Cheltenham’s come a long way, coffee-wise, since I first visited in 2013. On Monday, I wrote about The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, which has, along with Studio Coffee Roasters, been leading the way since 2014, although today’s Coffee Spot, The Coffee Dispensary, is not far behind, having opened just over three years ago in October 2015. Like The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, it’s right in the centre of town, on Regent Street, by the Regent Arcade.
There’s an impressive selection of coffee. Bristol’s Extract Coffee Roasters is the mainstay, supplying the house espresso (which changes every few months), while the weekly-changing guests provide multiple single-origins on both espresso and filter. The Coffee Dispensary wants nothing less than the best coffee from the best roasters: during my visit this included Bath’s Colonna Coffee and Round Hill Roastery plus Birmingham’s Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters. Filter coffee is usually available through V60, but the staff will also do Chemex, Aeropress or Kalita Wave, plus there’s batch-brew. All the coffee is available to buy in retail bags.
Alternatively, there are ten teas, six hot chocolates and five chai lattes. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of sandwiches, plus cakes for those with a sweet tooth.
It’s been a very long time since I was in Cheltenham, with a visit well overdue, so when I got the chance to call in, I seized it with both hands. A lot has changed (and is still changing) in Cheltenham’s coffee scene, with today’s Coffee Spot, The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, leading the way. The Pod started life in September 2014, when it was, literally, just a cube, complete with espresso machine and roaster, around the corner from the current location.
The Scandinavian Coffee Pod moved into the Studios, a long, low single-storey building on Cheltenham’s Royal Well Place, 2½ years ago in 2016, the pod coming too. The original cube is now embedded into the front wall, which makes for an interesting architectural feature. Although bigger than it was, there’s still not that much space, the resulting coffee shop being best described as cosy, with a handful of tables and a pair of armchairs. That doesn’t stop The Scandinavian Coffee Pod from offering a house espresso from neighbours Studio Coffee Roasters, plus a choice of two pour-overs via the V60 (one from Studio, the other a guest). There are also small but tempting breakfast/lunch menus, plus plenty of cake.
On a busy corner in Stokes Croft in Bristol, opposite Cafe Kino, stands a five-sided building, home to one of a new breed of coffee shop. The Elemental Collective is many things to many people: as well as a coffee shop, it’s a greengrocers, selling fresh fruit and vegetables, a bakers, loaded with freshly-baked bread and pastries, plus a store, stocked with local produce, including milk and eggs. And it’s not just a coffee shop, since it’s also home to Triple Co Roast with the roastery clearly on show at the back on the right, while on the left the Elemental Espresso Bar serves Triple Co Roast’s output.
Triple Co Roast, which has built up an enviable reputation for roasting excellent coffee in a relatively short time, will feature in its own Meet the Roaster in due course, so this Coffee Spot will focus on the espresso bar. There’s a single-origin on espresso, with a different one on pour-over through the Clever Dripper. These change every month or so, although Jo, the man behind Triple Co Roast, doesn’t roast for a specific extraction method, so you may find a given coffee on espresso one month and on pour-over the next.
Like Berwick’s Steampunk and the somewhat closer Tincan Coffee Co in Bristol, Exeter’s Camper Coffee Co. is a coffee shop which started life in a van before moving into bricks and mortar. In this case, the van in question is Rosie, a 1964 VW Splitscreen Container Van, who is still going strong. There’s also a coffee shop at Exeter University, a hut at Exeter Chiefs rugby club and, since March 2016, today’s Coffee Spot in McCoys Arcade in the centre of Exeter.
Described to me by one of the baristas as the speciality wing of Camper Coffee Co., the shop serves a house-blend from Roastworks on espresso, which is joined by a guest, plus two more on filter. These change on a regular basis, Camper getting the coffee in 5kg batches and moving on when it’s gone, typically in seven to ten days. There’s also a well-stocked bar for beer, wine and cocktails, plus a range of sandwiches and cakes.
The space itself is quite small, tucked away right at the back of McCoys Arcade. However there’s a large outdoor seating area that’s not really outdoors, sheltering, as it does, under the soaring glass ceiling of the arcade courtyard.
Too often, speciality coffee fills a very specific niche in very specific types of coffee shops. While I’m as guilty as the next (probably more so) in celebrating and promoting this image, in order to thrive, I feel that speciality coffee needs to get beyond its niche and into more mainstream settings. Step forward The Epiphany, a lovely spot in the Royal West of England Academy (RWA), a leading art gallery in Bristol.
Filling the role of gallery coffee shop, The Epiphany is also a speciality coffee shop in its own right, serving local Extract Coffee Roasters on espresso, with regularly-rotating guests on filter, including, while I was there, a Guatemalan from Cornwall’s Yallah Coffee. The filter option changes weekly, with methods including V60, Kalita and Chemex, the particular method chosen to match that week’s coffee. There’s also a decent lunch menu, plus an interesting range of cakes, all prepared in the kitchen behind the counter.
The shop itself is delightful, a long, thin space with amazing, high ceilings. Even better, once you have ordered, you can go upstairs via the RWA’s glorious main staircase, and sit on the landing, or, if the weather’s nice, out on the spacious balcony.
Milk Teeth is one of a new band of speciality coffee shops in Bristol, opening in March last year following a successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s in Saint Paul’s, the area to the east of Stokes Croft, and is very firmly rooted in the local community, with the owner, Josh, who cut his teeth at the Boston Tea Party, living a couple of streets away.
Occupying a long, thin space facing the street, it’s actually just off Portland Square. It’s a friendly, welcoming space, which is open well into the evenings. Some have likened it to a social enterprise, but Josh dislikes the term, since he believes that all business can (and should) be carried out in a socially-conscious way. For Milk Teeth, this means using local suppliers and supporting local business, including using Milk Teeth to provide micro-finance to local start-ups.
Milk Teeth serves Extract’s Cast Iron blend on espresso, with rotating guest filter coffees on either bulk-brew or V60. Keeping it local, this includes Clifton Coffee Roasters, Roasted Rituals and Triple Co Roast. As well as coffee, there’s tea (Josh’s first love) and food, with concise breakfast and lunch menus. There’s also a range of local produce available to buy.
Exeter’s growing speciality coffee scene is mostly concentrated in and around the centre, particularly since Darkhorse Espresso out on the Magdalen Road closed a couple of years ago. However, this is changing with the Uprising Bakehouse, a bakery (the clue’s in the name) which doubles as a lovely café, serving breakfast, lunch and speciality coffee from Origin. There’s the ubiquitous Pathfinder blend, which is joined on espresso by decaf, while there’s also a single-origin batch-brew filter.
All the bread, as well as the cakes and pastries, are baked on-site, while all the food’s prepared at the back on an open counter-top kitchen. There’s not much seating, just two long benches, one at the front, where you get the smell of the coffee being ground, and one at the back, where you get the smell of baking in the morning and cooking throughout the day. Either way, you win.
March 2018: The Magdalen Road Bakery (as was) has had a re-brand and is now known as the Uprising Bakehouse. There’s also a sister bakehouse, the Town Mill Bakery, in Lyme Regis.
March Coffee is a relatively new name in Exeter’s small but growing speciality coffee scene, opening, appropriately enough, on 1st March 2017. All we really need is for the owner to be called David, but alas, he’s called John, a Devon lad who moved up to London, where he worked for the likes of TAP and Caravan King’s Cross, before returning to Exeter to open his own coffee shop.
March occupies a bright, open space on South Street, just behind the cathedral. The interior is beautifully uncluttered, with a variety of seating options. John, meanwhile, can be found behind the counter at the back, dispensing espresso-based drinks from a lovely three-group La Marzocco Strada espresso machine, complete with wooden side panels.
The coffee is usually from local roasters, Crankhouse Coffee, although John sometimes rings the changes and gets a different roaster in. The coffee is bought in small batches and when it’s gone, it’s onto something else. If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s tea from Canton Tea Co, just up the road in Bristol, as well as soft drinks from Luscombe. If you’re hungry, there are sandwiches and an impressive selection of cake for you to choose from.
Exe Coffee Roasters, just outside Exeter city centre, has a modest exterior behind which hides a surprisingly large coffee shop with a roastery in the basement and a brick-fired pizza oven in the back yard. Although it’s only been open since June 2015, in one form or another, Exe Coffee Roasters has been around for a long time. The owner, Steve, was the man behind Devon Coffee, still a fixture on Queen Street in the heart of Exeter, where it’s been for many years.
After years of running coffee events and Devon Coffee, Steve began roasting at the start of 2015, first with a hand-built roaster and now with the 12kg Probat you’ll find in the basement. Although still running coffee events, Devon Coffee was sold over the summer to allow Steve to concentrate on roasting.
Exe Coffee Roasters produces a seasonal espresso blend and two or three single-origins which are available through the V60 or Aeropress, with the option of a Chemex for groups. If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s loose-leaf tea, hot chocolate and a small selection of local craft beers and cider. Finally, there’s a similarly small selection of cake, toast and a choice of two toasties.
Coffee Lab is the rapidly-growing mini-chain, spreading out from its home in Winchester across Hampshire and into Salisbury, led by head-barista and six-time UK Latte Art Champion, Dhan Tamang. When I visited in November, this was the westernmost outpost of the Coffee Lab empire, although since then the Gloucester branch has opened its doors. Meanwhile, its march southwards has only been stopped by the sea. The status of its eastern and northern borders remain unclear, but I expect news in the near future…
Meanwhile, back to Salisbury, where the Coffee Lab is tucked away on a busy corner on the evocatively-named Blue Boar Row, just to the north of Salisbury’s medieval centre. There’s seating outside on the broad pavement or inside in a modest ground floor space. The coffee, as ever, is from The Roasting Party, with two blends on espresso, the house-blend (Create) and Thrive (Heisenberg). You can also have filter through V60 or Aeropress, with a choice of two single-origins, each of the stores having their own selection.
There’s also a wide selection of tea and soft drinks, while if you’re hungry, there’s a modest selection of sandwiches (which can be toasted) and an excellent range of cakes.