For a long time, my home town of Guildford had been crying out for an independent, speciality coffee shop. Then, two years ago, along came Surrey Hills Coffee, a local roaster which opened its own coffee shop on Chapel Street, taking over the lease from TurnFit Deli. These days, Surrey Hills has some good company, with Canopy Coffee opening last year and Krema Coffee coming along this year.
However, the shop on Chapel Street was never ideal, effectively being someone else’s space, with a small, cramped layout. The owners, Monika and Chris, who roast all the coffee in a roastery in Forest Green in (you guessed it) the Surrey Hills, had been looking for a new, bigger home. Now they’ve found it, Surrey Hills moving just a few streets away to Jeffries Passage at the top of the High Street.
The new shop is bright and spacious, with an upstairs as well, although that’s currently work-in-progress. Right now, Surrey Hills is up and running, with a basic coffee-and-cake offering (espresso, batch-brew filter and pour-over), along with the full retail range of coffee, although as things settle down, the plan is to serve breakfasts and light lunches too. Watch this space!
Krema Coffee started life in Farnham, where the original store opened its doors three years ago. Despite its relatively closeness to Guildford, for a variety of (not very good) reasons, I’ve still not visited, so I was quite pleased when Krema decided to come to me, opening its second store in Guildford. Naturally, the actual opening, at the end of March, took place while I was out of the country, but as soon as I was able, I paid Krema a visit.
Occupying a long, low-ceilinged spot at the castle end of Tunsgate in the centre of Guildford, Krema goes a surprisingly long way back, with a basement-like space at the back. When it comes to the coffee, Krema uses Horsham Coffee Roaster, sadly absent from Guildford town centre since the closure of Bar des Arts (although still available from The Flying Coffee Bean at the station). The Workhorse seasonal blend is the mainstay on the espresso machine, where it’s joined by a single-origin guest (also from Horsham). Meanwhile, there are a couple of options on pour-over through the V60, although in reality you can try any of the beans that Krema has in stock. If you’re hungry, there are light breakfast and lunch menus, backed up with copious quantities of cake.
Hideout Coffee is, quite literally, Portsmouth’s best kept secret when it comes to coffee. Right in the city centre, a few minutes’ walk away from Canvas Coffee, it’s tucked away down a side street with no external advertising, not even a name. You really do have to know it’s there. And that’s how Hideout likes it, giving it a speakeasy-like atmosphere, like you’re in a secret, members’ only club.
Hideout opened in the summer of 2017, effectively the in-house coffee shop for design agency I Love Dust, whose offices are above Hideout. Indeed, to get to I Love Dust, you go through Hideout first, which is in the small entrance lobby to offices. There’s room for just 10 seats, the coffee coming from a La Marzocco Linea tended by head barista, Jordan, who serves a standard espresso-based menu using a bespoke house-blend from Coffee@33, just along the coast in Brighton.
For a long time, speciality coffee in Portsmouth and Southsea was left to the pioneering few, including Canvas Coffee (Portsmouth) and Southsea Coffee Co (Southsea). Recently, however, this has changed, with several number, including Hunter Gatherer Coffee on Southsea’s Albert Road, entering the fray.
The labour of love of a fellow Brian, Hunter Gatherer was many years in the making. In an example of the supportive nature of the local coffee community, when Brian first had the idea for Hunter Gatherer, he knew he didn’t have the coffee know-how, so Canvas Coffee gave him a job, allowing him to gain the necessary skills. After two years at Canvas, Brian found the right location, Hunter Gatherer opening in September 2016.
Serving a house-blend from West Sussex’s Craft House Coffee, Hunter Gatherer also does pour-over, with one option from Craft House and another from a guest roaster, served through either V60 or Aeropress. There is also a brunch menu, now totally vegetarian/vegan, which is available until 3 pm each day. This seems surprising, given Hunter Gatherer’s small size, but appearances can be deceptive. It goes a long way back, with a large, basement-like rear section housing additional seating and the kitchen.
As anyone who travels by train in the UK knows, good coffee is hard to come by. Every now and then, a coffee stand, such as The Flying Coffee Bean in my home town of Guildford, or Glasgow’s Luckie Beans, provides welcome relief, but a proper, sit-down speciality coffee shop is a rare find. This makes Canvas Coffee, located in the old station buffet on the concourse of Portsmouth and Southsea station, such a delight.
Since opening in a small kiosk across the concourse in March 2014, Canvas has gone from strength-to-strength, moving into the vacant station buffet six months later and slowly growing to occupy the entire space. In many ways, it’s a typical station coffee shop, with commuters calling in for their morning coffee on the way to the train or office, while a steady stream of people and their luggage kill time before their trains.
However, it’s more than that. With the Drake Blend from Winchester’s The Roasting Party served from a concise espresso-based menu, backed up with a range of options for lunch, plus cake throughout the day, it’s a destination in its own right, a large, spacious coffee shop that would grace any city.
As I have noted before, Witney is not necessarily where you’d expect to find top-notch coffee shop. Impressive, then, that it’s home to several excellent places, including Coffeesmith, which was Witney’s first speciality coffee shop. These days Coffeesmith is part of a small chain of independent coffee shops, which include an old inn and an outpost in the Lake District, although this is where it all started just to the east of Witney’s Market Square on a quiet, pedestrianised street.
Occupying a simple, open space, with plenty of seats and a cluster of tables outside, Coffeesmith is a welcoming spot which attracts a wide-ranging local clientele, as well as the occasional passing coffee blogger. However, it’s far from the average café, with coffee from Origin on espresso and pour-over through V60/Aeropress. There’s also tea, hot chocolate, juices, smoothies and beer. If you’re hungry, the brunch menu features the likes of toast, porridge, bacon butties and various bagels and grilled sandwiches. If you fancy something less bread-based, there’s soup and salads, plus an ever-changing range of interesting specials chalked up above the counter. All of this is backed up with a range of cakes, while there’s fresh sourdough bread for sale.
Stockbridge, between Winchester and Salisbury on the A30, is, in many ways, a stereotypical English country town. The long, broad, straight High Street which runs through the centre of town is lined with quaint cottages, independent shops, country pubs and old-fashioned tea rooms. And a speciality coffee shop. Well, maybe not that stereotypical after all.
Coffee Lab is the rapidly-growing mini-chain, spreading out from its home in Winchester through Hampshire (as far east as Chichester) and Wiltshire (as far west as Gloucester), with a Midlands outpost to the north in Leamington Spa (opening soon). Meanwhile its march southwards has only been stopped by the sea. The Stockbridge branch is towards the Salisbury end of the High Street, above a pizza restaurant with excellent views up and down the High Street.
The coffee, as ever, is from The Roasting Party, with two blends on espresso, the house-blend (Create) and a second (Thrive). If you want filter coffee, there is a choice of two single-origins (a Kenyan Peaberry or a Brazilian during my visit) through V60 or Aeropress, while there’s also loose-leaf tea. If you’re hungry, the Coffee Lab has limited selection of four sandwiches and small selection of cake.
Canterbury is blessed with several café/roasters, including roaster-turned-coffee-shop, Garage Coffee, and coffee-shop-turned-roaster, Lost Sheep Coffee. However, the original is the Micro Roastery, tucked away down a quiet side street in the heart of the historic city centre. Originally the roasting was done at the back of the shop, but in 2015, production moved to a dedicated facility, where the 5kg Probat roaster turns out an impressive array of blends and single-origins, all of which are available in the coffee shop.
The narrow storefront on St Margaret’s Street hides an impressively large space, occupying two of the three storeys of an old town house (a barbers sublets the top floor), complete with a sheltered outdoor seating area in the garden at the back. When it comes to coffee, there’s a seasonal espresso blend, with two roasts, one light, one dark, along with a decaf option. Numerous single-origins are available through the Aeropress or four/eight cup cafetieres, while the filter of the day is brewed each morning/afternoon on a Moccamaster. Meanwhile, the cold-brew is freshly made each night.
If you’re hungry, there’s a variety of savoury options, including sourdough focaccias and pastry puffs, plus veggie/meat sausage rolls, along with the usual cakes.
Witney, it turns out, has an excellent and well-developed coffee scene for what is a relatively small town in western Oxfordshire. This can partly be explained by the presence of Ue Coffee, which has its long-established roastery just west of the town on the Windrush Industrial Park, and has also opened two coffee shops in the town itself.
However, there’s more to Witney than Ue Coffee, as witnessed by a small slice of New Zealand which you can find tucked away off the High Street on the pedestrianised Wesley Walk. This piece of Kiwi-land goes by the name Eden Café and makes no bones about its antipodean heritage. Serving, appropriately enough, coffee from fellow Kiwi imports, Allpress, with the ubiquitous Redchurch blend gracing the espresso machine, you can be sure of a solid cup of coffee, plus a range of vegetarian cakes and food. There’s a heavy emphasis on vegan offerings, which isn’t something you see that often.
All this is squeezed into what I shall call an “interesting” space, essentially a triangle, with windows running along the front. There’s also plenty of seating outside on the quiet Wesley Walk, partially under the shelter of the eaves of the café.
Today’s Coffee Spot, Ue Coffee Roasters True Artisan Café & Store, in Witney, has the longest name of any coffee shop I’ve visited. Ue is, to my knowledge, the UK’s only wood-fired roaster, a rare breed which includes Speckled Ax in Portland (Maine). I first came across Ue back in 2014, when I visited Oxford for a feature in Caffeine Magazine. Based in nearby Witney, I came out to see the roastery, but back then there wasn’t much of a coffee scene in the town itself.
Fast forward 3+ years and how things have changed. Witney boasts several places worthy of a visit, including Eden Café and Coffeesmith, which were joined, in December 2016, by Ue’s True Artisan Café & Store. Unsurprisingly, the café serves as a showcase for Ue’s considerable output, with a house-blend and guest on espresso, and multiple single-origins (eight while I was there) on filter, through Aeropress, Chemex or V60. There’s also a range of loose-leaf tea from sister company Jeeves & Jericho, with a selection of sausage rolls and cake if you’re hungry. All of the coffee and tea, plus loads of gear, is available to buy, which covers the “store” part of the name.