Last weekend I presented a brief history of speciality coffee in my hometown of Guildford. It was very much an introduction to this post, a round-up of what’s going on in Guildford in 2021, which itself follows on from my 2020 round-up. Back then, things were looking good, the town’s existing speciality coffee businesses having survived the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was even a new opening, Ceylon House of Coffee, to celebrate.
Since then, speciality coffee, like the hospitality industry as a whole, has taken another battering due to the pandemic, so as 2021 gets underway, I thought it was time to take stock of where things are. In this post, I’ll cast my eye over the town’s existing speciality coffee shops, as well as taking a look at the new openings, which have been springing up around the town, despite COVID-19’s best efforts.
Overall, while we’ve still got a long way to go, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about speciality coffee in Guildford. There’s a healthy mix of established players and newcomers, each of whom brings something different to the town, all backed up by a couple of great local roasters.
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.
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’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 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!
Once upon a time, there was a coffee roastery called Surrey Hills Coffee which (accidentally) opened a coffee shop in Guildford. That was in 2016, and soon the little coffee shop had outgrown its original home on Chapel Street, prompting a move in 2018 to bigger premises on Jeffries Passage, where, in the fullness of time, an upper floor seating area was added. And then COVID-19 came along and, like all the other coffee shops in Guildford, Surrey Hills had to close.
In many ways, COVID-19 was a blessing in disguise for Chris and Monika, the Swedish couple behind Surrey Hills Coffee. Temporarily released from the day-to-day grind of running the coffee shop, they were able to focus on the roastery, realising that this was their true passion. When the COVID-19 restrictions were eased in England, allowing the coffee shop to reopen, Chris and Monika had a decision to make. They didn’t want to close the coffee shop, but they also didn’t want to go back to the day-to-day management.
Fortunately, the solution presented itself in the shape of Koja, which opened on Thursday, 13th August, initially for takeaway only, but with plans for sit-in service in due course.
Not long after Canopy Coffee, Guildford’s multi-roaster speciality coffee shop, reopened on Saturday, 16th May, I was walking home past Krema Coffee, another of Guildford’s speciality coffee shops. Looking in the window, I saw an encouraging sign: Krema was reopening on the following Monday, 1st June. Naturally, I made sure I popped along and have been back a couple of times since.
Unlike Canopy, which has re-invented itself as a takeaway coffee shop, converting a side door into a serving hatch, Krema looks more like the coffee shop of old, although for now it is only offering a takeaway menu, with cake, having temporarily closed its kitchen. It’s still serving from the counter inside though, making use of its greater space to create an excellent one-way system, guiding customers from the door to the counter and back out again, all while keeping everyone at a safe distance from each other.
On March 15th, I was in Chicago, visiting Fairgrounds, Purple Llama and Intelligentsia in Wicker Park. The following day, I flew home. Little did I know that they would be the last coffee shops I’d visit with my Coffee Spot hat on for more than three months. On my return to the UK, I did my best to support my three local speciality coffee shops, but within a week, last of them, Surrey Hills Coffee, had joined the other two in temporarily closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
March turned into April and April turned into May and, while I wasn’t short of good coffee at home, I missed my local coffee shops, missed my flat whites (while I make good home pour-over and espresso, I’m still rubbish at milk) and missed my friends who worked there. Then, on Saturday, 16th May, exactly two months after leaving Chicago, I was in Guildford, shopping, and what did I see? Canopy Coffee. And it was open! Naturally, I forgot everything else and made a beeline for it!