Chalk Coffee, which opened in August last year, might be a new name to Chester’s growing speciality coffee scene, but it has considerable pedigree, having been set up by Ed, who was one half of Jaunty Goat (the other half being his twin brother, Patrick). Like Jaunty Goat, Chalk is right in the heart of historic Chester, just around the corner, in fact, on Watergate Street, which also puts it just across the street from another Chester veteran, The Barista’s. The shop itself is lovely, stretching a long way back under the rows above, giving it a basement-like feel, especially at the back.
Chalk Coffee’s focus is firmly on the coffee, offering Origin on both espresso, through a Victoria Arduino Black Eagle, and on batch brew. It started by offering the Pathfinder blend, but since the start of this year, Chalk has been experimenting with single-origins as well as blends. The Resolute blend was on during my visit, with a Colombian single-origin next in the rotation, Chalk switching over as and when the current coffee runs out. There’s also a single-origin on batch brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of sandwiches and wraps, plus there’s a selection of cake.
Obscure Coffee by name, and, some might say, obscure by nature, although in reality, Obscure Coffee is only a few minutes’ walk from the heart of Chester, near the bottom of Lower Bridge Street, close to the city walls and the River Dee. It’s not even obscure by name, since, as owner Nick recounted, he’d wanted to call it Obscura Coffee, “obscura” being Spanish for “dark”. However, someone misheard him, thought he said “obscure” and the name stuck.
It’s a pretty small spot, with space inside for a window bar and table, while there’s a really cosy back room with more tables and a pair of armchairs. All the coffee comes from Climpson and Sons, with Climpson’s signature Estate on espresso, joined by regularly-changing options on batch brew through the Moccamaster and pour-over through the V60. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes and pastries, but that’s it.
For the longest time, Chester, closest city to Holywell, the town where I grew up, has been poorly served by speciality coffee. However, in recent months a spate of new openings have joined stalwarts such as The Barista’s and Jaunty Goat in the city centre and Little Yellow Pig, out in Hoole, which is where you’ll find today’s Coffee Spot, Short + Stout.
Occupying an interestingly-shaped building on a narrow corner at the end of two terraces in a relatively quiet, residential area, it’s not a huge space. Despite this, Short + Stout acts like a much larger coffee shop, offering breakfast, brunch and lunch menus, complete with full table service, a clear sign of its Melbourne roots, which is where the owners, Sarah and Will, first got their inspiration.
The coffee is from nearby Ancoats Coffee Co in Manchester (Sarah having known Manny, from Ancoats, when they were both working in Melbourne). During my visit it was espresso only, with the ubiquitous Warehouse City blend joined by Ancoats’ seasonal decaf. However, Short + Stout, which had been serving cold brew over the summer, was in the process to switching to offering guest roasters on batch-brew alongside the espresso-based drinks.
My knowledge of Chester’s speciality coffee scene has, until recently, largely been confined to the city centre, and, in the case of Moss Coffee, Brook Street, which leads between the centre and Chester Station. However, for the last 4½ years, (literally) on the other side of the tracks, Little Yellow Pig has been doing its thing in Hoole. Although part of Chester, Hoole has its own distinct look and feel, complete with a compact centre, packed with shops and restaurants, Little Yellow Pig fitting in perfectly.
From humble beginnings, Little Yellow Pig has grown into a large coffee shop and brunch venue, serving Lost Highway from Dark Arts Coffee on espresso, with plans for pour-over in the near future. Just as importantly, there’s food, with excellent breakfast and lunch menus, supplemented by a great selection of cakes, all cooked on site. There’s also fresh bread for sale every day. You can sit in the original part, where you’ll find a more traditional coffee shop setting, complete with counter and some tables, or next door, in the larger, lounge-like area which Little Yellow Pig annexed two years ago. There’s even a small outdoor seating area on Westminster Road.
Having grown up just over the border in North Wales, Chester is, in many ways, my home city. I frequently pass though on my way to/from my Dad’s, but rarely stop, partly due to circumstance, but also because, when it comes to coffee, there’s not much to entice me to get off one stop earlier at Chester Station. However, with the arrival of the likes of Moss Coffee, that’s slowly changing.
Chester has struggled a little with speciality coffee. Apart from the well-established The Barista’s and Jaunty Goat, coffee shops, such as Moon Beer & Coffee, have tended to come and go. Hopefully Moss Coffee can buck that trend. It’s off to good start, serving an espresso-based menu with the Arboretum blend from Dark Woods, along with a small selection of locally-baked cakes. The owner, Daniel, is keeping things simple for now, with plans to expand in the future.
Chester’s somewhere which I frequently pass through on my way to/from my parents in North Wales, but I rarely find occasion/time to stop, partly because it’s so close to my parents, it doesn’t make sense to break my journey there. Anyway, that’s my excuse for taking so unreasonably long to visit Chester’s Jaunty Goat (plus there was a point at the start of last year when I thought it had closed; it was, in fact, merely relocating four doors further down Bridge Street).
This failure to visit is entirely my loss though, since the new Jaunty Goat is gorgeous. There’s Jaunty Goat’s own house-blend, plus decaf, on espresso, while on filter there are various guests from around the UK and beyond on V60, Aeropress and Chemex (for two). If you’re hungry, there’s a concise breakfast menu, plus sandwiches/soup for lunch, while copious quantities of cake are available throughout the day.
It’s also good that Chester has a second speciality coffee shop, with The Barista’s ploughing a lonely trough for quite a while. Then, of course, there was Moon Beer & Coffee (formerly Harvest Espresso), but this closed last summer, making Jaunty Goat’s successful reopening in July all the more important.
I first came across what was then the Harvest-Moon Espresso Bar a couple of years ago, not long after it had opened in Chester and it’s been on my radar ever since. I popped by in 2013, but it was unexpectedly closed that day and I hadn’t had another chance until now.
In that time, Harvest-Moon has undergone some changes, not least a name change to Moon Beer & Coffee after getting a licence in November last year (although the signage and some of the social media hasn’t caught up yet). While the focus is still on coffee, with an old-school espresso menu based around a house-blend from Merseyside roasters Coffee 1652, plus regularly-rotating guests, Moon now offers bottled craft beer from around the world. There’s also food with an American slant. For breakfast: toast, porridge or bagels, with more bagels and sandwiches for lunch. Finally nacho or chilli bowls, plus hummus and Bavarian meat platters, are on offer.
Just around the corner from the Cathedral with the library across the street, Moon is a cosy spot. There’s not much seating, which spread across two inter-connected spaces, while the staff are friendly and engaging with both regulars and visitors alike.
December 2015: Moon Beer & Coffee closed over the summer, which is a real shame.
I’d describe The Barista’s in Chester (the apostrophe leaving me asking “the Barista’s what?”) as an old-fashioned coffee shop (“old-fashioned” meaning a mere 10 years ago!). Set in the bottom of an old building on Chester’s historic Watergate Street, it’s a lovely, relaxing place, with bare stone and brick walls belying the age of building (it dates from the 17th century, if not earlier).
As a venue, it’s worth it just for the experience, especially if, like me, you appreciate old buildings. There are also a couple of tables outside on the pavement; on a sunny day, I can see sitting outside being a great option, the pedestrianised Watergate Street making a very pleasant backdrop.
The Barista’s serves Has Bean, so you know that the coffee’s going to be more than just run-of-the-mill. In fact, The Barista’s achieved the unique distinction of serving me a Has Bean espresso which I drank without pulling a face! There is, as they say, a first time for everything!
Add to that a fairly typical coffee shop range of cake, sandwiches, Panini, soup and a less-than-typical selection of flatbreads and you have a credible alternative to the coffee chains in the heart of Chester.