19 August 2013

The Cambridge Caffeine Chronicles: Hot Numbers Review

Back in my relatively early days of coffee obsession, when I was at university in Cambridge, I would "treat" myself to a mocha at Nero if I had finished an essay or worked particularly hard. It wasn't as though there were that many other caffeine options at the time. Clowns, an Italian-run café on King Street was all right (better after the smoking ban kicked in), and CB1 on Mill Road (and its more restauranty sister CB2) wasn't too bad, although it was more about the cyber than the coffee.

After I moved to London and discovered a whole new world of gourmet espresso, I realised what I'd been missing out on for all these years. When I was planning my trip to Cambridge on Saturday, I thought I'd do a bit of online research just in case there was an espresso bar where the baristas had at least heard of an Aeropress and where the filter coffee didn't come in an industrial-size vat.

Enter Hot Numbers, an independent coffee bar and micro-roastery on Gwydir Street, just off Mill Road on the south-east side of the city centre. Mill Road is Cambridge's counter-culture enclave, which makes a change from the Starbucks- and tea-shop-filled city centre. They roast their own coffee on site and when I arrived on Saturday lunchtime, I was impressed to find they offered Aeropress, pour-over and siphon filter coffee options, as well as the usual espresso-based drinks.

I had been planning to order my usual double macchiato, as a benchmark, but I couldn't resist the prospect of a good pour-over brew, so I ordered one of those as well. Both drinks came to £4.40 — a refreshing change after London, where you will often pay more than that just for the pour-over. While I waited for my drinks, I admired the surroundings: the café is set up with long wooden tables for sharing, and the customers were a mix of couples, young families and MacBook-toting hipsters. Tasteful artwork adorns the walls — the space used to be a brewery — and they often host live-music events.

As for the coffee, it slipped down very nicely. The filter coffee was a fruity Guatemalan blend that was flavoursome and smooth. The macchiato was, I suspect, made using the El Salvador blend, and it was rich and creamy. It came with a touch more milk than I prefer, but that didn't affect my enjoyment. After reading the espresso menu, with hindsight, I would have tried an espresso with the single-origin Brazilian Pedra Redonda. I guess I'll just have to come back to Cambridge and try it another time.

Hot Numbers does serve food — bacon sarnies on sourdough, smoked salmon bagels, and cakes — but it's telling that the coffee menu is much longer than the breakfast and lunch menu. But if you're a coffee fan in Cambridge and are looking for a spot of light lunch, I recommend you make the short trek to Gwydir Street (there are also plenty of buses from the centre). I just wish Hot Numbers had been there during my six years of living there.

Hot Numbers. Unit 6, Dales Brewery, Gwydir Street, Cambridge, CB1 2LJ. Website. Twitter.


  1. Hi Bex,

    Isn't it annoying when you move out of a place and then all the good coffee shops open up! Have you been back to Hot Numbers since your visit? It's changed up a lot now, taking over the space next door and moving the counter over there.


    1. Thanks, Brian. I did return briefly but it was a couple of years ago. I walked past last weekend on my way to the station but was out of time, sadly. Interesting to hear about all the changes! I will have to go back again!