There was a time when speciality coffee was hard to find in Chester. Then, suddenly there was a boom, with multiple places opening each year, a pace that shows no sign of slowing down. Bridge St Coffee, pleasingly on Chester’s Bridge Street, a few doors up from veteran Jaunty Goat joined the fray in 2018. In common with Jaunty Goat and other coffee shops under Chester’s famous Rows, such as Chalk Coffee and Panna Chester, Bridge St Coffee occupies a long, thin, basement-like space, with plenty of seating inside, plus a large outdoor seating area on the pavement of the pedestrianised street.
Although it proudly displays a Probat roaster in the window, that’s not yet in use, Bridge St Coffee using Manchester’s Heart & Graft for the time being, having a Colombian blend on its espresso-based menu. If you don’t fancy coffee, then there’s a selection of nine teas, nine juices/shakes plus hot chocolate. Bridge St Coffee is equally strong on its food offering, using local supplies to provide a comprehensive all-day breakfast menu, including various eggs-on-toast and avocado options, plus porridge, sandwiches, panini and soup of the day, which is backed up by a tasty selection of cakes.
Chester’s speciality coffee scene has been steadily growing over the last few years, particularly right in the city centre, along the twin axes of Bridge and Watergate Streets. Taking the second of these, Watergate Street has seen the likes of Chalk Coffee (2018) and Panna Chester (2019) opening in recent years, but predating them both, and somewhat unnoticed by me (my bad) is today’s Coffee Spot, The Flower Cup, which opened in 2016, putting it amongst Chester’s speciality coffee veterans.
Unusually for a city where coffee shops seem to specialise in the basement-like spaces under the Rows, The Flower Cup is on the upper floor on the south side of the street. A self-proclaimed “botanical coffee shop”, with a sister shop next door, The Violet Palm (a one-stop shop for houseplants), it’s true to the title, being festooned with flowers and plants. However, it’s a lot more than that, with coffee from Liverpool’s Neighbourhood Coffee on espresso and Clever Dripper, and an extensive, vegetarian- and vegan-friendly brunch menu of which it is rightly proud. It also has a lovely, warm, welcoming atmosphere, making it the sort of place where people linger for ages over their coffee or after their brunch.
I’ve been visiting Gourmet Coffee Bar & Kitchen at Crewe station for many years, picking up flat whites to go in my various reusable cups as I’ve changed trains, usually on my way to/from my Dad’s, so I thought it was about time I wrote it up. Gourmet Coffee has been going since 2007 and it’s been at Crewe since 2011. It now boasts coffee bars at 14 stations, mostly in the Midlands and North West, with outposts in Cardiff and Wrexham. There’s also a coffee bar on a Wrexham industrial estate.
Crewe has two Gourmet Coffee Bars, a smaller one on Platform 6 and the larger one on Platform 5, which I usually visit. Both have a similar offering, with a standard espresso-based menu and a range of sandwiches, crisps, cakes and pastries if you’re hungry. After years with Union Hand-roasted, Gourmet Coffee recently switched to Clifton Coffee Roasters.
I first came across Panna in Liverpool at the end of 2015, where owners Ivana and Peter, a friendly, welcoming Slovak couple, had turned a potentially unpromising basement in Silkhouse Court into a lovely, warm, welcoming café. There was some excellent food, along with coffee from Has Bean and local roasters Neighbourhood Coffee.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Silkhouse Court was sold and Ivana and Peter decided to relocate to Chester, opening five weeks ago on 15th August 2019, not long after my previous visit to Chester! In so doing, they’ve moved up in the world, quite literally in fact, swapping a basement for a ground floor space on Chester’s famous Rows on Watergate Street.
The good news is that they’ve brought the same warm, friendly atmosphere with them. For example, although it’s been four years since we last met, I was greeted like a long-lost friend! They’ve also brought the excellent food along in the shape of an all-day brunch menu with plenty of cakes and pastries. And then there’s the coffee, with two Has Bean blends on espresso and multiple guests on filter using a variety of brew methods, including Chemex, V60 and Aeropress.
Chester’s Bean & Cole has been on my radar since it opened in June 2018, but circumstances have always conspired against me. Until now, that is. Occupying a fairly small ground floor shop in a lovely old building on the semi-pedestrianised Frodsham Street, Bean & Cole is part of Chester’s growing speciality coffee scene, which has seen a flurry of openings in the last couple of years.
Bean & Cole serves Has Bean, with the ubiquitous Jailbreak Blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a guest. There are several filter options, including an Aeropress or V60 for one and a Chemex for two. The guest espresso and filter options are drawn from a wide variety of roasters and change every few weeks. There’s also a small selection of loose-leaf tea, a concise brunch menu with the likes of granola and various things on toast, plus a small range of cakes.
Chalk Coffee, which opened in August last year, might be a new name to Chester’s growing speciality coffee scene, but it has considerable pedigree, having been set up by Ed, who was one half of Jaunty Goat (the other half being his twin brother, Patrick). Like Jaunty Goat, Chalk is right in the heart of historic Chester, just around the corner, in fact, on Watergate Street, which also puts it just across the street from another Chester veteran, The Barista’s and newcomer, Panna. The shop itself is lovely, stretching a long way back under the rows above, giving it a basement-like feel, especially at the back.
Chalk Coffee’s focus is firmly on the coffee, offering Origin on both espresso, through a Victoria Arduino Black Eagle, and on batch brew. It started by offering the Pathfinder blend, but since the start of this year, Chalk has been experimenting with single-origins as well as blends. The Resolute blend was on during my visit, with a Colombian single-origin next in the rotation, Chalk switching over as and when the current coffee runs out. There’s also a single-origin on batch brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of sandwiches and wraps, plus there’s a selection of cake.
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 window bar and table, while there’s a really cosy back room with 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 options on batch brew through the Moccamaster and pour-over through the V60. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes and pastries, but that’s it.
I’ve had something of a hit-and-miss relationship with Atkinsons, the Lancaster-based coffee roaster and tea merchant. I’ve enjoyed Atkinsons’ coffee over the years and regularly run into the team at events such as the Manchester Coffee Festival. I even made a special stop in Lancaster in 2017 to visit one of the three Atkinson coffee shops there, but was foiled by IT problems which delayed my arrival until gone midnight…
I was therefore delighted when Atkinsons opened a coffee shop in the restored Mackie Mayor, Manchester’s old meat market, which dates from 1857. I even stayed on an extra day after the 2017 Manchester Coffee Festival in order to visit, only to find that Mackie Mayor, and hence Atkinsons, closes on Mondays…
Undaunted, I returned in 2018, this time before the Manchester Coffee Festival. Along with fellow coffee blogger, Charlotte Scotland (blogging as Coffee All Way), we paid Atkinsons a visit one Friday evening, taking advantage of its late opening hours. Along with a full espresso-based menu, with a choice of blend or decaf, there’s pour-over through the SP9, a selection of cake and cocktails, and, perhaps best of all, a working 100 year old Uno roaster in the corner!
Tib Street, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter (itself replete with multiple speciality coffee shops) is a busy place. At one end, there’s the venerable North Tea Power, while if you progress northeast, you’ll soon reach newcomers, Just Between Friends Coffee, closely followed by the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Siop Shop, across the road from the recently-closed Ezra To Go.
Siop Shop is a relative newcomer itself, having been open for precisely one week when I was last in Manchester (for the 2017 Manchester Coffee Festival). As a result, it didn’t quite make my radar, but on my return this year, it was high on my list. For those that don’t know, Siop (pronounced “shop”) is Welsh for shop. Iwan, who owns Siop Shop along with his partner, Lucy, is Welsh, Siop Shop providing a small slice of Wales in Manchester, complete with bilingual signs. You can even say hello and order in Welsh if you like!
Siop Shop made its name through its awesome doughnuts, but there’s also full breakfast and lunch menus, plus cake and sandwiches. Local roaster, Dark Woods, provides a bespoke house-blend (Coffi Coffee) on espresso, while there’s a daily guest on espresso and another on V60.
I’ve long been a fan of Heart & Graft, and its co-owner, James, having first met in 2013 at Coffee Fix in Gatley on the outskirts of Manchester. Back then James was running his first roastery, The Coffee Circle, while also working as a barista at Coffee Fix. However, by the time the first Manchester Coffee Festival (then known as Cup North) came around in 2014, James was installed in a new roastery in Artwork, the venue for the original Cup North. By then, the Coffee Circle had morphed into Heart & Graft and soon after, James teamed up with Sean, the two of them taking Heart & Graft from strength to strength.
Sadly I never managed to visit the original roastery, which closed down at the end of the summer, moving to a new space in Newton Heath. At the same time, Heart & Graft had the opportunity for a coffee shop under a railway arch in Salford, a few minutes’ walk from the original roastery, the shop opening in early October. Naturally, when I was back in Manchester at the start of the month for this year’s Manchester Coffee Festival, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to call in.