27 March 2017

[H]AND by Has Bean Coffee Pop-Up at Uniqlo, Oxford Circus

I don't really need any more reasons to visit Uniqlo's London flagship store near Oxford Circus, which relaunched this time last year. I shop regularly at Uniqlo, particularly in the winter when I live in their HeatTech thermal tops and ultra-light down jackets. As such, when I heard that there would be a temporary brew bar serving hand-brewed filter coffee from Has Bean at Uniqlo for the next three months, I didn't think there could be a pop-up more perfectly tailored to me.

[H]AND has been open for just over a week now, which means you still have almost eleven more weeks to check it out. As I seem to have so few free weekends in London at the moment, I was glad that I had a day off work on Friday for some shopping, cinema and, of course, coffee. I arrived at Uniqlo fairly late in the day but the store was still busy. [H]AND is on the third floor and although you can take the lift up, you might then miss out on the retail opportunities along the way.

The brew bar is set up at the front of store and, like Uniqlo itself, has cool, minimalist stylings: a white-brick wall, a pared-down sans-serif logo and the wooden brew bar itself with a quartet of Kalita Wave drippers lined up ready and waiting for action. The menu is pretty simple: there are three single-estate coffees, brewed through the Kalita, and three single-batch teas (from Lalani & Co) on offer each day, and you can order a single cup for £3 or a flight of three for £8. I ordered the tasting but because I have a strange form of reading problem whereby my brain blocks out tea from menus, I was thus surprised when Pete, the super-friendly barista, asked whether I wanted a coffee or a tea flight. I'm sure the teas were lovely but naturally, I was in the market for the hard stuff.

The three coffees of the day were from Colombia, Guatemala and Bolivia. Bolivian coffees hold a special place in the heart of Has Bean head honcho Stephen Leighton, Pete told me. Bolivia is land-locked and it is actually rather difficult to export coffee from the country. Indeed, I couldn't remember the last time I'd tried a Bolivian coffee so I was looking forward to trying it out. I stood at the bar chatting to Pete while he brewed up my flight and a fourth coffee for another customer — no mean feat and I certainly enjoyed the theatre and the ritual (after all, when in a Japanese store...). It helped that the brew bar wasn't too busy at that point, which meant there was no need to rush and plenty of time to enjoy the experience.

There are four battered but very comfortable leather armchairs set up around a large coffee table near the bar. With a large rug on the floor and plenty of foliage, it was almost like having coffee in a friend's living room, albeit one with coffee on demand and shopping opportunities. The small café makes for a peaceful haven in an otherwise hectic Oxford Street store.

I tried the Colombian coffee first (in the left or at the top in my photos), which was very drinkable indeed. Then, I moved on to the Guatemalan, the Ciudad Vieja Los Jocotales, which had some really lovely berry notes. Finally, I sampled the Bolivian (Vincent Paye — the name of the farmer, although the farm itself doesn't really have a name), which was probably furthest out of my comfort zone, but a really interesting and complex coffee, with apricot and coffee notes coming through very nicely indeed. All three were very well brewed but I think the Bolivian might have been my favourite.

In case you want a souvenir from your trip and don't need to stock up on any Uniqlo clothing, a beautifully stocked shelf next to the brew bar has bags of retail coffee beans and teas and some gorgeous coffee brewing kit, including the stunning copper Kalita Wave Tsubame (named for the northern Japanese city where it is handmade). I already have far too much coffee-making kit for one person, so I restrained myself from this purchase, although I'm sure I will be back to [H]AND before too long to try some more coffee and to stock up on some Has Bean beans — particularly if they still have any of the Vincent Paye left. I repeat: there are still eleven weeks to go, so enjoy [H]AND while you can! For another perspective, you can also read a review of [H]AND by Brian at Brian's Coffee spot here.

[H]AND by Has Bean @ Uniqlo. 311 Oxford Street, London, W1C 2HP (Tube: Oxford Circus). Website. Instagram.

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