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 patio 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.
The Green Wood Café is in Coalbrookedale, a narrow, steep-sided valley which leads south into the famous Ironbridge Gorge a few hundred metres west of the famous bridge. Located in the Green Wood Centre, it’s nestled between the road and the disused railway line. The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on The Green Wood Café, which has only recently reopened, having been shut over the winter. Like many places, it has had to reinvent itself, but the good news is that it’s done a fantastic job, with excellent, well thought out systems and lots of lovely outdoor seating, including tables in the adjacent orchard.
For now, everything is served in compostable, single use containers, with a full, all-day brunch menu, including street food and toasted sandwiches, backed up by the range of cakes. Everything is vegetarian, with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. When it comes to the coffee, which uses the café’s own bespoke blend, oat milk is offered as standard, with dairy and soya milk as options. There’s also a wide range of tea and alternative drinks such as chai, beetroot, matcha and turmeric lattes (all of which have iced versions), backed up with smoothies and soft drinks.
Eighty Six’d was a (semi-) chance discovery in Ironbridge, where I’d gone to visit The Green Wood Café. However, tipped off by Hundred House, who I’d visited the day before, I took a wander along the river front and past the eponymous Ironbridge to the eastern end of town, where I found Eighty Six’d, occupying the first floor of a narrow, wedge-shaped building.
In pre-COVID times, you could go inside Eighty Six’d, which has the intriguing tagline “Art • Coffee • Cake”. Unfortunately, until the next relaxation of the COVID-19 restrictions which are due in mid-May, you’re limited to ordering something to go from the door, which you’ll find along the left-hand side of the building. There are various espresso-based drinks, with coffee from nearby Has Bean, loose-leaf tea, a selection of specialty drinks, light lunches, sandwiches and cakes.
The Table, which opened at the start of April, can lay claim to the title of Walsall’s first (and, for now, only) speciality coffee shop. The brainchild of Abby and James, it was set up as a community hub with the backing of the Walsall Community Church. Occupying part of a lovely, old building on the corner of Lower Hall Lane and Caldmore Road, it’s a few minutes’ walk from the train station in the centre of town. It’s also a great alternative to the motorway services, being under 10 minutes from both Junctions 9 and 10 on the M6, with plentiful (cheap) parking nearby.
For now, the spacious interior (The Table goes a long way back) is off-limits until the next set of COVID-19 restrictions are lifted (hopefully in May). However, there’s plenty of outside seating, and, with its location on a south-facing corner, it catches the sun. When it comes to coffee, The Table uses Bristol’s Odd Kin Coffee Roasters, with Walsall’s own Coffee by the Casuals on filter, although there are plans to add more guests in due course. There’s also Kokoa Collection hot chocolate, a selection of tea and a range of cakes if you’re hungry.
Espresso Farm has been on my radar since it opened in February 2019, but Saturday was the first opportunity I had to pay a visit. Located within Umberslade Farm Park, it’s just south of the M42/M40 junction, making it an excellent alternative to the motorway services if you need a break when travelling in either direction. It’s also worth a visit in its own right and, while it’s easiest to get to by car, if you don’t mind a 35-minute walk along the lanes (or 20 minutes across the fields) it’s also served by Danzey Station on the Birmingham to Stratford line.
For now, just the outside seating is open, but the good news is that there’s plenty of it and the Espresso Farm has the most wonderful setting. It helps that the coffee, from the nearby Monsoon Estates Coffee Company, is excellent, and while Espresso Farm is currently using disposable cups, the staff are happy if you bring your own. As well as the usual espresso-based drinks, there’s batch-brew filter, hot chocolate and a range of tea. If you’re hungry, Espresso Farm can offer an all-day breakfast menu, a selection of toasties and a wide range of cakes.
I’ve been aware of Redber Coffee Roasters, which was set up in 2012 (the same year as the Coffee Spot), for quite a while now. Located on an industrial estate in Merrow, just south of the train line from Guildford to London via Effingham Junction, the roastery is around an hour’s walk from my house. Unfortunately, it’s not the easiest place for me to get to, particularly without a car, nor is it really on my way to anywhere. However, when I learnt last week that Redber was opening an on-site coffee shop, I decided it was about time I paid a visit. It also helped that I had access to a car on Friday…
I visited The Old Roastery Coffee Shop at the end of its first week of trading. There’s a standard espresso-based menu using the Café Français blend, plus tea and hot chocolate, although for now it’s takeaway cups only (that said, the staff are happy if you bring your own). While the indoor seating is off-limits until the next round of COVID-19 restrictions are eased (hopefully in May), you are welcome to sit outside where there is a good selection of tables and chairs.
When it comes to my Guildford speciality coffee roundups during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Hideout, on the University of Surrey’s Stag Hill campus, is very much the forgotten party (by me, that is). The fact is, other than a short break during the early months of the pandemic (when the students went home), The Hideout has been open throughout the pandemic. My excuse, for what it’s worth, is that I’m hardly ever on that side of the river unless I’m going to Surrey Scorchers games at the weekend, when The Hideout is closed.
However, following my latest roundup, I thought I should rectify this oversight, so yesterday I popped up to a surprisingly busy campus to catch up with Beau and Charlie, the pair behind The Hideout. There have, inevitably, been some COVID-19 related changes, but the good news is that The Hideout is going strong after a lean time over the winter (when very few students were on campus). Best of all, the coffee, from old friends Union Hand-roasted, is as good as ever!
Welcome to my third COVID-19 update on the state of speciality coffee in my hometown of Guildford. My first update was back in September 2020, which looked at how the town’s speciality coffee businesses, having survived the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, were opening back up. There was even a new coffee shop, Ceylon House of Coffee, to celebrate!
My second update came at the start of 2021, when it was back to serving takeaway only. However, despite all the problems that the hospitality industry was facing, there were two more new coffee shops to celebrate, although technically one of them, Lily London, is a telephone box, with the other, Open Grounds Café, part of Guildford Baptist Church.
Since then, Guildford’s speciality coffee businesses have weathered the dark days of winter and, with the coming of spring, have something to look forward to. Starting on Monday (12th April), coffee shops in England have been allowed to serve customers at outdoor tables. Unfortunately, due to their diverse locations, not all of Guildford’s speciality coffee shops have been able to take full advantage of the latest easing of restrictions, but the good news is that everyone’s open and serving again.
Since then, speciality coffee, like the hospitality industry as a whole, has taken another battering due to the pandemic, so as 2021 gets underway, I thought it was time to take stock of where things are. In this post, I’ll cast my eye over the town’s existing speciality coffee shops, as well as taking a look at the new openings, which have been springing up around the town, despite COVID-19’s best efforts.
Overall, while we’ve still got a long way to go, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about speciality coffee in Guildford. There’s a healthy mix of established players and newcomers, each of whom brings something different to the town, all backed up by a couple of great local roasters.
Since I can’t travel anywhere (other than reliving past trips through the Travel Spot) and, with the odd exception, there are no new coffee shops to visit, I thought I’d write about my hometown of Guildford. As I noted last September, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Guildford’s speciality coffee scene did very well in 2020, this success continuing into 2021 with the opening of Lily London. This is something I’ll highlight in a future post, before I do that, I want to present a short history of speciality coffee in Guildford.
When I moved here in the late 1990s, my coffee choices were limited to the national chains and a handful of independents, but nothing that would count as speciality coffee (not that I knew what it was at the time). Back then, you’d have found me in the Costa Coffee on Swan Lane and, after that, in the Waterstones’ Costa on the High Street. Ironically, both have now closed, Swan Lane a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the Waterstones’ coffee shop went when Waterstones moved across the High Street and into smaller premises. The speciality story only really gets going in 2012, around the time I started the Coffee Spot.