Small St Espresso, which opened in 2012, was one of Bristol’s first speciality coffee shops and is still one of my favourites, a masterclass on how to run a coffee shop in a small, intimate space. When I visited at the start of 2016, there were rumours of a second Small St, and then, at the very end of the summer, it opened. Going by the name Little Victories and describing itself as a sister venue to Small St, it was a must-visit on my return to Bristol at the end of last year.
Located on the wonderfully-named Spike Island, south of Bristol’s Floating Harbour, Little Victories is part of the Wapping Wharf development, sitting at the bottom (northern) end of Gaol Ferry Steps. Occupying a ground floor corner unit, it’s a big, open space with enormously high ceilings.
Operating as a speciality coffee shop by day, it morphs into a casual bar in the evening (Wednesday to Saturday), bringing craft beer, small plates and coffee-based cocktails to Bristol. All the coffee is from local roasters, Clifton Coffee Roasters, with two options on espresso and two more on available as pour-overs through the Chemex, while bread comes from Hart’s Bakery.
Bristol’s long been one of my favourite coffee cities, replete with any number of excellent establishments. Except, I’ve found, in Clifton. However, this has all changed in the last year with the emergence of Wainwright’s Speciality Coffee, a lovely spot on Regent Street, right in the heart of Clifton village.
That I found out about it at all was large due to a chance encounter in Full Court Press with Matt, of Leeds-based roasters, Maude Coffee. Matt told me all about Wainwright’s and, if that wasn’t enough, the next day, Alex of Bakesmiths was singing its praises, so off I went. And, in fairness, Mike Stanbridge also told me about it on twitter back in July.
Wainwright’s is a lovely spot, beautifully laid out, with some gorgeous lighting too. The new manager, Ben, has also upped the coffee game, with the house espresso from the local Clifton Coffee Roasters and a regularly-changing guest on the second grinder. There are also filter options through the V60 and Aeropress, each matched to a particular single-origin coffee. During my visit, Clifton was on the Aeropress, Maude on V60.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s hot chocolate from Kokoa Collection, and a decent breakfast/lunch menu based mostly around things on toast and sandwiches, all made using bread from Bakesmiths.
Cakesmiths is a Bristol-based cake baker of national renown, its cakes appearing in coffee shops up and down the country. Old friends of the Coffee Spot, Cakesmiths and I have a symbiotic (parasitic?) relationship: I go to coffee festivals and Cakesmiths feeds me cake… However, other than stalking Cakesmiths at festivals, you haven’t been able to get its cakes fresh from the baker’s hand, so to speak.
So, imagine my surprise and delight when, in May this year, Cakesmiths opened its very own coffee shop, called Bakesmiths, on Bristol’s Whiteladies Road. Bakesmiths, which spreads itself across two spacious, high-ceilinged floors on the corner with Aberdeen Road, calls itself a sister café to Cakesmiths. As well as Cakesmiths’ legendary tray bakes, cheesecakes and the like, Bakesmiths has an on-site bakery and kitchen where it makes all its own bread and many of the cakes, all baked fresh each day.
Add to that some fabulous espresso and bulk-brew filter coffee from the local Clifton Coffee Roasters, plus the occasional filter coffee roasted on-site, and you’re onto a winner. And that’s without mentioning the craft beer or the wine or even the all-day brunch menu, complete with specials, which magically appears at weekends.
Regular readers will know of my love affair with Victorian Arcades. So, imagine the scene. I’m walking through Bristol’s lovely St James Arcade (previously known as The Arcade), connecting the Horsefair with Broadmead. With its high, vaulting, glass ceilings, it’s very beautiful, and I find myself bemoaning the fact that such a glorious arcade isn’t graced with a great coffee shop. And then, what should I come across, but The Crazy Fox?
In fairness, Mark Taylor had given me the heads-up on twitter about The Crazy Fox and I’m sure I recall Girl in Bristol tweeting about it. However, they’d both said it was on Broadmead (which it is), and, for whatever reason, I’d not connected that with the Arcade. Hence my surprise.
The Crazy Fox spreads over two floors, a bright and spacious spot with plenty of seating. As much as I like small Coffee Spots, it’s great to find a Bristol Coffee Spot with plenty of space that isn’t a Boston Tea Party. Serving a house-blend and single-origin on espresso, plus batch-brew filter, all from Bristol’s Roasted Rituals, The Crazy Fox also has Kokoa Collection hot chocolate, soft drinks, bottled beer/cider and wine, plus sandwiches, soup and cake.
There are a few games cafés dotted around the country, but Bristol’s Playground Coffee is the only one I know of that serves speciality coffee. Similarly, while Bristol has some excellent speciality coffee shops, this is the only one doubling as a games café. And it has swings. You really can’t go wrong when there are swings involved.
With a house espresso blend from local Roasted Rituals and a regularly-rotating guest, Playground has the speciality side of things nailed. There’s also filter through V60, Aeropress, Chemex and Syphon, with beans from various guest roasters (the clothes line strung above the counter provides a who’s who of roasters which have graced Playground’s grinders). There’s also tea, hot chocolate and a small selection of cake.
I can’t comment on the games, save to say that there seemed to be a good selection on offer to borrow/play. Overall, Playground’s a small, cosy spot with a friendly, quirky atmosphere. This was aided by the lovely Francesca, who’d previously worked for Playground and the likes of Brighton’s Café Coho. She was minding the store for a week while the owners were on holiday in Berlin and it’s clear that they left things in good hands…
December 2016: I popped back to say hello and discovered that Playground now has a drinks licence and stays open until late each evening, serving wine, spirits and its very own coffee-infused gin! It’s also moved over to be a full multi-roaster, with two single-origins on espresso, usually chosen to offer contrasting tastes, from a rotating cast of roasters.
Today’s Meet the Roaster, Bristol’s Extract Coffee Roasters, is one of the first roasters I became aware of when I started the Coffee Spot. It’s also one of the first, after Rave and Clifton, to invite me to visit the roastery, so it’s rather embarrassing that it’s taken me until now to accept the invitation! My host for the day was Callum, a relatively new recruit to Extract, but I was lucky enough to meet Dave, who along with his sister and best friend, established Extract in 2007.
For a while, Extract was synonymous in my head with the Boston Tea Party, the Bristol-based, regional chain, which is still a major Extract customer. However, it’s so much more than that, with a national presence. These days, it roasts around 13 tons of coffee a month (a far cry from its original 5kg roaster), with 80% of the output as espresso blends. The remaining 20% includes single-origin espressos with iconic names such as Dr Strangelove and Strongman, Extract’s Movember single-origin, which is only on sale in November, a £1 donation made to charity for each kg sold. There are also single-origin filters and filter blends which are steadily increasing in popularity.
No 12 Easton is a little off the beaten track, although it’s not that far off the beaten track. On the eastern side of the M32 and a few minutes’ walk from Bristol’s Stapleton Road station, I was first put onto it by twitter’s Bristol Café Watcher. Occupying an interestingly-shaped corner of the High Street, No 12 is a little bit of everything: coffee shop, café, deli, grocer, off-licence and community hang-out space.
If I’m honest, I had my doubts. I’m firmly in the “do a few things and do them well camp” and was worried that the coffee wouldn’t be up to much. However, I should have more faith in Café Watcher: No 12 serves some excellent coffee and, talking to owner Chris, there are aspirations to do a lot more, although perhaps not at No 12 itself.
As it is, No 12 serves a standard espresso-based menu using a cast of rotating roasters. During my visit, Extract was in the hopper, the roastery literally located on the other side of the motorway. There’s a selection of loose-leaf teas (with cups for one, pots for two or more), cake, an innovative hot food menu, and well-stocked deli and grocery counters.
To start at the beginning, Exeter’s Exploding Bakery was always one of my favourite places and made a very early appearance on the Coffee Spot, being just the 20th place that I wrote about after I visited in 2012. Back then it was definitely a bakery that served coffee, with a couple of tables and an espresso machine tucked into a busy, thriving bakery, baristas and bakers sharing the space.
When I ran into the guys from the Exploding Bakery at the Caffè Culture Show in 2015, they excitedly told me about all the changes that they had made, leaving me itching for a return. However, Exeter isn’t somewhere that you casually pass by (not if you live in Guildford, anyway), so it wasn’t until January of this year, when I was on my way down to Torquay, that I had the opportunity to pop in and say hello the new-look Exploding Bakery.
I’d heard quite a lot of good things about Tradewind Espresso, both on twitter and on my previous visit to Bristol in September last year, when it had only just opened. Sadly there wasn’t time to visit, so on my next trip, I ensured that I’d set aside a chunk of my schedule to take the train out to Clifton Down and to allow for the short climb up the Whiteladies Road.
What I hadn’t appreciated is that Tradewind Espresso was opened by local roasters, Roasted Rituals, which is making a name for itself in and around Bristol, supplying the likes of The Crazy Fox and Playground Coffee. Like Tradewind, I’d also heard good things about Roasted Rituals, which only increased my curiosity.
I needn’t have worried. Everything I’d been told about Tradewind and Roasted Rituals was true, and then some. Tradewind occupies a beautiful location, with a gorgeous interior, table service, a great food menu (all cooked downstairs in the kitchen), lots of lovely cakes and a limited selection of beer/wine. As well as Roasted Rituals’ Highground seasonal blend and a single-origin on espresso, there’s a selection of single-origins through the V60, plus the option of a four-cup cafetiere.
I first visited Full Court Press, or FCP Coffee as it is also known, the day before it opened, back in May 2013, then again two days later, when it still smelled faintly of paint. Since then I’ve been in a few times during my regular visits to Bristol.
In many ways, Full Court Press is much as I first found it, with owner and head barista, Mat, still regularly changing up the coffee, bringing in exciting beans from roasters from all over the country and beyond. For example, during my latest visit, one of the filter coffees was a Sumatran Blue Batak from Italian speciality roaster, Gardelli, the first time I’ve had its coffee. And very fine it was.
One change is behind the counter, where Will, of Didn’t You Do Well fame, has found a permanent role following Didn’t You Do Well’s sad closure. It was great to have a chance to catch up and to see him looking so well and so happy.
However, the biggest change had taken place beneath my feet…