Let’s assume you’re a fresher. If you’re actually reading this in print form, then let’s face it, you probably are. Having just arrived in a new, unfamiliar environment, and needing to be heavily caffeinated to get any work done, you contemplate your options. You’ve found the big coffee chains in the town centre, but you are an ethical consumer who refuses to support tax avoidance and exploitation (sorry Starbucks). You consider stocking up on 24 Pro Plus tablets from the nearest Tesco, but realise you don’t want a cardiac arrest. What do you do?
Over the last two years, this newspaper has sent its undercover connoisseur (me) out into the depths of the Oxford café scene. Cover stories used to include ‘a social life’ and ‘a desire to get coffee with Union hacks’, neither of which truly exist at Oxford. The result – a selection of the best local and independent Oxford café options for all your caffeine needs.
Best coffee: Colombia Coffee Roasters, Covered Market
Probably the best coffee and hot chocolate (for all you non-coffee drinkers) in Oxford, with a second location in Summertown. Authentic coffees sourced from partnered South American farms offer distinctive espresso, medium and filter roasts, which you can buy and take home. Filter coffee can be prepared via one of half a dozen different methods. Their artisan hot chocolates are well worth a try, range from their sweet ‘Chocopanela’ 61% cocoa and sugar cane combo to their 100%-cocoa, tastefully bitter ‘Mestiza’. Very good homemade cakes. A small place, not cheap but not too expensive, and worth going out of your way for if taste is what matters.
“A small place, not cheap but not too expensive, and worth going out of your way for if taste is what matters”
Best all-rounder: Turl Street Kitchen, Turl Street
One of Oxford’s most popular student cafés, TSK combines cosy, rustic seating areas with a solid range of food & drink options. Great for a hot drink or lunch, the café has a big focus on locally sourced food, and is a social business which supports the charity work of the Oxford Student Hubs located above. A central location, comfortable atmosphere and ethical foundation makes this a great place to work or spend an afternoon chatting over coffee.
Quaint independent: Georgina’s Café Oxford, Covered Market
Situated in the heart of the Covered Market and hidden away up some stairs above a separate establishment, this small, upstairs local café is well worth a visit. As well as being a quiet little spot during the day to chat or work, this café does some great locally-sourced Greek food. Ranging from salads and wraps to pitta bread with humus and falafel, with sweet treats including cakes and baklava, this is a very pleasant independent café for a coffee and a Mediterranean bite to eat.
Honourable mentions in no particular order:
G&D’s – an ice cream café with three locations around Oxford, with fun regularly-changing flavours ranging from Oreos to blackcurrant & honey making this well worth a visit.
Jericho Coffee Traders – popular with students, an espresso bar on the High Street which does good-quality filter coffee, pastries and cakes.
Missing Bean – popular with students, centrally-located with a rotating selection of ethically-sourced coffee – can be quite busy!
Queen’s Lane Coffee House – offers decent food & drink near Exam Schools and claims to be Europe’s oldest café. Utilitarian philosopher Bentham ‘discovered’ his happiness principle here.
Vaults & Garden – 14th-century vaulted-ceiling building and garden next to University Church. A local café with homely, seasonal hot food options at lunchtimes.
The Grand Café Oxford – expensive, but offers high-quality teas and the fancy surroundings of a more traditional tearoom.
Society Café – a good atmosphere with reasonably-priced coffee, nice cakes and sandwiches. Watch out for Union hacks from over the road.
Art Café – very small two-floor café which exhibits local art for when you’re feeling artsy.
When it comes to independent cafés, Oxford has a lot to offer. Obviously, there are some I haven’t mentioned here which may also be worth a visit – it’s often worth walking around the town to see what you can find. In our next issues, I’ll be following this up with attempts at guides to Oxford’s bar scene and Oxford’s restaurants. If you found this one at least somewhat useful (and hopefully you did), keep an eye out for those!
Image credit – shogunangel