Obscure Coffee Update

A lovely flat white, made with Climpson & Sons signature Estate espresso, served in a classic yellow cup at Obscure Coffee in Chester.My only disappointment from my visit to Chester at the start of August was the discovery that Obscure Coffee had yet to reopen after the enforced COVID-19 shutdown. Fortunately, I was tipped off a few weeks later by Glenn Mango on Instagram that Obscure was back, so I made sure to pop in when passing through Chester on my way home last week.

Obscure had only been open for two weeks at that point. While the basic set-up is the same, there have been plenty of changes since my first visit a year ago, some of which pre-date COVID-19. The seating has been upgraded in the front section, while Obscure no longer serves pour-overs, instead concentrating on its concise espresso menu, backed up by batch brew through the Moccamaster. The coffee is still from Climpson and Sons, while the warm, friendly welcome is as warm and friendly as ever.

You can see what else I found after the gallery.

  • Obscure Coffee at the lower end of Chester's Lower Bridge Street...
  • ... where I found a welcome sign, having called by in August and found it closed.
  • Here's the view front-on. As you can see...
  • ... not a great deal has changed since my first visit in 2019.
  • For example, the four small stools are still out there underneath the window...
  • ... while the name is still at the top, above the lights in the window.
  • However, step inside and things have changed! This is from 2019, with the window-bar...
  • ... at the front, a table in the middle and the 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...
  • ... down the left-hand wall and across the window at the front.
  • The rest is similar, with the retail shelf along the right-hand wall (seen here in 2019)...
  • ... still in place on my return.
  • The narrow passage still leads past the counter to the small room at the back...
  • ... which is much as it was before, with the row of four two-person tables along the...
  • ... back wall, seen here in 2019.
  • In fact, the only real difference are the two pictures on the wall above the bench.
  • The pair of armchairs to the left of the door are still there.
  • This is the view from the other side, which looks very similar to how it did...
  • ... in 2019, although the mat (seen in the previous picture) has been added since then.
  • A view down the length of the (admittedly short) back room.
  • I was pleased to see that the neat little water fountain, and its glasses, are still there.
  • Before we head back to the main part of Obscure Coffee...
  • ... let's take a look at the new paintings on the back wall. There's more new art...
  • ... in the front as well, with a new picture in blue being added to the wall on the right.
  • This replaces the red painting, which has now joined the other two on the left-hand wall.
  • Not everything has changed though. These light bulbs, seen in the windows in 2019...
  • .. were still there and still fascinating me on my latest visit.
  • See what I mean?
  • This time around, I was fascinated by the light fittings in the back room as well.
  • I think it's safe to call this a 'bespoke' light fitting.
  • I also checked out the awesome tilling in the toilet, which is behind the counter.
  • Down to business. The simple counter, seen here in 2019, is at the back...
  • ... with the espresso machine on the left-hand end.
  • The cakes and pastries are still on the right-hand side...
  • ... only these days, they are behind the obligatory Perspex screens.
  • The menu, meanwhile, is on the back wall, above the Moccamaster batch brewer.
  • On my most recent visit, I started off with a flat white...
  • ... with some lovely latte art, which I followed up with...
  • ... a cup of the Uraga Ethioian batch brew, which is where I'll leave you.
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From the street, Obscure Coffee looks like very little has changed, with the four low stools still outside on the pavement. However, a closer look through the windows reveals that all is not how it once was, something which is readily apparent as soon as you step inside.

The small, square front room still has the same basic layout, with the counter at the back on the left, the seating between it and the window. Meanwhile, the right-hand side is left clear, allowing unhindered passage from the door all the way to the even smaller room at the back.

The seating, however, has undergone a major upgrade. The four-person window-bar at the front, and the single, low coffee table at the back, have been replaced by an L-shaped arrangement of four tables which run along padded benches down left-hand wall and along the window at the front. Nick, who along with partner Maz, owns Obscure Coffee told me that the changes, which pre-date COVID-19, have significantly increased the seating capacity, with the added bonus that the bench seat doubles as much-needed storage space.

There are fewer changes in the small back room, where the seating remains essentially unchanged, the main additions being a mat under the pair of armchairs against the front wall and two pictures which now hang on the back wall, above the row of four tightly-packed tables. There’s also a new picture in the front, with Natalie Wood joining Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren Bacal and Liz Taylor, who are now all in a group on the left-hand wall.

Chatting with Nick, I asked why he hadn’t reopened earlier. Like many coffee shop owners I’d spoken to, he’d take the time provided by the enforced shutdown to reassess Obscure, while in the later stages, he and Maz travelled around the UK, making the most of the unexpected time off. Realising that once Obscure was back, there’d be no more holidays, they decided to have an extra few weeks to themselves, which struck me as eminently sensible!

Talking of time off, Obscure now no longer opens on Mondays, so Nick has at least one day of the week to himself, with Obscure also opening later, at 10 o’clock, instead of half past eight. Finally, he’s no longer offering pour-over, with just batch brew to complement the espresso-based menu.

Talking of which, I had a lovely flat white, made with the new Climpson and Sons signature Estate espresso, a washed single-origin Kilenso Mokonisa from the Sidamo region of Ethiopia, which had gone into the hopper the day before. It was lovely, very smooth in milk, with classic chocolate and toffee notes coming strongly through the milk.

Nick then persuaded me to try the batch brew, explaining that he was putting on a fresh brew of a beautiful (his description) Uraga Ethiopian, another washed coffee, this time from the Guji region. Well, how could I refuse? And he was right, it was beautiful, smooth and floral. Definitely worth waiting a month for!

There’s a full write-up of Obscure Coffee, including a complete gallery, in its main entry. You can also see what I made of it in my original write-up, from May 2019.

December 2020: Obscure Coffee has won the 2020 Best Physical Space Award.

Monday CLOSED Roaster Climpson & Sons (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 10:00 – 17:00 Seating Tables, Armchairs; Stools (outside)
Wednesday 10:00 – 17:00 Food Cake
Thursday 10:00 – 17:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 10:00 – 17:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 10:00 – 17:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 10:00 – 16:00 Power Yes
Chain No Visits Original: 14th May 2019
Update: 11th September 2020

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4 thoughts on “Obscure Coffee Update

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