Obscure Coffee

Climpson and Sons signature Estate Espresso in a lovely yellow cup at Obscure Coffee, Chester.Obscure Coffee by name, and, some might say, obscure by nature, although in reality, Obscure Coffee is only a few minutes’ walk from the heart of Chester, near the bottom of Lower Bridge Street, close to the city walls and the River Dee. It’s not even obscure by name, since, as owner Nick recounted, he’d wanted to call it Obscura Coffee, “obscura” being Spanish for “dark”. However, someone misheard him, thought he said “obscure” and the name stuck.

It’s a pretty small spot, with space inside for a handful of tables, while there’s a really cosy back room with four more tables and a pair of armchairs. All the coffee comes from Climpson and Sons, with Climpson’s signature Estate on espresso, joined by regularly-changing single-origins on batch brew through the Moccamaster. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes and pastries, plus sausage rolls, but that’s it.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Obscure Coffee at the lower end of Chester's Lower Bridge Street...
  • There's not a great deal to it: inset door to the right and large windows to the left...
  • ... with four low stools on the pavement for any hardy folks who want to sit outside.
  • The handy sign provides a useful sighter as you approach along the street...
  • ... while the name above the window confirms that you've reached your destination.
  • If you need some orientation, this is the view back towards Bridge Street.
  • Inside, the layout is fairly simple with the door on the right. However, this is from 2019...
  • ... when there was a window-bar at the front, table in the middle and counter at the back.
  • Fast-forward to 2020. The counter's still at the back, but the seating's completely changed.
  • Now four small, square tables run along a padded bench in an L-shaped arrangement...
  • ... which runs down the left-hand wall and continues across the window at the front.
  • A retail shelf runs along the right-hand wall (seen here in 2019). But, wait! What's that...
  • ... at the back? A narrow passage leads past the counter to a door in the back wall...
  • ... which leads to Obscure Coffee's cosy, windowless, backroom hideaway!
  • There's not much seating here, just these four tables which run along...
  • ... a wooden bench against the back wall...
  • ... and these two armchairs immediately to the left of the door.
  • The view from the other side.
  • And here's a view down the length of the (admittedly short) back room. But what's that...
  • ... in the corner, beyond the second armchair?
  • It's a neat little water fountain, with some glasses! How thoughtful.
  • Before we head back to the main part of Obscure Coffee...
  • ... let's take a look at the paintings on the back wall. There's more art...
  • ... in the front as well, with this picture of Natalie Wood on the wall on the right.
  • Meanwhile, there are three similar portraits on the left-hand wall, all by artist Pure Evil.
  • Despite the natural light, there are plenty of light bulbs, siuch as these in the windows...
  • ... which had me fascinated with their reflections in the windows.
  • There are more hanging above the counter.
  • And then there were the lights in the back room.
  • I think it's safe to call this a 'bespoke' light fitting.
  • You should also check out this awesome tiling in the toilet, which is behind the counter.
  • Down to business. The simple counter is at the back...
  • ... with the espresso machine on the left-hand end and the...
  • ... cakes and pastries on the right-hand side, behind the obligatory Perspex screens.
  • The menu, meanwhile, is on the back wall, above the Moccamaster batch brewer.
  • The concise menu is a joy to behold.
  • The Moccamaster in more detail, below the menu. However, on my first visit in 2019...
  • ... I had some espresso from the La Marzocoo at the end of the counter.
  • My epresso, Climpson and Sons' signature Estate espresso in a lovely, yellow cup.
  • On my return in 2020, I started off with a flat white, also made with the Estate espresso.
  • The lovely latte art is worth a second look. I followed this up with...
  • ... a cup of the Uraga Ethioian batch brew, which is where I'll leave you.
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Nick, along with partner Maz, opened Obscure Coffee in November 2018. Although relatively new to Chester’s growing speciality coffee scene, it has a strong pedigree, Nick having worked at both Artisan Roast and Brew Lab in Edinburgh. In size and style, it reminds me of another Chester newcomer, Moss Coffee, which predates Obscure by about a year. I must also thank Ed of Chalk Coffee for reminding me to pay Obscure a visit (and for the enthusiastic endorsement).

Obscure occupies a small shop front on the right as Lower Bridge Street slopes down towards the river. Although literally a few minutes from the city centre, it could be a different world down here, the streets much quieter. Obscure has an inset door on the right and a large, two-paned floor-to-ceiling window on the left, lined with four low stools on the pavement outside, although you’re better off heading in if you want a seat. Not that there’s that much more inside, at least not at first glance…

There’s an L-shaped arrangement of four two-person tables which run along padded benches down left-hand wall and along the window at the front, with the counter at the back. And that’s it, until you notice, at the back on the right, a short, narrow corridor. This leads past the counter to what might be Obscure’s best feature, it’s cosy back room, styled, in Nick’s words, after a speakeasy.

I loved it! The windowless room offers an immediate contrast to the sunlit front, providing the perfect hideaway if you want to escape from the world for an hour or two. There’s a pair of armchairs immediately to the left of the door and a row of four two-person tables along a wooden bench against the back wall, but that’s it.

Returning to the front, the counter has a simple layout, cakes and till to the right, two-group La Marzocco Linea espresso machine to the left, with the menu on the back wall along with the Moccamaster batch brewer. There’s also a small retail shelf on the right-hand wall where you can buy reusable cups and bags of coffee.

Talking of which, Obscure uses Climpson and Sons signature Estate espresso. I had this as an espresso on my first visit. The Estate espresso, at that point a washed single-origin Sidamo Sasaba from the Guji region of Ethiopia, was lovely, sweet and complex.

On my return the following year, the Estate espresso was another washed Ethiopian, this time the Kilenso Mokonisa from Sidamo. I had this as a flat white, where classic chocolate and toffee notes came strongly through the milk. Finally, Nick persuaded me to try the batch brew, another washed Ethiopian from the Guji region. This was the Uraga, a beautiful, smooth, floral coffee and definitely worth coming back for!

December 2019: Obscure Coffee was a runner-up for the 2019 Happiest Staff Award.

September 2020: this is an updated version of the original post which was published in May 2019. You can see what has changed in my Coffee Spot Update.

January 2022: Nick and Maz, the original owners of Obscure Coffee, have moved back to Edinburgh, but the good news is that one of Nick’s customers, Cem, along with his wife Burcu, have bought the coffee shop with the intention of carrying on Nick’s legacy. Oh, and now Obscure has a dog as well and he’s lovely!

Monday 09:00 – 17:00 Roaster Climpson & Sons (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 09:00 – 17:00 Seating Tables, Armchairs; Stools (outside)
Wednesday 09:00 – 17:00 Food Cake, Savouries
Thursday 09:00 – 17:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 09:00 – 17:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 09:00 – 17:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 09:00 – 17:00 Power Yes
Chain No Visits Original: 14th May 2019
Update: 11th September 2020
26th February 2022

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