The Espresso Library was, perhaps, one of the country’s most anticipated coffee shops. Announced on social media, it then took 18 months before it could finally open its doors at the start of 2015 on Cambridge’s East Road. It then took me another 18 months to get around to visiting it. However, I’m here to tell you that it’s well worth the wait!
A large, uncluttered, light-filled space, The Espresso Library combines excellent coffee with made-from-scratch food, cycling and art, the latter two reflecting the twin interests of owners, John (cycling) and Malgo (art). Malgo also brought the initial coffee expertise, having worked at the original Hot Numbers, where she met John, who was a customer. John quit his day job as a teacher and together they set up the Espresso Library.
The coffee is from fellow start-up, The Coffee Officina, who roast just over the border in northern Essex. The Coffee Officina supplies the house-blend and a single-origin guest on espresso, plus decaf, as well as up to eight single-origins for pour-over, although sometimes a few of these are provided by guest roasters. The espresso is made on a custom Slayer, while pour-over can be V60, Chemex or Aeropress.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
The Espresso Library is set back from the road on the ground floor of a modern, rather featureless block that seems out of place in historic Cambridge. What’s more, it provides excellent camouflage for what lies within, which is anything but featureless. Occupying a large, L-shaped space, there is plenty of seating inside, although if you prefer, you can sit at one of two picnic-style tables outside in front of the windows to the right of the door.
Going inside, the top stroke of the L is directly ahead of you, a spacious alcove occupied by a single, long communal table. The alcove’s left-hand wall is covered by a map of Cambridgeshire, marked up with the cycle routes. Strange contraptions, which turned out to be clever bike hangers, project from both the map and the back wall. If you want more individual-style seating, there are several comfy chairs immediately to the left of the door.
The bulk of the seating is to the right in the other part of the L, which is where you’ll find the counter, running almost the full width of the back wall. Between it and the floor-to-ceiling windows at the front are two long rows of two-person tables which immediately set me in mind of being back at school. If you don’t fancy those, there’s also a long line of bar stools at the window bar at the front and a smaller row of stools on the right-hand end of the counter. These are side-on to the counter, giving you the perfect view of the business end of the Slayer espresso machine which sits, facing the windows, at the counter’s right-hand end.
Finally, away to the right, beyond counter, windows and rows of tables, is one last seating area. This has a handful of armchairs, arranged in pairs around coffee tables, with a very comfortable looking sofa for good measure.
The décor is best described as eclectic. Reflecting its cycling aspect, The Espresso Library acts as a hub for the local cycling community, with the left-hand end of the store given over more to the two-wheeled community. To the right, the art takes over, The Espresso Library hosting curated exhibitions that change every couple of months. These two aspects combine in a line of vintage bicycles hanging from the ceiling parallel to the counter.
A word about the food, which is mostly vegetarian/vegan, using locally-sourced, organic ingredients wherever possible. The Espresso Library offers full breakfast and lunch menus which are, unusually, only served at breakfast-time and lunch-time respectively, with an all-day menu at weekends. All the food is made from scratch in the kitchen behind the counter and this philosophy extends to items such as the almond milk which is offered as a vegan alternative in milk-based drinks.
I believe it’s the first time that I had anything from The Coffee Officina. Spoilt for choice, I went with Malgo’s recommendation of the guest espresso, a single-origin Ethiopian Kochere. This arrived in a (comparatively) huge, but very stylish, cylindrical cup. It evolved in the drinking, smooth with the first sip, a little more acidic on the second, but still very well-balanced, with hints of fruitiness. The third and final sip had slightly more of everything.
I matched this with a slice of the sticky date and coconut cake. This was nothing short of excellent: sticky, but not too sticky; sweet, but not too sweet and all with a great date/toffee taste, plus a hint of coconut. It’s like a (cold) sticky toffee pudding cake, but without the custard. Instant front-runner for this year’s Best Cake Award!
|210 EAST ROAD • CAMBRIDGE • CB1 1BG|
|www.espressolibrary.com||+44 (0) 1223 367333|
|Monday||07:00 – 18:00||Roaster||The Coffee Officina (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||07:00 – 18:00||Seating||Tables, Comfy Chairs, Window-bar, Counter, Tables (outside)|
|Wednesday||07:00 – 18:00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Cake|
|Thursday||07:00 – 18:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||07:00 – 22:00||Cards||Amex, Mastercard, Visa|
|Saturday||07:00 – 22:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||08:00 – 18:00||Power||Limited|
|Chain||No||Visits||4th June 2016|
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