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24 May 2019

A Long Weekend in Chicago: Bex's Guide

It's taken me too long to visit Chicago — the Midwestern city, on the shores of Lake Michigan, has been in my sights for some time. I missed out on a work trip a few years ago, but as it would have been during a particularly cold and snowy February, that may have been for the best.

I snapped up a good flight plus hotel deal on BA Holidays, arriving on a Friday afternoon and flying home late on Monday night, giving me three-and-a-half days in the city. As I had to pre-book so many restaurants and activities, my schedule was tightly packed and I wished I had stayed at least one extra day, so that I could have spent more time in the Lincoln Park and Logan Square neighbourhoods and visited the Field Museum. As for the weather, it was mixed; Friday and Monday were beautifully sunny and fairly mild, while Saturday and Sunday were grey, cool and intermittently rainy. As a recent episode of The Good Fight (a favourite Chicago-set but New York-filmed legal drama of mine) demonstrated, that's May in Chicago for you.

Downtown art and architecture. I chose to stay in The Loop so that I could be fairly central, but also because I wanted to explore the public art and architecture in the skyscraper-filled area. I loved seeing the mix of architectural styles, and watching the L train rumbling over the elevated railway tracks.

I took an architecture boat tour with the Chicago Architecture Center, an extremely informative and interesting 90-minute ride along the vibrant turquoise Chicago River and each of its three arms that hug The Loop. I learned that Chicago's 'Second City' nickname comes from the fact that most of the city had to be rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1871. Meanwhile, in the second photo below, the base of the shiny high-rise building (150 North Riverside) had to be designed like the base of a Kalita Wave dripper because of ownership of the land in the 'missing' segments. Unfortunately, my tour was on a cloudy day and my photos weren't great but I'd still highly recommend it.

I also spent a lot of time admiring the views from the Riverwalk and the various bridges, including the brutalist cylinders of Marina City and the grand, Spanish colonial revival Wrigley Building. The after-dark visual art projections on the Merchandise Mart, AKA Art on the Mart, were fun to watch too.

Millennium Park. My hotel was just one block from Millennium Park and I visited the 25-acre green space several times. There are several public artworks inside, perhaps the most famous being Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate (AKA The Bean). I first visited on a sunny Friday afternoon when it was extremely busy, but took some better photos early on Saturday morning before my run (my leaping photo was taken by a kind fellow tourist).

Lakefront Trail. Chicago's 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail is another good way to enjoy the great outdoors in the city (weather permitting). I ran south to Northerly Island one morning, and north past the Navy Pier to Oak Street Beach on the other. Both routes yielded great views of the skyline and of the vast blueness of Lake Michigan.

360 Chicago Observation Deck. I like to visit an observation deck when I first arrive in a new city to help me get my bearings (cf Tokyo), and as the skies were clear on my first day, I decided to catch the sunset at 360 Chicago inside the John Hancock Building. If you don't want to pay for a ticket, you can go to the Signature Lounge one floor up, but there was a longer line for the latter and I was worried I'd miss the sunset. 360 Chicago wasn't overly crowded either and I took dozens of photos as the sun went down and the city's lights came on. The Willis Tower's Skydeck is another, slightly taller option for great panoramic views.

Hamilton: The Exhibition. I'm a huge fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda's insanely clever and engaging Hamilton, the musical about the life of US Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, which I saw in London last summer. When I heard that there would be an exhibition about the man, the history and the musical in Chicago during my trip, I knew I had to go. The tickets were, I would say, cynically priced but I spent over 90 minutes exploring the exhibition, which had many interactive features and impressive audiovisual displays. The Northerly Island location is a little inconvenient if you are sans car.

The Second City e.t.c. stage. A friend of a friend recommended that I try to get tickets for the e.t.c. stage of Chicago's premier comedy club rather than the main stage. And the show I saw, Grinning from Fear to Fear, was brilliant: by turns bitingly clever and surprisingly warm. The show includes two scripted sets, plus a bonus improv set for those who want to stay.

Logan Square. This leafy neighbourhood, six miles northwest of the downtown area, feels almost suburban in parts, with grand houses and plenty of green space, although there are also many cool eateries and bars. As well as exploring some of the speciality coffee in the area, I also enjoyed walking through the bustling Sunday afternoon farmers' market, which had produce, street food and live music.

For my speciality coffee recommendations for Chicago, check out this post.

When researching restaurants for this trip, I quickly realised that booking in advance was either necessary or crucial to avoiding a long wait — especially during weekend brunch slots. As such, I made bookings for many of the eateries below. Unfortunately, I was too late to get a table at one of the fine-dining establishments I identified, most notably Grant Achatz's Alinea (for which you purchase a pre-paid ticket for the multi-course tasting menu), but also The Smyth and Acadia. As you will see, I mostly ate in the meatpacking district, the West Loop, which is also an interesting area to explore if you like murals and street art.

Au Cheval (West Loop)
As soon as I read about this diner-style bar with its much-fêted burgers, I was determined to eat there, even though I'd heard that the waitlist could be over three hours' long at busy times. Somehow, I struck it lucky and walked right in to a seat at the counter (for prime viewing of the excellent hamburgerology skills) when I arrived just after 6 pm on a Saturday. I had the single cheeseburger (two patties with cheese) with bacon, rather than au cheval (with a fried egg). It was delicious: the burger was meaty, juicy and flavoursome. The staff were very friendly too. The advice I read suggested that mornings (arrive before opening) and early afternoons or very early evenings on weekdays were the best times to go to slightly minimise wait times.

If I hadn't got into Au Cheval right away, my plan was to go to The Loyalist (the cocktail bar at The Smyth) for a drink and nibbles. Instead, I headed over after dinner. It's a sleek spot for creative and expertly mixed cocktails.

Blackbird (West Loop)
Another legendary Chicago spot, Blackbird is famed for its bargainous $28 three-course prix fixe lunch, which is only available on weekdays. I had: shrimp confit with kohlrabi, chilli and cashews; chicken schnitzel with nori honey and pickled radish; and white chocolate lime mousse with almond, and lemon-verbena and strawberry sorbet. The flavour pairings worked perfectly, the food was beautifully presented, and the attentive staff gave great service.

Little Goat Diner (West Loop)
Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard owns two restaurants that face each other on West Randolph Street: Girl and the Goat and Little Goat Diner. I had a Saturday brunch reservation at the latter and promptly dived into the extensive menu of all-day breakfast and comfort food. Deciding what to order was difficult but I decided to go for the sweet onion brioche French toast with fried chicken, eggs, BBQ maple syrup and strawberries. I usually prefer savoury brunch dishes but this had just the right sweet–salty balance and was so good. Alas, it left no room for more doughnuts later on!

Roister (West Loop)
Although I couldn't eat at Grant Achatz's Alinea, I did get a brunch reservation at his casual eatery in the West Loop (casual, in this context, means just one Michelin star). The staff at Roister were warm and very welcoming and there was a relaxed atmosphere on Sunday morning. Somehow, I ended up eating fried chicken in various forms of three occasions this trip, but the fried chicken sandwich with hot sauce and chamomile mayo on the Roister brunch menu was brilliant. I perched at the 'hearth' bar where I watched the chefs at work, and the kitchen even sent me a complimentary dish: a refreshing mango, cucumber, peanut and mint salad.

Pacific Standard Time (Near North)
You know you're a jet lag pro when you've only just arrived from London into Central Time when you head right to Pacific Standard Time. This large, stylish restaurant focuses on creative California fare. You can opt for smaller, sharing plates or larger entrées. I had an avocado salad with blood orange and quinoa, followed by a strip steak, and accompanied by a very fine gimlet. They did also have pizzas on the menu, which looked great, but they weren't Chicago-style, and as I knew I probably wouldn't try a deep-dish pizza (not my thing), I thought it would be disloyal to eat another pizza style in the city.

Two Lights (Old Town)
Ahead of my 7 pm show at The Second City on Sunday evening, I needed to find somewhere to eat in Old Town. This proved quite difficult until I came across this new seafood restaurant, just opposite the theatre. The restaurant's décor is minimalist and beautiful, with a long, L-shaped counter at the centre of the action. I've visited the Maine lobster shack for which Two Lights is named and other than both serving lobster rolls, the two eateries don't have a huge amount in common. But the food, cocktails and service was all very good at Two Lights; as well as an excellent bourbon cocktail, I had a pan-seared halibut with mash for my main course, and it was lovely, albeit a little pricey given the portion size.

Lincoln Park. My favourite neighbourhood to shop was Armitage Avenue, a neighbourhood with pretty, historic buildings between Lincoln Park and Old Town. I was on an Allbirds and Marine Layer mission, but also enjoyed visiting some of the many independent stores in the area, such as Art Effect (fashion, accessories and gifts) and Top Drawer ('tools for nomads', i.e. lifestyle, homewares and stationery).

I also walked south to the area near the North / Clybourn L station, where I found a lot of my favourite US chains, like J. Crew, The Container Store, Banana Republic, Athleta and Anthropologie. The shopping experience wasn't particularly exciting, unless you like large parking lots, but it was convenient to visit a lot of my favourite stores in one place.

North Michigan Avenue. I enjoyed strolling along the 'Magnificent Mile' stretch of North Michigan Avenue — reminiscent of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue on account of the large department stores, high-end stores and grand buildings. Again, the shopping wasn't particularly interesting for me, although I did get another chance to visit J. Crew and Lululemon. I also enjoyed visiting my namesake: Walton Street.

I stayed at the Fairmont Chicago, a large luxury hotel in the heart of The Loop, near Millennium Park. I usually prefer boutique hotels and had hoped to stay in the West Loop, but there was such a good deal on the BA Holidays website, that I went ahead and booked. My room on the 30th floor was large and comfortable with a nice city view. There's a small gym and spa in the basement and there are several eateries. I didn't make use of any of the hotel's other services, but I had no complaints about my stay and would recommend it to anyone wanting a high-quality, centrally located hotel.

Hoxton Chicago
Unfortunately, just after I'd booked my holiday, I got an email from the Hoxton to tell me their hip new hotel in Chicago was open for booking — and as it was their seventh site, they were offering rooms at $77 per night. As the Hoxton is located in the West Loop, this would have been perfect me; I really enjoyed my stay at the Hoxton Amsterdam and I've eaten and drank at both the London and Paris Hoxton hotels too.

Arriving and getting around...
Like most international travellers, I arrived at Terminal 5 of O'Hare. There was a bit of a delay getting us to the gate and I'd thought I could just hop on the L and ride into the city. First, though, you have to get to Terminal 2, and after following the airport signs to the trains, I kept hitting dead ends. It turns out that the transit between the terminals is currently closed and you need to take a small, ill-equipped shuttle bus to get to Terminal 2. I soon realised that the queue running the length of the arrivals hall was for the said shuttle bus. Eventually, I got to the L station and the blue line got me into the Loop 45 minutes later. Do factor the terminal change (15-30 minutes, depending on timing) in to your journey time.

On the positive side, you can pay with a contactless credit card or Apple Pay to use the L and local buses, rather than having to buy a Ventra card. The fare is $5 from O'Hare. I then added a three-day unlimited pass ($15) to my Apple Watch, which I used for the rest of the trip, including the return journey to O'Hare. I used the L a lot during my time in Chicago, as well as walking a great deal and taking the occasional bus when in areas poorly served by the train. As I was a little short on time, I did consider Ubering on occasions, but as I was travelling alone, I preferred to use public transport and save my money for cocktails.

Speaking of money, the currency is, of course, the US dollar, and during my trip, the exchange rate was $1.30 to £1, fairly similar to the dismal rates we've had for the past few years. I paid with my credit card — and increasingly with Apple Pay or contactless — everywhere, and only needed to use cash to tip hotel staff.

When to go...
For the best weather, May to October is the best time of year to visit. I'd hoped to visit in June or September, when it tends to be warmer than May, but flights and hotels were also more expensive. If you really like really cold weather and lots of snow, Chicago winters are ideal. Brian from Brian's Coffee Spot can tell you all about that!

21 May 2019

Nine Speciality Coffee Shops To Try in Chicago

I've wanted to visit Chicago for many years but I held out, hoping that an opportunity to go on business might come up. Sadly, it didn't, but I did take advantage of the BA Christmas sale to book a long weekend trip from which I returned last week. With only four days in the Windy City and plenty of sight-seeing and dining to do too, I was only able to do a whistle-stop tour of Chicago's excellent speciality coffee scene. I didn't do too badly, though, and visited nine different coffee shops during my trip. As usual, my very favourites are indicated in purple in the map and with asterisks below.

Big Shoulders Coffee (The Loop)
I was staying near the verdant, public-art-filled Millennium Park in The Loop, and was pleased to find a branch of this Chicago roastery in close proximity to my hotel. I headed straight there on my first afternoon, in serious need of coffee after a long day of travelling. The small coffee bar features seating along the long counter as well as a few more seats near the front windows, underneath a cool mural of rowers making their way along the Chicago River.

At the back, there's a brew bar and a vibrant orange espresso machine perched on the counter. Although tempted by the pourover menu, I instead opted for an espresso. The single-origin natural Ethiopian Sidamo coffee, with its bright, blueberry notes, was just what I needed to fend off the jet lag. The baristas were welcoming and knowledgeable and Big Shoulders was a great first introduction to the Chicago coffee scene.

Big Shoulders is located at 213 W. Lake St (and five other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Café Integral (River North)
Café Integral in Nolita is one of my favourite New York coffee bars so I was excited to visit Café Integral's Chicago home inside the hip Freehand Hotel. Somehow, despite it not being just across the river from my hotel, in River North — or perhaps because of this — I only ended up visiting on my last afternoon in the city. Unfortunately, they were closing a couple of hours early for an event, which meant I couldn't have my pourover served in one of their beautiful ceramic cups. But the Nicaraguan Los Jilgueros coffee was very nicely brewed and I enjoyed sipping it in the very stylish hotel lobby. Just like at Big Shoulders, Cafe Integral's coffee bar features lovely tiling and a colourful mural.

Café Integral is located inside the Freehand Hotel at 19 E. Ohio St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Dark Matter Coffee — The Mothership (Ukrainian Village)
Dark Matter Coffee roasts next door to its quirky, colourful coffee bar in the Ukrainian Village. Although you can drink in, it's standing room only and most people were ordering coffee to go when I visited. I ordered a cortado, which was made with Dark Matter's signature Unicorn Blood espresso blend. If you don't fancy a traditional espresso-based drink. there are some more creative options on the drinks menu, as well as plenty of bags of freshly roasted retail beans for sale.

If you're short on time and not already planning to visit this part of town, Dark Matter's Meddle Coffee Bar (featured below) provides a much more central venue and more easily accessible venue for sampling this roaster's coffee.

Dark Matter Coffee is located at 738 N. Western Ave (and other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Gaslight Coffee Roasters (Logan Square)
With its exposed-brick walls and pentagonal, wooden coffee bar at its centre, Gaslight Coffee Roasters is a cosy, arty spot for speciality coffee in Logan Square. They serve their own coffee, and during my visit, there was a Colombian Narino coffee available as a filter coffee, as well as two single-origins on espresso. The barista recommended that I go for the Burundi coffee from Kiryama washing station in my cortado. The coffee was sweet, smooth and well-balanced — just what I needed at the end of a long day of exploring the Ukrainian Village and Logan Square, before jumping back on a Blue Line train to The Loop.

Gaslight Coffee Roasters is located at 2385 N. Milwaukee Ave. Website. Instagram.

Intelligentsia Coffee, Millennium Park (The Loop)
Before I started researching for this trip, Intelligentsia was one of the few Chicago speciality coffee companies on my radar. I've visited two of their coffee bars in New York: the now-closed location in Urban Outfitters, Herald Square, and their gorgeous cafe in the lobby of the High Line Hotel. I've enjoyed their beans on many other occasions too.

Conveniently, Intelligentsia's Millennium Park coffee bar (one of six in Chicago) was a short walk from my hotel and I visited twice, both times at the end of my morning jogs along the Lakefront Trail. The café is large and bright with various pieces of modern art on the walls — tying in with the plentiful public artworks in Millennium Park and the surrounding area. There are a few stools next to the brew bar, as well as tall, sharing tables and smaller tables closer to the revolving doors. Although it was quiet on Saturday morning, the queue was almost out of the door when I returned on Monday.

As I was pressed for time on both visits, I stuck to the espresso menu, ordering a cortado with the Black Cat espresso on the first time and opting for a macchiato with the Illumination blend on the second. Both coffees were very well brewed, but I think the bright citrus notes of the Illumination espresso worked particularly well in the smaller drink. I also sampled some of the light bites on offer: a pistachio doughnut, and a chilli cheese scone, both of which were very good.

Intelligentsia is located at 53 E. Randolph St (and five other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Meddle Coffee Bar (West Loop)
I wasn't yet sure that I'd manage to fit Dark Matter's Mothership cafe into my schedule, so to make sure I had the chance to try their coffee, I stopped by their colourful Meddle Coffee Bar, near Union Station, on my way to brunch one morning. With its purple-accented, psychedelic décor — I particularly love the purple La Marzocco and accompanying black cat — Meddle was the quirkiest coffee bar I visited during my trip.

After ordering a cortado, made with their Union Blood espresso blend, I was delighted to find that it was served in a gorgeous glass purple goblet. This is one of the most creative cortado presentations I've ever seen and it's nice to seeing those of us who prefer smaller espresso-based drinks getting the best drinking vessels. The coffee was also immaculately brewed and tasted great — one of the best cortados I had on this trip.

Meddle Coffee Bar is located at 601 W. Jackson Blvd (and other Dark Matter locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Metric Coffee (West Loop)
Metric Coffee was one of the independent coffee roasters I was most keen to visit but its opening hours didn't fit too well with the timing of my visit, especially as it's a little way out of the city centre — west of the West Loop, really. In the end, I squeezed in a visit between my architecture boat tour and my West Loop brunch on Saturday morning. I was glad I made the effort!

The tiny, industrial-style coffee bar, next door to the roastery, is very small with only a handful of seats. It reminded me of my own local favourite Monmonth Coffee, in Bermondsey. I spent a while choosing some beans to buy, but when I found out that the Peruvian coffee I ordered was also available as a pourover, I decided to buy some different Peruvian beans, so that I could try two different coffees. I enjoyed the Jhonny Vidurrizaga coffee in the cafe; it had juicy pineapple flavour notes and was a delight to drink. At home, I've been brewing the David Flores beans through my V60, and this coffee tastes a little sweeter with almond and mango flavours coming through nicely. I really like the packaging of the beans too; the sides feature icons representing classic Chicago highlights, from hot dogs to Route 66.

Metric Coffee is located at 2021 W. Fulton St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

* Passion House Coffee Roasters (Logan Square)
Six mile northwest of the city centre, the leafy Logan Square neighbourhood is only a 15-minute L train ride away from The Loop. I visited on a Sunday, which meant I got to explore the busy farmers' market. Afterwards, it was coffee time, and I made a beeline for the Logan Square cafe of Passion House, a Chicago-based coffee roaster. There is a strong focus on design, with the cyan-, magenta- and yellow-coloured cube of the logo repeating in its key (black) form on the gorgeous, curving coffee bar, among other places.

The coffee was great too. I selected the 'Box of Rain' coffee from Huila, Colombia, which was available as a pourover on the brew bar. They categorise these beans as 'mainstream'; ambient and experimental are also available. And if you find standard flavour note descriptions a little run of the mill, Passion House write theirs in verse form (rhyming box of rain with honey graham, and juicy white peach with pluot if you reach). This attention to detail and creativity is very appealing, and as much care was put into the brewing and the serving (in a double-walled glass). Mid-afternoon on a Sunday and the coffee bar was bustling, with many of the smaller and communal tables occuipied, but I still received a very warm welcome. My only regret is not buying some of the Papua New Guinean 'Hypnotize' beans — with a body so juicy it's almost scary.

Passion House Coffee Roasters is located at 2631 N Kedzie Ave. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Sawada Coffee (West Loop)
A sudden post-brunch downpour in the West Loop left me seeking shelter inside Sawada Coffee, champion barista Hiroshi Sawada's Chicago cafe, which comes with its own arcade games and pingpong table. The coffee is from Chicago-based Metropolis Coffee, and if you're a fan of matcha, there are plenty of special drinks on the menu, including Sawada's famed Military and Black Camo lattes. I stuck to a regular cortado, however, although regretted not saving room after brunch for a Doughnut Vault doughnut. My cortado was very well made, and the large, communal table that occupies most of Sawada's floor space was a great spot for people-watching. Had my Au Cheval dinner plans not worked out, the adjacent Green Street Smoked Meats would have made a great alternative.

Sawada Coffee is located at 112 N Green St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

For more recommendations of speciality coffee shops in Chicago, do check out Brian's Coffee Spot; Brian is a frequent visitor to Chicago and has a multitude of reviews on his blog.

8 May 2019

The Caffeine Chronicles: Kafi Cafe

Fitzrovia is one of my favourite neighbourhoods in central London and it's also long been a great area for speciality coffee shops. I was saddened to find out that Curators Coffee Gallery, on Margaret Street, had closed recently. But fear not, Fitzrovers; there's a new speciality coffee bar on the block.

Located just south of the BT Tower on a quiet stretch of Cleveland Street, independent speciality coffee shop Kafi opened a couple of months ago. As well as putting a lot of care and attention into the quality of their coffee and tea offering, owners Yatish and Tripti have also put sustainability and traceability at the centre of what they do. Yatish, a Double Skinny Macchiato reader, invited me to visit and I've been twice now, meeting Yatish on my second visit.

Kafi is on the petite size but there is a good amount of seating — mainly on the cushion-laden benches that line the walls, which have handy pull-out tables, although there's also a larger communal table opposite the counter. Plants add vibrancy to the space, and coordinate nicely with the cheery yellow and green hues of the décor. The effect means that it's almost like sitting on a small, leafy patio — but without being at the whim of the London weather.

Espresso-based drinks are brewed on the mint-green custom La Marzocco machine. As a tea ignoramus, I was also surprised to learn that they also brew loose-leaf tea using the espresso machine — sometimes in combination with chai. And if you're in the mood for a black coffee, there are pourover and siphon brew methods available, as well as cold brew and nitro cold brew.

The coffee itself is from Workshop, one of my favourite London roasters. On my first visit, I opted for an Ecuadorean coffee brewed as a pourover, which was nicely brewed with sweet, tart notes. Regular readers will be unsurprised to learn that my chronic case of 'ceramic cup envy' soon reared its head. It is a problem, but these minimalist cups are very lovely. When I returned, Yatish suggested that I try the one and one — a split shot served as an espresso and a cortado, alongside a small glass of fizzy water. This was made with a Rwandan Gitesi espresso, which worked just as well with milk as without.

On my first visit, I browsed a copy of the Kafi Journal, the cafe's accompanying publication that provides interested lay coffee lovers with more detail on the cafe, and the coffee production and brewing processes, from bean to cup. Second time around, I enjoyed chatting to Yatish over coffee to hear more about Kafi. His passion both for coffee (and tea) and his business shone through, and the attention to detail he and Tripti have put into every aspect Kafi is manifestly obvious. The coffee is very good, but Kafi is also a calm, relaxed and welcoming place, and it's a great addition to the neighbourhood.

Kafi. 20 Cleveland Street, London, W1T 4JA (Tube: Goodge Street). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

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

3 May 2019

King's Cross Speciality Coffee Guide (2019 Edition)

Almost three years ago, I put together a guide to my favourite speciality coffee shops in London's King's Cross. I've worked in the neighbourhood since 2010 and as I've often noted, it has been a delight to watch the area emerge as a real hub for craft coffee. My original guide featured seven speciality coffee shops, of which one has closed and two have been taken over by new management. In my 2019 update, I've included ten coffee spots — three of which have opened in the past six months. My very favourites are marked with an asterisk below, and in purple in my Google Map.

As I mentioned in my original guide, there are different ways to define the King's Cross neighbourhood, but I tend to include locations for which King's Cross is the closest Tube station.

One of the first speciality coffee spots to open in King's Cross, way back in 2012, Caravan remains one of my favourites. If you're just in the market for an espresso-based coffee or single-origin Kalita Wave pourover, head to the back of the spacious Granary Square restaurant, where you can sit at one of the tables that face the bar, in an area also used for cuppings. Caravan's sourdough pizzas and the all-day weekend brunch menu are very good, so if you have time, you can combine an expertly brewed single-origin coffee with a delicious meal. They also sell coffee-making kit and their own coffee beans.

Caravan is located at 1 Granary Square, London, N1C 4AA. Full reviewWebsiteTwitterInstagram.

Craft Coffee
Since I published my last King's Cross guide, the coffee cart that can be found between King's Cross and St Pancras stations has changed ownership. Craft Coffee, who also operate at Maltby Street Market in Bermondsey, now run the stand, serving espresso-based drinks brewed with coffee from Notes (see below). I've had many a macchiato here on my way into the office (when I have remembered my reusable cup) or at lunchtimes, and the quality is always good.

Craft Coffee is located at Battle Bridge Place, London, N1C 4TB. WebsiteTwitter. Instagram.

Located half a mile east of King's Cross station, Frequency is a delightful speciality coffee shop and co-working space by day, and a cocktail bar by night. Both the name and the décor allude to friendly owner Justo Tripier's interest in music, and Justo and his team serve (and sell) their own coffee roasted in small batches at The Tate. For great coffee in a relaxed atmosphere, Frequency is well worth seeking out.

Frequency is located at 121 King's Cross Road, London, WC1X 9NH. Full review. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Half Cup
I will always remember Half Cup as the place I went for a hearty brunch to get me through a long day in the office after staying up way too late to watch the 2017 UK General Election. But the creative and oft-changing brunch menu is not just for emergencies and special occasions. The coffee, from Nude, is also very good. The Brazil/Guatemala espresso blend works well in the piccolos and macchiatos I usually order and the cosy cafe, just south of the Euston Road, is a fine place to caffeinate.

Half Cup is located at 100–102 Judd Street, London, WC1H 9NT. Full review. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

House of Morocco
Located in the Caledonian Road cafe previously occupied by Pattern Coffee, House of Morocco has retained many of its predecessor's titular patterned walls, and added some Moroccan accent pieces. The coffee is roasted by Terrone and served in various espresso-based drinks. There is also Moroccan mint tea, juices, smoothies and all-day eats. Perhaps the most colourful cafe in King's Cross, House of Morocco is also one of the most welcoming — and conveniently for me, it's also the closest to my office.

House of Morocco is located at 82 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DN. Full reviewWebsiteTwitter. Instagram.

Ko Coffee
The newest speciality coffee arrival to King's Cross, Ko Coffee opened in spring 2019, taking over a vacant shop on a stretch of Pentonville Road that is home to various other small eateries. Period features, including vintage tiling, remain in the small cafe, which has co-working spaces upstairs and downstairs. The coffee is from Assembly — a welcome roaster addition to the neighbourhood — and I've been in a few times for well-brewed piccolos and espresso shots. The food menu is starting to ramp up too, with breakfast pastries, and sandwiches, salads and cakes for later in the day.

Ko Coffee is located at 258 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9JY. Full reviewWebsite. Instagram.

Le Café Alain Ducasse
Despite the recent growth in the King's Cross coffee scene, it was the opening of Le Café Alain Ducasse in the sleek new Coal Drops Yard development late in 2018 that cemented King's Cross as a real speciality coffee destination. Now famous (some might say infamous) for its £15 filter coffee — a delicious coffee sourced from Yemen (via Qima), which I had to try on my first visit, and which did not disappoint. I've sampled various espressos, noisettes (macchiatos) and filter coffees, each of which has been immaculately brewed by Jakub Klucznik and his colleagues. Although the coffee at Le Café is exceptional, each visit has also been an enjoyable experience. Seated at the zinc bar, you can converse with the baristas as they talk through the process, from bean to cup, conveying knowledge and passion, and offering a truly personal service.

I speak highly of every coffee shop in this guide, but if you only have time to visit one and want a memorable experience, Le Café Alain Ducasse is the one to go for.

Le Café Alain Ducasse is located at Unit 16, Bagley Walk Arches, Coal Drops Yard, London, N1C 4DH. Full review. Website. Instagram.

Another of the longer-established King's Cross speciality coffee shops, this branch of Notes opened in 2015. There are a few small tables inside (including on the mezzanine level), and more seating outside in Pancras Square, which is a great place for people-watching when the weather is kind. The espresso-based drinks are brewed with Notes' own coffee, roasted in East London, and they serve an all-day food menu, along with craft beer, wine and cocktails of an evening.

Notes is located at 1 Pancras Square, London, N1C 4AG. Full review. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Origin's minimalist coffee bar on the Euston Road is actually their second location in the British Library, but I prefer this spot to the the equally busy concession in the bustling main atrium of the library. I often stop by to buy beans on my way into work, and because this entitles me to a free cup of coffee, I also usually try either whatever single-origin filter coffee is available or a piccolo. The coffee is always impeccably brewed and I've also picked up some really great retail bags of coffee beans over the past couple of years. A small menu of light bites, sweet and savoury, is also on offer.

Origin is located at 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB. Review. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Redemption Roasters
The original London location of Redemption Roasters — a coffee company and social enterprise that roasts inside Aylesbury prison — on Lamb's Conduit Street is doable from King's Cross on a lunch break. Nonetheless, I was pleased when another branch opened in Coal Drops Yard, much closer to my office. They serve espresso-based drinks and hand-brewed filter coffee, as well as brunch and various sweet treats inside the rustic cafe, which has some lovely period features. Meanwhile, coffee beans — with Redemption's distinctive, colourful packaging — and assorted coffee kit are also on sale.

Redemption Roasters is located at Unit 109, Lower Stable Street, London, N1C 4AQ. Full review. Website. Twitter. Instagram.