A short stroll down St Michael’s Street, just off Cornmarket Street, Oxford’s central thoroughfare, is the Bike Zone, a bicycle shop. What’s not immediately apparent, except to those in the know, is that it’s also home to Zappi’s Bike Café, one of Oxford’s best-kept secrets. Indeed, even walking past might not give it away, such is the small size of the sign, which advertises the presence (on the first floor) of this lovely little coffee spot.
Zappi’s Bike Café is not quite as well hidden as Newcastle’s Flat Caps Coffee, but it’s in that league. The small sign, well above eye-level, and a menu, painted on the door, are the only real giveaways. Even then you have to negotiate your way up a narrow, switch-back staircase and the make your way through the display room, past all the bikes, before you get to Zappi’s itself.
Zappi’s focus is on coffee, toasted sandwiches and banana bread, of which the staff are rightfully proud. The coffee comes from the local Ue Coffee Roasters, supplemented by a regularly-rotating guest blend. All the cakes, sandwiches and, most importantly, the banana bread, are made in the tiny kitchen behind the counter.
August 2017: Zappi’s has expanded to occupy the whole upper floor, and changed its name to the Handlebar Cafe. One of the Dans (Williams, no relation) has left and now runs Coffee + Beer in Bristol.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Mixing bicycles and coffee is nothing new (eg Look Mum No Hands, Daily Goods). Named after ex-professional cyclist and long-time Oxford resident, Flavio Zappi, Zappi’s is, ironically, run by two men named Dan. They set up the café in 2011 at the invitation of the Bike Zone’s owner, who had set aside space on the top floor specifically for a café. However, the Zappi connection lives on, with the Zappi cycle club calling the café home and descending en-mass after their bike rides on Saturdays.
In that respect, Zappi’s reminded me of New York City’s Gasoline Alley (which, despite the name, has strong cycling connections). However, in many other ways, Zappi’s is unique. It sits above the bicycle repair shop, sharing the upper floor with the sales room, a low partition separating it from the rows of bikes on display. Not that crossing into Zappi’s gets you away from the bikes since the place is full of cycling memorabilia. Indeed, there is even a full-sized bike up in the rafters should you momentarily forget where you are!
As a space, Zappi’s isn’t huge. To your left as you come through a gap in the partition, is the counter, separating the small kitchen from the rest of the shop. To the right are the tables, running away from the counter in rows. Immediately to your right are a couple of mini-booths built into the partition, each with space for a single, two-person table. Next, running down the centre of the room, is a double bench, with tables either side, while on the other side is another row of tables running along the far wall. Each row ends with a table by the generous windows at the right-hand end of the space, the opposite end from the counter. The final seating option is small bar to the right of the counter with three bar-chairs.
The windows flood Zappi’s with light, helped by a small set of windows at the back of the kitchen. The interior is done out in wood: wooden floor-boards and furniture, white-washed wooden rafters and boards at the window end, plus whitewashed bricks on the far wall. Although the tables are fairly tightly-packed, there’s a sense of light and space. This is helped by the high, v-shaped roof, open to the rafters, and the half-height partition. It would be a very different proposition if this was a full-height wall.
So, to the main event. Given its small size, Zappi’s only offers espresso-based drinks, with a fairly short menu offering the usual options. The two Dans would like to offer single-origin pour-overs, but the lack of space has held them back. As they explained to me, if they did pour-over, they would want to do it well and the space currently available precludes that.
I therefore went for an espresso, being rewarded with a very fine, traditional Italian espresso, expertly made Dan himself (no, not that Dan, the other one). At both Dans’ insistence, I had a slice of the famous banana bread which arrived slightly toasted and lightly buttered. It was sublime, full of flavour and body and yet with a melt-in-the-mouth texture. It was also very popular; while I stood at the counter, no fewer than five 900g loaves appeared, fresh out of the oven!
|28-32 ST MICHAEL’S STREET • OXFORD • OX1 2EB|
|Monday||08:00 – 17:30||Roasters||Ue Coffee Roasters + Guests (espresso)|
|Tuesday||08:00 – 17:30||Seating||Tables, Bar|
|Wednesday||08:00 – 17:30||Food||Toasted Sandwiches, Cake|
|Thursday||08:00 – 17:30||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||08:00 – 17:30||Payment||Cash Only|
|Saturday||08:00 – 17:30||Wifi||No|
|Sunday||10:30 – 16:00||Power||Limited|
|Chain||No||Visits||6th December 2013 & 18th January 2014|
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I’ve been a regular there whilst my period in Oxford.
Wonderful place, very well brewed coffee, and a nice variety of other treats.
Oxford coffee scene evolved significantly in the past 2 years and now there are few places serving excellent cups.
I agree with everything you say there. Lots of good coffee in Oxford now. Key an eye on the Coffee Spot over the next few weeks for some more great Oxford places.
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