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, 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!
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!
I first came across Surrey Hills Coffee in early 2016 at what was then Turn Fit Deli on Chapel Street in my hometown, Guildford. Although starting out as a deli, it quickly morphed into a coffee shop, supplied by Surrey Hills, which had started roasting in 2014, although Chris and Monika, the Swedish couple behind Surrey Hills, have a much longer involvement with coffee than that. In April 2016, Turn Fit decided to concentrate on its fitness business, and while Chris and Monika hadn’t planned on becoming coffee shop owners, they saw the opportunity and took over the lease to run the coffee shop themselves.
One thing led to another and by 2018, the original shop had moved to much bigger premises in Jeffries Passage. That same year, Surrey Hills opened its second coffee shop, The Pod at London Square, as well as growing a thriving, local wholesale business, supplying other cafes and retailers. Although the current COVID-19 pandemic has put the coffee shops on hold, this has, ironically, given Chris and Monika a chance to catch their breath and re-focus on the heart of their business, the roastery, which I learnt more about when we caught up last weekend.
A week ago, I’d just arrived in Chicago for work, having flown in from Atlanta. While there were worries around COVID-19, and people were taking precautions, everything seemed very normal. I went for a walk around the city and visited some coffee shops. That weekend now feels a very, very long time ago.
The day after I arrived, Sunday, 15th March, the Governor of Illinois announced the closure of all bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes to all except takeaway customers, and I made the decision to return home. I flew to Boston the following day and on Tuesday, I flew from a near-empty airport on a near-empty flight back to Heathrow.
Since then, I’ve been trying to readjust to life at home and practice social distancing, while continuing to work (I’m fortunate that I work remotely anyway and, for now, work is carrying on as normal). I’m also trying to support my local coffee businesses as best I can and for as long as I can.
Am I taking unreasonable risks? I don’t know. Am even doing the right thing? I don’t know. All I can tell you is that I’m asking myself those questions every day, re-evaluating, every day.
Speciality coffee shops on university campuses are something of a rarity, so imagine my surprise when this popped up on Instagram: a new speciality coffee shop on the University of Surrey’s Guildford Campus! I was in Ireland at the time, but I made visiting a priority on my return.
The Hideout is well-named since it’s not the easiest place to find, especially if you don’t know the campus (an address of University of Surrey, Guildford, doesn’t help!). It’s at the western end of campus in an old bank branch, opposite PATS Field. As an added bonus, it’s now on Google Maps.
Run by the welcoming duo of Beau and Charlie, it’s a large, relaxed spot, with an eclectic range of seating, from conventional tables to beanbags on the floor, plus there’s a bike shop on-site as well. The coffee is from old friends Union Hand-roasted, with the Bright Note blend on espresso, plus there are plans for batch brew filter in due course. In an interesting twist, The Hideout has done away with disposable takeaway cups, so don’t forget to bring your own cup if you’re not staying. Finally, if you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes and toast-based savouries.