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20 April 2018

Four speciality coffee spots to try in Toulouse

In January, I went on a 24-hour business trip to Toulouse in the southwest of France. I had hoped to be able to visit at least one of the city’s speciality coffee shops, but the scheduling was so tight that my only free hours were between midnight and six in the morning, so I had to make do with terrible hotel coffee.

Luckily, though, I was able to return for a slightly longer trip earlier this week and although I still only had a couple of free hours, I made good use of them and visited four speciality coffee spots. It helped that the weather was much nicer than in January — temperatures reached 25C on my final afternoon — and the ‘pink city’ with its pastel-hued buildings looked particularly pretty. Here are the places I found, all within the city centre:

La Fiancée

Serving coffee and brunch for over five years, La Fiancée on Rue Peyrolières seems to be Toulouse’s original speciality coffee shop. At first glance, the café seems tiny with only a couple of small tables in front of the coffee bar, but there’s more space in the lofted mezzanine. The coffee comes from Paris-based Coutume, one of my favourite coffee spots in the French capital, and there were two single-origin varieties available as a V60 pourover. I went for a Burundi Maridadi, and after placing my order, I went up to the mezzanine.

While I waited, I eyed up the brunch menu and regretted that I didn’t have the chance to sample the brunch menu, which included various pancakes and egg-based dishes. The coffee itself was very well prepared and had lovely milk chocolate and citrus notes. On the way out, I chatted to the friendly baristas about speciality coffee in France, London and beyond, and couldn’t resist buying a white chocolate and peanut cookie for later.

La Fiancée is located at 54 Rue Peyrolières, Toulouse. Facebook. Instagram.

Le Café Cerise
A few minutes’ walk from La Fiancée and just across from Pont-Neuf and the river Garonne on Quai de la Daurade, Le Café Cerise was my next stop. Located in a historic red-brick building, the café has a few tables out on the pavement, which I’m sure are popular on sunny days. Inside, it is cosy and rustic, with wooden furniture and the roaster in the back. Again, there’s a mezzanine with more seating, although there are also plenty of tables on the ground floor.

They serve pourover filter coffee but I was short on time and so stuck to a cortado. There were two single-origin coffees in the hopper, both roasted on site — a Colombian Planadas and a Kiboko from Burundi. Sticking with my theme for the day, I went for the latter, which worked well with a little milk. The latte art was very good too. And if you’re in the mood for food, they also have a salad of the day and a grilled cheese on the menu.

Le Café Cerise is located at 4 Quai de la Daurade, Toulouse. Website. Instagram.

L’Anartiste This coffee shop — whose name marries art and anarchy — was the closest to my hotel but it’s closed on Mondays, so I wasn’t able to visit until Tuesday morning. I’m glad I got the chance to visit L’Anartiste, though, because it’s a lovely spot serving speciality coffee, food and natural wines, with an emphasis on local produce.

The cosy café with its meticulously mismatched furniture and precarious stack of board games gives it the feel of being in someone’s living room — and the welcome I received from the barista was just as warm. They take their brewing seriously, however, as the shelf of brewing kit (siphon, Kalita Wave, Aeropress, Chemex, and Kono, Torch and Clever drippers) and original Faema E61 espresso machine on the bar attest.

The coffee is from Kaffa, a roaster based in La Drôme in southeast France (not to be confused with the Finnish Kaffa), which I hadn’t tried before. I had a filter coffee made with a Limu Kossa variety from Ethiopian, brewed through the Kalita Wave. As a ‘chaser’, I also ordered a cortado made with a Colombian Kaffa coffee. Both coffees were brewed beautifully and came in gorgeous ceramic cups that are also made locally. Ahead of a busy day of meetings, I really enjoyed a moment of calm and a lovely chat with the barista in the haven that is L’Anartiste.

L’Anartiste is located at 13 Rue de Couteliers, Toulouse. Website. Instagram.

Florian’s Coffee
I didn’t think I’d have time for a final coffee, but on leaving my meeting, I happened upon the Florian’s Coffee cart just outside the Jardin des Plantes. I ordered a ‘slow coffee’ — on this occasion, an Ethiopian Gamoji (roasted by Florian’s) brewed through the V60. They can also do Chemex and Aeropress brews if you prefer, and, of course, the usual espresso-based drinks.

By then, the sunshine had come out and so I went to sip my drink in the busy Jardin des Plantes, and the world felt a whole lot better.

Florian’s Coffee is located on Allée Jules Guesde, Toulouse. Website. Instagram.

Other options
I wasn’t able to check it out on this occasion, but I have heard very good things from multiple sources about a cafe called Finnca on Rue de l’Austerlitz. And I walked past a coffee shop/roastery called Brûlerie des Saveurs, where they roast coffee on site — it looked nice, so one for my list for next time.

Bonus: shopping tips
Toulouse is a great city for shopping, and there are plenty of interesting boutiques and independent stores as well as the usual chains. I didn’t have time to do any shopping, but these places all caught my eye: Paul Marius (leather handbags); Bobine (concept store); L'Interprete (concept store); Ombres Blanches (book store); Karl Marc John (boutique); Somewhere (boutique); Trait (stationery); and Matière Grise (homewares).

16 April 2018

The London Coffee Festival 2018

Last weekend was the London Coffee Festival, one of the highlights of the London coffee calendar. Taking place over four days — two for industry and the Saturday and Sunday for the public — this year's festival was bigger and, I think, more fun than ever.

I was granted a press pass again (thank you, London Coffee Festival and Hope&Glory) and had planned to attend on Friday and Saturday but couldn't get away from work on the Friday. Instead, I spent the whole of Saturday there tasting great coffee, meeting and catching up with lots of lovely people who work in the coffee industry, and enjoying all the festival had to offer. This year, the festival occupied four floors of the Old Truman Brewery in Spitalfields and despite improved signage, it still took a while to master the labyrinthine layout. As such, if you are a real coffee aficionado, I'd recommend you book into more than one session next year or consider booking a VIP ticket, which gives you access for a full day, as well as fast-track entry, a copy of the latest London Coffee Guide, a free cocktail and entry to a special VIP area.

As I did last year, I've divided my review of the 2018 London Coffee Festival into three section, covering the coffee, the experiences and the kit — feel free to follow the links to skip to each section. This year, there was also a festival fringe, of sorts, in the form of a pop-up coffee bar from Staffordshire roaster Has Bean — click here to find out more about this.

I spent much of my first two hours at the festival visiting familiar and new-to-me roasters, whose stands were located on the ground floor, and on the two roasters' village areas on levels one and two. First stop was Vagabond, the north London roaster whose Trade Union location has sadly closed. They had three coffees on filter, of which I most enjoyed the beautiful Pway Na Phar coffee from Myanmar — a relatively rare origin, but one growing in consistency and quality. Just across the aisle were the Girls Who Grind, whose "fierce AF" DR Congo coffee I tried at Melbourne in Lichfield. GWG is a small-batch roaster based in Wiltshire, and they source their coffees from female producers. I tried a lovely Rwandan Nyabihu and admired the awesome girl-power-celebrating artwork on their packaging.

Speaking of great design, I next stopped by the Pharmacie Coffee stand, where the Brighton-based team were sporting raccoon and Aeropressing-dog t-shirts designed by manager/designer Tash. I came across Pharmacie thanks to my February Dog & Hat coffee subscription box — their La Montaña from El Salvador is one of the nicest coffees I've tried all year. I bought a small bag of another El Salvador coffee, an El Cipres microlot, which smelled just as good and which tasted lovely in my Aeropress yesterday morning.

After a brief stop by the Caravan stand to sample some of this year's Niners, I headed upstairs for some more top-notch coffees from UK roasters. New-to-me Press Coffee had a deliciously intense Ethiopian Guji, while Suffolk-based Butterworth & Son (whose Lake Kivu coffee from DR Congo won me over at Stir in Cambridge last year) served me a super-fruity washed Peruvian. They too have some gorgeous artwork on their retail bags.

Regular readers will know that I'm not averse to a good pun (or even a bad one), and thus Liverpool-based Neighbourhood Coffee's coffee names always make me smile — and the coffee usually makes me smile even more. The Ethiopian Born Sippin' slipped down very nicely, and they gave me a pair of pink sunglasses that went perfectly with my outfit. Speaking of pink, just next door was Outpost Coffee Roasters, whose pink cups drew me in at last year's festival, and their strawberries-and-cream-tasting Rwandan Kilimbi was easily the best coffee I tried at last year's even — and one of the best coffees I had in 2017. After catching up with Chris, I tried some of the Colombian El Encanto natural, which tasted great. I intended to go back to try — and hopefully buy — some of their Rwandan Bumbogo, but ran out of time. I hope to order some once I'm back from my latest round of travels.

Later, I bumped into Dave Jameson (who gave a fun-filled coffee-and-cocktails presentation at last year's festival) at the Grumpy Mule stand. Dave kindly sent me two great Grumpy Mule coffees last month — one from Yunnan, China, and a particularly lovely coffee from Kenya. This time, I tried their Widescreen espresso blend — mainly because of Dave's description of the Ethiopia/El Salvador blend as being like "Mötley Crüe in a cup." I can't speak to that, but it tasted damn good, and it sounds as though there are lots of interesting things underway at Grumpy Mule.

It took me ages to find the street-food section of the festival and when I got there, the queues were long so I headed over to Bleecker Burger in Spitalfields Market for a quick bacon cheeseburger to sustain further coffee consumption. Eventually, though, even I reached my caffeine limit, making room for one final coffee from KB CaféShop, one of my favourite Parisian roasters/coffee shops (it is their piccolo that features in my Twitter and Instagram profile photos).

As Square Mile's James Hoffmann put it in this video, "it gets very serious in coffee sometimes," and at this year's festival, there was plenty of fun to be had. The Square Mile stand, for example, was set up like a (coffee-loving) child's tenth birthday party to celebrate the speciality coffee company's own tenth birthday. You could play a custom-made PacMan arcade game, guess the number of coffee beans in the hopper to win a Wilfa grinder, or try to guess the origins of three coffees. There was a special riddle hunt too and party bags, of course.

Meanwhile, to celebrate the launch of their new cold brew sodas, Sandows had a ring-toss game. Unfortunately, my levels of caffeine consumption were not conducive to successful throwing, but I did get to try some of the sodas — the citrus flavour was particularly refreshing, but I imagine the spice variety will work better on cooler days. And as I mentioned above, all the cool kids were wearing colourful sunnies provided by Neighbourhood Coffee!

As usual, I spent some time attending talks and workshops in The Lab. One of the standouts for me was a Coffee 101 talk by Tim Wendelboe (whose Oslo coffee shop I finally visited last year). Sure, it focused on the basics like coffee–water ratios, coffee freshness, water quality and extraction, but I still picked up some useful tips. I also enjoyed the V60 home-brewing class with Alex Groves of Curators Coffee.

Latte Art Live is always a popular section of the festival and although the location was better this year, allowing more people to see more of the demos, it was still very busy. I stopped by for Lem Butler's Beginners' Latte Art session — a year in and my latte art is still very amateurish and Lem had some excellent advice. For those with more advanced skills, Dhan Tamang's masterclass or the latte art karaoke may have been more up your street.

At the festival, you can also watch the UK Barista Championship and the Coffee Masters. Coffee competitions aren't to everyone's taste, but I enjoy the theatre of them and the chance to watch expert baristas at work. I caught a few minutes of Joshua Tarlo's winning UKBC presentation, and also listened to a great panel discussion with several World Barista Champions — Dale Harris, Gwilym Davies, James Hoffmann, Stephen Morrissey and Tim Wendelboe — on the value of coffee competitions. Downstairs at the Coffee Masters, I managed to see the performance of Agnieszka Rojewska in the quarter finals — Aga ended up winning this year's competition.

Every year at the London Coffee Festival, I am tempted by so much of the great coffee kit on offer, from brewing gadgets, to grinders, cups and coffee-associated paraphernalia. I finally got to see Jody Leach's colourful Therma Cups. They are wonderfully tactile and will keep your coffee warm for a considerable amount of time. I brought my 8oz KeepCup to the festival with me, but I also bought a 6oz KeepCup, which was great for festival samples and will also be useful for the espressos, macchiatos and piccolos I often drink when I travel. I still wish there was more choice in the 6oz-and-under reusable cup market, but the bright colours of my new cup got a lot of compliments at the festival.

Speaking of colours, Hario wowed many festival-goers with their colourful new V60s, which will go on sale in the summer. Isn't the turquoise model pretty? Alas, they are only making them in the larger 02 size and not the smaller version.

Sage invited me to a demo of their new Precision Brewer, which will be available to buy later this year. I bought their Barista Express espresso machine a year ago and have been very happy with it. The Precision Brewer can brew 12 cups of coffee in seven minutes, but you can also remove the brew basket and slot in a cone filter basket to produce smaller quantities of coffee, pourover style. It can make cold brew too, if that's your thing. I sampled some Colombian Miraflores Toledo coffee from Pact Coffee, which had been brewed several hours earlier but still tasted fresh. Sage also kindly gave me a goodie bag, with some of the Pact coffee, a turquoise V60 (not one of the new ceramic ones, but still very pretty) and temperature-control milk jug, which will hopefully further boost my milk steaming skills.

As many people mentioned during the course of Saturday, London's tap water is terrible for making coffee, and one of the latest attempts to solve this problem is Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood and Christopher Hendon's Peak Water jug. You still have three weeks to back the Kickstarter, but I was glad to get the chance to see the jug in real life at the festival — it is indeed beautiful as well as useful. The jugs will likely ship in November, and £80 will get you a jug and about two years' worth of filters (probably a bit less if you live in London...).

The wonderful but all-too-short-lived (H)AND by Has Bean pop-up in Uniqlo was one of my favourite London coffee events of 2017, so when I heard that they would be popping up on Commercial Street, a short walk from the Old Truman Brewery, during the festival, I was delighted. I stopped by before the festival for a lovely El Salvador Las Brumas espresso, prepared by Pete Williams (who also served me at Uniqlo). I also got to chat to Has Bean founder Steve Leighton and director of wholesale Dale Harris (who won the 2017 World Barista Championship, coached by Pete). The pop-up was located in a small, subterranean space, and compared to the busyness of the festival, the Has Bean space was a peaceful respite.

I returned in the afternoon to try the soft-serve ice cream, which came with toppings inspired by Dale's signature drinks from the 2017 WBC, from oolong syrup to 'chocolate soil'. I can't consume a lot of dairy, but I'm glad I made an exception for this — a lovely treat (and thank goodness it wasn't coffee-flavoured soft serve, as I'd first thought — not my taste). They were also selling coffee beans and some very cool coffee kit, like the gorgeous, £75 copper Kalita brewer. One day...

Disclaimer: I attended this year's London Coffee Festival as press; thank you to the festival organisers and Hope & Glory. As always, all opinions are my own.

9 April 2018

At Temple of Camden, Canal-Side Comfort Food and Speciality Coffee

In the eight years since I started working in King's Cross, the neighbourhood has changed considerably, with new shops and eateries opening almost every month. I'm particularly looking forward to the long-awaited opening of Coal Drops Yard, along the canal near Granary Square, in the autumn. Sadly, the rate of new openings has been inversely proportional with my ability to take a lunch break anywhere further away than the adjacent Pret. When I can get away from my desk, I usually prioritise a lunchtime run, and it was on one of these workouts that I came across Temple of Camden — lured in my the smell of fried chicken.

Despite its name, the eatery is as close to King's Cross as Camden, a mere ten-minute stroll along the canal from the former, past the ongoing Coal Drops Yard construction site. It has a sister — Temple of Hackney — and both also go by the name Temple of Seitan. Temple of Camden is, you see, serves vegan fast food. After enjoying a really good vegan 'bacon cheeseburger' in Austin recently, I was keen to sample some more tasty meat-free fast food. I was a vegetarian for a decade and although I rarely eat meat at home, I am rather partial to a good steak or burger when I eat out. But I like to explore the alternatives too.

I finally got the chance to eat at Temple of Camden on Friday, a windy but very sunny day. The restaurant was packed and although there were no free tables inside, there are a few seats in the courtyard, just off the canal towpath. I didn't have to wait long to order and then it was only another 10 minutes or so before my food arrived — the staff clearly had a very efficient process down.

At Temple of Camden, they serve both fried 'chik'n' and 'hamburgers', all made from seitan. Figuring the chicken burger would probably be more 'meaty', I ordered the Temple Burger — a chicken fillet with rancho mayo, bacon, cheese, lettuce and pickle (£7). I also went for a small portion of fries (£2) with chicken salt (presumably chik'n salt!).

I took my food out to eat in the sunshine, although the strong wind did mean I had to hold on to my chips. The chicken burger was flavoursome and juicy — a worthy substitute for its meaty equivalent — and although the cheese might have been better if it had been melted, it was still good. When I was a vegetarian, bacon was the food I missed most because the substitutes fell so short — and I think they still have a long way to go, unfortunately, but the bac'n here was tasty. The fries were perfectly crisp and the chicken salt was a nice addition.

In the mornings, they serve bagels and there is coffee available all day from Hackney-based Dark Arts Coffee. I had a cortado (£2.20) and it was only afterwards that I realised I had, of course, inadvertently sampled my first Oatly-based espresso drink. The coffee was very well made and the fact that I couldn't tell that it was dairy-free speaks volumes. They have Bonsoy available too.

I'm sure I'll back to Temple of Camden before long — either with colleagues, or perhaps as a treat on the way back from a run. It's so close to King's Cross and yet the quiet canal-side location feels like it's a world away. And if you haven't tried vegetarian fast food before, or for a while, I'd suggest paying Temple of Seitan a visit — it might surprise you.

Temple of Camden. 103a Camley Street, London, N1C 4PF (Tube: King's Cross, Mornington Crescent or Camden Town). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

28 March 2018

The Caffeine Chronicles: Lantana London Bridge

A couple of years ago, I set about revisiting some of my 'old favourite' London speciality coffee spots, like Flat White, which I've loved for a decade but which I had never written up properly for my blog. One such favourite — and one of the first Aussie brunch cafés I discovered in London — was Lantana on Fitzrovia's pleasant passageway Charlotte Place. I used to be a regular when I still lived in Marylebone and it featured in my first London coffee shop guide in 2011 (and its less-coffee-centric 2009 predecessor).

Somehow, though, I never ended up writing up a full review but when the café opened another branch — its third — nearer to my current Bermondsey home in London Bridge in late 2017, it was the perfect opportunity to return to Lantana. Conveniently close to Borough Market and the South Bank but far enough away to ensure that it's still possible to get a table (especially if you book), the newest Lantana is located on Southwark Street. There is scaffolding on the outside of the building so the large, glass front windows let in a little less light than usual, but the airy, bright interiors make up for that.

Compared to the Fitzrovia branch, which is better described as 'cosy' and which is usually packed, there's much more space here and the relaxing atmosphere really did transport me back to Melbourne. As I hadn't booked, I was lucky to squeeze into an empty spot a the long, L-shaped bar. I loved funky teal bar stools too. In the main dining area, there are plenty of tables to suit all group sizes.

I was in the market for a breakfasty brunch rather than a lunchy brunch, so I didn't look too closely at the cocktail and wine lists, instead skipping right to the coffee. I started with a piccolo made with Lantana's house blend, currently a Brazil/Colombia/Peru combination that tasted smooth and chocolatey with a little milk.

There weren't any hand-brewed filter coffee options on the menu so I ordered the single origin batch brew filter coffee of the day. This was an Ethiopian Banko Jirimititi from Rotterdam-based Manhattan Coffee Roasters. The tasting notes I read afterwards indicated blueberries and jasmine, but I got more orange and whiskey notes — not dissimilar to the Ethiopian Marmora I tried at Java in Kraków, in fact. So often batch brew ends up disappointing me, making me wish I hadn't ordered it instead of a pourover in a busy coffee shop in a misguided effort to be a more considerate customer. But Lantana's batch brew was very well brewed and the coffee was flavoursome and fragrant. There are currently six filter coffees in their rotation, three from Manhattan and three from Alchemy.

As for the food, it took me a while to digest the extensive weekend brunch menu. I was tempted by the coconut French toast, but I'm really more of a savoury bruncher these days. In the end, in the interests of nostalgia, I ordered my old favourite dish: corn fritters with streaky bacon, spinach, roasted tomatoes, avocado, a poached egg and lemon creme fraiche (at some point in the past nine years, they switched from lime aioli). I've always preferred juicy, flavoursome cherry and plum tomatoes to their larger conspecifics, but the roasted tomatoes here were delicious — very nearly as tasty as those in the very first brunch I had in Melbourne at Code Black, straight off the plane. The fritters were as good as I remembered, the bacon crispy, and the egg perfectly poached.

The service was both friendly and efficient, and although the cafe was full, the atmosphere remained low-key and chilled out. Several tables were engaging in the Lantana Blowout with unlimited Prosecco (£30); there's also a cheaper version with unlimited coffee and juices, which sounds like a challenge to me!

Lantana London Bridge. 44-46 Southwark St, London, SE1 1UN (Tube: Borough or London Bridge). Website. Twitter. Instagram.