Wineweek 58: Half Way Through Asia

We have come to the half-point of our tour. The journey has taken us via Bangkok, to Phu Quoc, Ho Chi Minh City and now Singapore. We will spend the following week in Asia’s capital of specialty coffee, and the best destination for wine, Singapore. For the last leg we move back to edgy Bangkok for a final week and a half. It feels like we have been on the road for a long time, however I have been wined and dined enough to not yet miss Stockholm. I am sure that a week in Bangkok will fix that (the wine scene is still very thin).

So what have we been up to? I already posted some wine tips for Ho Chi Minh City. It was much more of a wine city than I initially thought (makes sense with Vietnam’s history as a French colony).  We enjoyed a lot of street food: Pho (noodle soup), Bánh Mi (Vietnamese baguette), sticky rice and fruits. I will write a separate post about the food tour we did (Ho Chi Minh Street Eats, I can warmly recommend). We visited some of the main sites as well as tried out the wine scene. Ho Chi Minh was very buzzing, but in six days, I was ready to move on.

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Celebrating Christmas eve in Ho Chi Minh City
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Our glasses were filled with Baron-Fuente champagne. I would perhaps not buy this bubbly by the box, but it was definitely half decent.
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We dig out specialty coffee wherever we go. Workshop at Ho Chi Minh City
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Arriving to Singapore
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Lights at Orchard Road
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Cold brew at Common Man
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A labyrinth of escalators at Dhoby Ghaut
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Coctails at 28 Hong Kong Street
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Japanese beer tastes fresh in the hot weather.

Now we are in modern Singapore, where everything works like clockwork. Wine is not cheap, but its available, the specialty coffee scene is mature and the ease of transport makes it possible to do more within one day. Singapore is one of the best cities for good cocktails, so for our first night out, we popped into one of the first and best speakeasies I know, 28 Hong Kong street. It is a widely known secret, but still very hidden. There is only s small copper sign indicating of its whereabouts. The food is dripping of fat and/or deep-fried (not a dieters paradise) and the cocktails are amazing. I wrote a review on it already last spring, you can read about it here. You can expect some more cocktail action to come during the following weeks.

That was it for this wineweek. Coming week, who knows what is going to happen. A new year is approaching with new adventures. We already looked at our calendars last night planning for some tastings and other events for the spring. Have a great week wherever you are!

xx Soile

 

 

Solde: Excellent roaster and coffee bar in Malmö

I have a somewhat special relationship with this place. For the year and a half or so that I l lived in Malmö it was my go to place. I passed it on my 5 minute walk from home to the office everyday and almost always went in there for a cup to go. Being from Stockholm it is not always that one is met with great friendliness and warmth in Skåne (or when I think of it not in many places outside Stockholm at all) but I always loved the friendly and relaxed atmosphere here. The clientele was and is extremely hipster so if you are allergic to that go elsewhere. For me the good coffee makes me overcome my aversion to hipsters. The coffee has always been very consistent high quality and that is what I really like here. I do not believe I have ever had a bad cup of coffee in this place. That said, I do also seldom come away feeling as it is the best cup I ever had either but they are really solid.

These days they roast their own coffee and they are really good. They do not have the widest range but always some good stuff. At the coffee bar I would mainly go for the espresso based beverages as the skilled baristas here really know how to use the espresso machine. There are also filter coffees available and those are pretty good as well.

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Food wise there is basic breakfast stuff as well as pastries and cookies. There are no full meals so more a place to stop by for a cup and a small bite and then be on your way. In a sense the vibe is a bit like what an Italian espresso bar would be if they served good coffee.It is fairly small so not the place to hang out for a long time and not really enough space to comfortably work or so but still one of the top spots in Malmö for coffee and good service.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4
Ambiance and service: 4
Food: 3
Vs local competition: 4.5

Scandinavian Embassy: High quality coffee & Food in Amsterdam

As some of you may have gathered I do have to spend some time in the Netherlands due to work now and then. When I started coming to Amsterdam the coffee scene was not really much to talk about and then when it started the quality was not really there. For me the place that made all that change was Scandinavian Embassy. It took me some time to make my way there as it is not really close to the areas I go for work (and it is not smack in the center but not too far off Albert Cuyp Market by the calm Sarphati park). The area is lovely so can understand why they set up shop here. When I entered I was promptly met by a cute little dog, one of the owners (Rikard) has a tiny little dog that will happily stare at you in an attempt to get some food from you.

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The second thing I noticed was a familiar face behind the counter. Nicolas who used to work at one of my local favorites cafes in Stockholm (Drop Coffee) was now one of the people running this place. I then immediately knew I was in good hands when it comes to coffee. Nicolas is one of the top baristas in the world so I fully trusted him to make me a decent cup. When I was there the first time they had a wide selection of coffees from some of my favorite Scandinavian roasters like Danish Coffee Collective, Norwegian Tim Wendelboe and Swedish Drop Coffee. I sampled several of the Kenyans and they were awesome! On subsequent visits they kept to the Scandinavian roaster and always served impeccable coffee. The coffee is also most often paired with the food they serve.

Food wise there is also a clear Scandinavian touch to the menu and a lot of the things sounded great. I have tried some of the pastries as well as the food (among other things the wild boar sausage as well as poached eggs). In general high quality food, made with carefully sourced and selected ingredients. The food is better than what you will have in most restaurants and I just love sitting at the bar looking at them prepare it. The ambitions are high and yet the prices stay reasonable.

Food
Food

The design is also clearly inspired by Scandinavia. For me, it looks really great and of course familiar, so not sure how the locals like it. The seats are perhaps not the most comfortable but I still like to hang out here. The tables in the back are more nice to sit for a long time at. There is free wifi as well so fine for doing some work. The staff are really friendly and happy to chat about coffee, food and stuff.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4.5
Ambiance and service: 4
Food: 4.5
Vs local competition: 5

TAP Coffee: Solid roaster in London

Another week has just flown by and it is time for coffee Monday again. This week we are back in London and one of the coffee roasters I often enjoy going to. TAP Coffee have been around for some time but they used to be called Tapped & Packed. In the old days they served a range of different roasters but since a few years they roast themselves. They currently have three locations in London (26 Rathbone Place, 114 Tottenham Court Road and 193 Wardour Street) and I do visit all of them fairly regularly. This review is however mainly for the one on on Wardour Street in Soho.

Come in and enjoy the coffee
Come in and enjoy the coffee
Charming space on Wardour street
Charming space on Wardour street
Amond croissant
Amond croissant
Cold brew in July
Cold brew in July

I prefer coming here on weekdays as weekends tend to be too busy and while the place has a fairly large number of seats it does tend to crowded. It may also not always be possible to order all the hand-brews if they are too busy at the brew bar. They have the roaster in the back and the space looks a bit rugged but nice. One thing I am not a huge fan of is the seating. The seats are not very comfortable and they are actually rather ill-suited to sit and work. That may be intentional to avoid having people linger for too long. They do however offer free wifi and a lot of newspapers and magazines which in a way is an invite to stay for long. Service is very much up and down here – sometimes people are super-friendly and at others I almost feel like I am a nuisance when trying to order some coffee. Out of the three locations this one is the only one where service is so inconsistent, perhaps due to it being the busiest one but still not really great.

The main reason to visit is however the coffee. They offer three different coffees as hand-brews and the selection rotates fairly frequently. The quality is usually really good, the roasting was not top notch when they started but I really feel that they have improved greatly. While not always the most exciting coffees they do have consistently good quality and reliable execution which is not easy. They also offer good espresso based beverages and for part of the year also nice cold-brews.

With regards to food they do have a good range of typical café food so plenty of sandwiches, pastries, some yogurt and the occasional salad. Good enough to keep hunger at bay but not really a substitute for a real meal. Quality is good but not overly exciting.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4
Ambiance and service: 3
Food: 3
Vs local competition: 4.5

Espresso House in Hötorgshallen (Stockholm) delivering quality coffee

One of my favorite  coffee bars in Stockholm belong to the chain Espresso House. They do perhaps not in general contribute to the great coffee scene but rather bringing up the average quality be serving a decent cup. The location in Hötorgshallen is however their showroom and have both better coffee and more skilled baristas than their other locations. Hötorgshallen is a food hall in the center of Stockholm and this café is on the ground floor alongside several other restaurants and cafés and downstairs in the basement there are numerous vendors selling cheese, meat, vegetables, nuts, spices and many other things (there is even a Finnish specialty food store). In general a nice place to browse but it also means a lot of people moving through there so even if there is free wifi and some space to sit at Espresso house it is still not a really great place to hang out for a long period of time. The staff are however very knowledgeable and friendly so still like the place.

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The main thing is however the coffee. As all Espresso house they have coffee roasted by Solberg & Hansen but in addition to the normal range of five different coffees to select from they have an additional three to five different ones. Usually these ones are more interesting and smaller lots. All coffees can be ordered as hand-brews and are very nicely prepared. The espresso based beverages are also good but I am not a super-fan of their espresso blend.

The food selection is virtually non-existent, only some cakes and pastries but they do kindly offer to grab some food from the other places and still sit and eat it at the tables at Espresso House.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4
Ambiance and service: 3.5
Food: 1
Vs local competition: 4.5

White Label Coffee: Top roaster in Amsterdam

The coffee Monday this week goes back to Amsterdam. When people talk about Amsterdam and coffee in the same sentence it has historically been more the coffee shops where there is more smoking than coffee drinking go on. The specialty coffee scene in Amsterdam is however really taking off and in the past couple of years a variety of new places have popped up. One of my recent discoveries is White Label Coffee in the western part of Amsterdam.  I first encountered their coffee at Kokko in Helsinki and then decided to make sure to have time to visit.

Filter coffee
Filter coffee
Cool espresso machine
Cool espresso machine

They have a rather spacious café where they roast coffee, sell beans and some equipment as well as of course serve the coffee. They have a wide range of coffee for sale and upon my visit they had an impressive seven different coffees available to order as hand-brewed filters. The guys working here really know how to make their coffee, very nicely prepared. The roasting is also very good and I was impressed by filter as well as cold brew. For me they are among the top coffee places in town and for me they are currently only beaten by Scandinavian Embassy but I do believe the fact that these guys roast their own coffee is something that may in the long run make them number one.

There is some simple café food on offer and nice apple pie and other pastries but I would still not say that it is the place to come for a full meal. What they have is however nice and decently priced. I like the atmosphere of the place and the people working there are very friendly so it is a nice place to hang at. It is fairly spacious and has free wifi so it is also possible to hang around for a longer period of time.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4
Ambiance and service: 4.5
Food: 3
Vs local competition: 4.5

Kahvila Siili (Helsinki): Relaxing summer cafe with pastries and brunch

This pleasant little summer cafe in a residential neighborhood of Helsinki is really a pleasant addition to an already good coffee scene. It is in the basement of a house and has a few tables inside and plenty of seats outside. It is perhaps not where one would expect to find a café and with public transport it is not that easy to reach it.

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The coffee here varies from excellent to acceptable and much is dependent on who is making it and how busy they are. Occasionally the Finnish Barista Champion Kalle Freese is making the coffee and  then the coffee is great. When he is not there they do not offer hand brews and the coffee quality gets more shaky. The batch brew is still good but in order to be a proper coffee destination they would have to be more consistent.

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The coffee served has been from Blue bottle in San Francisco but upon my last visits it was instead from Square Mile. Nice to see some variety in what is offered. They also have some wine on offer as well as perhaps the main reason to visit, the brunch. Superb brunch with perfect egg at 63 degrees (celsius that is) and yogurt with granola, avocado toast, apple juice and coffee of your choice. Pastries are also very nice.

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The setting is very nice and relaxing and the service is pleasant albeit a bit slow. No free wifi and weekend crowds eyeing your table even before you have finished your brunch does not encourage lingering. A place well worth visiting before they close at the end of Summer (hopefully they open next summer again).

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3
Ambiance and service: 3.5
Food: 4.5
Vs local competition: 3

Mother’s milk – truly excellent coffee bar experience in London

I am trying to return to some sort of order here in the posts for the so called Coffee Monday’s so today it actually posts on a Monday and with a real favorite both in terms of city and coffee bar. London is full of excellent places for coffee and I have a great many that I hold in high regard so naming one as the best is difficult. I do however hold Mother’s Milk as perhaps the best coffee quality.

The place is located just a few blocks north of Oxford circus (12 Portland Street, W1W 8BJ) and it is a little gem of a coffee place. It is run by two experienced baristas who really know their coffee. It is a tiny place (3 seats inside and a bench outside) so much of the business is take out. The menu is simple and straightforward. Everything on there is £3 (espresso, espresso with milk and filter) and made on order. The coffee is from reputable German roaster JB coffee (same as Rapha used in the past – before they decided to both ditch quality coffee and good staff) so quality of the beans is great and since they know how to make coffee the result is top notch. I have never had a bad cup of coffee here and usually stick to the excellent aeropress but the cold brew is also great.

Service is friendly and it is nice to have a seat and chat a bit about coffee. There is no food at all so if you are after other things than coffee then this place may not be for you. There is also no wifi so not the place to linger for a day. I am a fan and they really started the trend of good coffee around this area(since then Curators and Workshop also opened close by) and it is nice to have a good place for coffee if shopping at Oxford Street. The main drawback is that they are only open weekdays but as the guys work elsewhere as well  that is understandable.

So how does rate:
Coffee quality: 4.5
Ambiance and service: 3.5 (great service but so tiny so not really the place to hang out for a longer time)
Food: –
Vs local competition: 5

Maja Coffee Roastery: New exciting coffee roaster in Helsinki

Once again the coffee Monday post is published on the Tuesday, this is almost becoming a habit so I will perhaps change it to the weekly coffee post. This week it is more on Helsinki.

I must admit that my view on Helsinki has changed a lot in the past years. I used to see Helsinki as a boring grey, half Eastern European part of Northern Europe that had little to offer from virtually any perspective. When I then started to visit more often I realized that things have really changed in Helsinki, the weather may still not be a reason to visit but there is bustling restaurant and bar scene and the specialty coffee scene is very lively as well. I find more new places opening here than in the other Nordic countries and looking at the small size of Helsinki there is an impressive array of places that serve up good coffee.

One of the newer ones on the scene is Maja Coffee Roastery. I sampled their coffee at several locations in the past year but did not have the chance to visit until recently. The roastery is run by a Finnish Japanese couple and they sell beans to other cafes as well as serve them at their own café. The café is located on the outskirts of Helsinki so not an easy location to get to without a car (or bicycle if the weather is nice) as there is no tram or metro going there (just a few buses). They are located in an old run down half outdoor mall where most of the shop spaces are empty except for pizza place, a golf store and something that looked either like a second hand store or an accountants office (or perhaps a combo of the two). They occupy a very small space there with enough seats for around 10 people (two tables inside and one outside) so not really a place for crowds. It did however not seem extremely busy when we were there and from what I understood opening hours are a bit infrequent so always best to check their FB page in advance.

They have created a very nice looking space that nicely integrates the Nordic and the Japanese so nice wooden chairs and tables with beautiful glassware and simple design. The service is friendly and relaxed. They take their time to talk about the coffee and tea and are also happy to recommend other places as well. There is no free wifi so while the place is inviting to stay and relax it is perhaps not optimal to sit and work here.
The coffee on offer is their own roasted coffee. Usually two or three different options, all have been roasted on site on their one kilogram roaster. The coffees can be ordered either has hot or iced and there is an option of with or without milk as well. They are brewed on order and having tried their full range I will say they do brew nice coffee. Improvement would be offering multiple brew methods as I do for example believe that their nice Kenyan AA would be even better as an Aeropress. The coffee is however consistently good and while not reaching top levels they are good. They also have very nice teas from German Paper and Tea so also the tea drinkers can get their fix here.

Food selection is limited, usually some raw cake and toasted sandwiches. So it is simple yet sufficient but perhaps not the place to go to for brunch or lunch. They are however a very nice addition to the Helsinki coffee scene.

So how does it rate:
Coffee Quality: 3.5
Ambiance/Service: 3.5
Food: 2.5
Vs local average competition: 4

Original Coffee, Copenhagen – good alternative to other chains  

Time flies and it is Monday again so once again coffee focus on the Winecurious. If you feel a need for more coffee things do also check out the Coffee Curious here on wordpress and on twitter.

This week the focus is on Copenhagen, the coffee scene in Copenhagen is still dominated by Coffee Collective and they have to some  extent been so good that the competition has been stifled. They remain good but now there are several new good places as well. Original coffee is a small chain and this review is of their Bredgade location. The space is not huge but there are plenty of seats and it is very light and airy space so a perfect place to sit and relax. Free wifi and electricity available makes it ideal to sit for longer periods of time. Service is friendly and knowledgeable, no problem chatting a bit about the coffee. The nice attitude is also conveyed on their website where they happily recommend other good coffee places both in Copenhagen and in other cities.

The coffee is provided by local roasters Kontra Coffee and there are usually a few (when I visited three, normally between two and four) filter coffees to choose from as well as two espresso blends. The ‘normal’ is a blend of Brazilian, Kenyan and Ethiopian while the ‘modern’ one is only Ethiopian. It is nice to be able to do some sampling between the two – I found the Ethiopian more fun and interesting but I would expect the blend to be the big seller. The filter coffee can be ordered as batch brew or hand brew. The hand brew was very well executed and I also sampled some espresso based beverages that were nicely prepared. The coffee is good but perhaps not the most exciting. I was also visiting during a fairly slow time so would be interesting to see how the quality is when they are more busy.

There is a good selection of simpler breakfast and brunch dishes as well as sandwiches and some pastries. So while it is not a full restaurant one can definitely get some food here and it is also very good.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4
Ambiance and service: 4
Food: 3.5
Vs local competition: 4.5