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.
October 2020: The Salisbury Coffee Lab has now closed, while the Coffee Lab as a whole is down to just three locations, two in Winchester and one in Stockbridge.
I first came across Society in its home city of Bath, where I managed to visit the two branches in the order that they opened, a rarity for the Coffee Spot, starting with Kingsmead Square before moving onto The Corridor. However, I’ve safely broken that trend by skipping the third Society Café, in Oxford, instead visiting the fourth and most recent branch which opened this summer in Bristol.
You’ll find Society Café down by the harbour, on the corner of Narrow Quay and Farr’s Lane, right next to the youth hostel. It’s a lovely setting, with lots of outdoor seating on the quayside as well as down Farr’s Lane, while there is even more seating inside, spread over two large, spacious areas, one either side of a central counter.
The coffee is always of the highest order, with the house-espresso, which changes monthly, coming from Origin. This is joined by a guest single-origin which changes every couple of weeks. Meanwhile there’s bulk-brew filter and another option on Aeropress, both of which change every week or so. If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s a wide selection of tea, plus a dedicated smoothie-bar, as well as sandwiches and cake if you’re hungry.
In my head, Brew is a brunch place that does excellent food, while serving good coffee from the local Clifton Coffee Roasters on espresso and guests on batch-brew. However, even that does it a disservice since the coffee is also excellent, lifting Brew into the category of a coffee destination in its own right, while the cakes are awesome too.
This is the fourth or fifth time that I’ve visited Brew and I’ve never been disappointed. On my previous trips I’ve never had the opportunity to write it up properly, which is a shame. I’ve either been in a hurry, or visited with friends, plus Brew is usually horrendously busy, which has ruled out taking photographs. However, on my most recent visit I ensured I had plenty of time and even popped back later in the afternoon for photos when things were quieter.
Bristol’s coffee scene continues to expand, with new additions every time I visit. One of the most recent, Coffee + Beer, opened at the end of the June, at the bottom of Cotham Hill. A stone’s throw from Clifton Down train station and Whiteladies Road, it’s an area already replete with the likes of Tradewind Espresso, Boston Tea Party, Bakesmiths and Brew. What makes Coffee + Beer stand out in this crowded market is that is sells, well, coffee and beer…
I found out about Coffee + Beer from my friend Bristol Café Watcher, who declared the coffee to be some of the best there is. Well, with recommendations like that, you can’t really go wrong, so I popped in two weeks ago only to find that I already knew the owner, the wonderful Dan (Williams), who I met in Oxford when he was one half of Zappi’s Bike Café.
Now Dan’s in Bristol, doing his own thing, selling beer and serving excellent coffee from a range of local (and not-so-local) roasters. There’s espresso, with six single-origins on pour-over using Kalita Wave filters and Marco Beverage Systems SP9s, plus tea from Jeeves and Jericho and a small selection of cake.
Alex Does Coffee, part of Bristol’s growing speciality coffee scene, has graced Old Market Street, just east of the city centre, since June last year, where it’s been joined more recently by 25A Old Market, which sits across the road. Located in spacious surroundings on the ground floor of Two’s Company, a creative hub and studios, Alex Does Coffee pretty much does what it says on the tin, with Alex doing coffee from an espresso machine on a counter at the back of the main space.
Alex Does Coffee has a concise espresso-based menu, focusing on doing a few things well, rather than trying to be all things to all people. The coffee is from the local Extract Coffee Roasters, while there’s also tea, hot chocolate, cold brew and soft drinks. If you want something sweet with your coffee, there’s a small selection of cake, including cookies, waffles and pastries.
This is the second of the bricks-and-mortar Tincan Coffees, the Bristol-based company which started life serving coffee from vintage Citroen vans. It follows hot on the heels of the first Tincan Coffee on North Street (ironically on the south side of Bristol). Clare Street opened at the end of last year, joining the cluster of speciality coffee places in the heart of Bristol, including the (now venerable) Small St Espresso and Full Court Press, along with relative newcomer Playground Coffee.
Tincan has a range of hot food from a brunch menu (served from 10am to 4pm), backed up with sandwiches and cakes served throughout the day. It’s a much larger space than its near-neighbours, probably offering more seating than all three combined!
The coffee is from Clifton Coffee Roasters, with a bespoke seasonal house-blend and single-origin on espresso, plus another single-origin on bulk-brew. Unusually, the single-origins on offer are different in the two Tincan branches (in my experience, for economies of scale, its usual have the same coffee at each branch). These are changed when the current batch runs out, usually every two weeks or so. For non-coffee drinkers, there’s tea from Brew Tea Co and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate.
December 2017: It appears that the Clare Street branch has closed, but the original North Street branch is still going strong. Thanks to Mike Stanbridge for the heads up.
25A Old Market is the younger sibling of No 12 Easton, and, like No 12, it has the virtue of using its address as its name. In this case, it’s on Bristol’s Old Market Street, east of the city centre and north of Temple Meads station, but within easy walking distance of both. As well as being a coffee shop of some note, the other thing it shares with No 12 is that it’s a deli and general provisions store.
Occupying a bright, uncluttered spot on the north side of Old Market Street, a relatively small street front belies the sizable interior. There’s limited seating upstairs with a communal table and two small bars, while downstairs, in a basement half open to the front window, is more seating in the shape of a couple of tables and a very comfortable-looking sofa.
The local Extract Coffee Roasters provide the house-espresso and a seasonal filter blend (available through the Clever Dripper) while regular guests make appearances on both espresso and filter. There’s also a wide range of (Extract) beans to buy. While it doesn’t have No 12’s extensive food menu, there are also decent breakfast, lunch and cake options if you’re hungry.
I first wrote about Small St Espresso at the start of 2013, at which point it was at the centre of Bristol’s growing speciality coffee scene, which included (the now closed) Wild at Heart and (the yet to be opened) Full Court Press over on Broad Street. These days, the centre has expanded to include the likes of Playground Coffee and the newly-opened Tincan Coffee Co.
This is actually my second update on Small St Espresso, which featured as the first Coffee Spot Update, published in June 2013. One of many excellent things about Small St Espresso is that it’s on Small Street (other street-named coffee shops take note!). It’s just as well that it wasn’t so named because it’s small, since, after the latest changes which prompted the latest update, I might have to start referring to it as not-so-Small Street espresso…
Yes, that’s right, Small St Espresso has had an extension. Although this hasn’t increased the physical space that much, it’s almost doubled the (admittedly limited) seating, but fortunately without changing the essential character of the place which makes Small Street so special. Talking of expansion, Small St has also opened a second branch, the lovely Little Victories.
Tincan Coffee Co started life with an old Citroën HY van. This turned into a fleet of vintage vans, serving coffee at events and festivals up and down the country. Then, almost a year ago to the day, Tincan went into bricks and mortar, opening this branch on Bristol’s North Street, confusingly on the south side of the city in Southville. Now there is a second branch in the city centre and rumours of more to come.
Tincan Coffee Co occupies a bright, south-facing spot, with seating outside on busy street and plenty more inside. There’s a window bar, booths and a neat alcove at the back. Coffee is from the local Clifton Coffee Roasters, with a bespoke seasonal house-blend and rotating single-origins on guest espresso and bulk-brew filter. Meanwhile there’s tea from Manchester’s Brew Tea Co and hot chocolate from old friends, Kokoa Collection.
If you’re hungry, Tincan has made the most of being indoors with a proper kitchen, serving an excellent brunch menu from eight in the morning (nine on Sunday) until three in the afternoon. This is backed up by a range of toasties and an impressive selection of cake which is available throughout the day.
Small St Espresso, which opened in 2012, was one of Bristol’s first speciality coffee shops and is still one of my favourites, a masterclass on how to run a coffee shop in a small, intimate space. When I visited at the start of 2016, there were rumours of a second Small St, and then, at the very end of the summer, it opened. Going by the name Little Victories and describing itself as a sister venue to Small St, it was a must-visit on my return to Bristol at the end of last year.
Located on the wonderfully-named Spike Island, south of Bristol’s Floating Harbour, Little Victories is part of the Wapping Wharf development, sitting at the bottom (northern) end of Gaol Ferry Steps. Occupying a ground floor corner unit, it’s a big, open space with enormously high ceilings.
Operating as a speciality coffee shop by day, it morphs into a casual bar in the evening (Wednesday to Saturday), bringing craft beer, small plates and coffee-based cocktails to Bristol. All the coffee is from local roasters, Clifton Coffee Roasters, with two options on espresso and two more on available as pour-overs through the Chemex, while bread comes from Hart’s Bakery.