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.
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.
I first came across The Roasting Party, subject of today’s Meet the Roaster, in 2014 at Beany Green, Paddington, where, for a couple of years, a Roasting Party flat white was the start to my working day. Shortly afterwards, I met Kirby and Wes, the Aussie duo behind The Roasting Party, at that year’s London Coffee Festival. I’ve been following their progress ever since, both as Beany Green has expanded and as The Roasting Party has gained accounts at the likes of C.U.P. in Reading, Brighton’s The Marwood and Espresso by K2 & Farm Girl Café in West London. Most recently, The Roasting Party has started supplying Winchester’s very own Coffee Lab.
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.