Last month, Amanda and I paid a brief visit to Bath. After an afternoon exploring the fabulous Roman Baths, we retreated to the nearby Society Café in The Corridor, which I’d last visited just over five years ago, a quite shameful state of affairs that can only partly be blamed on my ridiculous travel schedule.
The second Society Café in Bath, after the original on Kingsmead Square, I found that, in many ways, little had changed, although for the last two years, Society has been using Origin as its house-roaster, rather than Round Hill Roastery (Round Hill still makes regular appearances as a guest). The upstairs had also received something of a makeover, introducing some more seating a giving the décor a little more colour.
However, the main change came when the basement was opened last year, doubling the amount of seating available. Naturally, Amanda and I had to explore.
On Bath’s High Street, close to the Cathedral/ Baths, opposite the Guildhall and with High Street chains Caffé Nero to one side, Starbucks to the other, it’s an unlikely, but welcome, location for an independent speciality coffee shop. This prime spot, at the eastern end of The Corridor, Bath’s Georgian shopping arcade, is home to the second of Bath’s two Society Cafés. A wonderful location, it’s probably the loveliest setting of all the Coffee Spots that I’ve visited in Bath.
I visited twice, first in 2014, and again five years later in 2019. Originally, Society used locals, Round Hill Roastery, as the house coffee, with a pair of single-origins, one on espresso, the other on filter, with a guest roaster also supplying a pair of single-origins for espresso/filter. However, in 2017, Society switched to Origin, again with a guest option (often Round Hill), with one filter made using theAeropress, the other on batch brew (replacing the original second option, the Clever Dripper).
If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s always a selection of loose-leaf tea and hot chocolate from old friends Kokoa Collection, as well as Willie’s Cacao. Add to that sandwiches and a great selection of cakes and you’re spoilt for choice!
It’s all well and good, visiting the historic sites of the wonderful city of Bath and trying all its fantastic Coffee Spots, but if you never leave the centre, you’re missing out. Head west for about a mile along Upper Bristol Road, north of the Avon, and you’ll come to the delightful Repack Espresso, one of the more recent additions to Bath’s growing coffee scene.
Repack’s lovely, very much the epitome of a neighbourhood Coffee Spot, and a labour of love for owner, head-barista, chief-bottle-washer and all-round good guy, Jonathon. Jonathon, who hails from nearby Wells, originally worked at Bath Spa University, a couple of miles further out. However, he’s another who found inspiration at the counter at Colonna & Small’s and gave up a career in university administration to set up his own coffee shop.
There’s not a lot to Repack, just enough space for a few seats, all clustered around the counter and its shiny Kees van der Westen espresso machine, a worthy centrepiece of any quality coffee shop. The house espresso is from nearby Round Hill Roastery, with regularly-rotating guest espressos and filters from the likes of Cornwall’s Origin, plus Nude Espresso and Square Mile from London.
May 2017: Sadly I’ve learnt the news that Repack Espresso closed, although I’ve not been able to find out any more details than that. Thanks to Nick for the heads-up.
For once I’ve done things the right way round. Regular readers will know that I have a habit of visiting cafés with multiple locations in the wrong order, starting with the most recent, before working my way back to the original. With Bath’s Society Café, I’ve managed to do the original on Kingsmead Square first, before I visited second, more recent branch, in The Corridor.
Society Café occupies a corner spot on the southern edge of Bath’s Kingsmead Square, surely the city’s café capital. Everywhere you look, there are cafés, including, on the opposite side of the square, the Boston Tea Party. Like the Tea Party, Society Café has a large outdoor seating area spilling out onto the square. It would make the perfect place to sit sipping your coffee if it weren’t for the fact that whenever I go to Bath, it pours with rain. It’s the Manchester of the South West!
Inside, Society Café sprawls (in a nice way) across multiple rooms and over two levels, with a cracking multiple-space basement. With coffee from local roaster Round Hill, and a selection of sandwiches and cake, it’s the perfect place to spend half an hour or all day!
August 2017: I’ve learnt that Society Café has switched its house roaster to Origin, although Round Hill still features regularly as a guest.
A relative newcomer to Bath’s rapidly-expanding coffee scene, the Forum Coffee House had only been open for a month when I visited it in October as part of my Caffeine Magazine trip. In a city which can boast the coffee legend that is Colonna & Small’s as well as some outstanding physical spaces, any newcomer needs something special about it in order to carve out its own niche.
Part of The Forum, Bath’s largest convert venue and an old Art Deco cinema, the Coffee House takes its lead from its surroundings, being a beautifully-appointed and fairly unique space. Its island counter is the focus of the coffee house, while simultaneously dividing it into a series of smaller, more intimate spaces.
However, the Forum Coffee House doesn’t rest on its laurels, backing this up with a strong coffee-offering from Bristol’s Clifton Coffee Company. A concise espresso-based menu (offering the house espresso-blend and a decaf) is supplemented by the Forum’s signature, a choice of two single-origin beans through the Chemex. While I was there, the options were Indonesian or Brazilian.
There’s also a decent range of tea, bottled beers, wine and soft drinks, plus a small range of bread-based snacks and cake.
Quite possibly the smallest Boston Tea Party and certainly the smallest I have visited, the Bath branch has a certain instant charm that I immediately fell in love with. I’ve written elsewhere about the Boston Tea Party chain and why I continue to seek out new branches. In that respect the Bath branch very much fits the mould. It is instantly a Boston Tea Party, but it’s also its own place, with a distinct character.
The Bath branch’s size is the main focus: whereas the majority of the other branches are in large buildings, often spread over two floors, the Bath branch is squeezed into what feels like two small shops with a connecting door. The counter and serving area are in one, while the main seating is in the other. If everyone squeezed in, you might get 30 people inside.
In fairness, you could probably get as many again in the nice-looking outdoor seating area. This is well-situated in a generous triangle of pavement on Kingsmead Square between Monmouth and Avon Streets. Unfortunately, while I was there, it was pouring with rain, so it was something of a non-starter, despite a generous awning.
So, finally, I made it to Bath and, naturally, had to make my first stop the legend that is Colonna & Small’s. I’d heard so much about it, and had so many people sing its praises, that I feared the reality would be a crushing disappointment. Fortunately Colonna & Small’s came through with flying colours.
The first thing that struck me is that it’s visually stunning with an unconventional layout (take a look at the gallery and the walk-through on Google Maps). It’s a lovely bright space (unsurprisingly, the building used to be an art gallery), with whitewashed walls and ceiling, pale blue tiles behind the counter, wooden floorboards and a wooden counter. Long and thin, its physical dimensions reminded me of TAP No 193, although the similarity ends there.
However, it’s the coffee that draws most people. Colonna & Small’s uses various roasters (Origin, Has Bean, Workshop, Extract and Round Hill Roastery to name a few), rotating the coffee regularly, often on a weekly basis. There are usually three options on espresso, three more on filter and a decaf on the espresso machine. Each is carefully chosen and presented so as to get the best from the bean.
March 2017: I’ve learnt that Colonna & Small’s now only serves coffee from Colonna Coffee.