The Espresso Library

A bike, hanging on the wall of the Espresso Library in Cambridge.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, on Cambridge's East Road, between the Fire and Police Stations.
  • The outside seating is well set back from the road.
  • The door, meanwhile, is even further set back on the left.
  • On the outside, looking in. Looks good though!
  • Useful info on the door.
  • Stepping inside, this is the view from near the door. There is seating ahead of you...
  • ... while to your right there's the counter...
  • ... and even more seating.
  • Is it me, or do the rows of tables make you feel like you're back at school?
  • The view from the far end of the counter, looking back towards the door.
  • You can sit here and watch the coffee being made if you want. The kitchen's off to the right.
  • Some of the seating in more detail. This is to the left of the door...
  • ... while this communal table is directly ahead.
  • Beyond the rows of tables in the main room you'll find this sofa...
  • ... or maybe these comfy chairs are more to your liking.
  • Or how about these?
  • Finally, if you don't fancy chairs, there's always a seat at the window bar.
  • Cycling is a big thing at the Espresso Library. These vintage machines hang from the ceiling.
  • One of the vintage bikes in detail.
  • This one, meanwhile, is a tad more modern and hangs on the wall...
  • ... which is, in fact, a map of Cambridgeshire with the cycle routes shown on it.
  • The Espresso Library is also big on art, holding regular, curated displays.
  • Some of the artwork on display by Emily Jolley during my visit in June.
  • More art? Or maps of Cambridgeshire showing cycle rides? You decide.
  • Check out the wall done out entirely in index-card file drawers...
  • This belonged to one of the owners' family. Now it's used as a retail display.
  • Espresso Library cycling team kit? Or someone who didn't pay  & was made an example of?
  • More family memorabilia. An oar from a Cambridge eight rowing team.
  • The Espresso Library has lots of light-fittings. These hang with the bicycles.
  • There are less fancy lights in the shape of these spotlights...
  • ... and more fancy ones in the shape of this chandelier.
  • These bare bulbs hang in the windows. But wait! What's that reflected in the central one?
  • Cool!
  • It's not just bikes and art (and coffee). There's food too!
  • And cake.
  • The impressive drinks menu is up above the counter...
  • ... along with this explanation next to the coffee menu.
  • Pride of place goes to this custom Slayer with its Cambridge Blue paint job.
  • The view from the other side, along with the grinder for the house blend.
  • More grinders are at the back: guest espresso & decaf, plus the EK-43 for everything else.
  • Some of the eight single-origin beans available for pour-over.
  • The business end of the Slayer.
  • I tried the guest espresso, a single-origin Kochere from Ethiopia.
  • The instagram view. Lovely Cambridge blue cups and saucers too.
  • I also had room for an awesome slice of the sticky date cake.
  • I'll leave you with this: a matcha latte. Pretty latte art, but far too green in my opinion!
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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!

December 2016: You might be surprised to learn that The Espresso Library has won the 2016 Best Cake Award! It was also a runner-up for the 2016 Brian’s Coffee Spot Special Award Award.

210 EAST ROAD • CAMBRIDGE • CB1 1BG +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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