Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Time to split shots

I've got mixed emotions when it comes to coffee. It begins with a strong start - there aren't many smells better than freshly brewed cup of joe - but often quickly descends into a bitter middle and a lingering regret on the finish. A metaphor for many things in life, I increasingly find. 

Although I mostly subsist on pints of PG Tips (pretty hard to mess up - although a colleague regularly manages it) I do enjoy some java. I'm a big fan of the Red Eye at Boscanova in Bournemouth - a mug of filter with an extra shot of espresso, although it does lead to a propensity for waffling even more than normal. I also always look forward to the coffee at the Westminster Archives; while it's not particularly notable, it's strong, there's lots of it and it also comes with a decent number of Jammy Dodgers.

Possibly my favourite caffeinated libation of all, and one I now customarily look forward to on our bi-annual visits to Leeds, is the split shot. Googling hasn’t thrown up too much on the history of the drink (the name also used to describe several other beverages, including an espresso with half the caffeine probably better named What's the Point) but my uncultured understanding is that here it’s a double espresso ‘spilt’ into a single and a piccolo – the definition of the latter being either a ‘long’ macchiato or a ‘short’ flat white; do keep up at the back – so the coffee can be tasted both on its own and with milk. (oh, i am totes lost - TE).

It's a drink I first discovered when looking for tips for a beverage to help keep my eyes open on the slog back down the M1 (in the passenger seat? - TE). The lovely folk on Twitter lead me to the Light - literally and figuratively, where I discovered the incongruous La Bottega Milanese, complete with astroturf carpet, exposed pipework, and rickety metal stools. 

Their mantra is "If it’s not from Italy, it’s from Yorkshire", and the beans for their drinks are all roasted locally, and the milk is from local farms. And while I probably know as much about coffee as Trump does about uranium, I enjoyed La Bottega Milanese’s enough to make it a regular part of our last day in the North tradition. The espresso provides a short sharp shock, while the piccolo - I’m not usually a big fan of milk in coffee – treads the right side of the line between sweet and sickly.

The coffee isn’t the only draw, as they also serve a selection of traditional imported Italian deli items, cakes and sweets, including my favourite, pasticcini, a mini cannoli with a crisp blistered outer shell that tastes like it’s made from crunchy sugar brittle, which is filled with Nutella or a sweet pistachio paste. The perfect foil for the bitter coffee. There are also various pasta bakes, pastries and ciabattas for those who value their dentistry, or are in need of a little more sustenance.

Despite being a creature of habit at heart I don't really like change, but I recently fell down a rabbit hole looking at the Noisette Bakery Instagram page, after finding out their cakes are now served at North Star Coffee down at Leeds Dock. I knew then, even after a weekend gorging on fine foods and wine with the family, I needed a Morning Cake in my life.

It was also a good excuse to explore another part of town as, to my shame, after visiting this fine city for the best part of forty years, I had never made this far down the River Aire. I can highly recommend  the schlep though, the area reminding me a bit of Sunday walks in London across Mudchute and the Isle of Dogs, and especially lovely on a crisp and clear winter's morning.

Originally set up as a roastery, working with independent and ethical coffee producers across the globe, they have recently expanded their site to include a cafe and general store. So now you can now watch them roasting grinding and packaging their beans through the glass partition while you sit back and drink the fruits of their labour.

Any beverage with Christmas in the title usually invokes the fear of drinking a liquid scented candle – although I did build-up a bit of a gingerbread latte habit at uni while burning the midnight oil.  Thankfully this isn't fancy flavoured stuff, with added syrups and spices, but a Brazil/Guatemala/Costa Rica blend that’s billed as naturally possessing notes of date, orange, marzipan, red apple. 

In all honesty, to a primitive palate like mine, it tasted like a cup of coffee, albeit a pretty serious one; the espresso, particularly, provided a swift smack round the chops, while the addition of a lick of milk balanced out the piccolo a bit without making it taste like Mellow Bird.

The Morning Cake - vanilla infused sour cream batter layered with tonka bean and topped with a spiced almond streusel - was just as good it sounded.  Possibly better. The ethereally light and fluffy texture meant it slipped down far too easily considering I'd just eaten my first breakfast (limited edition Vegemite, an early Xmas pressie from my sister in Oz, toast courtesy of my cousin).

As well as selling bags of their own coffee, there is also a small selection of local goodies including Leeds Bread Co-Op and Proper Nutty peanut butter from Huddersfield. After persuading the Ewing that we needed a loaf of the former (her sourdough starter is currently in hibernation at the back of the fridge, although I fear it's going to burst to life, like Zuul, at any given moment) it seemed prudent to get a jar of the latter.

We also picked up a bag of their coffee, described as 'washed micro lot' from Guatemala. Your guess is as good as mine, but it makes a decent cup of bean juice to go alongside my crunchy peanut butter on sourdough toast. Enjoyed with absolutely no bitterness or regrets (and maybe an extra jammy dodger on the side).

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