There can never be a shortage of coffee shops in Oxford. I am constantly on the hunt for a new haunt, being someone with a desperate inability to work without the humdrum of café chitchat and the growling of the coffee bean grinder in the background (so much so that I downloaded a loop of ‘low-fi café sounds’ as my official study soundtrack). Is there some alchemy at work that makes the smell of freshly brewed coffee the antidote to procrastination? I believe so.
Black Sheep Coffee is the new kid in town – its branch has recently opened on George Street right next to Debenhams. The company itself is was listed amongst one of the top growing independent businesses in the UK. It is easy to see why, they are passionate about their craft and take their coffee very seriously.
I was invited to one of their first ‘Coffee Masterclasses’ in their Oxford branch, which promised coffee tasting, tips on the perfect home-brew, and (what this millennial was undeniably most excited about) a crash course on latte art. It was impossible to say no.
The night started off with a bang, in the form of an espresso martini – one of the few cocktails the Oxford branch will soon be rolling out. I have had a few (too many?) espresso martinis in my time, and this one hit the spot. Not cloyingly-sweet, the perfect ratio of crema to liquid, imbued with their speciality grade Robusta. The other cocktail I had the pleasure to enjoy was the Gin Bramble – deliciously fruity and topped with a foam of whipped aquafaba – vegans, rejoice! Other cocktails of note, which will soon be on offer to the public, include a spicy Chili Mezcal Margarita and a warming Baileys Latte.
The coffee tasting highlighted the key differences between the brews they offer. As someone who cares enough about coffee to shun anything emblazoned with ‘instant’, but not enough to note the differences between a ‘fruity’ or ‘whole-bodied’ bean, it was thoroughly enlightening. I learned that I much preferred darker roasts, and their Blue Volcano Roast hit the sweet spot – it was like milk chocolate, and thoroughly enlivening (which, while idealistic for a study session, was perhaps unhelpful to a good night’s sleep when consumed at 7 p.m.).
The latte art section was undeniably the element of the course I was most excited about. Whenever I frequent a coffee shop, I am enraptured by their grand coffee machines, that often commands a substantial portion of the countertop. We were taught how to grind, brew, and whip up microfoam good enough to make a masterpiece to christen any cup of ‘joe. The method lies in the hand-work – swish, and flick (cue: wingardium leviosa). I managed a latte-foam-quasi-heart. Which, if you were otherwise served in such an establishment you would be appalled by, but I was vehemently proud of my wispy, not-really-there latte art.
For the last trick of the day, we were taught the perfect method to treat their coffee grounds to brew yourself the ultimate slow drip. It is a method of extreme calculation and proportion. And while I was initially sceptical (I usually dump a whole load of scalding water onto coffee grounds), I see why it is so methodical. Our resulting brew was beautiful – so easily drinkable despite being consumed as-is – completely black, without any milk or sugar to hide behind. I ordered myself a Chemex immediately. This is to be my new morning ritual.
If you feel stifled by the sheer volume of people inhabiting your favourite coffee shop, I urge you to branch out. There is so much now on offer, and Black Sheep Coffee is a welcome addition. With a brilliant range of coffee and such enthusiastic staff members, it will be difficult not to enjoy yourself. Order yourself your (delicious) poison of choice and prepare to be absolutely infatuated.
Disclaimer: I was offered a place in their coffee masterclass in exchange for my honest opinion
Image Credit: Sasha Gill