When eyes start to droop on a long journey, few things revive you like a smooth coffee. And no limp lattes: for us, the fresh roasts and sweet aroma of indy coffee houses are king.
We’re not alone. Booming coffee shops are replacing pubs on the UK’s high streets faster than you can say ‘caffe macchiato’ and there are now more than 400 independent roasters nationwide.
We spoke to our friends at the Indy Coffee Guide, hands down the best and most beautiful handbook to the country’s bean scene, to ask what sets independent coffee houses apart.
- What triggered your independent coffee guide?
Jo and Nick, the Directors at Salt Media discovered their love of coffee when they worked in publishing in Sydney, Australia. They trained as baristas’s before they moved back to the UK where they planned to set up a café – but they ended up starting a publishing and marketing business instead. That was in 2003. Once back in the UK they saw that there were more and more independent, high quality cafes springing up, but often they were a little off the beaten track and hard to find. There was also a growing band of coffee lovers who were prepared to go a bit further for a quality coffee experience.
- What’s bad about big coffee chains?
They’re not all bad. The big chains have done a good job of introducing us to a better standard of coffee. But they’re big and bland and corporate, and the coffee is still average, at best. The experience is the same wherever you go and it can be a bit soulless.
- What’s so good about indies?
We quality check every business in the guide so you’re guaranteed a great coffee experience. They must use the very highest quality coffee (called speciality coffee), be independently owned and committed to the highest coffee standards. So quality is important, but so is individuality – visiting so many places we can see that each café is influenced by its owners. Plus because it’s not part of a large chain you’re supporting the local community, not tax avoiding shareholders.
- What’s in the roast?
Coffee is a bit like wine. There is massive variation in taste between countries, but also between varieties, regions and the altitude that the coffee is grown. The skill of the roaster is to bring out these variations. Specialty coffee is typically roasted lighter, allowing these variations to be tasted in the cup. So instead of a stereotypically dark roast coffee which tastes of those bitter or ashy notes, you can get a range of tastes such as chocolate, caramel, bergamot, citrus or coconut alongside coffee. If someone offers you Colombian coffee, it’s a bit like being offered French wine – there’s a whole world of taste out there waiting to be discovered. And that little indy coffee shop on a side street could be the way in.
- Which are your favourite coffee roasteries?
We buy beans from Extract in Bristol, Dear Green in Glasgow, Atkinsons in Lancaster and Roastworks in Devon – but to be honest, no roaster would be in the guide if they weren’t excellent – so we’d recommend shopping around and supporting your local roaster.
- What the secret to a good coffee?
Speciality coffee beans, sensitively roasted and prepared with skill and care.
- Where are your top places to grab a coffee?
Impossible to answer. Each member of the guide is unique – that’s the beauty of it. We suppose it depends on what mood you’re in. If you want wild and remote – Caorah Dubh opposite the Talisker distillery on Skye, urban cool is Grindsmith in Manchester, post-Industrial is Tamper at the Sellers Wheel in Sheffield, old school roaster and canteen would be Atkinsons in Lancaster, beachside chilling would be Gylly Beach café in Falmouth full-on coffee geek would be Colonna Coffee, home of 3-times UK barista Champion Maxwell Colonna- Dashwood in Bath. Coffee Angel in Dublin is a small group of high quality cafes across the city.
- What is your favourite cake to go with your coffee?
It’s got to be a wedge of gooey chocolate brownie. But if we had a choice, we’d go for sourdough toast, poached eggs, avo, crispy bacon and a dash of sriracha sauce.