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.
It’s with unexpected pleasure that I find myself writing about a new coffee shop (although pedants might argue with the use of the word “shop” here) when we’re right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite all the problems that 2020 brought to the hospitality industry, speciality coffee has been doing rather well here in Guildford, with several new openings, including the Ceylon House of Coffee.
The subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Lily London, is on a slightly smaller scale, occupying one of two old telephone boxes at the High Street end of Tunsgate, nestling around the back of the grand edifice that is Tunsgate Arch. Serving its own coffee, imported from Brazil by the owner, and roasted by Plot Roasting, Lily London offers a standard espresso-based menu, along with retail bags of the coffee. Unsurprisingly, it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.
Let’s get 2021 underway with a new Meet the Roaster and Chimney Fire Coffee. Started in his garden shed by Dan Webber in 2016, Chimney Fire moved to its current home in Ranmore Manor in the Surrey Hills in the summer of 2017. In theory, I could walk there and back in a day (as I did with Surrey Hills Coffee last May), but laziness/poor planning got the better of me, so I ended up driving over the week before Christmas when I unexpectedly found myself with a car and nowhere to go.
Like many roasters, Chimney Fire had its business model turned on its head by COVID-19, but is thriving despite this, expanding over the summer and recently employing two additional staff. Its Ranmore signature espresso is joined by a various single-origins with a variety of roasts: espresso, filter and onmi.
I’ve been enjoying Chimney Fire’s coffee for several years, often at Canopy Coffee (where it was a regular guest) and at home, with Chimney Fire being one of the first roasters I ordered from at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was therefore with great pleasure that I caught up with Dan and the team just before Christmas.
Sometimes, I feel that things are just meant to be. Unexpectedly finding myself with access to a car, some nice weather and a free afternoon, I decided to seek out somewhere for my daily walk that was slightly further afield than my immediate backyard. Scrolling around Google Maps, Heartwork Coffee Bar in Holmbury St Mary jumped out at me, largely because I know the area reasonably well and wasn’t aware of any coffee shops there. An hour later, I was pulling up outside Bulmer Farm, home of Heartwork.
Heartwork is located at the back of the farm, on Pasture Wood Road, just off the B2126. The heart of the operation is an old horsebox, converted into a coffee bar, with a serving hatch at the front. There’s a standard espresso-based menu, using a bespoke blend roasted for Heartwork, backed up by hot chocolate, tea and a small selection of cakes, sandwiches and wraps. If you want to stay, then there’s a selection of seating, from outdoor, stand-up tables and low benches to a pair of barns with more tables and straw bales for seating. Just be aware that Heartland only has takeaway cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.
Koja, a Swedish word meaning “a cosy little den”, came into being in August this year. On the one hand, it can be seen as the rebirth of Surrey Hills Coffee on Jeffries Passage, but it’s also very much its own place, resisting the temptation to become a clone of what had gone before.
When I visited, on Koja’s second day of trading, it was just offering takeaway service. As summer turned to autumn, Koja introduced limited seating downstairs, although I never seemed to be in the position to visit, either passing by at closing time (at the relatively early hour of two o’clock in the afternoon) or else it was a Saturday and very busy. With the tightening of COVID-19 restrictions in England at the start of November, Koja returned to takeaway only, and I thought it was high time I popped back to see how things were going.
Back in May, after two months of only drinking coffee I made myself, I visited the newly reopened Canopy Coffee, which, in the face of COVID-19, had reinvented itself as a takeaway coffee shop. On the back of that visit, I wrote my first COVID-19 update, which has grown into a series (with more than 25 posts), charting how coffee shops are adapting to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
In many ways, of all Guildford’s speciality coffee shops, Canopy was probably the best-placed to weather the new phase of England-wide COVID-19 restrictions, which came into force at the start of November. While other coffee shops, such as Krema Coffee, re-opened their indoor seating over the summer, Canopy, having effectively pivoted from being a sit-in coffee shop, has remained takeaway only throughout the pandemic. Earlier this week, I went back to where I started my COVID-19 Updates to see how Canopy was coping.
It takes a special business to open in the middle of a global pandemic, which is exactly what The Collective, in Caversham, did. In fairness, the plan had been to open a lot earlier, but in a story I hear all too often, there were problems with the fit out and then, just as The Collective was due to open in March, along came the COVID-19 shutdown.
Many would have given up at that point, but not Caversham residents, Sam and Susie, the driving force behind The Collective. Instead they pushed on, The Collective opening in June, initially for takeaway only, before fully opening for table service in mid-September. There’s a brunch menu, which is joined at 11 o’clock by the lunch and toastie menus, all the food cooked in the open kitchen behind the counter. This is backed up by a concise espresso-based menu featuring Extract Coffee Roasters’s Rocket espresso.
However, The Collective’s a lot more than just a café. It’s also a lifestyle store, which reminded me of the likes of Liverpool’s Thoughtfully Café, plus a grocer, selling milk, bread, eggs and more, which brought the likes of Bristol’s No 12 Easton and Elemental Collective to mind.
Anonymous Coffee Co., which is located inside the Tasting House on Chain Street, in the heart of Reading, is the latest venture of old friend of the Coffee Spot, Phil Carter. Technically, Anonymous extends no further than the neat wooden counter just inside the door, but in reality you’re free to roam anywhere over the Tasting House’s two floors, including the large upstairs seating area. The Tasting House, by the way, is a wine merchant/wine bar with a range of wines on (self-service) tap, so you can try multiple wines in one sitting if you want.
Returning to Anonymous, there are two options on espresso (“comfort” and “adventure”) with two more on pour-over through the V60. One espresso and one filter come from Union Hand-roasted, with the others coming from a regularly-changing guest roaster (during my visit, it was Walthamstow’s finest, Wood St Coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cakes available from Anonymous, or you can have something from the Tasting House kitchen, which offers toasties, charcuterie, crostini and various bar snacks.
It’s been a busy time, coffee-wise, in my hometown of Guildford, so I thought I would take the unusual step of writing a Coffee Spot Update for the town itself, rather than for each individual coffee shop. Perhaps the most exciting news is that, since the start of September, Guildford has a brand new coffee shop, the Ceylon House of Coffee, which I featured at the start of the week as Monday’s Coffee Spot. However, there have been plenty of other changes, including reopenings, changes of hours and a couple of places opening up their indoor seating. In fact, I think that the only place that hasn’t changed since I was last in town (in August!) is Canopy Coffee.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Guildford’s speciality coffee scene seems to be doing well. Depending on what you count, Guildford now has six specialty coffee shops, with only the Surrey Hills Coffee pod (serving the offices in London Square) unable to reopen at the moment. As with elsewhere in the country, however, circumstances are still challenging and, in light of recent events, the future is even more uncertain than before, so please do support your local coffee shops if you can.
It’s typical. I go away for a couple of weeks and someone opens a coffee shop in Guildford. I think every opening in the last three years has been while I’ve been away… The newcomer in this case is the Ceylon House of Coffee, an offshoot of the London House of Coffee, which, ironically, is in Colombo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon, as was). Meanwhile the Ceylon House of Coffee is in Guildford, occupying the old American Express building at the bottom of the High Street, a lovely, spacious spot with floor-to-ceiling windows, and plenty of well-separated tables and sofas.
What makes the Ceylon House of Coffee stand out from the crowd is that it only serves coffee from Sri Lanka, with the owner, xxx, attempting to recreate something of Sri Lanka’s heyday as a coffee-producing nation in the mid-19th century. For now, there’s only a single-option on espresso, along with a selection of Sri Lankan tea, plus a wide range of cakes.
The shop, meanwhile, is operating on reduced opening hours while everyone finds their feet, with drinks being served in disposable cups, although the staff are happy to accept customers’ reusable cups, so don’t forget to bring yours along!