Thursday, 27 August 2009

Forget the latte, it's the Flat White that is making waves

Photograph of a flat white coffee courtesy of

Established coffee retailers, like Starbucks, have had their day, according to media reports. With Coffee Republic no more and consumers feeling a little jaded about Costa and Caffé Nero and other big chain operators, it looks as if Australians and New Zealanders are set to make a fast buck as antipodean coffee bars selling a new hot beverage – the Flat White – steam into view.

Flat Whites are sold in 5oz or 6oz cups and are claimed to be more powerful, stronger and creamier than a poncy latte.

For full details, click here.

At last a touch of theatre for tea

Photo shows Carl Pretorius (left) and Pete Ethelston.

Coffee has it all when it comes to 'theatre'. Espresso coffee machines have made a song and dance about producing a cup of espresso or cappuccino ever since the milk bars of the 1950s. While there might have been a blip back in the 1960s, when instant coffee took over for a while, roast and ground coffee is now back with a vengeance and chain operators like Costa, Caffé Nero and Starbucks, to name but three, are all offering their customers a touch of theatre everytime a cup of coffee is ordered.

Sadly, if you're a tea drinker, there's little in the way of theatre when you order your cuppa, apart from being asked in Starbucks whether you want one or two teabags. 

A short while ago there was a glimmer of hope when Unilever Best Foods starting promoting Chai tea and developing interesting looking dispensing equipment for tea that easily rivalled the espresso machines produced by companies such as Brasilia UK. Can't say I've seen a great deal of Unilever's tea machines so I can't vouch for their continued availability.

However, two South Africans claim to have developed the world's first 'tea espresso' based on the South African Rooibos tea. The product has already proved a great success in South Africa, the USA, Canada, parts of Europe and Asia and now it has landed on UK shores. The product is known as Red Espresso and it can be purchased in the UK by clicking here.

For an interview with the two men who have developed and marketed tea espresso – Carl Pretorius and Pete Ethelston – click here.

The Shakers, Praed Street, London W2

After sitting on an InterCity train for two hours, stranded at Slough and not allowed off the train, it was a welcomed relief to arrive at Paddington just in time for lunch.

Praed Street runs parallel to the station and it has some interesting caffs. I found The Shakers where I enjoyed a rather nice slab of lasagne with salad and a mug of tea – all for £6.18, an odd sum, but there you go. The restaurant had a downstairs and an upstairs gallery area affording customers a view of the bustling counter below.

The Shakers offered traditional sandwiches but also a full range of hot meals, which were displayed in a hot servery area at the front of the shop. There was beef and chicken curry, lasagne, you name it, all piping hot and ready to eat.

While the food was good, the restaurant itself was not really that swish in terms of decor. You might be able to see from the photograph above that there's a hole in the window where one of those ventilation thingys should go; that was a bit offputting. Generally, it could have done with a lick of paint to make it more welcoming.

I left satisfied with my lasagne and tea – although I noted that the tea had been made on an espresso machine and the guy making my tea had obviously used hot milk, which lent it a frothy coffee appearance and almost causing me to question whether it was tea. Still, it was okay and I shouldn't grumble.

There appears to be a website address on the shopfront ( but it must have been closed down.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Blackheath super caff in Heinz Ketchup TV ad

The Gambardella Cafe in Vanbrugh Park, Blackheath – the oldest café in south London – is hailed as one of the best Formica ‘caffs’ in London. This is the sort of place where you can eat honest food, where you can be anonymous and where you can simply watch the world go round. Ask Jools Holland. He used to live locally and was often known to tuck in to egg on toast.

The Gambardella is also a bit of a movie star having made appearances in The Boat that Rocked (with Bill Nighy and Kenneth Branagh) and the ITV drama, The Fixer.

The café was opened in 1927 by Andrew Gambardella, a former ice cream maker from Naples, Italy. It is now run by James and Alex Petrillo, his grandsons (pictured above).

The caff is also being used in a new television advertisement for Heinz Tomato Ketchup, a key ‘caff’ brand if ever there was one. A caff without Heinz Tomato Ketchup isn’t really a caff.

The ad – which was screened in June and again in August – celebrates the many iconic ways that Heinz Tomato Ketchup is enjoyed and is costing Heinz £2 million. In the ad, people from different generations are seen patting, squeezing and scraping an invisible sauce bottle onto their delicious meals.

It goes without saying that Gambardella has been a staunch fan of Heinz Tomato Ketchup for over 80 years.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Caff that never sleeps – in London EC1

The pic at the top shows the view from the table looking out. The shot above is the exterior of the café. 

Take a stroll up Cowcross Street when you step out of Farringdon tube station in London and, just around the corner, across the road from Smithfield Market and opposite a Barclays Bank, you will find La Forchetta, pronounced La Forketta. Forchetta means fork in Italian, according to the Portugese lady behind the café's counter during my visit.

Having managed to miss lunch, I was starving hungry and decided to order lasagne and salad, this being an Italian café. They put the lasagne on a plate and then microwaved it, which was fair enough, it was nearly 4pm. Naturally I ordered a mug of tea too and then sat down at the back of the caff watching people as they passed by.

What's on offer? Plenty. During teashopandcaff's visit there were some tasty specials like sausage pasta, chicken risotto, chilli con carne and, of course, the lasagne. My order cost me £5.50. There's also a range of pasta dishes, paninis (£3.50), jacket potatoes (£4.00), a full English breakfast for £4.50, sandwiches from £1.80 and a number of different styles of speciality teas courtesy of Twinings.

Newspapers and refrigerated soft drinks round it off but wait, what was that? It stays open all night at the weekends? It's true! The caff opens early and closes late (around 11pm) most days, but on Saturday night it goes through the night, servicing those coming out of the nightclubs and, of course, the market traders. 

After paying for the lasagne and tea, teashopandcaff was tempted to remain in situ, order another tea and try the Millionaire's Shortbread too. Not bad!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

New Mexico Tea Company opens teashop

If ever you wondered what a fruit kabob looked like, wonder no more as this is them. Think kebabs with fruit, not meat.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, the New Mexico Tea Company (a retail tea shop) has opened a teashop. The new foodservice element will operate as an integral but separate business.

The New Mexico Tea Company's 150 varieties of tea are available hot at the teashop, and there are three iced tea products available.

The reason behind the teashop according to the NMTC's owner, David Edwards, is that he wanted to promote his business to a wider audience and that he thinks a teashop has more of a buzz to it than a retail shop.

Scones with clotted cream and jam, muffins and fruit kabobs (see photograph above) are also available.

For the full story, click here.

Café Macchiato, Elland, West Yorkshire

Whether there is any connection between the town of Elland (in West Yorkshire near Huddersfield) and the famous Elland Road (home of Leeds FC) I have no idea, but I do know that Café Macchiato can be found in Elland and very nice it is too.

To be honest, it's not your traditional teashop and caff. It has an Italian flavour to it, which is evident in the name (Café Macchiato) but also in the food on offer, like Bruschetta Macchiato (£3.10) which consists of diced tomato, red onion, garlic, basil and olive oil. Also on offer is a range of cold sandwiches. Paninis range in price from £2.75 to £3.00 and there are specials like meat balls and cheese panini (£3.10).

But don't be fooled into thinking you're in some kind of trendy 'eaterie'. You're not! Café Macchiato has true 'caff' credentials thanks to a breakfast menu available between 9am and 11am. Bacon, sausage, eggs, beans and toast costs a reasonable £3.95. Where's the teashop element of this amazing caff, I hear you ask. Let me tell you that there are some amazing home-made cakes on offer – even some home-made Millionaire's Shortbread (a caramel slice in caff speak). And talking of 'slices', a lemon slice is £1.20, a caramel slice is £1.30, carrot cake is also £1.30 and muffins cost 95p.

As the comedian Jimmy Cricket said, "There's more." Scones with home-made jam are just £1.30 or £1.45 with added cream and let's not forget chocolate and beetroot cake at £2.30. Apparently it's like carrot cake but with chocolate and (ahem) beetroot.

The staff are friendly too and it is very much a family affair. During my visit it was mother and daughter on duty.

Elland is about 20 minutes by bus out of central Huddersfield. 

Choosy's in Huddersfield – a shop and a teashop!

Huddersfield is a million times better than I expected it to be; probably because the sun was shining and I found myself moseying around West Yorkshire looking for a decent teashop or caff. 

Needless to say, I found one, called Choosy's, one of those places that sell a load of tea and coffee paraphernalia, like mugs and teapots, strainers and a selection of speciality teas and coffees. 

A box of Twinings' Chai tea took my fancy but I decided against buying any, opting instead for a teapot-shaped used teabag holder (£2.75). I like to have permanent mementos.

Walking through the door was fantastic, thanks to the aroma of coffee beans and the general ambience of the place. The shop is downstairs and there's a quaint teashop upstairs where I enjoyed an excellent pot of tea served with fresh milk and all for just £1.30 (much better than that Costa on the M3 last week).

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Homely brands keep Premier's home fires burning

Good, old fashioned, homely brands are clearly the best around – who needs supermarket own-label products? Think back to cosy childhood times and famous names like Birds Instant Custard, Atora Suet and Paxo sage and onion stuffing. The list is endless.

Well, it seems as if homely, established brands, including Mr Kipling cakes, have been exceedingly good for Premier Foods. The company has seen sales of its Branston pickle rise by 41 per cent, Hovis sales are up by 17 per cent, Batchelors soups by 14 per cent and Hartley's jams and spreads by 12 per cent.

Premier's group turnover has risen by 3.5 per cent to £1.24 billion and the company's net debt has fallen from £1.8 billion to £1.48 billion. That's the good news. The bad news is that Premier has reported a pre-tax loss of £30 million in the six months to June 27 2009.

The company ran into financial problems after purchasing its rival, RHM (Rank Hovis McDougall) and parts of Campbells food business.
For full details, click here.

Daylight robbery – £2 for a cup of tea at Costa

Photographs show my bill for a small bottle of mineral water, the Eat & Drink Co and the Costa at a Moto service area on the M3. Let's get one thing straight here: paying £2 for a cuppa is fine if the environment is something really special, but a motorway service area? I don't think so.

I wouldn't call myself a communist or a Marxist, but there are times when capitalism really stinks. Normally, I get a little cheesed off when I discover that to travel by train to, say, Huddersfield, at 9am in the morning, will cost me in excess of £200. Why, when a hour or so later the fare is more than halved? The answer, of course, is exploitation.

Train travel is one thing, but how about a cup of tea for £1.99? That, in teashopandcaff's opinion, is daylight robbery when you consider that a cup of tea costs only pennies to make. I should know. Many moons ago I was the editor of a catering magazine. I was often told by the brand managers for PG Tips or Twinings that tea only cost 3p to make so that selling a cup for 50p was, in itself, a good mark-up.

Fast forward to Sunday August 2nd 2009 and even assuming, hypothetically, that the price of producing the Great British Cuppa has rocketed to, say, 12p, £1.99 is still extortionate. But that is the price of a cup of tea in a Costa Coffee on the M3. Why is it so expensive? Because they have a captive audience and can charge what the hell they like. Disgusting. It's the same price at an Eat & Drink Co outlet in the same Moto motorway service station where, incidentally, a small bottle of mineral water is also £1.99 (normally it's around 60p in shops).

Nobody should be expected to pay £1.99 for a cup of tea. Sort it out, Costa, your tea is not THAT good. For £2, I'd expect free biscuits at the very least.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Buttery at the Brock & Bruin, Brockenhurst, New Forest – a teashop and caff in one building!

A spot of camping in the New Forest makes a teashop or caff a welcomed sight after a night under the stars, and what better than the Brock & Bruin Teashop, a kind of hybrid between a teashop and a caff. Why? Because the place looks and feels like a quaint teashop (and offers some excellent home-made cakes and pastries) but also offers good old caff food, like the Big Brock, a full English breakfast if ever there was one: two of everything – two fried eggs, two sausages, two fried tomatoes, two hash browns, a hearty portion of baked beans and two slices of toast. Fantastic. Wash the lot down with a large white pot of tea and a few extra slices of toast and you're made up for the day.

The Buttery at the Brock & Bruin has a thing about teddy bears. There's a huge one sitting in the window and various others dotted around on shelves inside, plus a few badgers for good measure.

This is a great teashop and caff bang in the middle of Brockenhurst, which is bang in the middle of the New Forest.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Teashop opens inside a windmill!

What sounds like an amazing tearoom has opened inside the Tuxford Windmill (pictured above) in Nottinghamshire.

Local MP Patrick Mercer was on hand to cut the cake, as opposed to the ribbon, and it looks as if the teashop has a bright future.

Most of the food and drink sold at the teashop is locally sourced, including the chocolate cake, which is made using wholemeal flour milled at the windmill.

With regular visits from the Women's Institute, gardening clubs and historical sites, the teashop was crucial to the future success of Tuxford Windmill.

Visitors to the teashop can enjoy filled rolls, old fashioned hearty soups, jacket potatoes, a selection of cakes, cream teas, toasted teacakes, tea and coffee. There is also a bake-to-order service.

For the full story, click here. For more information on Tuxford Windmill, click here.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Recession forces US caffs to ban laptops

Cafés in the USA are beginning to ban the use of laptops because of the recession. To be fair, they have a point. Somebody using the place like a library is definitely not good for business as the table could be taken by those wanting to use the café for its rightful purpose: eating and drinking.

Some cafés, like Naidre's in Brooklyn, NY, are simply not allowing laptop usage between certain hours of the day. Others are covering up power points to discourage usage.

This new trend seems to be gaining ground in the independent sector. Coffee chains like Starbucks and bookshop Barnes & Noble are not planning to ban laptops. In Barnes & Noble WiFi is free while many Starbucks charge for the service.

The last word, however, must go to chef Ty-Lor Boring who works at Café Grumpy in NY. "You can isolate yourself behind a laptop, but look at this place: Almost everyone is having a conversation."

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Teashops and cafés shortlisted in Coventry & Warwickshire's regional food awards

Photograph shows a Warwickshire breakfast, served up in McKechnies in Stratford.

The Coventry & Warwickshire Food & Drink Awards are well underway and the shortlist of finalists has been announced. It goes without saying that teashops and caffs have a category of their own in the awards (Best Coffee House/Teashop) and that there are three worthy contenders for the title.

The three finalists are Bread & Co in Leamington; McKechnies, an independent tea and coffee bar in Stratford; and the Hatton Locks Café in Hatton.

The main objective of the awards is to recognise and reward quality, and where the coffee house and teashop category is concerned, it's all about those committed to providing their customers with fresh, local produce, a wide range of beverages (hot and cold) and a good range of cakes, biscuits and light snacks.

McKechnies looks like an interesting place. It offers its customers 17 different types of tea for a start, locally sourced food and an award-winning coffee in Formula 6 supplied by James' Gourmet Coffee Company. The food looks amazing too and if you log on to the café's website ( you'll notice that a Warwickshire breakfast is well worth ordering. It consists of dry cure bacon, Hatton sausage, field mushrooms, fresh beef tomatoes and a free range egg. It can be served with thick-cut granary or white toast, home-made strawberry jam or three-fruit marmalade.

The Hatton Locks Café looks good too, although its website wasn't quite finished when teashopandcaff took a butchers. This canalside restaurant, which used to be a stable for barge horses, must be a hit with those on canalboat holidays. According to owner Lynn Drane it's also a hit with walkers.

Bread & Co in Leamington Spa is a fine foods and bakery shop offering artisan breads, cakes and pastries plus sandwiches, salads, 'delicious' coffee and treats. "A warm welcome awaits you,' claims the company. Bread & Co, incidentally, is also shortlisted in the Champion of Local Produce (retailer) of the awards.

If you want to know more about the awards, click here.

Conveyor toasters. Don't you just want one?

Not sure about you, but whenever I stay in a hotel – especially when I'm on holiday abroad – there's always a conveyor toaster in the breakfast room. I love them and wish I could have one at home. This one (see photograph) is from a company called Hatco and is part of the Toast-Qwik range of conveyor toasters which can toast between 400 and 800 slices of bread per hour. That's a lot of toast!

But have you stopped and wondered just how bad conveyor toasters are for the environment? Think about it: they're on all the time, that conveyor goes round and round for hours, using up unnecessary electricity, it's just not right in these environmentally aware times.

Hatco thinks it has the solution. Hatco’s UK managing director Mark Poultney said: “The new, ‘green’ automatic power-save models will switch the toaster automatically to 'power-save' after 30 minutes of inactivity. There is no additional charge for this option. Models on which power-save can be included are theTQ-405 and TQ-805.”

Nice work, Hatco. You can read more about the company's new range of toasters by clicking here.