When visiting Oxford, don’t be seduced by the colleges’ gleaming spires in the centre. Oxford is a town that rewards exploring, particularly when it comes to coffee. Head east over the river and, after a short stroll, you’ll find yourself on the lively Cowley Road where there are two outstanding Coffee Spots, The Keen Bean Coffee Club and, just before it on the right, Quarter Horse Coffee.
Set up by co-owners, James and Nathan, Quarter Horse has been serving fine coffee to the Cowley Road for just over 18 months. Arriving at a time when Oxford was in danger of becoming a one-roaster town, Quarter Horse brought London’s Square Mile to Oxford (although it now roasts its own beans). Quarter Horse also started doing filter coffee (bulk brew, betraying Nathan’s American origins, and Aeropress) and continues its coffee education/evangelism with regular events such as monthly cupping classes.
In the same vein, Quarter Horse offers a Flight Test, a chance to taste the same bean as a straight espresso and in milk. I wish more places would offer this as an option since I often try an espresso and then wonder what it would taste like in milk (or vice-versa if I had it as a piccolo).
January 2017: With the move to Birmingham and to roasting its own coffee, the original Quarter House in Oxford has been taken over by Peloton Espresso. Expect an update as soon as I can get back to Oxford!
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Quarter Horse Coffee, with its striking blue exterior and prominent window bar, stands out not far along the Cowley Road as you head out of Oxford. It’s not a huge place, the low ceiling adding to the sense of intimacy. Despite having been around for a while, it has an air of having been thrown together. Partly, this is due to the scaffolding-and-wood-panel construction of the counter and some of the tables. That James and Nathan, with help from Square Mile’s John and Marty, did actually build it overnight might also have something to do with it!
The counter, located at the back on the right-hand side, occupies about a quarter of the store. Seating is provided by two window bars, one either side of the door, and tables, with a mix of stools and chairs. There’s a row of small tables down the left-hand side, with a large, six-person table between the counter and the window on the right. I was there twice, once on a Friday morning and the other time late on a Saturday afternoon; both times it was very busy, a testament to its popularity. Indeed, on Saturday, closing time (six o’clock) seemed to pass by largely unnoticed by the customers!
Because of the low ceilings, Quarter Horse isn’t particularly bright inside, despite windows running the full width of the store. However, it is saved by generous lighting and whitewashed walls at the back, the whitewash giving way to bare brick at the front. Both visits, I sat at the window bars, once on either side of the door. If you don’t mind sitting with your back to the rest of customers, these are great spots to perch and watch the world go by on the Crowley Road. You can even wave at coffee bloggers taking your picture if you like…
When it comes to coffee, Quarter Horse uses London’s Square Mile, which means the Red Brick seasonal blend. This has never been my favourite, but fortunately for me, there are plenty of options, with decaf, a guest espresso and various single-origins on the bulk-brew filter and Aeropress (all Square Mile). Quarter Horse also rotates guest roasters at weekends, including Scottish and Nordic roasters, bringing a wide range of coffee to Oxford. If that wasn’t enough, you can buy the (Square Mile) beans to take home with you. Finally, if coffee’s not your thing, Quarter Horse takes as much care over its tea, which comes from Cardiff’s renowned Waterloo Tea (who, in an interesting symmetry, use Square Mile coffee…).
I tried the Flight Test on my first visit, going for the decaf (a Guatemalan). Although I’m used to decaf beans having the same sort of flavour profiles as regular beans these days, I was nevertheless surprised at how bright and fruity it was; as a straight espresso, it had me pulling faces! On the other hand, this is Square Mile, so I shouldn’t have been that surprised. With milk, I had it as a flat white and, is often the case when I don’t like the espresso, I enjoyed it in milk, although I felt it got a little lost and might have done better as a piccolo. The milk itself was excellent, rich and foamy, the latte art holding all the way down the cup.
|76 COWLEY ROAD • OXFORD • OX4 1JB|
|http://quarterhorsecoffee.com||+44 (0) 1865 248808|
|Monday||08:00 – 19:00||Roaster||Quarter Horse (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||08:00 – 19:00||Seating||Bars, Tables, Chairs & Stools, Bench (outside)|
|Wednesday||08:00 – 19:00||Food||Sandwiches, Cake|
|Thursday||08:00 – 19:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||08:00 – 19:00||Cards||Cash Only|
|Saturday||09:00 – 18:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||10:00 – 18:00||Power||Limited|
|Chain||No||Visits||6th December 2013, 18th January 2014|
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