Ox Coffee (Original)

A beautiful Gibraltar (Cortado) from Ox Coffee.Ox Coffee, on Philadelphia’s South Side, is a lovely spot and the first I saw in Philadelphia which wouldn’t have looked out of place in either New York City or London. It has the stripped-back, clean looks that I particularly associate with New York spots such as Gimme! Coffee or the Bluebird Coffee Shop. It also reminded me of London’s White Mulberries. Not that this is a knock on the other Philadelphia Coffee Spots, more a commentary on the rents: most places in (central) London or New York just can’t afford the sort of floor space I was regularly seeing in Philadelphia!

Ox has a similarly clean, stripped-back menu, with just a selection of cake to accompany the coffee, which comes from Stumptown. The standard Hair Bender espresso (a blend of five different beans) is supplemented by a single-origin espresso at weekends, with a choice of two beans on the bulk drip-filter. There’s also decaf on a separate grinder and plans for a third grinder so the single-origin can be offered all week.

Owners Max (who I met) and Will (who was having a rare day off, but who I met on my return in 2016) have created something special in Ox, a delightful, friendly neighbourhood spot.

March 2018: I’ve updated my piece on Ox Coffee. This is the original write-up, published in June 2014 and updated after my visit in February 2016. For an up-to-date description, please see the updated entry, while you can read about the most recent changes when I visited in March 2018.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • On sunny 3rd Street in Philadelphia, one finds Ox Coffee, complete with bench outside.
  • Nice window.
  • The view from the door: one of the least cluttered counters I've seen in a long time.
  • There's not much seating, just this bar opposite the counter...
  • ... and this lovely bench in the window and along part of the left-hand wall.
  • However, by the time you read this, the lovely back room should be open!
  • And indeed it is! I took this photo on my return in 2016.
  • Another view of the delightful, cosy back room.
  • However, there's even more. If the weather's good, you'll find this door at the back is open.
  • Head outside and down this narrow passage at the side of Ox and you'll come to...
  • ... this lovely, sheltered garden! It's ideal for sitting out in the warm weather.
  • However, it was a chilly -7C on my return, so let's go back inside, shall we?
  • I did like the artwork in the back room. This was from my visit in 2014.
  • Interesting juxtaposition. However, Ox rotates its artwork every two months or so.
  • When I returned in February 2016, these were some of the pictures on display in the back...
  • ... while this lovely painting was in the front, by the window.
  • The chandelier was one of the back room's many highlights (pun intended).
  • Not that the front part was too shabby on the lighting front.
  • Lights in a line...
  • Last one, I promise: and in close-up, tin ceiling behind/above.
  • The counter, seen from the back. Max is hard at work, Drew's by the window.
  • DSC_6331
  • Behind the counter is perhaps the best cup-dispensing system I've seen.
  • What a neat shelf of coffee-making kit (all for sale).
  • Talking of which, I wonder where the coffee is from...
  • Have you worked it out yet?
  • One of the more stripped-back menus I've seen.
  • Additional options on the side: Gibralter = Cortado.
  • The choice of beans while I was there, plus Hair Bender as standard on espresso.
  • There's also cake.
  • I was, for some reason, very taken with the iPad till system.
  • Max weighing out the beans for the filter coffee. Don't worry, it's bulk brew.
  • The twin-filter machines, allowing Ox to offer two options on drip.
  • I tried the Ethiopian Duromina.
  • But what about the espresso?
  • One of the problems with Coffee Bloggers is they can't stop taking pictures of everything!
  • Max makes me a Gibraltar.
  • I love watching good latte art...
  • It's a skill I sadly lack...
  • Here it comes...
  • ... the finishing flourish!
  • It tasted every bit as good as it looked by the way!
  • On my return, I had an equally good decaf Gibraltar, made by head barista, Nicole.
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Ox Coffee was part of my Sunday Coffee Spot tour of Philadelphia with Greg of Coffee Guru App fame, my local guide, and journalist, Drew Lazor, who was writing about my visit! Fame at last! You can read Drew’s piece on-line and also try Greg’s take on this leg of my trip.

Ox is a model of simplicity: rectangular in shape, the counter (a reverse-L) is on the left, taking up most of the space. There’s a low, L-shaped bench in the window to your left as you come in, while a narrow bar ahead of you, opposite the counter, provides the rest of the (interior) seating with its three stools.

The counter’s a generous size, with an uncluttered feel. The short side, holding the espresso machine, faces the window; the long side, opposite the bar, has brew bar and cakes. In size/layout (although not looks), it feels much like the front of Dunne Frankowski at Sharps in London, just without the barbers at the back. Talking of which…

Ox has a lovely little back room which I was allowed a sneak preview of on my first visit in 2014. I thought back then that it would be a cosy hideaway in the winter and a bright, airy space in the summer. Having been back in 2016, I can confirm that it lives up to its promise. It’s essentially square, with a bench against the right-hand wall, accompanied by a coffee table. The only other seating is a table extending from the left-hand wall, a pair of bar-stools on each side.

Ox opened on October 1st 2012, owners Max and Will taking a “steady as she goes” approach, such as getting the front section up and running before worrying about the back. On this basis, you can expect a few more changes along the way, such as the lovely garden, another new addition I discovered on my return in 2016.  Tucked away behind the shop and accessible through the back room, it’s about same size. A sheltered affair, with a brick wall on one side and a wooden fence on the other two, there’s enough space for four two-person tables. I imagine that in the summer it’s a lovely, sunny spot.

I was struck by how bright and welcoming Ox felt. The large windows at the front let in plenty of light on the sunny Sunday morning I was there, while there were plenty of light-bulbs hanging from the ceiling for gloomy days. This is helped by plain, whitewashed walls and widespread wood (floor, counter and furniture) plus a tin ceiling (a look which I love). The back room also felt bright and airy.

The atmosphere was rounded off by a great sound-track. Max and Will are musicians, music being very important to them, resulting in a vinyl deck at the back of the store, something which I’ve seen in a few coffee shops (eg Oxford’s Brew and Liverpool’s Bold Street Coffee).

So, to the coffee. Will spent five years as a roaster at Stumptown, which explains Ox’s choice of bean. In the long term, Ox wants to offer the single-origin as a permanent option for straight espresso, reserving Stumptown’s Hair Bender for milk-based drinks. I can confirm that the Hair Bender does indeed go well with milk, having had a very smooth Gibraltar (Cortado to you and me; Gibraltar being the west-coast term for it, named after the glass it’s served in; a Gibraltar).

There’s also the obligatory bulk-brew filter, with Ox offering a choice of beans (single-origin or blend). I tried the Ethiopia Duromina and found it to be very clean and fruity, not at all what I usually associate with bulk-brew filter.

www.oxcoffee.com +1 215 922 2531
Monday 07:00 – 17:00 Roaster Stumptown (espresso + bulk-brew)
Tuesday 07:00 – 17:00 Seating Benches, Bar, Tables, Bench & Tables (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 17:00 Food Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 17:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 18:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 08:00 – 18:00 Wifi No
Sunday 08:00 – 17:00 Power Yes
Chain No Visits Original: 9th March 2014
Updates: 11th February 2016, 3rd March 2018

Liked this? Then take a look at the Coffee Spot Guide to Philadelphia for more great coffee Spots.