The Coffee Lab is a rapidly-growing chain of coffee shops covering, for now, Winchester (where it all started), Salisbury and Chichester. I’ve been told that there are further shops in the pipeline, which is all the more impressive when you consider that the first Coffee Lab opened less than a year ago. Bucking all established Coffee Spot trends (which usually sees me visiting the most recently opened shop in a chain rather than the first), I started at the original Coffee Lab, a lovely little spot in the narrow lanes of Winchester, just west of the Cathedral and south of the High Street. Be careful though, since the Coffee Lab’s second branch is just around the corner on Little Minster Street and Kings Head Yard. It’s literally a minute’s walk away!
The Coffee Lab serves coffee from local roasters, The Roasting Party, with a blend (Einstein) on the main grinder and a guest blend (Heisenberg) on the second grinder. There’s also a decaf from Costa Rica, plus a Kenyan AA Ndeki on filter through the V60. If you don’t fancy coffee, there is tea from the local WAA Teas, while if you’re feeling hungry, there are sandwiches, cakes and pastries.
October 2020: the original Coffee Lab closed some time ago, although there are two more Coffee Labs in Winchester, one around the corner on Little Minster Street and the other just one street further over on The Square. A third Coffee Lab is in Stockbridge, but all the other Coffee Labs have now closed.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
The Coffee Lab was founded by Dhan Tamang, one of the nicest baristas in the UK. He’s also one of the most modest, despite being the reigning,
four-time five-time six-time UK latte art champion and also finishing fourth in the world this year! Sometimes I think that he only wants to make coffee and show people how to pour great latte art (bless him, he even tried to teach me once!). I first came across Dhan at the 2013 London Coffee Festival, when he won his first UK Latte Art Championship. Since then I’ve run into him at most of the major coffee festivals, including at the 2015 London Coffee Festival, the famous occasion where he tried to teach me latte art!
Anyway, back to the Coffee Lab. Dhan wasn’t there when I visited, since he was down in Chichester at the new branch which had opened at the start of the month. In many ways this was good since I was able to sneak in unrecognised and put the staff through their paces. Unlike the Coffee Lab’s second Winchester branch, this is a pretty small spot on a quiet street near the Cathedral, although there are a couple of tables outside on the pavement, which would have been lovely had it not been pouring with rain.
The Coffee Lab has a generous picture window at the front with the door to the right, giving access via a small porch. If you don’t want to sit outside, the three-person window bar is the next best thing. This is, in fact, one of three bars in the Coffee Lab, which, along with an eight-person communal table, provide all the seating.
The counter’s set back against the left-hand wall, cakes facing the window. The La Marzocco espresso machine and V60s face the right-hand wall where there’s a three-person bar in front of a mirror. Beyond the counter, things open out a little to the right, providing enough space for the communal table, which runs length-wise across the back. Tucked away around the corner to the right is the final two-person bar, again with its own mirror.
The Coffee Lab has three sets of retail shelves, selling coffee and coffee-making equipment. Two are against the left-hand wall at the front before the counter, while the third is towards the back on the right-hand side.
The Coffee Lab has a plain, concrete floor and white-painted walls/ceiling. It’s quite a bright spot, the natural light from the window supplemented with multiple light bulbs and spotlights, three in a line at the front, three in a cluster over the counter and three in row at the back. The mirrors also stop it feeling too dark/cramped.
I’d brought my American friend Jeff, who ended up chatting politics with most of the people there (they were asking him about the US election). We started with a pair of flat whites and, as befits somewhere owned by Dhan, the latte art was excellent, while the coffee was pretty good too. As a test, I sent Jeff, a non-coffee person, back to ask the baristas to recommend him something. They talked the options through with him and he returned with a Kenyan pour-over through the V60. This was a nice, subtle coffee with fruity overtones, which impressed Jeff, who was surprised how different it was compared to the flat white.
We were there for lunch, both having toasties. Jeff’s was ham and cheese, while I had goats’ cheese and beetroot, a combination I’m coming to really enjoy. Neither element (goats’ cheese or beetroot) was too strong, the two combining well in the sandwich.
December 2016: Coffee Lab Winchester was a runner-up for the 2016 Happiest Staff Award.
|6 ST THOMAS STREET • WINCHESTER • SO23 9HE|
|Monday||07:00 – 17:00||Roaster||The Roasting Party (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||07:00 – 17:00||Seating||Tables, Bar, Tables (outside)|
|Wednesday||07:00 – 17:00||Food||Sandwiches, Cake|
|Thursday||07:00 – 17:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||07:00 – 17:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||08:00 – 17:30||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||09:00 – 17:00||Power||Limited|
|Chain||Regional||Visits||21th November 2016|
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