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.
Cheltenham’s come a long way, coffee-wise, since I first visited in 2013. On Monday, I wrote about The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, which has, along with Studio Coffee Roasters, been leading the way since 2014, although today’s Coffee Spot, The Coffee Dispensary, is not far behind, having opened just over three years ago in October 2015. Like The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, it’s right in the centre of town, on Regent Street, by the Regent Arcade.
There’s an impressive selection of coffee. Bristol’s Extract Coffee Roasters is the mainstay, supplying the house espresso (which changes every few months), while the weekly-changing guests provide multiple single-origins on both espresso and filter. The Coffee Dispensary wants nothing less than the best coffee from the best roasters: during my visit this included Bath’s Colonna Coffee and Round Hill Roastery plus Birmingham’s Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters. Filter coffee is usually available through V60, but the staff will also do Chemex, Aeropress or Kalita Wave, plus there’s batch-brew. All the coffee is available to buy in retail bags.
Alternatively, there are ten teas, six hot chocolates and five chai lattes. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of sandwiches, plus cakes for those with a sweet tooth.
As I have noted before, Witney is not necessarily where you’d expect to find top-notch coffee shop. Impressive, then, that it’s home to several excellent places, including Coffeesmith, which was Witney’s first speciality coffee shop. These days Coffeesmith is part of a small chain of independent coffee shops, which include an old inn and an outpost in the Lake District, although this is where it all started just to the east of Witney’s Market Square on a quiet, pedestrianised street.
Occupying a simple, open space, with plenty of seats and a cluster of tables outside, Coffeesmith is a welcoming spot which attracts a wide-ranging local clientele, as well as the occasional passing coffee blogger. However, it’s far from the average café, with coffee from Origin on espresso and pour-over through V60/Aeropress. There’s also tea, hot chocolate, juices, smoothies and beer. If you’re hungry, the brunch menu features the likes of toast, porridge, bacon butties and various bagels and grilled sandwiches. If you fancy something less bread-based, there’s soup and salads, plus an ever-changing range of interesting specials chalked up above the counter. All of this is backed up with a range of cakes, while there’s fresh sourdough bread for sale.
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.
Continuing my theme of visiting Edinburgh and calling in on a coffee shop shortly after it opened, I present Cult Espresso. Unlike my previous victim, Fortitude, which opened four weeks prior to my visit, Cult Espresso opened on Monday and I was there on Thursday! I was already aware of Cult Espresso from social media, and when I heard on twitter that it had opened, I pencilled it in as a must-visit on my first day.
Run by father-and-son team, Kevin & Gary, Cult Espresso is, I think, the first to bring coffee from Bath’s Round Hill Roastery to Edinburgh on a permanent basis. Before setting up Cult, Gary ran a coffee kiosk on Dalmeny station. Originally using Lavazza coffee, it wasn’t long before Gary progressed to Round Hill, so was natural to continue the relationship when Cult opened.
I’ve been to several coffee shops that are corridor-like in layout (Goodge St Espresso and, in particular, NYC’s Gasoline Alley spring to mind). However, Cult takes this one step further by seeming to actually be built inside the corridor between two tenement buildings! While this sounds an unpromising set-up, it results in a lovely space, full of multiple, intimate little areas.