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.
Just off Canterbury High Street, down a very unpromising lane (at least by the route I took, although there are far prettier approaches) is the latest addition to Canterbury’s speciality coffee scene, and a very welcome addition indeed, given the recent closure of nearby stalwart, Water Lane. There you will find, installed in the ground floor of the Fruitworks Coworking space, Garage Coffee.
Garage has been roasting coffee since 2015, disappointingly in a shipping container in nearby Hoath, rather than a garage, but Shipping Container Coffee didn’t have the same ring. Having built itself a dedicated local following, it moved into Fruitworks (at Fruitworks invitation) in April 2017. Occupying a large, open space of a size that most coffee shops can only dream of, Garage serves its house-blend and a single-origin on espresso, with another single-origin on pour-over through Aeropress, V60 or Chemex. Decaf is available on both espresso and pour-over.
There’s also tea from local suppliers, Debonair Tea Company, from nearby Hythe, plus a selection of very tempting cake. Unsurprisingly, all the coffee is for sale, along with coffee-making kit and a selection of tea, while you can also buy the beautiful cups that Garage serves its coffee in.
With the demise of Water Lane Coffee, Lost Sheep Coffee takes on the mantle as the stalwart of Canterbury’s speciality coffee scene, although it’s only been in its present location, down by the bus station, and in its present guise, a neat black pod, for the last two years. Before that, it was a cart on Canterbury high Street.
There’s not a lot to Lost Sheep, just the pod, which dispenses the drinks, and a black box on wheels which acts as a table, seating provided by three wooden stools. The coffee is the real draw though, Lost Sheep offering a concise and comprehensive espresso-based menu with a choice of a house-blend and a guest.
Change is afoot though at Lost Sheep, which recently opened its new roastery. Expect the house-blend to be roasted in-house any day soon, with a different roaster guesting on each month on the second grinder.
September 2017: Not only has Lost Sheep started roasting its own coffee, it’s also updated its pod, which is much bigger and more open than the original one. It’s even got windows! See the gallery, which has a couple of photos, to see how gorgeous it is.
In April, I heard rumours of a new coffee shop in my home town of Guildford from my friends at Surrey Hills Coffee. By May, I’d identified the site, an awkwardly-shaped corner unit opposite Waitrose. I became a regular visitor, wandering past and watching the coffee shop, Canopy Coffee, take shape over the next two months, wondering when it would open. The big day came in early July. Naturally, I was in America, so missed it.
Hurrying back, I made up for lost time by becoming a semi-regularly visitor. I’m trying to work my way through the coffee menu, but Jonathon, the owner, changes it faster than I can drink it! A multi-roaster, Canopy gets small quantities of beans from roasters around the country, including Origin, Square Mile and, most recently, North Star. There are two options on espresso, with two more on pour-over through the Kalita Wave or Chemex. Canopy’s also experimenting with batch-brew through the Moccamaster for those in a hurry.
The food, by the way, is as special as the coffee, with an all-day breakfast/lunch menu featuring various staples on toast, locally-produced quiches and salads, backed up by a range of mouth-watering cakes, again all baked locally.
Kirby and Wes (perhaps unfairly) have a reputation as the party boys of speciality coffee, free-spirited Aussies who don’t take themselves too seriously. On the other hand, as the name suggests, they do like a party, which is abundantly clear to anyone who’s visited The Roasting Party stand at successive London Coffee Festivals, where there’s even a resident DJ…
This, however, does The Roasting Party a disservice, since while Kirby and Wes might not take themselves very seriously, they do take the business of coffee extremely seriously indeed…
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.
Artigiano is a chain that seems to be slowly colonising the west and southwest, anywhere, in fact, served by the old Great Western Railway out of Paddington. Starting with the original at St Paul’s in London (admittedly not served by any railway out of Paddington), there are now three more branches: Exeter, Cardiff and now this one in Reading, occupying a prime spot on Broad Street, right in the heart of the town.
Of all the Artigianos, this might be the most elegant, which is saying something since Artigiano prides itself on the elegance of its branches. It’s also the only one (so far) with an upstairs (although the now-defunct New Oxford Street branch in London and the equally defunct Queen Street branch in Cardiff both had a mezzanine levels) where the elegance is really taken to a new level with its sumptuous sofas and lounge area at the back.
Artigiano offers the same tried-and-trusted formula: speciality coffee by day (a bespoke house-blend and a seasonal single-origin on espresso) with craft beer and wine by night, Artigiano staying open late into the evening. A limited food offering is available throughout the day, backed up by a small range of cake.
Reading’s Coffee Under Pressure is better known by the acronym, C.U.P. A recent addition to the local scene, it opened in August last year, tucked away in a lovely setting behind the Reading Minster. It’s a sun-drenched, south-facing place, with sheltered outdoor seating and a warm welcome inside, which flows from C.U.P.’s Greek owners, Maria & Nasos.
The coffee is from Winchester’s The Roasting Party. Unusually, there are two blends on espresso, plus decaf, as well as several single-origins available as individual filter coffees through the V60. As well as the usual offerings, there are some Greek specials, the Freddo Espresso & Freddo Cappuccino.
Not content with that, there’s also an impressive range of 16 different loose-leaf teas of various types, as befits C.U.P’s full name, Coffee Under Pressure, Speciality Coffee and Tea. All the tea is from Edinburgh’s Pekoe Tea and every bit as much care and attention goes into making it as goes into the coffee.
Finally, the small kitchen to the left of the counter turns out an impressive range food, mixing traditional(ish) British sandwiches, cookies and pastries with some interesting Greek dishes, such as the bougatsa, flaky pasties that can be either sweet or savoury.
Guildford has long been crying out for an independent, speciality coffee shop and finally, one has arrived! Surrey Hills Coffee, which has been roasting its own range of espresso & filter blends, plus a growing selection of single-origin coffees in the North Downs, has now opened its own coffee shop, taking over the lease on what was the Turn Fit Deli on Chapel Street.
It’s not a huge space, just a couple of tables, a window-bar and another bar at the back, but it’s bright and welcoming. The main draw is the coffee, although there is tea, soft drinks, plus a range of locally-baked cakes and made-to-order sandwiches, with ingredients from a range of local suppliers.
For somewhere so small, the range of coffee on offer is impressive: there are no fewer than three espresso blends, although if you don’t ask, you’ll get the default, the Holmbury Hill blend, which (in my opinion) is the best of the bunch. If you’re in a hurry, there’s the Cottage filter blend, available from a flask on the counter and made in small batches using the Moccamaster. Finally, if you don’t mind waiting, you can have a single-origin filter hand-made through the Chemex.
September 2017: Surrey Hills no longer offers sandwiches, focusing instead on the impressive range of cakes.