Workhouse Coffee, King Street

Workhouse Coffee Company on the ground floor of the George Hotel in ReadingYou know how it goes. You go to a coffee shop, you love it; you go to another branch, you don’t like it. It’s always a danger and so it was with the King Street branch of Workhouse Coffee. I think I’d been subconsciously avoiding it, having visited the original Workhouse Coffee on Oxford Road in West Reading at the start of the year. That was a small, intimate and lovely place to drink coffee and I worried that the much bigger King Street, in the centre of Reading, wouldn’t live up to my high expectations.

My fears were, of course, groundless: if anything, King Street is even better. From the moment I stepped inside, I loved the place. Very different from Oxford Road, it’s still small enough to be intimate, while its bustle adds a whole new dimension. How I longed for a place like this when I was a regular visitor to Reading 10 years ago!

As well as running the two coffee shops, Workhouse roasts its own beans, offering (while I was there) a single origin, two blends and a decaf as espresso and all its beans as pour-over fitler or for sale (beans or ground).

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • On the corner of King Street stands the venerable George Hotel. And Workhouse Coffee...
  • The entrance is on the left, down the passage to the inner courtyard
  • There's seating in the passage itself: this table and chairs is opposite the entrance.
  • And this pair is right next to it.
  • Carrying on, you come to the courtyard itself, the perfect place to sit in the sun.
  • The main seating is inside. This is the more laidback part, down the steps to the right.
  • The view from the back. The kitchen is behind the wood panels to the right.
  • One of several free-standing tables.
  • The window seats just below the steps are popular...
  • ... while this table in the bay window is, in my opinion, the best seat in the house.
  • The helpful blackboard explains the rules...
  • The walls are decorated with works of art that you can buy if you want.
  • Going through to the front of the shop, you are confronted by the counter.
  • The counter as seen from the front window during a rare quiet moment.
  • And in its more usual busy state. Despite it being really hectic, the staff were always polite and cheerful.
  • I took a moment to check out the cake, trying not to drool all over it.
  • There's also food, but I forgot to get a picture of any of it. Oops...
  • Opposite the counter were a couple of lovely wooden booths which went as a result of the re-modelling
  • Look, the window really is full of coffee! All these (& more) can be yours to take home...
  • Some of the coffee bagged up and ready to go.
  • Workhouse will also grind it for you if you ask nicely...
  • ... but not using these grinders. These are just for the espresso!
  • Talking of which, Workhouse has two espresso machines, with the different heads optmiised for different drinks.
  • Your choice of coffee is on the right; the boilers for the two espresso machines are on the left!
  • The espresso machines in action!
  • Warning! Latte artist at work...
  • Nice :-)
  • Espresso not your thing? Try the filter-rack, caught here in a rare quiet moment.
  • Gabi demonstrates the filter-rack in action. First the customers' bean of choice is selected.
  • Then the precise dose is weighed out, ready for grinding.
  • Once ground, just the right amount of water is added...
  • ... and the coffee is left to brew. Here Gabi has four on the go at the same time!
  • Meanwhile she enthusiastically explains the finer points of Workhouse Coffee to a new customer.
  • Greg (the owner) was very keen on his staff and kept getting me to take photos of them. Here's Zsophia, Workhouse's food science graduate.
  • And here's the whole team, starting with Greg on the left. I think it then goes Sean (Barista), Alice, Robbie, Lucy, Zsophia, Jason (Chef), Eva (Manager) and Gabi
  • Finally, I get some coffee! The Katana from my first visit.
  • Meanwhile, Greg was keen I tried the Yirgacheffe, first as a pour-over...
  • ...then as an espresso.
  • I also had an awesome brownie!
  • And finally, the goat's cheese tart I had for lunch.
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Workhouse Coffee’s second outpost is on King Street, right in the heart of Reading. It’s on the ground floor of the George Hotel and the changes, since I used to come here on and off for lunch 10 years ago, are startling. Back then, Workhouse was no more than a twinkle in owner Greg Costello’s eye, the hotel was looking rather down at heel and the coffee shop occupying the space on the other side of the courtyard (now a branch of Prezzo) was distinctly average.

Fast forward 10 years and you’ll find Starbucks and Costa across the road and Patisserie Valerie around the corner, making Workhouse a slice of coffee heaven in a town centre otherwise dominated by chains. It occupies the left-hand side of the ground floor of the George Hotel, thought to be the oldest original building in Reading, dating to the late Middle Ages. There’s nothing old-fashioned about Workhouse and its offerings though.

It makes clever use of what could be an awkward space, retaining many of the charms of the building, with bare floorboards, exposed brick walls and a simple white ceiling. You enter via a side door in the passage that runs through to an inner courtyard, where the George betrays its past as a coaching inn. When the weather’s nice, the courtyard makes a lovely place to enjoy your coffee.

Stepping inside, to the right, four steps lead down to the main seating area. Heading left, there is a small bar, a couple of booths and big windows looking out onto King’s Street. Stepping through, you are faced with the counter, overloaded with coffee, cake, sandwiches and quiche. It really is quite overwhelming. Beyond that is a small filter-rack for the pour-overs, along with two espresso machines and a window full of coffee beans.

Unlike Oxford Road, with its single barista, King Street is much busier, with anywhere between four and nine baristas and servers in constant action behind the counter. Despite being so busy, they were all extremely cheerful and welcoming, some of the finest staff I’ve had the pleasure to be served by.

I visited twice, both Saturday morning/lunchtime, once on a rainy day in April then again on a glorious late August day. Quite why it took me four months to make it back, I’m not quite sure…

Both times, I had filter coffee. My first visit saw me try Workhouse’s Katana blend, a very fine brew, not too subtle nor too fruity, although I fear its finer points may have been lost on me due to a nasty cold I was suffering from at the time. On my return, the barista recommended the 1576 blend as “the coffee drinker’s coffee” so naturally I was going to try that. At first I was disappointed; it was solid but unspectacular. However, as the coffee cooled, it improved immensely and by the time I’d taken my last mouthful, I was sad to see it gone.

Workhouse bakes/makes all the cake and food on-site. Although I was spoilt for choice, I eventually went for the chocolate brownie, a sumptuous, rich concoction, bursting with chocolatiness, but without being sickly, and packed full of nuts to provide a subtle contrast. I also went for the goat’s cheese, spinach and walnut quiche for lunch, which was excellent.

10-12 KING STREET • READING • RG1 2HF
www.facebook.com/workhousecoffee +44 (0) 7826 851467
Monday 08:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Bar, Tables outside
Tuesday 08:00 – 18:00 Food Lunch, Cake
Wednesday 08:00 – 18:00 Service Order at counter
Thursday 08:00 – 18:00 Cards Cash Only
Friday 08:00 – 18:00 Wifi No
Saturday 09:00 – 18:00 Power Limited
Sunday 09:30 – 16:00 Mobile 3G, Voice
Chain Local Visits 13th April, 31st August 2013

Note: King Street underwent a refit in late September. The booths are gone and the counter has been re-modelled, with the filter-rack and espresso machines moved out from behind the counter. You can read all about it and more about Workhouse’s wonderful coffee here.


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14 thoughts on “Workhouse Coffee, King Street

  1. I am excited about this!! Like you I used to go to Reading a lot and if only Workhouse had been around then. It must be 9 months since I was there last but ignorant to these places existing I just assumed Reading was a wasteland of chain coffee. I shall definitely be making an effort to visit again soon, if only to check out Workhouse!

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