24 June 2014

The Caffeine Chronicles: BREW Oxford

Oxford isn't exactly a shining light of great independent coffee shops, which is a shame given that it was leading the way back in the 17th century (The Grand Café on the High Street is supposedly located on the site of country's first coffee shop). My dad introduced me to The Missing Bean on Turl Street a few years ago but although they do a pretty decent espresso, they don't serve the geekier coffee forms that I now crave.

However, times are a-changin' and at the weekend, I visited BREW on North Parade, a pleasant stroll from the city centre via the leafy Banbury Road. There are two 'parades' in this part of North Oxford, which is known as Summertown: confusingly, North Parade is south of South Parade. Allegedly, this is because during the Civil War, South Parade marked the southern extent of the Roundhead camp, and North Parade signalled the northern boundary of the Royalist army. Either way, the two streets, which both run between the Banbury and Woodstock Roads, are filled with nice restaurants and pubs and are well worth a visit.

There are only a handful of tables inside, which is fine on a hot day like Saturday when everyone wants to be outside, but I can imagine that it gets much busier when the weather isn't quite so clement. When you walk inside, the first thing you notice is the amazing vintage copper coffee machine, which stands proudly on the counter. What a beauty!

The espresso-based drinks are certainly cheaper than in similar places in London, but I wanted a nice pourover brew and it was such a novelty to see hand-drip options on the menu in an Oxford coffee bar. The coffee comes from local, Witney-based Ue Coffee, and I selected a Rwandan variety (£3) and took a seat in the window. Had it not been so scorchio, I might also have ordered a slice of cake, but I was much happier with a glass of ice-water.

While I waited for my coffee, I admired the shelves that hold a range of coffee-related products for sale: Aeropresses, V60s, coffee beans...oh, and a tea towel screen-printed with a meat-knife design! Music came via the hipper-than-thou record-player-in-a-suitcase that sits in pride of place next to the coffee grinder. Very cool.

The coffee itself was very good: it had just enough fruity acidity to cut through the summer haze. Tea-drinkers always find it surprising when I say that coffee can be refreshing but this variety really was.

BREW has a sister coffee bar called The Keen Bean on the Cowley Road (Oxford's alternative/or hipster enclave east of the city centre), and a third outpost will open soon, although its location is still top secret. Oh, and for legal reasons, BREW is technically spelled with an umlaut: BRËW just adds a hint of Scandi coolness, don't you think?

BREW. The Middle Shop, North Parade, Oxford OX2 6LX. Facebook.

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