11 December 2017

Bath: A Speciality Coffee Tour

Other than the obligatory school history and Latin trips, my only other visit to the city of Bath was in summer 2002, on a pre-university weekend trip with my then boyfriend. I was working in a sandwich/coffee shop at the time and had begun to get into good coffee, but no memories of Bath's coffee — good or bad — have stood the test of time. Fifteen years later and Bath has become quite the speciality coffee destination. So much so that when a barista in one of the coffee shops I visited on Friday asked a customer about a new opening in the city centre, the customer suggested that Bath's coffee market was already saturated.

I have been wanting to return to Bath for several years but every time I look at the train ticket prices — even booking several weeks or months in advance — I haven't been able to find a day return for under £60. But I had some annual leave to use by the end of December and realised I had probably had my fill of international travel for the year, and got myself organised and nabbed a £29 day return nine weeks in advance.

I didn't just go to Bath for the coffee — and I'll highlight some of the other things I got up to in a separate post — but I did manage to visit five coffee shops, four of which I've written up below (one was somewhat underwhelming so I'm leaving it off until I get the chance to give it another go). Unfortunately, I couldn't go to one of the coffee spots I had hoped to visit, Hunter & Sons, as it is only open from 9–11 am on Fridays. As well as speciality coffee, they specialise in craft beer and have a kitchen, so I assumed they'd be open all day, but sadly, this was not the case.

Mokoko Coffee, Southgate
By the time my train pulled in to Bath Spa station, just after 10:30 am, I was in dire need of a second coffee. Luckily, Mokoko Coffee's Dorchester Street coffee bar is mere steps from the station forecourt. Mokoko wasn't on my radar before I started researching this trip, but I'm glad I found the small but lovely coffee spot, which has a slightly larger sister branch near the abbey.

There were three single-origins available on espresso and four on filter. Knowing that I wanted a piccolo helped me to narrow down the selection, and the Ethiopian Guji from James Gourmet Coffee jumped right out (it was also what the barista was about to recommend before I interrupted him). You know it's going to be a really delicious coffee when you can smell the flavour notes — rose and strawberry milkshake, in this case — as soon as the coffee has been ground. Indeed, my mouth was watering by the time the piccolo (£2.70) arrived. It tasted as good as it smelled and although I had been considering ordering one of the sweet treats on offer (probably the peanut banana bread), I wanted to savour the taste of this coffee a little longer.

The Dorchester Street café is small with only a few stools at the window inside, and a few more seats on a covered section of the pavement. It's clear, though, that a lot of thought and care have gone into the coffee shop and into each cup of coffee brewed. There was also a good selection of beans for sale, including some from James and from Dark Arts Coffee. Don't rush away from the station too quickly or your might miss this gem.

Mokoko Coffee is located at 7 Dorchester Street, Bath, BA1 1SS (their other Bath branch is at 6 Abbey Churchyard, Bath, BA1 1LY) Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Colonna & Small's
Although Bath has more than enough coffee shops for one day's caffeination, Colonna & Small's is the one that no bona fide coffee lover can miss. Walk in through the pastel blue shopfront on Chapel Row, admiring the framed homage to some of the world's best roasters and make your way to the long, wooden counter.

The décor is minimalist with light blue and green accents to the light wood and white walls. It's surprisingly bright inside, even when it's grey and snowy outside, and there is a variety of seating from armchairs near the door to the rustic wooden benches towards the back. When I arrived, it was bustling and the only available seats were at the stools perched in front of the brew bar, which suited me just fine.

I started off with a filter coffee, struggling to choose among the three single-origin coffees available as filter. In the end, I opted for the Huatusco Coe washed from Mexico, with notes of red apple, brown sugar and pink peppercorn. Had I been reading the names of the estates more closely than the flavour profiles, I might have opted for the Hartmann's Estate instead, but my coffee was very well brewed through the siphon (£3) and the flavours came through beautifully.

Next up, I went for a piccolo (£2.60) and again, there were three espresso varieties available. I thought that the Guatemalan washed La Cumbre sounded nicest with milk, and indeed, it was beautifully prepared, and wonderfully sweet and smooth. Although I was tempted to stock up on some Colonna merch (the titular Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood was around and so signed copies of his books were available), but instead spent my pennies on some beans: 150g of a 'rare' La Negrita Geisha from Colombia, whose lime and tropical fruit notes I'm looking forward to sampling.

Whether you are a coffee geek, coffee curious or somewhere in between, you will be equally welcomed at Colonna & Small's, as the knowledgeable, friendly baristas help you decide what to order and then work their socks off to produce a really excellent drink. All of the rumours were true: Colonna & Small's is one of the UK's best coffee shops.

Colonna & Small's is located at 8 Chapel Row, Bath, BA1 1HN. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Society Café, Kingsmead Square
Since Society Café opened in Oxford last year, it has been my first port of call each time I am in town to stay with my parents. Society has two cafés in Bath (and one in Bristol) but with just one day to spend in the city, I decided to pick one, the original on Kingsmead Square. It's only a few minutes' walk from Colonna & Small's and when I walked past the first time, a small street-food market was getting started in the square. Later, when I returned for coffee at Society Café, the square was absolutely heaving but inside, it was a peaceful oasis.

If you've been to the Oxford café before, the Kingsmead Square décor will be familiar: there's a beautiful turquoise espresso machine on the counter, colourful local art on the walls and a bright, relaxed seating area in the back. The coffee selection was familiar too: most of the 'house' espresso and filter varieties were from Origin, although a lone Nude coffee sat on the counter.

I'd reached my filter limit for the day, so I went for the house espresso, a San Antonio Lot 32 coffee from El Salvador, brewed as a piccolo (£2.40). The coffee was very nicely brewed and its toffee and pineapple notes paired well with the white chocolate and peanut butter blondie (£3.50) I ordered as an accompaniment. I enjoyed my refreshments with the latest issue of Caffeine Magazine sitting at one of the large, communal tables in the back room. There is also plenty of seating at the raised bench that runs along the side of the café and more space downstairs. It wasn't too busy late on a Friday afternoon but I suspect that it may be elbow-room only during peak hours.

Society Café is located at 4–5 Kingsmead Square, Bath, BA1 2AB (their other Bath café is at 19 High Street, The Corridor, Bath, BA1 5AJ). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Picnic Coffee
Once I found out that Hunter & Sons was closed, I had 'space' for one more coffee and as I had been shopping in some of the excellent independent stores on and around Walcot Street, Picnic made the perfect pit-stop. Located on Saracen Street, the small café had steamed up from the damp December air when I arrived. Inside, though, it was cosy and colourful and there was a great range of coffee on offer.

With two espresso varieties available, as well as two filters (one for Aeropress and one for V60), it took me a few minutes to decide what to order. Actually, though, I recognised the lavender and lime flavour notes of the V60 coffee as the Dhilgee Lot 4 from Origin that was in my hopper at home. It's a great coffee but I wanted to try something different, so I went for the Kenyan Nyeri variety, which I think was also from Origin, brewed through the Aeropress (£3). The house espresso was Origin's Pathfinder blend, while the guest was from Union. There were various bags of Union and Round Hill beans for sale too.

I took a seat in a cosy nook — I'd arrived just after the lunch rush and there weren't many tables free — right next to a bookshelf full of travel books. I picked up a Peru guidebook, hoping to make a start on some planning for my big trip next year, but it was a 2006 edition, so I didn't make much progress. The coffee, though, was very good: well balanced and flavoursome. And if you're in the mood for more than coffee, Picnic also serve sandwiches, cakes and alcoholic drinks.

Picnic Coffee is located at 9 Saracen Street, Bath, BA1 5BR. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

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