For most of us coffee is an essential part of the daily grind. And we are increasingly well served. It’s clear to see that coffee shops are leading the way in our high streets – three new ones opened every day last year and we now boast more than 23,000 in Britain. We’re drinking so much, a reported 40,000 baristas will be required over the next six years to meet the demand. But we don’t just want any old bean from a ubiquitous chain, as proved in Cheltenham when an eleventh Costa Coffee shop opened recently, causing consternation among locals.
Cheltenham residents aren’t just over-caffeinated. They’re conscious that big chains, that can easily afford rising rents, are pushing out independents. Yes, Costa, Nero and the rest can be speedy, slick and smiley. But in independent cafés the owners tend to be passionate about coffee and where it comes from. They know how to make it just right and will remember your name, rather than misspell it on a Starbucks cup.
These are the sort of places you want to hunker down for the morning with the papers, a novel or your laptop. Even if you’re just passing through, it’s nice to feel you’re supporting a venture where knowledge and integrity is top of the menu.
Newly opened in my south-west London neighbourhood is Sendero, founded by friends Pira Balasingam and Hutan Farbood, who began supplying roasters in Europe with green coffee a year ago before opening the coffee shop four months ago. The name means path, the idea being that the coffee beans have travelled from small scale farms across the world, including Colombia, Uganda and Ecuador, to your morning cup.
Pira, who became interested in coffee while backpacking around Central America, believes that we want to know a bit more about where our coffee comes from. ‘We think consumers switch to specialty coffee when they look for better quality and traceability. That’s why we source coffee ourselves and meet the farmers directly at origin’.
Another trend, he adds, is coffee that tastes unusual, and almost like tea with various flavours in the cup. ‘The different coffee growing regions and processing methods produce interesting results in the taste,’ he says.
It helps that Sendero, which replaced a gaudy furniture shop, is an inviting space with a farmhouse-style table, stools in the window to watch the world go by and comfier seats if you’re stopping for a while. And now the weather is warm, they are serving a ‘cold brew on ice’ which is, says Pira, extracted over 24 hours. He also recommends their mocha made with coffee and an organic cocoa mix with coconut sugar.
Pira and Hutan both work in the shop from time to time because they like chatting to customers. The shop is doing a roaring trade and I think that’s down to more than just the coffee – for many of us, a brilliant independent or family-run business will always trump a soulless chain.
More independent coffee shops to try…
River Hill Café, Glasgow
This is a local favourite with award-winningly friendly staff serving coffee, homemade cakes and sandwiches (their signature sandwich is a chicken shawarma wrap). riverhillcafe.com
Little Victories, Bristol
If lattes by day and espresso martinis by night appeals then Little Victories on Gaol Ferry Steps Harbourside is for you. There’s outdoor seating so you can lap up the sun, too. @Littlevicsbris
Big mugs and slabs of cake will satisfy the heartiest walkers at this riverside favourite near Ambleside, which also has a tempting shop. chestersbytheriver.co.uk
Providero Tea and Coffee House, Llandudno
This excellent coffee shop has two outposts. Big Prov (112 Upper Mostyn Street) offers salad lunches, coffee, freshly ground coffee by the bag and coffee tastings. Little Prov, serving coffee and cake, is at 148 Conway Road, Llandudno Junction. providero.co.uk
Fika, St Leonards
St Leonards has coffee shops aplenty. Fika, in Kings Road, is new – good coffee, good pastries and good prices, a regular tells me. For sea views then head to The Edge in the marina. theedgeofstleonards.co.uk
Origin take the sourcing of their coffee seriously and roast their beans lightly (you can tour their roastery in Helston). It has shops in London but not much beats a brew with harbour views at Harbour Head in Porthleven. origincoffee.co.uk