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The Coffee Spot Guide to Cardiff

The Morgan Arcade, one of many Victorian shopping arcades in Cardiff. The Morgan Arcade is home to The Plan Cafe.Cardiff, the Welsh capital, has a speciality coffee scene that has boomed in the last year or so, with several coffee shops and roasters opening their doors, joining the established names that I first discovered when I visited in 2013.

Cardiff is home to the magnificent Millennium Stadium (now renamed, bizarrely, to the Principality Stadium), a rare example of a major sporting complex in the heart of a city. This sits on the banks of the River Taff, which forms the western boundary of the compact city centre, while the southern edge is delineated by railway lines and Cardiff Central station. To the east, more railway lines provide the boundary, while Cardiff Castle forms an effective edge to the north.

This compact centre houses a surprisingly large number of outstanding Victorian shopping arcades, usually with vaulting glass ceilings. In turn, these house some of Cardiff’s best speciality coffee shops. However, these spread beyond the city centre, outposts including Penarth, a short train ride away to the southwest, with its pier and views east across the Bristol Channel.

As well as the usual cluster of museums and the aforementioned castle, Cardiff also boasts a regenerated dockland area, which is well worth a visit, being a short walk south of the city centre. For those who are interested in such things, it’s also the home of the Doctor Who Experience.

As ever, I need to stress that this Guide is not intended as a definitive list, particularly given how many places have opened in the last year. I fully expect to see another new crop when I return in the summer!

For another perspective on Cardiff’s speciality coffee scene, take a look at local blogger Sian Melissa’s piece. Meanwhile, for an alternative take on Cardiff itself, I present this by Travellous World.

Header image: the pier at Penarth, looking west and back towards land. Cardiff proper is just around the headland to the right of the picture.

Coffee Spots

200 Degrees, Cardiff

A decaf flat white at the Cardiff branch of 200 Degrees. The latte art pattern in the milk is still visible when half the coffee has been drunk.Nottingham-based café/roaster, 200 Degrees, opened its first café just three years ago. Then, last year, came a second Nottingham outlet, plus 200 Degrees Birmingham, the first outside Nottingham. However, 200 Degrees was only getting started. In the space of just five months, starting in December 2016, 200 Degrees opened in Leeds, then Leicester, followed in April by the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Cardiff.

If you’re familiar with 200 Degrees, then the Cardiff branch holds few surprises. Occupying the Queen Street site of the short-lived Artigiano Espresso, 200 Degrees has followed its tried-and-trusted template to produce another lovely coffee shop. All the staples are here: a plush, well-appointed interior, plenty of wood and exposed brick, the usual neon fireplace, plus some amazing light-fittings. In addition, there’s a semi-sheltered seating area outside on the pavement. For those familiar with the old Artigiano, the mezzanine level has gone though.

The coffee holds no surprises either, with the house espresso blend, Brazilian Love Affair, joined by the interestingly-named Mellowship Slinky Decaf and a single-origin guest espresso, plus another single-origin on filter, all roasted in-house. There’s cold-brew on tap, plus the usual food options, including breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads and bucket-loads of cake.

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Barker Tea House

The counter at Barker Tea House on the High Street Arcarde, Cardiff.My (perhaps annual) visit to Cardiff continues. After Monday’s Coffee Spot, the fabulous Washington Tea (younger sibling of Waterloo Tea), I am continuing in the same vein with today’s Saturday-on-a-Wednesday Supplement with the Barker Tea House, newly-opened younger sibling of the lovely Coffee Barker. Yes, I know, I’m going soft in my old age: that’s two tea places in a row! Well, if you think that’s bad, just you wait until you see what I have planned for you in a couple of months…!

What made Coffee Barker stand out from the crowd was its lovely interior. Since I last visited, it’s been extended (and is ripe for a Coffee Spot Update) but, not content with that, the folks behind Coffee Barker decided to move one arcade over and open the Barker Tea House. If you thought Coffee Barker had a lovely interior, then wait until you see the Tea House! It has the same wonderful features that made me fall in love with Coffee Barker (person-swallowing sofas, uber-comfortable comfy chairs, quirky, retro décor) but takes it to a whole new level with a stunning first floor seating area. This place is simply gorgeous!

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Coffee Barker

The Coffee Barker sign, written on one of the windows.It’s been many years since I was last in Cardiff and I’ve certainly never been there in my guise as a consumer of fine coffee. So, I was interested to see what the capital of the country of my birth had to offer and I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed. Leading the way, in rival arcades in the city centre, are two very different places, today’s Coffee Spot, Coffee Barker, and The Plan Café.

You’ll find Coffee Barker in the beautiful Victorian Castle Arcade. It has fiercely loyal customers: you know you are onto something good when you are interrupted in your chat with the baristas to be told, unprompted, by one of the customers: “best coffee in Cardiff”. Concise and to the point.

Whether it is the best coffee in Cardiff is up for debate. Certainly third-wave coffee purists will prefer The Plan, but if what you want  (like me) is a no-nonsense espresso or a bucketful of cappuccino (not me!), then the delightful surroundings of Coffee Barker should put it top of your list. There’s also lots of cake and sandwiches if you’re feeling hungry.

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Lufkin Coffee

Detail from the top of the sign outside Lufkin Coffee.Cardiff’s speciality coffee scene has changed considerably since my last visit, not least with the arrival of Lufkin Coffee Roasters. Highly recommended by none other than Steve of Darkroom Espresso, Lufkin was naturally top of my list when it came to a return visit to the Welsh capital. Tucked away in the residential streets northwest of the city centre, it takes a little bit of finding, but you will be well rewarded. It’s also a great option if you are attending a cricket match at the nearby SWALEC stadium.

Lufkin opened its doors in September 2015, roasting all its coffee on a 1kg Topper, dedicated to serving pour-over. However, that quickly changed, and, with demand exceeding capacity, the Topper gave way to the 10kg Golden Roaster which you see behind the counter today. Lufkin also added espresso-based drinks to the menu.

Roasting once a week, Lufkin only roasts single-origins, mostly for use in-house, one on espresso and two or three roasted for filter, served using the Kalita Wave. The green beans are bought in small batches and once they’re gone, Lufkin moves onto the next one, although if a particular bean proves popular, it’s likely to make a return appearance.

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Hard Lines Coffee

Details from a sign outside the Castle Emporium in Cardiff, home of Outpost Coffee & VinylOn a trip to Cardiff a few years ago, I visited the Castle Emporium, a hub of independent one-off shops and businesses, including art, fashion and a barbershop, all set in the halls of what was originally a 1920s cinema. I distinctly remember thinking at the time that what the place needed was a speciality coffee shop. Fast forward to the end of 2016, and my wish became true as Hard Lines Coffee moved into the ground floor.

Hard Lines occupies a counter to the right of the entrance, with some seating opposite. Originally known as Outpost Coffee & Vinyl, Hard Lines sells both coffee and records, specialising in newly-released vinyl. When it comes to coffee, Hard Lines is just as specialised, a true multi-roaster, with rapidly rotating options on both espresso and batch-brew.

Bristol-based Clifton Coffee Roasters and Extract Coffee Roasters, along with Liverpool’s Neighbourhood Coffee, provide the espresso, which changes every week. Meanwhile various roasters appear on batch-brew, with a different one popping up each day. During the afternoon, if it’s quiet, you can ask nicely and staff will make you a pour-over on the Kalita Wave. Finally, if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cake from old friends Cakesmiths.

October 2017: I've learnt that Outpost has re-branded to Hard Lines Coffee, so to avoid confused, I've renamed it in this write-up.

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The Little Man Coffee Company

The coffee bean choices chalked up on the board behind the espresso machine at The Little Man Coffee Company in Cardiff (two espresso, two filter).Down past Cardiff’s Catholic Cathedral, at the southern end of Charles Street, is The Little Man Coffee Company. From the name, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a tiny spot, but far from it. Spread over the ground floor and basement (yeah! basement!) of an old bank branch, it’s actually quite large, part of a sudden growth of Cardiff’s fledging speciality coffee scene, which, with one or two exceptions, is concentrated in the city centre. In fact, while only a five-minute walk from the likes of the venerable The Plan, Little Man Coffee represents an eastern outpost of this cluster.

Little Man Coffee joined the fray in October 2014 and from the outset had lofty ambitions, married to the sense of the achievable. A true multi-roaster from the start, Little Man usually offers two beans espresso, another two on filter, buying 10kg at a time from various roasters before then moving on. Although employing a wide variety of roasters, Little Man has a record of supporting local, Welsh roasters, such as the Welsh Coffee Company and Coaltown Coffee Roasters, as well as James Gourmet Coffee (technically in England). While I was there, both filters were from Cardiff-based roaster Lufkin Coffee.

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The Plan

Coffee at the Plan: a plunged and poured cafetiere of Peter James' finest Columbian with an entirely superfluous jug of milk.Cardiff has two very different coffee spots within a stone’s throw of each other, right in the heart of the city. One is the delightful Coffee Barker in the Castle Arcade, with its all-devouring sofas, and the other is today’s Coffee Spot, the outstanding Plan Café Bar, over in the Morgan Arcade.

The Plan is rightfully proud of its coffee heritage and is leading the way in speciality coffee in Cardiff. It can boast, in head barista Trevor, a UK Barista Championship finalist, and the café itself can (and does) make much of its appearances in the Guardian and Independent’s top 50 cafés lists. It’s also in a stunningly good location for a café, right in the middle of the Morgan Arcade. Frankly, if I was choosing a spot for a café, I’m not sure I could have done better.

The coffee is from James’ Gourmet Coffee in Ross-on-Wye and, in a move surely designed to win me over, the usual espresso-based range is supplemented by a cafetiere option. Add to that the fact that my tea-drinking friend, Kate, raves about it (although her focus is mostly on the scrummy pancakes) and you know you are onto a winner.

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Uncommon Ground Coffee Roastery

The word "Uncommon GROUND COFFEE ROASTERY" written in black inside a white circle on a black background.Uncommon Ground Coffee Roastery is in Cardiff’s Royal Arcade. Dating from 1858, it’s the city’s oldest arcade and is one down from the Morgan Arcade, home of the venerable The Plan, Cardiff’s original speciality-café-in-an-arcade. Mind you, it seems that every arcade has a coffee or tea shop these days. Perhaps the Welsh Assembly passed a new law. Or maybe people have realised that lovely Victorian Arcades deserve lovely coffee shops… Either way, the arcade makes an excellent setting for Uncommon Ground.

Don’t be put off by the name, by the way. Uncommon Ground’s a lovely coffee shop, its interior and layout doing full justice to its elegant surroundings. There is a roaster, or there was when I was there, the original plan being to roast in the back of the store. However, problems with the gas supply led Uncommon Ground to relocate the roasting off-site. With luck, the new roastery should be up and running next month. Until then, the coffee is being roasted by North Star in Leeds. There’s a bespoke espresso blend, plus a couple of single-origins through the V60. If you’re hungry, there’s a good selection of cake and a small selection of sandwiches, Panini and wraps.

August 2017: It took Uncommon Ground a little while longer than expected to get the roastery up and running, but I'm pleased to report that as of April this year, Uncommon Ground is roasting a house-blend on espresso, plus two single-origins on filter, with plans for more to come. I tried the Latumba from the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a V60 and it was excellent.

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Washington Tea

Washington Tea, the new offshoot of Waterloo Tea, down in Penarth in the Washington BuildingsThis time last year I went to Cardiff for the first time with my Coffee Spot hat on and I liked what I found. A lot. So much so, that I promised myself I’d be back… So, after trips here, there and everywhere, a year has gone by and finally I found myself back in Cardiff, ostensibly visiting my friend Kate (the tea-drinker), although she knows me well enough to understand that many cafes will also be visited.

First stop was a short train-ride down the coast to Penarth, where the fabulous Waterloo Tea had opened its second outlet, Washington Tea, shortly after my visit last year.

“But, but…” I hear you splutter (or is that just me?), “it’s a tea shop!”

Well, yes it is, and, while it’s true that Waterloo Tea can be found in some of the best coffee shops in the country, the reverse is also true: some of the best coffee in the country can be found in Waterloo Tea… And in Washington Tea too, which also has a full food menu. Brunch is served all day on Sunday and it stays open late on Friday for live jazz, and five-course food and tea events.

September 2015: I’m delighted that Washington Tea won this year’s Lunch Business Awards Best Tea Experience. Congratulations!

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Waterloo Tea

A teapot brewing at Waterloo tea with dual egg timers (one orange, one green; what tea you have determines which one you use)Whisper it quietly, but I quite like Waterloo Tea, or the Waterloo Gardens Teahouse to give it its full name. No, seriously. Despite the obvious flaw (tea), it’s wonderful. It’s a bit of a trek from city centre Cardiff, but well worth the walk (or bus ride).

It’s in a lovely setting in a parade of shops, opposite a small park, and occupies what feels like an old shop. The space isn’t best suited to a café, resulting in a rather interesting layout. However, the atmosphere’s very welcoming and, if you can’t grab the sofa opposite the counter, go for one of the (very popular) window tables.

Waterloo Tea is passionate about its tea. The good news is it’s equally passionate about its coffee, taking as much care and attention over preparing the perfect cup as any speciality coffee shop I’ve seen. Honestly, I can only applaud, since speciality tea shops which takes this level of care (even for tea) are few and far between. The equally good news is that it seems to take just as much care over its cake as it does over the tea and coffee. Frankly, with a philosophy like that, you can’t go wrong!

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Wyndham Tea

The Waterloo Tea sign, hanging outside Wyndham Tea, Waterloo Tea's branch in Cardiff's Wyndham Arcade.Wyndham Tea is the third of Cardiff’s well-respected Waterloo Tea chain. Most unexpectedly for the Coffee Spot, I’ve actually visited them all in the order that they opened, starting with the original out in Pen Y Lan and continuing with Washington Tea in Penarth. Wyndham Tea is Waterloo Tea’s first foray into the city centre and, pleasing enough, is on the Wyndham Arcade, one arcade down from Uncommon Ground and two down from The Plan.

What you get with Wyndham Tea is everything you’ve come to expect from Waterloo Tea: a fantastic range of over 60 excellent loose-leaf teas, superb coffee (espresso and pour-over) from an ever-changing cast of roasters, fabulous food, all prepared on-site and a range of delicious cakes (now all baked on-site in the kitchen upstairs). All of this is in Waterloo Tea’s classiest setting yet, spread over two floors and spilling out into the arcade itself, where the pink and gold sofas make it hard to miss.

Best of all is that Waterloo Tea has now moved to full table service, reinforcing its notion of a “slow setting”, somewhere where you’re encourage to sit and linger; comfort, with a touch of class.

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