My Perfect Coffee Shop

I’ve been around the world, well around most of America and Canada, some of England and Scotland and all of northern Italy to be precise, always searching for the perfect coffee shop.

Coffee, Birmingham, Bean Scene, Urban Coffee Co, perfect coffee shop

Everyone knows that in Birmingham, my regular ‘home from home’ is Urban Coffee Company but if I can combine the ‘best bits’ from around the world, this is what my coffee shop will include;

Mugs

Small and large. Let’s save cups and saucers for tea and cappuccino. North America does this so right.

Decent coffee

Urban make it and it’s obvious really. An option to have it in take-out cups as it keeps my coffee warm and is less fiddly. I once got refused a takeout cup to have inside a coffee shop in Edinburgh as it’s ‘against policy’. I went back to that shop nil times.

Oh and eggnog offered as standard in coffee during December.

Desks

I love a comfortable chair and sofas too so a mix is great but sometimes a desk helps us workers focus. And a big table means we can fit a lot of solo workers’ chairs around it, working away without taking up the sofas.

Lots of seating

Sofas for the socialites, desks for the workers.

Bagels

Just with cream cheese is fantastic. Scrambled eggs or salmon is a huge bonus. Again, standard in North America.

Cake

(Kissme) Cupcakes absolutely! Also a small assortment of other cakes and pastries each day. Love the mix at Peter’s Yard in Edinburgh.

Music

I love live music in coffee shops. It’s simply the most civilised way to listen to music. Probably not AC/DC, they are better in an outdoors stadium setting but music of the singer/songwriter type is just gorgeous in coffee shops.

At other times, soft music in the background or radio 2 is perfect. If it was my coffee shop everyone would have to stop at 10.30 to do #popmaster  BeanScene in Scotland are passionate about their music.

Real Hot Food

Panini’s are great but I love soup, slices of pizza work and my absolute favourite is a bowl of hot chilli. And bagels! What’s a coffee shop without toasted bagels?

Bean Scene in Glasgow always have a warming chilli bowl ready for me.

Friendly staff

“Where everybody knows your name”.

No matter how good the coffee is I will go back only if there is a warm welcome and great service. It’s sooooo easy, ask Urban.

A view

Now I’m getting into the luxury territory but a room with a view is wonderful.

Warmth

It’s very hard to work in the cold.

Posters

If the coffee shop is the hub of a community, it’s good to know what’s happening in said community with posters, flyers, cards etc. Let’s spread the word and help each out. Bean Scene are great at this which is good for me, the out of towner.

Late Opening

8pm is fantastic (Urban), 10pm is divine (thanks Bean Scene!) 24 hours is a little crazy but handy (New York)

Goodies to take away

Not for me but if a coffee shop is all this then I love it if the out of towners can take a little piece of it back home with them. Just like this bag that I picked up from the heavenly place that is Peter’s Yard in Edinburgh.

Peters Yard coffee shop coffee cake Birmingham Edinburgh New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italy Well in Italy I’m guaranteed a perfect cup of coffee EVERY time, EVERYwhere. The only thing is I can’t linger; I can’t work or read but balanced with the many pavement cafes, the view is always superb. In any case, I’m very grateful that they have escaped the terrible chains that the rest of the world has embraced, except for the rather handy, cheap and tasty McCafes. I guess they must have made it government policy not to let them in. Thank heavens.

Today at Cafe Blend – Adventures in Birmingham

September 20th 2010

My fondness for Urban Coffee Co is very well documented. Nevertheless, particularly when I’m having a full on writing day (that is a short day with two breaks) the day is generally more productive with a change of scene so 2-3 coffee shops is ideal.

In Glasgow and Edinburgh where until now I have gone for all my full on booking writing jaunts it’s easy as each has two or three of the fabulous Bean Scenes plus a couple of other places for lunch. In Birmingham, as yet, there is only one Urban so when I’m recommended Cafe Blend by two people, I decide to go and investigate.

My first guess that this is going to pricier because it’s opposite Harvey Nicholls is correct.

Verdict

Con – View is the car park opposite and it’s on a very busy road near a very busy New Street Station

Pro – nice vibe

Con – Unsatisfactory service; I’m assuming the young lady was an untrained student but the words ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ didn’t trouble her lips once. My planned greeting of ‘here you are, I’ve heard all about you!’ seemed inappropriate. The student never offered me any choice and I was automatically served a small coffee.

Pro – they offer NY cheesecake

Con – they don’t stock Kissme CupCakes (but hopefully will do soon)

Pro – I love the comfortable bench seating with a table by the window. It’s a huge plus to have comfort and a desk

Con – the coffee is average but I get used to it

Pro or Con – Cafe Blend is way too close to Harvey Nicks

Adventures in Glasgow-August 2010 Part 2

Sunday I miss breakfast at the hotel. I don’t like eating early, before 9am but it’s there for the taking. I just don’t know where the time goes.

I’m looking forward to Sunday afternoon tea today at Cup, scene of gorgeous lunch last time but I’m not hungry enough. I delay until Monday, when it’s quieter I reason and then promptly forget.
Instead I pay a short visit to Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery, opposite the local Bean Scene (and what I am looking at as I write this. Well obviously not that precise moment or everything would be spelt incorrectly)

I don’t fancy spoiling the day by going downtown to the cinema tonight so stay west and complete my word target

Words up to 5000
Lunch: Off Shore
Cupcake: 1, Waitrose

Monday
A bonus day. Same as yesterday, miss breakfast, go to Cresswell St Bean Scene and write 1000 words. It’s a struggle to reach the word target for the second day running.
Yes I have been to the same coffee place each morning and it’s absolutely nothing to do with the guy who works there. Nothing, I tell you, it’s simply my favourite Bean Scene.

I finish early and the vintage place is still not open at 12.10 so I take a little, OK quite a big walk into Partick and back to the museum for more Glasgow story gazing. It’s really quite good in there.

I didn’t go to Cup today either; maybe I know it will never be as magical as the first time. I’ll go on my next Glaswegian visit.

After buying my movie ticket, my plan is to take a look at the ‘other side’ of Glasgow where Caledonia University is. There is nothing there, not even a coffee shop. Where do these students go? There are hundreds – OK many many places around University of Glasgow.

Cupcake: 1 Waitrose lemon & lime 7½/10 photo
Movie Grown Ups 7½/10
Words up to 6500

Tuesday

My last morning visit to the morning Bean Scene and they remember my order! I managed to get the same seat each time too; I’m beginning to wonder why no-one wants to sit there but I do arrive early so there are not many customers around.

What I’ve noticed on this trip

People just take up the whole pavement and many times I’ve had to wait until they move out of the way for me to pass or more often, I just step into the road. This isn’t just once or twice but several times on a walk. Why?
There is definitely a divide between attitudes; warmth towards a stranger in the West End rather than anywhere else. I know my place.

Big plus is there was no rain to speak off. The umbrella didn’t come out once. In fact we had glorious sunshine most days.

Words 7000

New frocks

New Frocks

Adventures in Glasgow – August 2010

Wanted some vintage coffee tins but found this perfect one; my daddy used to drink Camp coffee!

Wanted some vintage coffee tins but found this perfect one; my daddy used to drink Camp coffee!

Another jaunt to Glasgow for book writing, this time for 4 nights so word target is 7000.

Bean Scene visits
Cresswell Lane, West End 4 (each morning)
Woodside 2
Kelvin Grove 2 (nearest to hotel)

Which one do I love most?

I think it’s fair to say I love Glasgow now.

It’s because I stay away from the city centre and only spend time in the areas I like, namely the West End and a little bit of Woodlands. I delve into the city centre twice to get to the cinema and both times, whilst the films are worth seeing, I dislike being there.

If only they built a Cineworld at the other end of town – or will that spoil it?

It’s a rare occurrence that there’s no rain when I arrive on Friday afternoon so I decide to walk to the hotel, with a stop at M&S for hotel room goodies to break up the journey. A random few drops of rain arrive during the final leg of the walk but nothing to wet the umbrella over. I’m home and dry.

There’s something very pleasing about familiarity so walking into the hotel is like coming home. I even recognise the guy on the desk although I’m guessing his recognition of me is politeness.

Early Friday evening is to achieve the word target in the local Bean Scene and then fish and chips. This time I have everything sussed for a traditional Friday – bar the cinema, I give that a miss for tonight.

Words: 1000

Saturday Straight to the West End for writing at Bean Scene in Cresswell Lane. Next door I discover De Courcey’s Arcade, which contains a now obligatory cupcake bakery. The staff reveal that it may not have opened when I last visited.

The best sighting is yet another vintage clothes store in Glasgow. However, I do like Just for You because I receive personal shopper service. Almost immediately the owner begins collecting frocks for me to try whilst insisting throughout I’m a size 8 and me arguing I’m 10-12. Also, her stock ranges between Karen Millen and designer – no Top Shop in here (how is that vintage anyway?). Obviously I love Top Shop, even though I should have grown out of it at least ten years ago but there’s not an awful lot of point in buying second hand Top Shop or Miss Selfridge.

The lady does me a deal so I buy the second dress that I love but don’t need along with the first dress that will be very handy indeed for all these functions I have to go to for my charity project work. We become ‘firm friends’ and I go back each day just to say hello – not to see what else has been bought in, honest guv.

Cupcake: De Courcey’s Arcade strawberry & vanilla 7½/10
Lunch: Off Shore near the university again (I keep wanting to spell it Off Sure)
Movie – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – 8/10
Words up to 3000

Part 2 to follow

Glasgow May 28-31st 2010 (Part One)

Book Writing, Round Two

It’s a bank holiday so I must be in Scotland.

I’m going for my second book writing trip (that’s first book, second trip). The train is just as busy and this time I have a table seat but quickly realise there’s three distractions on three seats right there. Unfortunately that wasn’t all. There is only one thing louder than a noisy child and that’s a hen night. They were polite enough talking to us civvies but as loud and colourful as you would expect otherwise when conversing with each other. I was just grateful not be going to Blackpool.

Not much writing gets done. Instead I’m defending the otherwise excellent Virgin Trains to a couple who live in Spain as for some reason, there were problems reserving seats. I had to be persistent to get mine but still bought rare full price tickets.

I’m not looking forward to Glasgow as I had Edinburgh and have already lowered my expectations after that primary Scottish adventure. The taxi driver who stays silent throughout the £5, not £3-4 journey I had been lead to believe didn’t change my opinion.

After checking in and realising I was on the third floor of walk-up, I discovered there was no bath. It was an even smaller room than Edinburgh but less than half the price so it’s still fantastic value but no bath. Noooo!

Luckily, they are able to move me but not till tomorrow so I don’t unpack but step out into the street to get acclimatised. Turn left for city centre and right for the West End were my instructions from the staff, who I’m warming to now. I have a good feeling for going right as that’s where the university is and experience has told me, universities equal lots of coffee shops of the non-Starbucks variety.

However, already feeling weary, I went to investigate the city centre first.

It’s a standard city centre, with more bars. Many, many more bars, right there amongst the shops.

No Smoking Sign

No Smoking Sign

Having got a good grip of where everything is; cinema, train station for return and Marks and Spencer, I turn back to find the recommended fish & chip place. There are the standard amount of outlets in Glasgow, compared to none in Edinburgh so as much as I’m not a fan of chip shop chips; fish is my Friday tradition whenever possible and the salmon sandwich on the train doesn’t really count.

The Sandyford Hotel is an old fashioned family run hotel and they have real keys that actually work every time complete with a huge tag so you cannot walk out of the hotel with it and have to hand it in. It’s quaint and it also forces the staff to talk to you each time so they quickly got to remember my room number.

BBITW

As I walk, I’m thinking about the fantastic music scene that was so persistent in the 1980s and still plentiful now. The BBITW, GUN came from here and I go past the well known small, live music venue, King Tuts that everyone plays at.

When I return to the hotel, I check on the status of El Presidente, the band formed by ex-bassist who I loved but hadn’t heard anything form since the brilliant first album in 2006. I had looked up El Pres recently and there was still no word on any new material. Back in the day, junior members of my staff were riotous in their collective jibes of my supposed shrine to them. Brilliant new bands only come along once every few years and perhaps I was a little over excited and imitated a slightly younger music fan.

Things I learnt: Mark Rankin, former singer of BBITW is the cousin of Sharlene Spitteri of Texas, El Pres are still not ready with a second album and GUN have reformed.

I said Gun reformed!

Wikipedia of all places told me Gun had reformed and started playing gigs last year and despite my listening to the radio all day and paying close attention to social media, OK just Twitter, no-one had told me!

However, excitement was quickly over as they are without, although with the blessing, of their lead singer. Could you have the Stones without Jagger, Beatles without McCartney, Guns N Roses without Axel Rose? No.

So whilst they will play the old stuff and the new tracks are so far so good, I’m taking the attitude it’s a new band and I’ll follow with interest. They have got an established new singer, Toby, who used to be with Little Angels and is voice is nicely similar so he can cover the old classics. I could probably cope with that but of course we’re all 10 years older and Joolz the guitarist, who I rate being up there with the best and certainly a mesmerising musician to watch used to have de rigueur long messed up hair as befits a guitarist of such stature. Sadly he is now shaven headed but it is the first time I have actually seen his face! And he looks happy.

Boy it was exciting for a while there.

West End

I learn I’m staying in the right area as I can walk to all three Bean Scenes, my favoured discovery in Edinburgh. This small independent chain promises coffee, food and music. I never got to hear any live music but what they played was always excellent. And they open until at least 10pm which is great for the solo traveller in a city that likes to DRINK alcohol.

The nearest one was around 10 minutes walk in the West End direction, opposite a lovely looking, but un-attempted museum and park. That was my destination each evening until around closing time.

Bad Service