London Coffee Touring – ST. ALi

08.02

One of the newest shops in London is ST.ALi, which carries the same name and a bit of inspiration from a shop in Melbourne, Australia. What I love most about ST. ALi is that they’ve successfully combined a roastery and café bar, with a full menu restaurant. There are very few places I’ve been to around the world that can offer a solid brekkie, brunch or any other meal and compliment it with proper coffee—ST.ALi can.

After a week of experiencing the Costa Rica, Zamorana at Coffee Common, it was nice to also try the espresso blend they use in their shop. Which I found more balanced and enjoyable than the Zamorana alone. The coffee wasn’t the best I had in the city, but the program is young and moving fast, already creating a new venue for people in London to experience well-prepared, progressive coffee. Tim Williams, a fellow co-founder of Coffee Common, has been leading the growth and refinement of the coffee program with help from Baptiste Kreyder, who participated in Coffee Common at TEDGlobal.

The space itself is beautiful with two floors and two coffee bars. The downstairs is outfitted with a lovely Slayer, while a Synesso graces the bar upstairs. The back of the restaurant opens up to a ceiling of skylights high above—which keeps the living wall well fed and the roasting area well lit during the day. The environment is a great way to get everyday customers—coming in for food—to be introduced to coffee in a great new way.

If you’re in London or going soon, your coffee tour wouldn’t be complete without ST.Ali. I would highly recommend planning your trip around a meal as well.

ST.Ali – 27 Clerkenwell Road, London


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posted by on 08.02.2011, under Coffee Touring, Recommended Roasters

Exploring NYC’s Best Coffee with The Scoop

05.18

After leaving the SCAA Expo in Houston, I headed to NYC to spend a week with friends and explore more of NYC’s continually growing coffee scene. There have been so many new additions since living there three years ago, it can be hard to know where to begin once you’ve tried the more well-known staples like Gimme, Grumpy, and Ninth Street.

Thankfully, New York Times food and coffee writer, Oliver Strand has curated an excellent list as a part of the New York Time’s free iPhone app The Scoop. Of the 74 coffee shops and cafés listed (which are updated monthly), I’ve now been to 30 of them—21 during my most recent trip.

The app is extremely comprehensive and covers a range of shops, from tiny coffee bars to high-end restaurants with table side coffee service. The integrated map guides you to your destination and includes brief summaries written by Oliver himself. Of the places I tried, I only had bad drinks at a few of them and would recommend all but two.

When I visit a shop and want to get a solid perspective of what they offer, I usually order an espresso, a macchiato, and if they brew-by-the-cup—a drip coffee. If I’m approaching my caffeine limit or short on time, I may settle for just one drink. I also factor in the ambiance & design, cleanliness, customer service and general experience when deciding wether I really like a place or not. It’s rare to find a shop that captures everything so well that you call it perfect, but some get pretty damn close.

I discovered a lot of great new places on this trip that I most likely never would have found if it weren’t for The Scoop. Some became new additions to my, “must visit” list and others are just good relative to their neighborhood. One thing that surprised me the most during my recent trip was the influx of Counter Culture Coffee. Maybe they’ve always been there and I hadn’t noticed, but I would guess that 50% of the shops I visited were brewing CCC. Not that this is bad, they offer great coffee, it just seemed to be a very noticeable increase of market saturation.

Some of the highlights from this trip:

Best espresso: Single Origin Ecco Tanzania Edelweiss Estate at Kaffé 1668
Best macchiato: Stumptown Hair Bender at Variety
Best drip: Woodneck of Heart Roasters, Colombia Alfredo Rojas at RBCNYC
Best new café: Dora in the Lower Eastside
Best view: Joe at Columbia University
Best hidden gem: Bakeri in Williamsburg
Best ambiance: Bluebird in the East Village, Sweetleaf in Long Island City, Third Rail in Greenwich Village and Dora in the Lower East Side

None of these are conclusive and each visit to NYC would most likely lead to new results, but if you use them as a starting point, combined with Oliver’s list, you will be on your way to exploring some of the best the NYC coffee scene has to offer. Let me know of any great places I’ve missed. I’ll be sure to check them out on my next visit.

Download the free New York Time’s Scoop App

All photos taken with another great free iPhone app called Instagram.

 

posted by on 05.18.2011, under Coffee Touring

Best Coffee in Helsinki

03.21

Before I landed in Helsinki, most people I encountered in Stockholm warned me that the coffee in Finland is pretty terrible and it may be hard to find anything good. Thankfully I came across the blog of Finnish barista, Kalle Freese, which led me in all the right directions including to the shop he works at—Kaffa Roastery.

Kaffa wasn’t the first place I visited, but it was without a doubt, the best. The shop doesn’t have tables, just bars, and it’s tucked in the back corner of a larger building that sells vintage and designer housewares. They have a pretty extensive collection of home brewing equipment displayed on the back of a miniature truck and a stack of Barista Magazine dating back longer than I knew they existed.

What made the experience even more incredible than the coffee, was Kalle’s hospitality. He invited my girlfriend and I to the shop and fixed us a syphon pot of an Ethiopian Nekisse they were test roasting for competition. It was an amazing cup of coffee that just exploded with strawberry. Definitely the best cup I had on this trip to Scandinavia. After the shop closed, we hung around for a bit while a few other baristas stopped by to train for the Finnish Barista Competition (where Kalle recently competed in the finals). There was good conversation and an endless stream of espresso shots going around.

Depending on the amount of time you have in Helsinki, Kaffa is a little bit out of the way, just west of the design district, but well worth the trip in such a small city. If you don’t have time to leave downtown (i.e. on a day cruise from Sweden/Estonia), you can visit La Torrefazione which offers press pots of Kaffa coffee as well as great salads and sandwiches for lunch.

Another shop worth a visit is a small spot in the old red-light district, called Caneli Café. It’s run by an Iranian guy who specializes in smoothies and herbal living, but also maintains a nice stock of coffee from Swedish roasters da Matteo and Johan & Nyström. I had an AeroPress and shot of espresso while we talked about his uphill battle against the terrible quality of traditional Finnish coffee. He actually seemed a bit defeated by it all, saying that Finns learned for so long that bad coffee is what coffee should taste like, it’s hard to get them to enjoy anything else. Something many of us can relate to.

Lastly, Kahvila Sävy, is a place I didn’t get to visit because they were closed for the weekend, but Kalle highly recommended it. They are northeast of the city center and they brew single origin coffees from Turku Coffee Roasters, which I have yet to try. The photos of their pastries and baked goods also look pretty stellar.

While there isn’t anywhere near the number of quality coffee bars in Helsinki as there are in Stockholm, it’s a much smaller town with a lot of room to grow. The few who are doing it right are making great coffee and won’t leave you disappointed on a visit to Helsinki. If they do however, the city’s amazing architecture will make up the difference.



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posted by on 03.21.2011, under Coffee Touring, Recommended Roasters