Monthly Archives: May 2013

sourdough loaf1

“Prove it like a sourdough loaf.”

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GFD: From Our Cafe Correspondent – Rio’s Coffee Lounge, Walthamstow

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I checked out Rio’s after discovering the only chain coffee place in central Walthamstow is an awful branch of Costa’s spread across the corridor of a shopping centre. It offers no protection from cold, passing street fundraisers or the caterwauling of my fellow Mall users.

Much to my pleasant surprise, this has been the best café experience of my life so far. Even though I am regularly the only person poncing away on a laptop, while other coffee drinkers glance furtively as if I’m spying on them for The Man. Yes, even though there’s a slight language barrier with the waiters – fine most of the time, but did lead me into an unsettling mime when telling them the toilet roll had run out in the gents.

But I keep coming back despite those things for two reasons: firstly, the coffee is tasty, less than £2 a cup, and there is always a spare table to drink it. Secondly, for the first time since I stopped visiting that grim Irish pub in Peckham and letting drunk old men help with my pool shots whilst leaning uncomfortably close, I might be close to being a regular. Still no actual conversation with anyone, but the main waiter slapped me on the shoulder in a friendly fashion the other day.

They’ve replicated the authentic yellow/brown/yeah, we got some sofas period décor of a Starbucks or Nero, hung some art on the walls and people often come here to chill out – pop in, have a quick coffee, chat with everyone, leave, wondering why that weird guy with the small computer and messy haircut sits there for hours typing.
Also, I’ve found a future version of myself – about ten years older, with similar glasses, borderline-mullet hair and tendency to sit alone writing. However, despite being further along his personal timeline than me, he only has regular pen and paper rather than a computer – pretty sure that means I’m winning. Not spoken to him yet either.

In short: Rio’s Coffee Lounge is a pleasant, large, cheap, convenient location for the Walthamstow-based writer or café lurker – although no wifi and few plug sockets, just FYI. Please don’t all come here at once, it would defeat the point rather if I could no longer get a table.

by Nick Bryan

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Nick Bryan is a London-based writer of bleakly amusing fiction and internet posts. Collected writings on Nick Bryan Dot Com, less collected thoughts on Twitter.

GFD: La Hana Café, Xingyi District, Taipei

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Well isn’t this cute? I am tucked away in the corner of Taipei’s biggest bookshop, Eslite, in a little French café called La Hana. I am here with Summer (who once wrote of Kahaila in Shoreditch, London, GFD fans will recall). This bookshop sprawls over six floor and has two more underground and is more of a department store than a bookshop, with little zones for pens, furniture, tiny sculptures…

I’ve been here less than a day, and have been warmly greeted by Summer’s family who have kindly procured an unoccupied apartment for me to stay in for the week. They argue amongst each other about how easily I will be able to use the bus, how I can get a phone, whether I will have enough to eat… all in Chinese that is lost on me. It’s nice to see Summer again after all this time, and she hasn’t changed a bit except that instead of a dissertation almost killing her, it’s a job she does for FIFTEEN HOURS PER DAY (!!!) that is almost killing her.

In here I have the first black tea I have had since departing from London. 紅茶 – hóngchá – black tea. It comes with a sand timer which tells you how long to let it brew. As the sand falls we talk of the past few months in which we have had to tackle the world alone, without each other to depend on for emotional subsistence.  Summer gets a cream tea which comes not with cream but with butter, and some yellow stuff in a tiny wine glass, biscuits, and a creme brulee. It’s not very cheap for a tea, but this is central Taipei, who cares?

A big wooden novelty knife and fork hang from the wall, and a medium sized tree sits beside the couple near us. Over there is a small step and something like a room – a room in a room – with windows looking in. Most of La Hana’s patrons are in there.

Taipei’s weather is like a stepmother’s temper, so they say. Ever since I got here it has rained. Clouds swirl around Taipei 101 over the road and the locals have become proficient users of umbrellas. But never give one to someone as a gift, for the word for umbrella is 伞 / sǎn, which sounds similar to the word for departure. Goodbye!

by Adam 

GFD: Mr Jones’ Orphanage, Bangkok, Thailand

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I’m here with my host, Jinda, and her Taiwanese friend Fiona. Fiona wants to be my girlfriend, is the message that I hear through the Jinda the translator. I tell her to join the queue and attempt to pull off the most smug expression anyone has ever administered to a face. Needless to say, I remain single. We all met earlier today at lunch and then went to the 4 face Buddha where Celia, who has now left us, prayed for a new job.

The word ‘aww’ was invented for places like this. Jinda said it’s like heaven, but if that’s true, then it’s a heaven for bears. Beside me is a bear with one arm, a casualty of the fairly local war in Vietnam which happened a few decades ago when many bears were on the American front line. There’s quaint American diner music and the whole place is pale wood, making it seem like the inside of a wooden crate.

There’s also a carousel of bears in the centre and paper planes hang from the roof. Which leads us to the name, Mr Jones’ Orphanage, which is spooky and all the moreso when you notice the absence of kids and their lifeless, occasionally deformed toys sitting their unplayed. Up a thin flight of stairs is an attic of sorts, a network of mini pathways under about four foot of headspace. sofas and chairs are dotted about and a little bridge takes you around in a circle, and over to some bookcases. From here, you can look down upon cuddly animals and people battling with rich snacks.

 The staff t-shirt says ‘eat your veggies’, and my milkshakes is listed with the name ‘first day in school’ – it’s peanut butter, choc and vanilla.  It’s sweet and very good, but quite a challenge. We also have a chocolate mud pie and an Orio pizza (a creamy egg and chocolate slice thing). Before long I am a little nauseous and my tongue is lolling on the table like a dog. Not to say this level of indulgence is too much for a mighty man like me, but with Bangkok’s heat, and the lingering jetlag…

Needless to say, it’s boiling hot in Bangkok. Each morning I lie on my bedroom floor like Martin Sheen  in Apocalypse Now, waiting for the darkness to make itself known and to invite an expedition into the heart of it. But when I get up, and call an air conditioned cab, and the tuk tuks speed by with their fat exhausts and the mopeds carry three people and uncountable flip-flops flip flop around me, I think that I may as well elude the darkness for a bit longer, and enjoy Bangkok.

by Adam

GFD: From Our Cafe Correspondent – Apt. Café, Taipei, Taiwan

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Apt. Café is near Chengchi University which I graduated from. The café was opened in 2011, but I haven’t been there until last Sunday. After visiting Taipei Zoo with some colleagues of mine, I asked them to join me and have some nice afternoon tea in Apt. Café.

The weather was actually pretty bad last Sunday. It was raining heavily, and we were cold and soaking wet. But all the discomfort disappeared right after we entered the cosy little café. The decoration inside the café was simple and comfortable, and the light was dim which made us feel so relaxed. Apt. Café serves not only coffee and tea, but also delicious waffles and cupcakes. After taking an adventure at the zoo, I was starving and ordered a lot, including mashed potato gratin with smoked salmon, some cupcakes and a latte. The coffee and food were great, especially the cupcakes. Though I’m not a fan of any kinds of dessert, I miss the salty caramel macchiato cupcake from Apt. Café badly.

We spent the whole afternoon in Apt. Café that day. We had good coffee, tasty cupcakes and certainly a good time.

By Jeong Liz

GFD: Café Monde, Southampton

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It is fitting that this is my last coffee shop stop before leaving the UK tomorrow. Back in the day this place was called Yoma. This was, say, 2 or 3 years ago when we were sprightly young lads, recent graduates or graduates soon-to-be with nothing but confidence and health and optimism for the wide world that awaited us.

Yoma became the first real café hangout for Chris and I. We’d go there alone or as a metrosexual couple (Chris embracing this image slightly more than me), buy a coffee and sit there for three or four hours. Our repeated visits must have meant that our lacklustre approach to spending money was tolerated. Plus, sitting there in the window as we were, chatting, writing, or reading intelligent-sounding books, must have been good for the image of the café, drawing more people in. Right?

Looking back now, unemployed to the point of emigration, as socially insecure as ever, I realise that not only were those rosy days seen through rosy lenses, but the memory was a rosy fabrication and life was generally horrible in the past too. We often joke that we go to parties, into the kitchen (where everyone tends to be) which promptly evacuates, and are left alone with our self-esteems wounded, to be saved only by stealing the vodka of the exodees. Sitting in the window of Yoma, generating an effective soft sell beckon to those passing by… no chance! And true, looking back now, and we were mostly in there alone. Kitchen exodus syndrome had followed us to the café.

Still, for all our woes, Yoma served us well. It became a place to hone our skills of self-deprecation (something we have now simultaneously perfected and yet remain totally rubbish at, just like everything else (that’s one for the meta-self-deprecation enthusiasts)). Local friends would stop by and gradually Steve, Dave and James became regular Yoma fiends too. We became acquainted with Giles, the barista par excellence, a righteously attractive man with the civilities of an etiquette Saint, learned and engaging, generous with unsold cakes at the end of the day. Ah, Giles, where are you now? A few weeks after Yoma got rid of him (this may not be accurate) for taking too many liberties – he wrote charming things on the blackboard, the bastard! – the café shut down. What went wrong? People will have there ideas, their reasons and speculations, but I have two words for you – no Giles.

Today I am back. Yoma has since become Mozzo Store, for a brief few weeks apparently, and now Café Monde. It’s pretty good, better than Yoma, layout-wise. Better use of the space. The chap is more than nice but I won’t do anyone the disservice of comparing him to Giles. I got here alone, lingered for Steve, stepped back outside to see Steve bounding up the road, satchel hanging the longest it possibly can, wispy beard hanging like a cedilla off his chin. We talk of the general instability of life, the merits of language exchange websites and dating websites, and how easy it is to find public showers when you are ‘of no abode’.

I depart briefly to get vaccinations. The vaccination place is coincidentally about 4 doors down. With two new holes in my arms I struggle to walk and am pathetically compelled to sit in the waiting room and drink some water. I sense that a cupcake is really what I need, so I head back to see Steve, who tells me I’m looking ‘white’ and gets me a medicinal cupcake which does the job nicely. I finish the green tea while Steve works on his second latte, and we amble off towards new lives.

by Adam

GFD: From out Café Correspondent – Quay Ingredient; 9Bar Coffee; Flat Caps Coffee – Newcastle

A Day, In Newcastle.

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Morning

I started my day in Newcastle at Quay Ingredient, where I had Eggs Florentine, because, let’s face it, I always do. New place, same breakfast. I like that Quay Ingredient is under a bridge, the Tyne Bridge, to be precise. I like less the driver of the 4 x 4 who parks right in front of the cafe just as I am about to attempt to photograph it. I also don’t appreciate the other customers who crowd the interior, making the unobtrusive taking of photographs impossible.

This, I acknowledge to myself, is unreasonable, for without these customers, Quay Ingredient would go out of business and there would be nothing for me to photograph. I vow to come back later, when it is quieter, preferably just before it shuts, so I can get some decent pictures. Naturally, I fail.

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Lunch

9Bar Coffee pumps out the music; loud and incessant. It is fast, up-tempo. It makes me want to do things in a hurry. On the walls are slogans such as “The pressure is good for you” and “drink coffee: do stupid things more quickly”. There is a theme here, if only I could detect it.

9Bar boasts the world’s best cheese toastie. I try it; it is very good. World’s best? I have insufficient data with which to make that judgement. The coffee comes in different receptacles: glasses, small and medium-sized red cups and large white cups. By careful observation and listening to others conversing over the music, I come to the obvious conclusion: coffee in glasses and red cups, good; coffee in white cups, not so good. My coffee came in a glass, naturally.

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Later

The contrast between my previous stop at 9Bar and my final destination, Flat Caps Coffee, could not be more stark. Flat Caps exudes calm. Even the espresso would probably be laid-back and chilled (although also served at the correct temperature), but I’ve been drinking espresso all day and want a change so I have a V60 pour-over, a clean, full-flavoured, smooth coffee, the best of the day. I’ve never thought of coffee as “clean” before. I look in the cup once I’ve finished and discover no residue at all, nothing coating the sides. Clean indeed.

Joe, the owner, head barista and chief bottle-washer (he was washing bottles when I came in) wears a flat cap. This is how it should be; a good end to a good day.

by Brian at http://www.brian-coffee-spot.com/