. As the weather was indicating that fall had arrived, I thought it was only right to have an apple cider bundt cake for breakfast; an excellent choice. One day, I'll get to Black Fox early enough to try a more substantial breakfast!

70 Pine Street bet. Pearl & William St. Website. Instagram.

Boundless Plains Espresso
Another post-run, pre-work coffee stop was Boundless Plains Espresso, a beautiful, Aussie-style cafe located close to Trinity Church and the 9/11 Memorial. They serve coffee roasted by Parlor Coffee, as well as all-day eats.

After chatting with the friendly barista, I took a seat at the back, where there are several small tables set up. The minimalist décor presented a pleasant contrast with the streets outside, hectic during the morning rush. The coffee itself — my usual cortado — was excellent, and I also took a croissant to go. If you're in the market for something more substantial, there are various sandwiches and all-day eats available.

19 Rector Street nr Washington St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Cafe Grumpy (revisit)
I've been to the Financial District branch fo Cafe Grumpy several times now — it helps that the hotel I usually stay in for work is just a couple of doors down Stone Street. I love the décor, which combines white marble with pops of blue and orange, and strong geometric designs. The staff are also usually very friendly, even with there's a long queue.

Although they serve pourover coffees, I was running late for a meeting and so ordered a single-origin Kenyan espresso instead. I like espresso but rarely order it unless I'm convinced it will be brewed well, and that's pretty much a sure thing at Cafe Grumpy. This particular espresso, which I enjoyed in the geometric alcove, was fruity and delicious.

 20 Stone Street nr Broad St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Hole in the Wall
My colleagues — knowing my tastes exceptionally well — took me to lunch one day at Aussie eatery Hole in the Wall. The small cafe is very pretty inside but as the sun was shining, we decided to take one of the tables in the courtyard out front. The flat white, served in a cheerful yellow cup, was great. They use coffee from Denver-based roaster NOVO, which I don't think I've tried before.

The all-day menu combines classic brunch dishes with more creative menu items. My friend had the fall salad, which was huge and looked delicious. I went classic with the brekky role: smoked bacon, folded eggs, home fries and kimchi mayo in a brioche bun.

15 Cliff Street bet. John & Fulton St. Website. Instagram.

Proof Coffee Roasters
The tiniest New York coffee shop I visited this trip — and perhaps the tiniest coffee shop I've ever visited in NYC — Proof Coffee Roasters' Nassau street location is based in the heart of the Financial District. It's standing room only inside — and even then, there's only room for two customers plus the barista — but the coffee is excellent. I had a cortado to go, which lasted long enough to get me to the next coffee shop on my list.

65 Nassau Street nr John St. Website. Instagram.

For more Financial District speciality coffee spots, check out my FiDi coffee guide.

Lower East Side
Good Thanks
I discovered this Aussie cafe, which happened to be a few doors down from my Lower East Side hotel, thanks to the Acme & Co Instagram, a regular source of speciality coffee inspiration. I arrived early on Saturday morning and managed to nab the last table — and what a table it was with its beautiful marble surface. The rest of the décor is cosy, and the staff very welcoming. But try as I might, I couldn't stop myself from answering, "good thanks," when the server asked how I was.

As we were in Aussie territory, I figured I might get away with ordering a piccolo but I was asked to choose between cortado and macchiato. I went for the former, and it was fantastic, which very good latte art. I discovered later that the coffee was roasted by Proud Mary, a roaster I visited in Melbourne and which has recently opened up a cafe in Portland, Oregon. The dark blue Acme cups were rather gorgeous too.

I could have eaten most of the dishes on the breakfast/brunch menu, but ended up opting for the smashed avocado toast — and what a fine avo toast specimen it was too!

131 Orchard Street nr Rivington St. Website. Instagram.

West Village
I'm beginning to feel like a broken record, but Merriweather, in the West Village, is another Aussie-inspired coffee shop. The inspiration is specific in this case: the cafe is named for a beach in the founder's hometown. With its cheerful pops of green, from the espresso machine to the neon sign on the wall, it was a lovely place to sit on a sunny afternoon.

The coffee came from two US roasters — Counter Culture and Tandem from Portland, Maine. I had a Guatemalan Bella Vista coffee brewed as a pourover, which had lovely blackberry and honey notes. There was a laid-back vibe on the Friday afternoon I visited and had I not already eaten lunch, I'd have found much to enjoy on the all-day food menu.

428 Hudson Street nr Leroy St. Website. Instagram.

East Village
The Lazy Llama
I was sad to hear when Bluebird Coffee Shop on East 1st Street closed its doors a year or two ago. I liked the petite but perfectly formed cafe so much that its macchiato was even my social media avatar for a long time. Like a phoenix — or a camelid, at any rate — rising from the ashes, however, The Lazy Llama has filled the Bluebird-shaped void. There's still very little room inside the cosy coffee shop — there are three small tables (now adorned with llama-themed cushions), and a few more seats at the window and outside.

There were single-origin coffees from several roasters available, as espresso and hand-brewed filter coffee. I had an Ethiopian Duromina roasted by Stumptown and brewed as a pourover, which had peach and vanilla flavour notes. The coffee was really good — and after my recent trip to Peru, I'll admit that the llamas were also a draw.

72 E. 1st Street nr First Ave. FacebookInstagram.

Saltwater Coffee
I came close to visiting Saltwater in April when I ate at Motorino, the pizzeria right next door, but didn't quite have time. I couldn't let the Australian coffee shop evade me a second time, and stopped by for a cortado on Saturday afternoon. A big part of the appeal was the chance to try some coffee from The Little Marionette, the Sydney-based roaster I loved so much during my visit last year.

The coffee didn't disappoint — the latte art was impressive on my cortado and the coffee well-balanced and smooth. And yes, that is another example of Acme's classy dark blue crockery. There's plenty of foliage in the small, slim coffee shop too, and a few seating options, including the small tables by the window and the bench out on the pavement.

345 E. 12th Street bet 2nd & 1st Ave. Website. Instagram.

For more New York speciality coffee recommendations, please see my guide; I've also included below an updated version of my New York speciality coffee map: