A few months ago, I wrote an article on the creative benefits of working from a coffee shop. At the time a few readers got in touch asking for recommendations on where’s best to go in their area for a great coffee.
So this week, I decided to share with you all my top ten coffee houses from across the UK. Bear in mind, though, that these are my personal choices, and are only chosen from the ones I’ve visited (DISCLAIMER!). I can’t claim to have visited every coffee shop in the UK, but I know someone who is trying his best to…
Brian is a friend of the column and author of Brian’s Coffee Spot, and has always been my guide to the best speciality coffee shops when I arrive in a new city. He was kind enough to offer his two pennies worth on each of my choices, to give a voice of authority and balance to proceedings
Brian says: Thanks, but I think you over-state my credentials!!
Thanks Brian, and welcome to Abe’s Coffee Column.
So let’s get started. Come along for a sensory coffee journey with Brian and I, starting in Bristol….
10. No.12 Easton, Bristol
No.12 Easton is a friendly, airy local corner café with whitewashed walls and a welcoming, rustic warmth. They sell local, seasonal produce alongside a counter adorned with treats from Bristol’s Harts Bakery, and brew a very tasty coffee from Extract coffee roasters. The staff are friendly, and when the locals are in, you feel like your hanging in the Easton community living room!
Brian says: Rather embarrassingly, you’ve managed to start with one that I’ve not been to, although I’ve very familiar with both Extract’s coffee and Hart’s Bakery’s amazing cakes! It’s also just the other side of the M32 from the Extract Roastery, so the beans don’t have far to travel.
Grindsmiths was started by a University friend of mine, Pete, and his business partner (you’ll actually find my name on the counter of his first pod in Greengate Square!). They are still young, but growing quickly, and now lead the Manchester coffee scene with their new shop in Deansgate, the pod and their mobile coffee trike.
Brian says: snap! The Coffee Spot’s on the counter at the pod too. The pod’s an amazing little space, so comfortable, not what I was expecting at all (in my head, I had a picture of a shipping container). The new place on Deansgate is even better, with soaring brick arches. The coffee is superb too, led by Manchester roaster, Heart & Graft.
I’ve only been here once, so I’ll look to Brian for a little more authority on this one, but my one experience was a good one. After a while wandering up and down Ridley Place in Newcastle looking for it, I enjoyed two flat whites courtesy of Joe, owner and UK Barista Championships finalist. Flatcaps has taken great coffee underground, literally! Worth hunting for…
Brian says: Definitely! One of my favourites, it takes some finding, but it’s definitely worth it. I’ve spent many an hour sat at the counter, chatting coffee with Joe. Using Has Bean coffee, Joe’s always changing up the beans, so you’ll be in for an interesting cup whenever you call in.
Flat Caps Coffee: http://www.brian-coffee-spot.com/2015/08/26/flat-caps-coffee-update/
You could say that my coffee education began with Artisan Roast. They supplied and trained us in my first Barista job, and in the years since I’ve frequented their shops on Gibson Street in Glasgow and Broughton Street in Edinburgh. Two great coffee dens to hide away with some of the best stuff Scotland has to offer.
Brian says: Like you, my coffee journey has its origins in the original Artisan Roast on Broughton Street. I remember going there not long after they’d opened, and long before my Coffee Spot days, when they tried to convince me to set up a roastery… The Mooch (the cosy room at the back) is ideal for a winter’s day, while I love the mezzanine level at Gibson Street. However, my heart’s been stolen by the sun-drenched Stockbridge branch which opened this year.
My first Steampunk experience was after a cold night sleeping beside a fire in a forest on Scotland’s East coast. I couldn’t believe my eyes when we arrived in tiny North Berwick, bleary eyed and smelling of damp and woodsmoke, and came across this champion of speciality coffee.
Steampunk roast their own at The Warehouse, where you can enjoy your coffee in industrial surroundings, on vintage furniture and with the warmth of multiple woodburners.
Brian says: My first experience was drinking Steampunk’s coffee in Machine Espresso in Edinburgh. I was so impressed, I tracked down the roaster in North Berwick and I wasn’t disappointed. Housed in an old warehouse/workshop and spread over two floors, this has everything: café, roastery, restaurant. Great coffee, great food and a very warm welcome.
The original Society Café vies for attention on central Kingsmead Square amongst the likes of Boston Tea Party and other chains. Its environment is bright and laid-back, and they serve fantastic coffee. Most of their coffee comes from local roasters Round Hill, but they occasionally stock guest brews from the likes of Workshop. They are staking their claim on Bath, opening a second shop in The Corridor last year.
Brian says: The two Society Cafés are very contrasting places. The original, on Kingsmead Square, is a sprawling complex of interconnected rooms, including a lovely pair of basement rooms. The new branch in the Corridor brings speciality coffee to Bath’s High Street in a lovely setting, with windows for walls and the same devotion to high-quality coffee.
For a schooling on how to drink great coffee, head to Brew Lab. Brew Lab are meticulous in everything they do, from single origin brews on filter, espresso, syphon, to their artisanal food and state-of-the-art Barista training lab.
Brian says: Brew Lab played an important role in my conversion from dedicated espresso-drinker to champion of hand-pour single-origin filters. It’s all served in a fantastic space in the heart of Edinburgh university territory, so, in term-time, you’ll need to fight for a seat. Although Brew Lab’s been there for over three years now, it still has a slightly unfinished look to it…
So we’re down to the top three, and the base of the 2014 UK Barista Champion and UK coffee pioneer, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood. Alongside three espresso blends and three single origin filters, you can enjoy warm and engaging chat from knowledgeable baristas at his flagship shop in Bath. This is coffee at its most exciting, and Colonna and Small’s is a bright light in the future of speciality coffee in the UK.
Brian says: I love Colonna and Small’s and like nothing better than sitting at the counter, watching the baristas preparing the coffee and chatting with the customers. A pioneer of the multi-roaster approach, you can get the best coffee from all over the UK (and beyond). It’s also inspired so many in the coffee industry to set up their own coffee shops or roasteries.
Colonna and Small’s: http://www.brian-coffee-spot.com/2014/01/13/colonna-smalls/
I spent a lot of time in Papercup a couple of years ago, working on content projects from its cosy window seat. Papercup is a small but perfectly formed coffee shop/roaster on Great Western Road. Still in its infancy when I was a regular, Papercup is now well established on the Glasgow coffee scene. Friendly Glaswegian banter is effortlessly mixed with a beautiful house blend, roasted at the back of the shop on their small-batch Probat.
Brian says: Papercup packs so much into such a small space. As well as the roaster (which I believe has recently moved out), there’s espresso and pour-over from a tiny bar at the front and amazing food, all prepared in an equally tiny kitchen behind the counter. I never did manage to sit in the window though; now I know why – Abe had snaffled it!
It’s all about the coffee at Full Court Press (FCP), my favourite Bristol haunt and number one coffee house in the UK. Owner Mat North has a background in physics, so takes a very scientific approach to great coffee. The board behind their sexy La Marzocco machine typically offers three coffee offerings, which change daily. Espresso drinkers get the choice of two beans, from different UK roasters like Extract, Nude, Little and Long, Round Hill, James Gourmet and Origin, with details of the tasting notes of each as espresso or in milk. Another two beans are offered for filters. Friendly baristas Tessa, Rosie and Will (formerly of Didn’t You Do Well) are happy to guide you towards your peak coffee experience!
“My aim is to present coffee in a more considered manner, treating it as a specialist ingredient”
Mat North, Full Court Press
Brian says: I first visited FCP the day before it opened, when it still smelled strongly of paint. I’ve been in love with it ever since. It’s another great place to sit and drink coffee (particularly in the cosy basement) and I’ve spent many hours chatting away with Mat and his baristas. Other than a love of great coffee, Mat & I also share a physics background and a passion for basketball (which is where the name comes from).
Full Court Press: http://www.brian-coffee-spot.com/2015/10/07/full-court-press-update/
There are obviously many more great coffee shops in the UK, these are just my personal favourites – for one reason or another. I’d love to hear about your experiences and your favourite UK coffee house. Do you agree or disagree with my choices? Tweet @Abe_Greener or leave a comment in the section below. For more detailed reviews of all these coffee shops and many, many more, check out Brian’s Coffee Spot.
All this talk about coffee shops, I might need to duck out myself…;) See you all in a couple of weeks for the next edition of Abe’s Coffee Column.
(You’ll notice that I also decided to omit London coffeehouses from my list. They would need a list of their own. Watch this space for that one..!)