The biggest issue I had with Brew was finding it. About as far north from the centre of Oxford as Quarter Horse is east of it on the Cowley Road, Brew sits on North Parade Avenue between Banbury and Woodstock Road. Not that Google was having any of it, refusing even to acknowledge that Brew existed (the good news is that Brew’s now made it onto Googlemaps!). In the end, I was indebted to Dan of Zappi’s Bike Café for showing me the way.
Brew, however, is well worth finding. Owned by Drew and Will, the people behind The Keen Bean Coffee Club, Brew is a delightful little space, one of the most beautiful settings for a Coffee Spot that I’ve come across. As the name suggests, Brew’s focus is on filter coffee, rather than espresso, although that doesn’t stop it from having an iconic Elektra cylinder espresso machine gracing its counter-top.
Brew acts as a showcase for local Ue Coffee Roasters, carrying a full range of its beans for sale, three of which are available through the V60 filters on the counter. These rotate on a regular basis, a new bean coming on every six weeks or so.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Brew was, in the words of co-owner Drew, a “boring software shop” in a previous incarnation, but there is little evidence of that now. Brew has completely revamped the space, resulting in one of the most delightful settings for a coffee shop that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.
Essentially square, there’s not a lot to Brew. The door is in the left-hand corner, with the counter diagonally opposite. On the wall to the right of the counter is a large shelving unit, displaying Brew’s wide range of beans from Ue Coffee, along with a selection of coffee-making equipment. Directly opposite the counter is a large window, which floods the place with natural light, and around the remaining walls there’s a wooden bench, broken only for the door.
There are four small, two-person tables, two ahead of you by the window as you come in and two to your left. In all you could probably get 20 people seated inside, as long as everyone was very friendly. However, this didn’t stop a constant stream of people visiting during the two hours that I was there, a mix of takeaway customers and those looking for a longer stay.
The interior is done out in wood: wooden floorboards, bench, tables and counter, with half-height wood panelling on the walls. The top halves of the walls are painted a warm yellow, which goes well with the brass light-fittings and the brass cylinder of the Elektra. With perhaps a nod to the location of their other store (Keen Bean is located inside the Truck Record Store on the Cowley Road), Drew and Will have put a vinyl record player under the coffee shelf and encourage customers to select their own music.
So, to the coffee. With space at a premium, Brew has a cylindrical Elektra espresso machine. This fine, shiny beast looks as if it could have come straight out of the 1930s, but was, in fact, made in 2012! However, this leaves just enough room on the counter for a grinder, a rack with two V60 pour-over filters and a tray of cakes. There’s a second grinder down by the record player for the filter coffee.
The lack of a second, dedicated espresso-grinder doesn’t stop Brew offering a decaf option on the espresso machine; Drew simply takes the hopper off, flushes the grinder, then grinds a single dose of the decaf beans before reassembling the whole lot. Now that’s dedication!
However, I forwent the pleasures of the Elektra and selected the Sumatran Gegarang through the V60 since I was keen to try UE’s non-espresso offerings. I was rewarded with a very fine cup of coffee, with a complex taste, but not too fruity. I matched this with a red velvet cupcake which was just as good, rich, moist cake, thick, creamy icing, but not too sweet.
As well as the coffee, cake and setting, the other thing that really impressed me was Drew. In an industry full of engaging, friendly baristas, Drew really stood out as one of the happiest and friendliest I have come across. This friendliness is infectious, although as Drew himself points out, Brew is such a small place, there’s really nowhere to hide, forcing the customers to engage whether they like it or not!
|THE MIDDLE SHOP • NORTH PARADE • OXFORD|
|Monday||08:30 – 17:30||Roaster||Ue Coffee (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||08:30 – 17:30||Seating||Benches, Tables|
|Wednesday||08:30 – 17:30||Food||Cake|
|Thursday||08:30 – 17:30||Service||Counter|
|Friday||08:30 – 17:30||Payment||Cash Only|
|Saturday||10:00 – 17:00||Wifi||No|
|Sunday||10:00 – 17:00||Power||Limited|
|Chain||Local||Visits||18th January 2014|
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