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.
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.
To start at the beginning, Exeter’s Exploding Bakery was always one of my favourite places and made a very early appearance on the Coffee Spot, being just the 20th place that I wrote about after I visited in 2012. Back then it was definitely a bakery that served coffee, with a couple of tables and an espresso machine tucked into a busy, thriving bakery, baristas and bakers sharing the space.
When I ran into the guys from the Exploding Bakery at the Caffè Culture Show in 2015, they excitedly told me about all the changes that they had made, leaving me itching for a return. However, Exeter isn’t somewhere that you casually pass by (not if you live in Guildford, anyway), so it wasn’t until January of this year, when I was on my way down to Torquay, that I had the opportunity to pop in and say hello the new-look Exploding Bakery.
September 2016: The Exploding Bakery has expanded once again, taking over the adjacent unit. You can still sit in the bakery and drink your coffee, but you’ll find the counter and most of the seating one door over to the right.
Café at 36 was the last stop on my mini coffee-tour of Exeter. It’s somewhere I’ve been aware of for a long while and have long wanted to visit. The other side of the River Ex from the city centre, and a stone’s throw away from Exeter St Thomas station (first stop south of Exeter St David’s on the line to Plymouth), it’s an easy, if not particularly pretty, 15 minute walk from the centre.
However, it’s definitely worth the walk (or the short train ride). Best described as a neighbourhood greasy spoon with excellent coffee, Café at 36 is worth a visit for the food, the cake or for the coffee (or any combination of the three). The menu is typical café fare: cooked breakfasts, panini, sandwiches, jacket potatoes, plus flans and various platters. One of the things that helps Café at 36 stand out from the crowd is a commitment to local sourcing wherever possible. The other, is, of course, the speciality coffee, which comes from Cornish roasters, Origin.
It’s a friendly, down-to-earth sort of place. You’re not going to find the latest single-origin pour-over filters on the menu, but that doesn’t stop it being an excellent spot.
Darkhorse Espresso is the brainchild of husband and wife team Neil and Sarah. It opened in the summer of 2013 and is a little off the beaten track on Exeter’s Magdalen Road. I say “off the beaten track” but it’s all of a 20 minute stroll from the centre. However, Exeter is sufficiently small that it feels a completely different world from the first two stops on my Exeter coffee tour: Devon Coffee and Artigiano Espresso.
However, it’s definitely worth the walk. It’s also worth your perseverance as you go past the local shops and a few cafés before they peter out, leaving you to wonder if Darkhorse is down here after all. Then, just as you are questioning your faith in Googlemaps, there it is!
There are many excellent reasons for taking this stroll. For a start, Darkhorse gets its coffee from London’s Ozone, which makes a change from Origin, the roaster, which, with the odd exception, seems to dominate Exeter. There is also tea from Tea Nation and cakes from another of my Exeter favourites, The Exploding Bakery. Add to that a quirky interior and a wonderfully warm welcome from my host, Sarah, and you’re onto a winner.
June 2016: heard the sad news that Darkhorse Espresso has had to close.
Ironically the first time I came across Artigiano was on twitter when it opened its first store in London near St Paul’s Cathedral. A second branch (now sadly closed) followed towards the end of 2013 on New Oxford Street, but I still didn’t get a chance to visit (since rectified). Then, when I was planning my trip to Exeter, up popped a tweet from Artigiano’s third branch. It was, I decided, fate.
In a further irony, despite setting up their first two cafes in London, Artigiano’s owners are actually from the Exeter area and, having established the concept, they opened their third branch closer to home just before Christmas.
The contrast between Artigiano and the first port of call on my Exeter trip, Devon Coffee, couldn’t be greater. While Devon Coffee is small and intimate, Artigiano is like a barn in comparison (albeit a very nice barn). A cathedral to coffee as customer put it (and I can see what he meant). You could easily fit most of Devon Coffee behind one of the two counters in Artigiano. The similarities don’t end there since both serve the same coffee from Cornwall roasters, Origin, although Artigiano has a much wider range of food, cake and alcohol.
August 2016: Artigiano has now added branches in Cardiff and Reading.
On Exeter’s Queen Street, next to Caffe Nero and just five doors down from the Boston Tea Party, you’ll find the delightful Devon Coffee. I’m not quite sure why I took so long to find it, other than the obvious excuse that it’s in Exeter and I live in Guildford. Even the Exeter excuse wears a bit thin when you consider that I’d previously made it as far as the Exploding Bakery (just up the street at Exeter Central Station) and the aforementioned Boston Tea Party. In my defence, when I was last in Exeter, Devon Coffee had only been open in its current guise for a month, but it’s not much of an excuse.
However, find it I did and it was the starting point of a day-long tour of some lovely coffee shops in Exeter which I’ll publish over the next few weeks. I have to say that I’d heard a lot about Devon Coffee and it more than lived up to expectations: it’s a lovely place and although it’s small, it doesn’t feel cramped. There’s excellent coffee and very fine pastries/cakes, all served by excellent staff. The only I things I didn’t sample were toasted sandwiches.
From the sublime to the ridiculous. One my recent South West tour, I went from the Exploding Bakery to the Exeter branch of the Boston Tea Party, just two minutes’ walk down Queens Street. From the outside, it’s not much to look at (although the building is stunning) and when you get in, it doesn’t improve much. The ground floor is cramped, narrow and crowded, especially when the lunchtime queue is almost out of the door. But walk upstairs and you’re into a whole new realm of space and light. In a matter of minutes, I’d gone from somewhere with five chairs and two tables to, well, I’d hate to have to count them, so let’s say somewhere that could seat 100 easily…
I was there to try out the new food menu, having been prompted (ordered?) by the Boston Tea Party’s head of food, Anita Popham, and I wasn’t disappointed. As for the Tea Party itself, it’s like all the branches I’ve been to; each is recognisably a Boston Tea Party, but each is its own unique place. It’ll never surpass Park Street in my affections, but if I lived in Exeter, I’d spend a lot of time there.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.