This time last year I went to Cardiff for the first time with my Coffee Spot hat on and I liked what I found. A lot. So much so, that I promised myself I’d be back… So, after trips here, there and everywhere, a year has gone by and finally I found myself back in Cardiff, ostensibly visiting my friend Kate (the tea-drinker), although she knows me well enough to understand that many cafes will also be visited.
First stop was a short train-ride down the coast to Penarth, where the fabulous Waterloo Tea had opened its second outlet, Washington Tea, shortly after my visit last year.
“But, but…” I hear you splutter (or is that just me?), “it’s a tea shop!”
Well, yes it is, and, while it’s true that Waterloo Tea can be found in some of the best coffee shops in the country, the reverse is also true: some of the best coffee in the country can be found in Waterloo Tea… And in Washington Tea too, which also has a full food menu. Brunch is served all day on Sunday and it stays open late on Friday for live jazz, and five-course food and tea events.
September 2015: I’m delighted that Washington Tea won this year’s Lunch Business Awards Best Tea Experience. Congratulations!
Cardiff has two very different coffee spots within a stone’s throw of each other, right in the heart of the city. One is the delightful Coffee Barker in the Castle Arcade, with its all-devouring sofas, and the other is today’s Coffee Spot, the outstanding Plan Café Bar, over in the Morgan Arcade.
The Plan is rightfully proud of its coffee heritage and is leading the way in speciality coffee in Cardiff. It can boast, in head barista Trevor, a UK Barista Championship finalist, and the café itself can (and does) make much of its appearances in the Guardian and Independent’s top 50 cafés lists. It’s also in a stunningly good location for a café, right in the middle of the Morgan Arcade. Frankly, if I was choosing a spot for a café, I’m not sure I could have done better.
The coffee is from James’ Gourmet Coffee in Ross-on-Wye and, in a move surely designed to win me over, the usual espresso-based range is supplemented by a cafetiere option. Add to that the fact that my tea-drinking friend, Kate, raves about it (although her focus is mostly on the scrummy pancakes) and you know you are onto a winner.
Whisper it quietly, but I quite like Waterloo Tea, or the Waterloo Gardens Teahouse to give it its full name. No, seriously. Despite the obvious flaw (tea), it’s wonderful. It’s a bit of a trek from city centre Cardiff, but well worth the walk (or bus ride).
It’s in a lovely setting in a parade of shops, opposite a small park, and occupies what feels like an old shop. The space isn’t best suited to a café, resulting in a rather interesting layout. However, the atmosphere’s very welcoming and, if you can’t grab the sofa opposite the counter, go for one of the (very popular) window tables.
Waterloo Tea is passionate about its tea. The good news is it’s equally passionate about its coffee, taking as much care and attention over preparing the perfect cup as any speciality coffee shop I’ve seen. Honestly, I can only applaud, since speciality tea shops which takes this level of care (even for tea) are few and far between. The equally good news is that it seems to take just as much care over its cake as it does over the tea and coffee. Frankly, with a philosophy like that, you can’t go wrong!
It’s been many years since I was last in Cardiff and I’ve certainly never been there in my guise as a consumer of fine coffee. So, I was interested to see what the capital of the country of my birth had to offer and I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed. Leading the way, in rival arcades in the city centre, are two very different places, today’s Coffee Spot, Coffee Barker, and The Plan Café.
You’ll find Coffee Barker in the beautiful Victorian Castle Arcade. It has fiercely loyal customers: you know you are onto something good when you are interrupted in your chat with the baristas to be told, unprompted, by one of the customers: “best coffee in Cardiff”. Concise and to the point.
Whether it is the best coffee in Cardiff is up for debate. Certainly third-wave coffee purists will prefer The Plan, but if what you want (like me) is a no-nonsense espresso or a bucketful of cappuccino (not me!), then the delightful surroundings of Coffee Barker should put it top of your list. There’s also lots of cake and sandwiches if you’re feeling hungry.
No trip to Conwy is complete without a visit to Anna’s Tea Rooms & Coffee House. Okay, so Conwy’s got one of the best examples of King Edward I’s castles, which is a masterpiece of medieval military architecture, the most complete set of medieval walls in Britain and Plas Mawr, a fine, Elizabethan town house. But, but…, it’s also got Anna’s!
Situated above an outdoor shop on Conwy’s Castle Street, a stone’s throw from the castle itself, Anna’s is a complete gem. For a start, it serves coffee by the cafetiere, with 17 different beans to choose from. Tea drinkers are even better served, with 12 black teas, three fruit teas and nine loose-leaf teas. Then there’s the homemade cakes. And the homemade lunches. And the afternoon teas. And the ice-creams, and desserts, and, and, and…