With the COVID-19 situation getting worse every day (all UK coffee shops closed as of last night), now seems like a good time for a new Meet the Roaster feature.
I first visited Ue Coffee Roasters back in 2014 for a feature in Caffeine Magazine. In those days, the roastery, on Windrush Industrial Park, a couple of miles west of Witney, was a standalone operation. These days, it’s been joined by a lovely café & kitchen, which occupies the front of the building, the roastery still in its same old spot, a large, warehouse like space at the back, which you can see through the windows behind the counter. Even better, the café’s toilets are in the roastery, so you have a legitimate excuse to nose around!
Ue Coffee made its name as the UK’s only wood-fired roaster. However, it’s come a long way since then, launching a sister company, Jeeves & Jericho, offering artisan loose-leaf tea and opening not one, but two coffee shops. While still doing much of its roasting on its bespoke, wood-fired roaster, there’s a new, gas-fired 30kg Giesen, along with a sample roaster, reflecting a new emphasis on high-scoring single lots and micro-lots. There’s also a plan for a new organic roastery in Cheltenham, due to open later this year. With all that in mind, Amanda and I had a tour with head roaster, Jon.
I first went to Witney in 2014 to write about Ue Coffee for a feature in Caffeine Magazine. Back then, it was just a roaster (albeit the UK’s only wood-fired roaster), but Ue Coffee’s come a long way since then, launching a sister company, Jeeves & Jericho, which offers artisan loose-leaf tea, as well as opening not one, but two coffee shops in Witney. And then, if that wasn’t enough, it’s also opened a cafe at the roastery (for more on the roastery, check out the Meet the Roaster feature),
Ue Coffee’s on the Windrush Industrial Park, a couple of miles west of Witney, occupying a large, two-storey unit. Other than an eye-catching sign at the industrial park entrance, you wouldn’t know it was there, but despite that, the cafe was doing a roaring trade on the rainy Tuesday when Amanda and I visited.
Not that this is any old coffee bar attached to a roastery. Ue Coffee Roastery Cafe & Kitchen, to give it its full name, has a wide range of coffee, including any of the roastery’s single-origins or blends through V60, Chemex or Aeropress, plus the whole Jeeves & Jericho range of tea. If you’re hungry, there are full breakfast, brunch and lunch menus plus a generous cake selection.
I first went to Witney 2014 to visit Ue Coffee Roasters, out on the Windrush Industrial Park, a couple of miles west of the town. Since then, Ue Coffee has opened a pair of coffee shops, which I discovered when I returned in 2017. The first was the Ue Coffee Roasters True Artisan Café & Store, which opened on the High Street in 2016. The second followed the next year, located in The Old Smithy on Market Square, at the other (southern) end of the High Street. However, it wasn’t until this week that I had a chance to return to Witney to check it out, a mere 2½ years later…
The Old Smithy is a lovely old building (I couldn’t find out exactly how old, but I suspect several hundred years), with Ue Coffee occupying a single, ground floor room plus two more upstairs, the second one over the neighbouring opticians. It offers an espresso-based menu, with Ue’s house-blend joined by its decaf and a monthly guest. Alternatively, there’s a range of loose-leaf tea from sister company Jeeves & Jericho, with a range of cakes and a small selection of savoury items (sausage rolls and muffins) if you’re hungry.
As I have noted before, Witney is not necessarily where you’d expect to find top-notch coffee shop. Impressive, then, that it’s home to several excellent places, including Coffeesmith, which was Witney’s first speciality coffee shop. These days Coffeesmith is part of a small chain of independent coffee shops, which include an old inn and an outpost in the Lake District, although this is where it all started just to the east of Witney’s Market Square on a quiet, pedestrianised street.
Occupying a simple, open space, with plenty of seats and a cluster of tables outside, Coffeesmith is a welcoming spot which attracts a wide-ranging local clientele, as well as the occasional passing coffee blogger. However, it’s far from the average café, with coffee from Origin on espresso and pour-over through V60/Aeropress. There’s also tea, hot chocolate, juices, smoothies and beer. If you’re hungry, the brunch menu features the likes of toast, porridge, bacon butties and various bagels and grilled sandwiches. If you fancy something less bread-based, there’s soup and salads, plus an ever-changing range of interesting specials chalked up above the counter. All of this is backed up with a range of cakes, while there’s fresh sourdough bread for sale.
Witney, it turns out, has an excellent and well-developed coffee scene for what is a relatively small town in western Oxfordshire. This can partly be explained by the presence of Ue Coffee, which has its long-established roastery, complete with its own cafe, just west of the town on the Windrush Industrial Park, and has also opened two coffee shops in the town itself.
However, there’s more to Witney than Ue Coffee, as witnessed by a small slice of New Zealand which you can find tucked away off the High Street on the pedestrianised Wesley Walk. This piece of Kiwi-land goes by the name Eden Café and makes no bones about its antipodean heritage. Serving, appropriately enough, coffee from fellow Kiwi imports, Allpress, with the ubiquitous Redchurch blend gracing the espresso machine, you can be sure of a solid cup of coffee, plus a range of vegetarian cakes and food. There’s a heavy emphasis on vegan offerings, which isn’t something you see that often.
All this is squeezed into what I shall call an “interesting” space, essentially a triangle, with windows running along the front. There’s also plenty of seating outside on the quiet Wesley Walk, partially under the shelter of the eaves of the café.
Today’s Coffee Spot, Ue Coffee Roasters True Artisan Café & Store, in Witney, has the longest name of any coffee shop I’ve visited. Ue is, to my knowledge, the UK’s only wood-fired roaster, a rare breed which includes Speckled Ax in Portland (Maine). I first came across Ue back in 2014, when I visited Oxford for a feature in Caffeine Magazine. Based in nearby Witney, I came out to see the roastery, but back then there wasn’t much of a coffee scene in the town itself.
Fast forward 3+ years and how things have changed. Witney boasts several places worthy of a visit, including Eden Café and Coffeesmith, which were joined, in December 2016, by Ue’s True Artisan Café & Store. Unsurprisingly, the café serves as a showcase for Ue’s considerable output, with a house-blend and guest on espresso, and multiple single-origins (eight while I was there) on filter, through Aeropress, Chemex or V60. There’s also a range of loose-leaf tea from sister company Jeeves & Jericho, with a selection of sausage rolls and cake if you’re hungry. All of the coffee and tea, plus loads of gear, is available to buy, which covers the “store” part of the name.