Today’s Coffee Spot, Garden Social Coffee House, continues the exploration of Chester’s speciality coffee scene and how it’s expanding beyond the historic (and compact) city centre, which started with Monday’s Coffee Spot, Ginger Monkey Number 31. This time we’re northwest of the centre, heading in the direction of Blacon/Sealand, where I stumbled upon Garden Social. tucked away in the dense network of residential streets, lined with tightly-packed terrace houses, between the River Dee and the canal. As the name suggests, Garden Social has an outside seating area at the back, along with some well-spaced seating in the bright and airy interior.
Occupying what was an old-fashioned corner shop, there’s nothing old-fashioned about Garden Social, sporting a brand-new Eagle One espresso machine and its twin Mythos One grinders, serving up a house-blend (Jailbreak) and a regularly-changing single-origin. There’s also a filter option, available through AeroPress, Kalita Wave or Chemex (for two), grinding provided by the ubiquitous EK43, all the coffee coming from Has Bean. This is backed up by a selection of tea, hot chocolate and various iced drinks. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes, plus a concise toast-based breakfast menu, along with a handful of toasties and sandwiches.
To its credit, Chester’s rapidly expanding speciality coffee scene isn’t confined to the compact, historic city centre. For example, the pioneering Little Yellow Pig has been out in Hoole since 2014, joined by Short + Stout in 2018. Staying to the east of the centre, we now have Ginger Monkey Number 31, conveniently located at 31 Christleton Road in Boughton, a 20-minute stroll out from the city centre.
Ginger Monkey is a relatively new addition to the area, having relocated from its original home in Saltney (a little further out to the west of the city) in December 2020. It occupies a compact spot on the north side of the road, which means that it catches the sun for most of the day. There are a pair of benches outside on the pavement, along with a window-bar and a handful of tables inside.
The coffee is from Crosby Coffee Roasters, with its Trio blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a rotating guest roaster on batch brew. There’s a selection of tea and hot chocolate, along with various iced versions, but the other big draw is the food, concise breakfast and lunch menus being joined by an all-day brunch menu.
However, there have been changes. As well the (admittedly minor) physical ones, you’ll find a clear sign outside on the pavement reminding you that you must wear a mask. Meanwhile, there’s a QR code on the counter that you can scan, checking you in on the NHS COVID-19 app. Not all the changes are COVID-19 related though. Chalk Coffee used to use Origin for its house espresso, but it’s recently changed to Colonna Coffee, although Origin is still on decaf, while a regularly-changing guest roaster provides the second espresso option and filter. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, the usual cast of premade sandwiches and cakes are still available.
Jaunty Goat is one of Chester’s speciality coffee stalwarts, having relocated from a few doors along Bridge Street to its current location in 2015. I first visited in 2016, when it could be fairly described as a coffee shop doing good food, all in a lovely, basement-like interior that extends a long way back under the Rows above. There are even the remnants of a stone staircase in the wall at the back that might date back to the middle-ages.
Jaunty Goat was set up by twins, Patrick and Ed, with Ed leaving in 2018 to establish the nearby Chalk Coffee. Since then, Jaunty Goat has reinvented itself, considerably upping its food game to match the likes of The Flower Cup and Panna, serving a brunch menu until 4 o’clock. It’s also revamped and extended the interior, adding more table seating.
At the start of 2019, it opened a second, plant-based, location on Northgate Street, then, after reopening following the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions, Jaunty Goat itself has gone vegetarian. Finally, over the summer, it started roasting its own coffee in a dedicated, off-site roastery, with seasonal single-origin offerings on espresso (house, guest and decaf), plus another on pour-over (AeroPress/V60/Chemex).
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.
Today’s Coffee Spot Update features the last of the six coffee shops that I visited in Chester at the start of August, taking us to Hoole, on the other side of the train tracks from the city centre. This is home to Little Yellow Pig, a much-loved local institution which has been serving great coffee and awesome food to locals and visitors alike since 2014. I was a bit slow on the uptake though, my first visit not coming until the summer of 2018, although since then I’ve made a point of popping in a few times.
Little Yellow Pig reopened in June for takeaway coffee, fully reopening in July, when the restrictions were relaxed in England, although this has meant a reduced capacity due to social distancing requirements. While Little Yellow Pig is operating on temporarily reduced opening hours, the good news is that a full brunch menu is on offer, which is available for takeout as well. And, of course, there’s coffee. When I visited, Little Yellow Pig was moving its house roaster to the (relatively) nearby Hundred House Coffee, which will be supplying the house espresso and decaf, with regularly-rotating guests in the second hopper.
It feels like only yesterday that I was anxiously waiting for the opening of Short + Stout in Hoole, on the other side of the railway tracks from Chester station, but it was actually just over two years ago, in June 2018, that it first opened its doors. Occupying an interestingly-shaped building on a narrow corner at the end of two terraces, it’s pretty small and I worried about how it would cope, reopening during COVID-19. Similarly-sized coffee shops in Chester, such as Moss Coffee, have returned for takeaway only, while Obscure Coffee has yet to reopen. I feared that Short + Stout, with its focus on food, would not fare so well as a takeaway-only operation.
Fortunately, my fears have been misplaced. Short + Stout reopened for takeaway in June, adding its seating areas in July, when the COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed in England. Even better, it still offers its full breakfast, brunch and lunch menus, along with coffee from Ancoats Coffee Co. in Manchester, all served on/in proper plates and cups (like everywhere I visited in Chester). There’s seating upstairs and in the (new for me) basement, offering full table service, while there’s a dedicated queue for takeaway.
I first came across Panna in Liverpool at the end of 2015, catching up with owners Ivana and Peter once again at the end of last year after they’d successfully relocated Panna to Chester’s Watergate Street. They had done a good job of establishing Panna in the city’s booming speciality coffee scene when along came COVID-19. I was therefore delighted to see that Panna had reopened after the relaxing of the COVID-19 restrictions.
Naturally, there have been changes to keep everyone safe during the pandemic, the most obvious of which can be seen outside on Watergate Street. The street has been pedestrianised, and, as a result, Panna, along with some of the neighbouring business, has an expanded outside seating area. There are more changes inside, such as the inevitable thinning out of the seating, but perhaps the best news is what hasn’t changed, with Panna still offering its full range of coffee and its innovative all-day brunch menu, backed up by a range of cakes and pastries. And, of course, there’s Panna’s famous warm welcome.
Bean & Cole is another of Chester’s growing band of speciality coffee shops that has successfully reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic, initially just for takeaway, before including the seating area, albeit with fewer tables. The obvious changes aside (along with fewer tables, there are Perspex screens on the counter and stickers on the floor showing where to queue), Bean & Cole looks (and feels) much as it did before the COVID-19 pandemic, something I found in all of the coffee shops I visited in Chester.
The opening hours have been slightly reduced, as has the food menu, while Bean & Cole wasn’t serving filter coffee when I visited. That said, by the time you read this, it may well be back on the menu, with Round Hill lined up as the first of a rotating cast of guest roasters. Talking of coffee, the only other change pre-dates COVID-19, with Bean & Cole switching from Has Bean to Assembly on espresso, where it’s joined by a guest roaster, which was Ozone when I was there last week.
Chester’s The Flower Cup, tucked away on the upper level of the city’s famous Rows on Watergate Street, had already been open for three years by the time I belatedly visited at the very end of 2019. Serving some excellent breakfasts, brunches and lunches, backed up by Neighbourhood Coffee on espresso and pour-over, I was immediately impressed. Keen to make up for lost time, I returned in February and then along came COVID-19 to temporarily put an end to things. So, when I heard that The Flower Cup had reopened following the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions, it was top of my list when I returned to Chester on Friday.
Everywhere I’ve visited since the start of July has done a good job in retaining something of the pre COVID-19 atmosphere, but none has managed it quite as well as The Flower Cup. Despite the obvious changes (the sign at the door, the one-way system and the staff wearing masks for example), it really felt like The Flower Cup of old, a tribute to owner, Milli, manager, Laura, and all the staff. What’s more, The Flower Cup has retained its full menu, serving everything on proper plates, the drinks in proper cups.