When I was at school, it was pretty difficult to find good coffee in the city but it didn't matter to me because I used to hate coffee and, in fact, all hot drinks. It was only when, in my last year of school, I started working long weekend shifts at a popular Oxford sandwich shop and had full access to the espresso machine that I started to drink the stuff — first out of necessity and then because I liked it. This was back at the turn of the millennium — some years before the third-wave rolled into the city (Oxford is quite far inland) — and although latte art wasn't part of my training, I could whip up a mean cappuccino at the perfect weight and temperature. To my shame, as recently as 2002, I had to apologise to a customer for not knowing what a macchiato was (eek!). However, I soon achieved the status of coffee lover and I have never looked back.
Starting with the arrival of The Missing Bean in 2009, Oxford has also been on a coffee journey over the past seven years or so. East Oxford has become a 'hub' for speciality coffee, but there are a few other options in the city centre and elsewhere. Here are a few of my picks:
A haven of calm, great design and even better coffee right in the heart of the city, Society Café is a very welcome addition to Oxford's coffee scene. There are two single-origin filter coffees and two single-origin espressos on offer from Origin and Round Hill, and both the Aeropress-brewed filter and the piccolo I tried were excellent. The café itself is highly Instagrammable — the turquoise coffee machine and the wooden coffee bar are particularly beautiful — but crucially, this does not come at the expense of top-quality coffee.
Society Café is located at 12–16 St Michael's Street, Oxford OX1 2DU. Website. Twitter. Instagram. My review.
The Missing Bean
You'll notice that The Missing Bean comes up a few times in this post and that's because it is — rightly — credited with kickstarting Oxford's speciality coffee scene. The first Missing Bean café is located in the historic Turl Street, opposite the alma maters of Tolkein and Dr Seuss, among many others. The café is often busy and has a vibrant, bustling atmosphere thanks to the combination of students and locals who form its customer base. They now roast their own coffee (see the East Oxford section) and brew up very good espresso-based drinks. There is usually a good range of pastries, sweet treats and sandwiches on offer too.
The Missing Bean is located at 14 Turl Street, Oxford OX1 3DQ. Website. Twitter. Instagram. My review.
Modern Art Oxford Café
Despite having lived in Oxford for many years (and worked in the tourist information centre for three summers), I had never been Modern Art Oxford until my brother got a temporary job at the café and told me that the coffee was rather good; he received training from Monmouth. When we went back a few years ago, they were serving local Ue coffee (they now use Da Vinci coffee), and I had a pretty good macchiato. There are better coffee spots in the city centre, but if you are passing by and in need of a coffee or cake break, this is a good option.
Modern Art Oxford is located at 30 Pembroke Street, Oxford OX1 1BP. Website. Twitter. My review.
The Handle Bar
Just along the road from Society Café is Oxford city centre's premier cycling café. A sign outside The Handle Bar proclaims that it serves the best coffee in Oxford, but sadly, when I walked past earlier this month I had already had eight coffees that day (!) and didn't get the chance to assess this claim. It seems to have developed quite a following, though, and is acclaimed for its food (especially brunch) as for its coffee. It's on my list for my next trip to Oxford, but let me know in the comments if you have already been.
The Handle Bar is located at 28-32 St Michael's St, Oxford OX1 2EB. Facebook.
This tiny and beautifully styled coffee shop has the honour of serving me my first ever Oxford pourover. BREW is located on North Parade (NB, this is south of South Parade!) in Parktown, a 15-minute walk from the city centre. You can't help but admire the gorgeous copper coffee machine on the bar or the quirky vintage décor, but the coffee is excellent too — both in espresso and pourover formats. If you head up here, Walton Street makes for a more interesting route than the Banbury Road.
BREW is located at 75B Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6PE (enter on North Parade). Website. Twitter. My review.
The Missing Bean Roastery
The Missing Bean opened its Magdalen Road roastery in 2014 and you can now stop by from Tuesday to Saturday to buy beans, watch a roast or enjoy a cup of speciality coffee. They serve espresso-based drinks, pourovers, cold brew and espresso tonic, made using a dizzying array of single-origin varieties. Both the pourover and the V60 I tried were very good and I took home a bag of Rwandan beans, which have been tasting great in my Aeropress at home. It's a cosy, colourful spot and well worth the walk from the city centre.
The Missing Bean Roastery is located at 1 Newtec Place, Magdalen Road, Oxford OX4 1RE. Website. Twitter. Instagram. My review.
Quarter Horse Coffee (Update, Jan 2017: permanently closed. Now taken over by Peloton Espresso)
Based in one of the most interesting stretches of Oxford's vibrant Cowley Road, Quarter Horse opened up in 2012. When I visited last summer, the décor was cosy and rather rustic, but it has since had a bit of a revamp. I also enjoyed the Aeropress-brewed pourover and cold brew, as well as the bag of beans I took home with me. I've also had very good macchiatos there.
Quarter Horse is located at 76 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JB. Website. Twitter. Instagram. My review.
Joe Perks & Co (Update, April 2017: permanently closed)
If you are on the hunt for the finest espresso martini in Oxford, look no further. Joe Perks is really a cocktail bar but they also serve fine coffee and brunch. During my visit, I talked the staff into making me an espresso tonic. Unfortunately, it didn't make it onto the menu but once you see the creative cocktails they serve, you probably won't mind. If you are lucky, you may even meet the elusive Joe Perks — but don't count on it!
Joe Perks & Co is located at 76 St Clement's, Oxford, OX4 1AH. Website. Twitter. Instagram. My review.
The Bear & the Bean
This is where things get a little complicated... The Keen Bean Coffee Club, which used to be based inside the indie music shop Truck Store, has now moved across the Cowley Road to The Bear & the Bean. I reviewed the Keen Bean in its Truck Store home two years ago, but haven't had the chance to check out Mostro Coffee yet. I loved the ambiance in the Truck Store and the Keen Bean baristas made me a mean pourover (it's currently featured in the centre of my blog header).
Meanwhile, The Bear & the Bean is cute, cosy and colourful. They sell a few photography-themed products and serve coffee from local Jericho Coffee Traders. The cold brew I had was slightly on the weak side but the espresso was very good.
Mostro Coffee is located at 101 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1HU. Website. Twitter. My (Keen Bean) review.
The Bear & the Bean is located at 98 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JE. Facebook.