The Caffeine Chronicles: Coffee Circus

Coffee wasn’t the main motivation for my recent trip to Crouch End, but a quick bit of research soon indicated that the pretty, north London neighbourhood was not without its coffee merits. I wrote about Velasquez and Van Wezel earlier this week and the second speciality coffee shop I visited in Crouch End was Coffee Circus, a café with cosy, colourful interiors on Crouch Hill (the road that forms the southeastern ‘arm’ of the X of Crouch End).

Coffee Circus opened in 2011 and although its décor includes various circus-themed elements, it was much calmer than its name suggests late on a Saturday afternoon. The café is long and slender, with the coffee bar occupying most of the front room, while the main seating area, which has plenty of rustic wooden furniture, is in the back. The back room is surprisingly bright and although there were still plenty of other customers when I visited, it was relatively quiet.

I had heard good things about the brunch, but had already partaken that day, and I was so full that although the cakes looked lovely, it probably would have taken a chocolate-peanut butter brownie (my favourite sweet treat) to tempt me into pudding. There were also various soups, quiches and salads if you aren’t of a brunch persuasion.

The coffee is from East London-based Mission Coffee Works, and there are Aeropress, V60 and French press options if you’re in the mood for a hand-brewed filter coffee. I was a little pressed for time and so went for a cortado (£2.20) with Mission’s Bells Espresso, a nutty chocolatey blend of Brazilian and Peruvian coffees. My coffee was well prepared and slipped down very well. I would have liked to try a pourover too but I will have to save that experience — and the brunch — for another visit.

Coffee Circus was a relaxed venue for hanging out over a cup of coffee, with warm, efficient service and a very pretty shopfront.

Coffee Circus. 136 Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9DX (Tube: Highgate). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Five Books for Your 2017 Summer Reading List

After my successful attempt to read 200 books last year, I’ve been trying to take things a little easier this year. For me, this meant that at the halfway point of the year, I had read 80 books. After years of reading e-books on my iPad Mini, I finally invested in a Kindle PaperWhite during Amazon’s Father’s Day Sale, and have been enjoying the experience: it’s smaller and lighter than my iPad Mini and I like that I can use it even in direct sunlight.

As the summer holiday season rapidly encroaches, I wanted to recommend some books that I’ve read recently and that I think would make good summer reads; ICYMI, my 2016 list is here. And as a brief but important disclaimer: I sometimes receive pre-release review copies of upcoming novels via NetGalley, but this doesn’t affect my decision to review a book or my opinions of it in any reviews I do write. I’ve added an asterisk to the titles below for which I received a review copy from NetGalley.

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
Lucy and Gabe meet as Columbia University students on the day the Twin Towers fell. After a couple of false starts, they become a couple, until Gabe’s all-encompassing desire to become a photographer seems to outweigh both Lucy’s love for him and her pursuit of her own career and threatens to drive them apart. Jill Santopolo’s novel spans 13 years in the lives of Lucy and Gabe, and is an intense, warm and often heartbreaking story of love and loss, success and regret. If you are familiar with my taste in books, you’ll recognise these themes in many of my other favourite books — particularly those that feature young lovers coming of age in New York City. Yes, I have a type, but Santopolo writes well and the story never feels hackneyed or overwrought.

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud*
Speaking of coming-of-age stories set in New York, Claire Messud’s début novel, The Emperor’s Children, is one of my all-time favourite novels — both in and outside this niche. Eleven years later comes The Burning Girl, where the characters are younger and the setting more suburban but the themes remain the same. Set in a fictional town in Essex County, MA (coincidentally, close to where I will spending two weeks on a family holiday later this month), The Burning Girl follows childhood best friends Julia and Cassie as they enter their teenage years and find that the bonds of friendship may not be quite so ironclad as they had once thought. The book comes out at the end of August and I’ll be writing a more detailed review then. Suffice to say, though, that I was won over by Messud’s lilting, understated and tightly edited prose.

Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito
I am always on the look-out for well-written legal and crime thrillers and Malin Persson Giolito’s courtroom thriller about a teenage girl awaiting trial for her involvement in a mass shooting at her exclusive prep school is one of the smartest and most gripping I’ve read this year. Maja makes a compelling and intelligent narrator, but should we believe her story or is she a sociopath taking us all for a ride? Persson Giolito’s novel is a fast read but offers a perceptive, thought-provoking and satisfyingly twisty narrative.

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
I read a lot of scientific research papers in my day job and don’t seek out non-fiction books as often as I used to. It’s hard, though, not to be intrigued by the title of Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s new book, Everybody Lies. The subtitle — Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are — provides a little more context. I heard the author discussing the book and his research on the Freakonomics podcast and although books on big data are two a penny these days, the insights into human psyche and behaviour in Everybody Lies really set it apart. Stephens-Davidowitz answers questions on everything from sex to sport, and race to parental favouritism in an engaging, accessible and fun way. You may never Google in the same way again!

Sunday Morning Coming Down by Nicci French*
I picked up Blue Monday, the first in husband-and-wife writing team Nicci French’s series about psychotherapist Frieda Klein, by chance in my library back in 2011 and have powered through each new release since then. Now, the final novel in the series, Sunday Morning Coming Down, is finally here and reading it was a bittersweet experience for me. I craved closure and an ending worthy of the sometimes frustrating but always strong and very believable heroine Nicci French has created in Frieda, but equally, I wanted to continue enjoying Frieda’s world. I thought the ending worked well, though, and this latest psychological crime thriller was as thrilling and enjoyable as the others in the series. The novels do, to some extent, stand alone, but you will probably get more out of them if you read them in sequence. This is particularly true of this final novel, where the character — or is it his ghost? — whose presence has been felt to a greater or lesser degree throughout the series draws ever closer.

The Caffeine Chronicles: Coleman Coffee Roasters, Waterloo

Just over five minutes’ walk from my flat, Coleman Coffee Roasters’ roastery and Saturday morning coffee bar in Bermondsey is about the closest speciality coffee spots to my home — and one of the first I visited when I moved to the area in 2012. I often stop by after my Saturday morning run and when I’m browsing the other local food and producers’ wares in the arches of Spa Terminus.

It’s taken me longer to visit Coleman Coffee’s café in Lower Marsh, even though relatively speaking, it’s still just down the road in Waterloo. The eponymous Coleman is the friendly Jack, who launched the roastery in 2010 and the newer café last year. Lower Marsh is one of the most vibrant and characterful streets in Waterloo with plenty of independent shops and eateries. It was bustling when I walked over on a sunny Saturday, with a lovely little market selling a mix of crafts, homewares and second-hand goods.

Coleman itself was busy too. The seats inside the small café soon filled up while I was there and the lovely garden in the back was also packed. Although I had heard great things about the Staffordshire oatcakes (savoury pancakes made from oatmeal flour), the only filling that caught my fancy was the smoked bacon and eggs and I wasn’t quite sure I could manage a full serving. Instead, I ordered a piccolo (£2.40), made with Coleman’s house espresso blend, which combines a Guatemalan and a Brazilian variety. There was filter coffee available too (£2.50) but as it was so busy, I thought that an espresso-based drink might be a more considerate order than a hand-brewed filter.

Meanwhile, I took my seat and enjoyed the Lower Marsh people-watching. The coffee itself was very nice — I’ve tried this Coleman blend before and it works very well as a piccolo or macchiato. Several people sitting at my table had ordered oatcakes and eventually, I gave in to temptation and ordered the bacon and egg variety (£7.50). I was lucky I ordered when I did because they then had to take a brief ordering hiatus to give them a chance to catch up on the lunchtime rush.

The oatcakes were really good. I am not, in general, a huge fan of big, fluffy American-style pancakes, whereas these were a lighter, more savoury affair — well, the pancakes themselves; the portions of the delicious, crispy smoked bacon and fried eggs were generous enough not to count as a light lunch in anyone’s book. If you have a sweeter tooth than me, you might enjoy them with raspberry jam or marmalade instead, or you could try the Iranian nougat available on the counter.

At the café, they also sell bags of freshly roasted Coleman beans and some lovely Anna Hodgson pottery cups and bowls. If you’re close to Waterloo station, Coleman is a great bet for a great coffee and refuel. I suspect that it isn’t always quite so hectic as on Saturday lunchtimes, which may make finding a seat a little easier. Note, though, that they are only open until 3 pm throughout the week.

Coleman Coffee. 20 Lower Marsh, London, SE1 7RJ (Tube: Waterloo). Website. Twitter.

Beginner’s Guide to Joyful Living — Day 11

At some point in your life, you may have put on your favorite striped outfit and asked a quintessential question: "Does this dress make me look fat?" The question beneath the question is, "Do I look ugly, self-indulgent, or weak? Am I giving off vibes of a woman who is splitting apart at the seams?"The need for approval is human, but it's not helpful. It's baggage.Continue Reading »

The Caffeine Chronicles: Redemption Roasters

Redemption Roasters, whose roastery and barista training centre is based in Aylesbury Prison, was one of the stands I spotted at this year’s London Coffee Festival on the way to a meeting and never quite found my way back. This was unfortunate, given the great things I had heard about their coffee, roasted in small batches at the prison, and about their social enterprise: they train up young offenders in roasting and barista skills, and help ex-offenders find work within the coffee industry on their release. Oh, and I love the colourful, eye-catching packaging of their retail coffee bags.

I found redemption for my oversight when I heard that the roastery would be opening a coffee shop in central London and I’ve been following their progress eagerly on Instagram. The Redemption Roasters café opened in Bloombsury earlier this week and I was so impressed on my first visit that I went back yesterday to try the filter coffee.

The café is located on Lamb’s Conduit Street, one of my favourite central London streets with its diverse independent shops and eateries. I often used to head down there at lunchtimes, back when the original Espresso Room — just around the corner on Great Ormond Street — was the closest good coffee to my King’s Cross office. Redemption Roasters is less than a mile from my office, though, and it’s a very pleasant stroll through Bloomsbury so it’s definitely time for me to discover this neighbourhood.

Inside, the café’s décor is minimalist but beautifully designed, from the simple wooden furniture, to the London-themed artwork behind the bar and especially the stunning Slayer Steam espresso machine. There are a handful of small tables, a few spots to perch and a bench out on the pavement — perfect for those hot days we occasionally get in London.

As for the coffee, there were two espressos on offer (the medium-roast Aylesbury and the lighter 1847, which are £2.20 without milk and £2.80 with) and two single-origin filter coffees (an Ethiopian Werka and a Rwandan Nyarusiza), available as an Aeropress/V60 (£3.30 and £3.90, respectively), with one also on as a batch brew (£2.50). On my first visit, I had a piccolo with the 1847 espresso, which combines coffees from Brazil and Tanzania.

My coffee was very well prepared and tasted great: well-balanced and smooth but with just enough of a kick to keep it interesting. For breakfast, I also tried a slice of the banana and walnut bread (£3.40), which made for a great breakfast. They also do toast, toasties and various cakes if you are in the market for a light bite.

I went back yesterday lunchtime and, despite the relative heat outside, I decided to order the Nyarusiza coffee as a V60 (it was also on the batch brew, but the friendly barista was more than happy to brew me up a cup with the V60). I loved the Nyarusiza, whose intense blackcurrant notes came through beautifully; it was a very well brewed cup of coffee and somehow helped to cool me down a little.

It’s great to see Redemption Roasters joining Old Spike and Second Shot in their efforts to do something more than just make lovely coffee (although the coffee is excellent too). You can read much more about Redemption’s aims and achievements so far on their website. In the meantime, if you’re in Bloomsbury or Holborn, you can visit the café from 7:30–5:30 on weekdays and 9–5 at the weekend. A warm welcome will certainly await you.

Redemption Roasters. 84b Lamb’s Conduit Street, London, WC1N 3LR (Tube: Russell Square). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

The Caffeine Chronicles: Hopper Coffee

The words, “this bus is on diversion; please listen for further announcements,” usually make me sigh heavily on my morning commute but there can sometimes be upsides. For example, when my bus was diverted northbound up Gray’s Inn Road a couple of weeks ago, I happened to spot Hopper Coffee, a tiny coffee bar on the junction with Roger Street, from the upper deck. I often walk or run up and down Gray’s Inn Road, but I’m usually on the other side and had never noticed Hopper Coffee before so I was, for once, grateful for the diversion.

I went back at lunchtime a few days’ later to check it out. Inside, it’s cosy and, as I mentioned, rather diminutive. There is a bench outside on the pavement and a couple of spaces to sit in the window, but otherwise, it’s elbow-room only (and not much of that). Nonetheless, on a sunny Friday, there was a constant stream of customers, including many regulars, and the friendly baristas kept things moving very well. The sleek white espresso machine and monochrome menu and neon sign add some edge to the rustic exposed-brick walls and coffee-sack-lined window seat.

They roast their coffee locally and there were five single-origin espressos available when I visited. There aren’t any hand-brewed filter coffees on the menu but you can try several ‘signature drinks’, including the Great White and the Great Long Black. There is also an assortment of toasties and various sweet treats on offer.

I had a piccolo (£2) made with a blend of a couple of Central/South American coffees and it was expertly brewed. The coffee tasted smooth and rich, and the latte art was very good. As most of their customers take their coffees away, be warned that they serve the coffee in disposable cups, so you may wish to consider bringing your own reusable cup — or if you ask nicely, like I did, they may be able to rustle up a glass for you.

This neighbourhood, on the boundary between Bloomsbury and Clerkenwell, has several other excellent coffee shops — most notably Prufrock and Catalyst — but if you’re in the market for a quick but very good espresso-based drink, don’t overlook Hopper Coffee.

Hopper Coffee. 81B Roger Street, London, WC1N 2JX (Tube: Russell Square or Chancery Lane). Facebook. Instagram.

Beginner’s Guide to Joyful Living — Day 4

 July 4, 2017

When I was a girl, my family celebrated Independence Day at Center Hill Lake. Daddy launched his boat, and we caught crappie, bass, and the occasional blue gill. At home, Mother fried the fish in a deep iron skillet. Daddy was an ex-Marine, and our family, like many others, gathered at the table to give thanks for our freedom. We proudly displayed the flag, but at our house, you wouldn't find patriotic-themed food and decor. Color-coordination was meant for outfits, not tablescapes.Continue Reading »