I first heard of Open Grounds Café, another new addition to Guildford’s speciality coffee scene, in November last year, when Jonathon of Canopy Coffee tipped me off about a new coffee shop opening in the Baptist Church on Millmead, down by the river. I duly popped down in December, during that brief period when sit-in customers were allowed in the run-up to Christmas, but I didn’t have time to write it up. Then came further COVID-19 restrictions and Open Grounds switched to a takeaway operation.
However, at the start of April, the COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed, allowing coffee shops to serve customers at outdoor seating. This was something that Open Grounds, with a large terrace in front of the church, was ideally placed to take advantage of. I made a brief visit (on my way to a wedding) and then returned last week for a more in-depth look.
Open Grounds is very much a lunchtime coffee shop, opening from 10:00 to 14:00, with a standard espresso-based menu built around a single-origin Brazilian from Ethicaladdictions, plus decaf and batch brew filter. There’s tea, soft drinks, soup, a small selection of sandwiches and curry puffs, plus a range of cakes, scones and pastries.
Not that long after the Coffee Spot began, a speciality coffee shop, The Wren, opened inside an old church in the heart of the City of London. I was (and am) extremely fond of it and therefore am rather annoyed with myself that I’ve overlooked another coffee shop in a church, Host Café, which predates The Wren.
That I discovered it was purely by chance. Looking for the newly-opened Rosslyn Coffee last summer, I stumbled across the church, St Mary Aldermary, home to Host Café and just around the corner from Rosslyn. I vowed to return, but such has been my hectic travel schedule that I wasn’t able to keep my promise until just before Christmas.
Whereas the Wren feels like a church given over to a coffee shop, Host Café feels like a coffee shop in the back of the church. It makes for a magnificent setting, putting the church right in the heart of the community. When it comes to the coffee, there’s a blend plus decaf from Mission Coffee Works (another unsung hero of London’s speciality coffee scene), served from a standard espresso menu, along with an Aeropress option, plus sandwiches, soup and a selection of cakes.
To mark my return to the UK, Monday’s Coffee Spot is somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for all most as long as I’ve been doing the Coffee Spot. Expresso Base is in the courtyard of St George’s Church, near the British Museum and just across the way from the original site of Wild & Wood. It’s easy enough to miss and is closed over the weekend, which might go some way to explaining how I’ve managed to not go there for almost four years (which, incidentally, is how long Expresso Base has been going, having opened a few months before I started the Coffee Spot).
Essentially an outdoor café, Expresso Base occupies the right-hand side of the churchyard, with plenty of seating and a gazebo at the back which houses the two-group La Marzocco. If it’s raining, additional umbrellas, etc, can be put up to provide shelter, but on a sunny day, there’s nothing better than sitting on one of the wooden benches and enjoying your coffee in the sun. The coffee, from Has Bean, is always a single-origin and changes on a regular basis, while there’s a small selection of cake if you are hungry. There’s also a guest roaster which changes every week.
Set in the soaring nave of Christopher Wren’s St Nicholas Cole Abbey, The Wren’s quite possibly the most delightful coffee shop setting I’ve had the pleasure to step into. The only relevant question is what took me so long, since it’s been on my list from the day it opened!
Situated between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Thames, the church is accessed via a flight of steps, leading up from the busy dual carriageway that is Queen Victoria Street. You can sit outside if you like, either at a small, shady cluster of tables, tucked away around a corner at the bottom of the steps, or on the large, sun-drenched terraced at the top. For me, however, the real pleasure is in the gloriously spacious interior.
The coffee is from London’s Workshop, with the seasonal Cult of Done blend on espresso and rotating single origin beans on the V60 filter. Loose-leaf tea is from Merseyside’s Brew Tea Co and there’s a range of soft drinks. At lunchtime, there’s a choice of quiche, salad, soup and sandwiches, while for breakfast there are pastries, toast and granola. The food offering is rounded off with a small but interesting cake range.