Not long after I visited the original Hot Numbers on Cambridge’s Gwydir Street, back in September 2014, a new roastery/café was announced. Sadly it took me almost two years to get back to Cambridge to check it out, finally returning in June last year and again in September. This post is about the café-side of Hot Numbers, with the roastery appearing in its own Meet the Roaster feature in due course.
It’s all very different from Gwydir Street. Whereas that’s a large, open space, Trumpington Street is long and thin, with the counter at the front on the right and seating down either side. Looking at it, it’s a miracle that Hot Numbers managed to squeeze a roaster in, but it did, tucked in on the right-hand side at the back.
All the usual Hot Numbers coffee goodness is here, with two single-origins and a decaf available on espresso and two more on pour-over, plus a fifth on bulk-brew. There’s also lots of technology on show: a Sanremo Opera espresso machine, Mahlkönig Peak grinders & Marco Beverage Systems SP9s. These are backed up with a selection of loose-leaf tea, craft beer, wine, a small but decent food selection and some excellent cake choices.
Stir is part of a slow expansion of Cambridge’s speciality coffee scene, coming along after the trend-setters of Hot Numbers and The Espresso Library. Occupying a very large spot at the far end of Chesterton Road to the northeast of the centre, it has quickly built itself a loyal local following as well as starting to attract visitors from the wider area, including cyclists and rowers. The extra space afforded by Stir’s out-of-centre location allows it greater latitude, including a function room at the back that hosts a wide variety of clubs and a massive outdoor terrace where you can catch the sun, or just enjoy some fresh air. Dogs are also welcome and, indeed, encouraged (outside).
At the heart of the operation is coffee from local(ish) roasters, Butterworth & Son, from just over the border in Suffolk. Butterworth’s award-winning four-bean seasonal espresso blend is in the main hopper, with a single-origin espresso, which changes every month, in the second hopper. This is also available as bulk-brew filter if you are in a hurry. Food is an equally important part of the Stir offering, with an extensive breakfast (until noon), brunch (until 3pm) and lunch (noon until 4pm) menus.
I first visited Hot Numbers in the summer of 2014. Back then it was the one place that pretty much everyone had recommended to me in Cambridge. Café, single-origin roaster, music venue and, by association, art gallery, it had something for everyone and was pretty much the only speciality coffee place in town. How things have changed!
Now Cambridge boasts the The Espresso Library, Urban Larder and Novi in the centre of town, with Stir on the outskirts. There’s also a second Hot Numbers, a coffee shop which doubles as the roastery on Trumpington Street, which the staff were talking excitedly about during my visit in 2014 and which opened towards the end of that year.
With all that change going on, it was too much to ask that the original Hot Numbers on Gwydir Street would be unaffected. However, I was unprepared on my return earlier this year for just how much had changed! The good news, though, is that the most important thing hasn’t changed: the coffee. Still all roasted in-house, Hot Numbers still only serves single-origins, each carefully matched to how you’re drinking it. This includes options on espresso and pour-over via syphon, Aeropress and Clever Dripper.
Just to the east of Cambridge’s historic centre, on the busy Regent’s Road, you’ll find Novi, coffee shop and brunch spot by day, bar (and cocktail bar) by night. In keeping with the likes of Notes in London or Liverpool’s Filter + Fox, Novi combines speciality coffee and beer/wine/cocktails, but with the sort of food output you’d get from somewhere like Villiers Coffee Co.
A surprisingly large place, in a lovely, 1930s building, Novi occupies the ground floor, although there are plans to open the upstairs areas on a more permanent basis. There’s generous seating opposite the counter at the front, more seating towards the rear by the kitchen, and a small, enclosed courtyard out the back. With windows front and back, as well as down one side, it’s a bright, airy, uncluttered space.
The coffee is from Bury St Edmunds’ Frank and Earnest, with a single-origin on both espresso and pour-over through the V60. Coffee is served well into the evening, while there is beer, wine and cocktails until 3am! There’s food, with a full brunch menu served until four o’clock, plus a bar menu in the evening. And, of course, cake.
There aren’t that many places which combine speciality coffee and music, something that has always surprised me. Swindon’s Baila Coffee & Vinyl springs to mind, as does Oxford’s The Keen Bean Coffee Club (which I believe has changed hands since I last visited) while Porto’s Bop is a recent arrival. In fairness, today’s Coffee Spot, Watford’s The LP Café, has been on my radar for a while: I’ve just never had reason to go to Watford before now…
I’m very glad that I eventually made the trip though. The LP Café, as the name suggests, combines serving speciality coffee with selling vinyl LPs. It’s an interesting combination: one very much a recent thing (speciality coffee), the other very old school, but rapidly coming back into fashion (LPs).
The coffee (espresso only) is from London stalwarts, Climpson and Sons, a roaster, in speciality terms, almost as old as vinyl itself. Its Estate Blend is supplemented by a guest espresso (also from Climpson and Sons) on the second grinder. Breakfast and lunch options are joined by a tempting array of cakes. As well as the LPs (which you can buy on-line and collect in person), there are also bags of coffee for sale.
I’ve been consistently surprised at the size of Cambridge’s speciality coffee shops, such as Thursday’s Coffee Spot, The Espresso Library. To put it bluntly, they’re huge. Urban Larder, in contrast, redresses the balance, size-wise: a lovely, compact, cosy, friendly little shop. It’s a little way out of the centre, in a small parade of shops on The Broadway.
The coffee’s from Bury St Edmund’s Butterworth & Son, with its award-winning four-bean seasonal blend on espresso, plus decaf on a second grinder. Since my visit (starting from today in fact), the Urban Larder is also serving a single-origin as a pour-over using the V60. There’s also a range of Butterworth & Son loose-leaf teas.
However, that’s not all there is to the Urban Larder. Its other speciality is the cheese toastie, with a variety of interesting fillings to choose from. If only I was still doing the Coffee Spot’s Best Cheese Toastie Award… The larder part of the name is well served by rows of groceries on the shelves by the counter and against the left-hand wall, where you can pick up eggs, flour and an array of sauces and chutneys, reminding me of a smaller version of No 12 Easton.
The Espresso Library was, perhaps, one of the country’s most anticipated coffee shops. Announced on social media, it then took 18 months before it could finally open its doors at the start of 2015 on Cambridge’s East Road. It then took me another 18 months to get around to visiting it. However, I’m here to tell you that it’s well worth the wait!
A large, uncluttered, light-filled space, The Espresso Library combines excellent coffee with made-from-scratch food, cycling and art, the latter two reflecting the twin interests of owners, John (cycling) and Malgo (art). Malgo also brought the initial coffee expertise, having worked at the original Hot Numbers, where she met John, who was a customer. John quit his day job as a teacher and together they set up the Espresso Library.
The coffee is from fellow start-up, The Coffee Officina, who roast just over the border in northern Essex. The Coffee Officina supplies the house-blend and a single-origin guest on espresso, plus decaf, as well as up to eight single-origins for pour-over, although sometimes a few of these are provided by guest roasters. The espresso is made on a custom Slayer, while pour-over can be V60, Chemex or Aeropress.
The subject of today’s Meet the Roaster is Butterworth & Son, a Suffolk roaster with a long pedigree and a name that’s as well known (locally) for its tea as for its coffee. Butterworth & Son was catapulted to fame in specialty coffee circles with the success that Howard Barwick had with its coffee in the 2012 UK Barista Championship (UKBC), another example of the beneficial impact of barista competitions on the industry.
These days, Butterworth & Son has a national (coffee) reputation, roasting up to 20 different green beans at a time on a new, 12kg Diedrich roaster. Predominantly, these go into espresso blends, but about 30% of the output is single-origin coffees, all of which is available to buy on-line.
Butterworth & Son hasn’t forgotten its roots, both in terms of product (tea still plays a major role in the company) and geography. As well as its roastery in an industrial estate in Bury St Edmunds, it has recently opened a café, Guat’s Up! (named after its bespoke espresso blend of two Guatemalan coffees) in the town and Butterworth & Son is committed to improving the quality of the local speciality coffee market.
The Little Red Roaster, on Norwich’s St Andrews Hill, is, in fact, the third Little Red Roaster, coming after the original market stall (2002) and the first bricks and mortar store on Grove Road (2007). St Andrews Hill opened its doors in 2014, although there wasn’t really supposed to be a third one. However, The Little Red Roaster’s owner, Darren, walked past the empty shop at the top of St Andrews Hill one day and thought it would make a great coffee shop. So, he opened one. As you do.
The first thing to say is that Darren was right: the location does make for a great coffee shop. Bigger than either of the other Little Red Roasters, it gives Darren more scope, so you’ll find an extensive range of savouries to go with an even more impressive range of cake, all of which complement The Little Red Roasters true calling card, its coffee.
There’s a bespoke house-blend, plus a single-origin guest on espresso, joined by two single-origins on filter, each matched to a specific brew method (during my visit, a Kenyan through the V60 or an Ethiopian through the Aeropress). There’s also bottled cold-brew, loose-leaf tea and hot chocolate.
Every now and then, as I travel around the country, I come across a real gem; a wonderful, amazing coffee shop that makes me grateful that I am lucky enough to spend my time writing the Coffee Spot. On the far side of Norwich (which is about a 15 minute walk from the near side of Norwich, such is the compact nature of the medieval city centre) is such a place: Kofra Speciality Coffee Brewers.
Kofra is a delightful spot. It’s not huge, but there’s more to it than first meets the eye, with one of the cosiest backrooms I’ve seen in a long while. The key to Kofra is its commitment to great coffee, to the extent that there’s no food, not even cake (the only exception to this is doughnuts at the weekend), the focus purely on the coffee.
Kofra is the UK distributor for Antwerp’s Caffènation, which it sells under the Kofra brand. Kofra has Caffènation’s LGB seasonal espresso blend in the main hopper, with a single-origin, which changes every week, in the second hopper. There’s also decaf. However, where Kofra really scores is in its filter coffee, with both bulk-brew and hand-poured options (Aeropress/Clever Dripper).