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.
Although I don’t visit Chester that often, Moss Coffee, conveniently located between the bus and railway stations, has become a handy calling point when I’m in the city and in need of coffee before I catch my train. Like everyone else, Moss closed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, before reopening to provide a takeaway-only service, a decision largely dictated by the size/shape of the shop. Naturally, when I visited Chester on Friday, Moss Coffee was high on my list, and I was delighted to be able to call in, catching up with the owner, Daniel, over a flat white.
Other than Daniel wearing a mask, the only obvious change is the absence of seating. The stools are no longer at either the counter or the bar at the back, while the table in the window is similarly gone. Other than that, Moss looks (and is) remarkably similar, with Dark Woods still gracing the espresso machine, although since my last visit, Daniel has added batch brew to the menu, using the Sage Precision automated brewer. More good news, while Daniel only serves takeaway, Moss Coffee is one of the few places that is currently accepting customers’ own reusable cups.
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.
July 2020: The Flower Cup reopened on 4th July and is providing an almost identical service, albeit with slightly reduced seating capacity. You can see what I made of it when I visited at the start of August.
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.