Not long after I visited the original Hot Numbers on Cambridge’s Gwydir Street, back in September 2014, a new roastery/café was announced. Sadly it took me almost two years to get back to Cambridge to check it out, finally returning in June last year and again in September. This post is about the café-side of Hot Numbers, with the roastery appearing in its own Meet the Roaster feature in due course.
It’s all very different from Gwydir Street. Whereas that’s a large, open space, Trumpington Street is long and thin, with the counter at the front on the right and seating down either side. Looking at it, it’s a miracle that Hot Numbers managed to squeeze a roaster in, but it did, tucked in on the right-hand side at the back.
All the usual Hot Numbers coffee goodness is here, with two single-origins and a decaf available on espresso and two more on pour-over, plus a fifth on bulk-brew. There’s also lots of technology on show: a Sanremo Opera espresso machine, Mahlkönig Peak grinders & Marco Beverage Systems SP9s. These are backed up with a selection of loose-leaf tea, craft beer, wine, a small but decent food selection and some excellent cake choices.
Stir is part of a slow expansion of Cambridge’s speciality coffee scene, coming along after the trend-setters of Hot Numbers and The Espresso Library. Occupying a very large spot at the far end of Chesterton Road to the northeast of the centre, it has quickly built itself a loyal local following as well as starting to attract visitors from the wider area, including cyclists and rowers. The extra space afforded by Stir’s out-of-centre location allows it greater latitude, including a function room at the back that hosts a wide variety of clubs and a massive outdoor terrace where you can catch the sun, or just enjoy some fresh air. Dogs are also welcome and, indeed, encouraged (outside).
At the heart of the operation is coffee from local(ish) roasters, Butterworth & Son, from just over the border in Suffolk. Butterworth’s award-winning four-bean seasonal espresso blend is in the main hopper, with a single-origin espresso, which changes every month, in the second hopper. This is also available as bulk-brew filter if you are in a hurry. Food is an equally important part of the Stir offering, with an extensive breakfast (until noon), brunch (until 3pm) and lunch (noon until 4pm) menus.
I first visited Hot Numbers in the summer of 2014. Back then it was the one place that pretty much everyone had recommended to me in Cambridge. Café, single-origin roaster, music venue and, by association, art gallery, it had something for everyone and was pretty much the only speciality coffee place in town. How things have changed!
Now Cambridge boasts the The Espresso Library, Urban Larder and Novi in the centre of town, with Stir on the outskirts. There’s also a second Hot Numbers, a coffee shop which doubles as the roastery on Trumpington Street, which the staff were talking excitedly about during my visit in 2014 and which opened towards the end of that year.
With all that change going on, it was too much to ask that the original Hot Numbers on Gwydir Street would be unaffected. However, I was unprepared on my return earlier this year for just how much had changed! The good news, though, is that the most important thing hasn’t changed: the coffee. Still all roasted in-house, Hot Numbers still only serves single-origins, each carefully matched to how you’re drinking it. This includes options on espresso and pour-over via syphon, Aeropress and Clever Dripper.
Just to the east of Cambridge’s historic centre, on the busy Regent’s Road, you’ll find Novi, coffee shop and brunch spot by day, bar (and cocktail bar) by night. In keeping with the likes of Notes in London or Liverpool’s Filter + Fox, Novi combines speciality coffee and beer/wine/cocktails, but with the sort of food output you’d get from somewhere like Villiers Coffee Co.
A surprisingly large place, in a lovely, 1930s building, Novi occupies the ground floor, although there are plans to open the upstairs areas on a more permanent basis. There’s generous seating opposite the counter at the front, more seating towards the rear by the kitchen, and a small, enclosed courtyard out the back. With windows front and back, as well as down one side, it’s a bright, airy, uncluttered space.
The coffee is from Bury St Edmunds’ Frank and Earnest, with a single-origin on both espresso and pour-over through the V60. Coffee is served well into the evening, while there is beer, wine and cocktails until 3am! There’s food, with a full brunch menu served until four o’clock, plus a bar menu in the evening. And, of course, cake.
I’ve been consistently surprised at the size of Cambridge’s speciality coffee shops, such as Thursday’s Coffee Spot, The Espresso Library. To put it bluntly, they’re huge. Urban Larder, in contrast, redresses the balance, size-wise: a lovely, compact, cosy, friendly little shop. It’s a little way out of the centre, in a small parade of shops on The Broadway.
The coffee’s from Bury St Edmund’s Butterworth & Son, with its award-winning four-bean seasonal blend on espresso, plus decaf on a second grinder. Since my visit (starting from today in fact), the Urban Larder is also serving a single-origin as a pour-over using the V60. There’s also a range of Butterworth & Son loose-leaf teas.
However, that’s not all there is to the Urban Larder. Its other speciality is the cheese toastie, with a variety of interesting fillings to choose from. If only I was still doing the Coffee Spot’s Best Cheese Toastie Award… The larder part of the name is well served by rows of groceries on the shelves by the counter and against the left-hand wall, where you can pick up eggs, flour and an array of sauces and chutneys, reminding me of a smaller version of No 12 Easton.
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.
I first visited Hot Numbers on Gwydir Street in the summer of 2014, when it was the one place that pretty much everyone recommended to me in Cambridge. These days, there’s much more competition, with the second Hot Numbers (the cafe/roastery on Trumpington Street), plus the likes of The Espresso Library, Urban Larder and Novi, but the original Hot Numbers still has plenty to offer.
Spread over two large rooms on the ground floor of the old Dake’s brewery, Hot Numbers is a café, single-origin roaster and music venue. The coffee is the main draw, Hot Numbers only serving single-origins, all roasted in-house at Trumpington Street. There’s a choice of two espresso beans (with milk and without), plus decaf and another single-origin on offer through Aeropress, Clever Dripper or Syphon. There’s also a decent range of loose-leaf tea.
If you’re not that obsessive about your coffee, it’s still a great place. To start with, the atmosphere is lovely and you can sit in either of the two rooms, which offer a variety of seating. The cakes, with offerings from local bakers such as Afternoon Tease and Fitzbillies, are amazing, and there are decent breakfast and lunch menus too.