Image description: graphic drawing of an Oxford street lined with various cafés
In a student-jammed city like Oxford, you won’t have any trouble finding a great local café. Selecting the five best, however, is a bit more tricky. Luckily for us, after browsing through Oxford’s various ‘serendipities’ and ‘faux-dives’, we came to the conclusion that there’s no ‘one way’ to run a perfect café. As such, this list is a melange of different coffee shops, from the cosy to the grandiose, the beverage-centric to the jacks-of-all-trades. The one criterion: Whatever they do, they do it well.
As such, this list is in no particular order, as one’s #5 could be another’s #1. So step aside Costa and Pret fans, these are Oxford’s Top 5 Must-Visit Cafés!
#5: The Grand Café [High St, Oxford]
Yes. It’s super posh. We know.
While the previous cafés on the list are recommended as your next regular hangout, this place is perhaps more for one-offs!
But let’s face facts. There’s a reason this place has so many visitors; it’s not only a world-famous location but has been so for centuries. In fact, according to Samuel Pepys’ 1650 diary, The Grand Café’s location is the site of England’s first-ever coffee house. Imagine that. We wouldn’t even be writing about Oxford’s best cafés today had it not been for this extravagant institution, so we simply have to put them on the list, and give the original don their just desserts.
Speaking of which, the spoils alone will leave you feeling like royalty; and while there are vast selections for breakfast and lunch, people from everywhere come for afternoon tea. The cream tea, in particular, has been hailed and fathomed as being the best in the world (outside of Queen Elizabeth’s lounge, of course).
From delectable finger food to the exclusive decor, this place is the living answer to the question “Is Oxford really that posh?”. But since you’re here, why not embrace it. Come to The Grand Café – lose your inhibitions, take pictures for your Instagram, have a cuppa, and enjoy yourself.
#4: The Missing Bean [Turl Street, Oxford]
A queue every morning must signal good coffee. In fact, coffee is the alpha and omega of The Missing Bean. Their famous house-blend is the frontrunner to a vast range of ethically sourced coffee beans from around the world (everywhere from Nicaragua to Rwanda). And with each of the beverages costing around £2, there’s nothing to lose. What’s more, every delicious coffee blend is available in packages, ready to purchase and take home. They even grind the beans to order for you!
As for accompanying food, it’s more on the simple side. A nice jam bagel or one of their sandwiches is sure to satisfy, but this place certainly puts emphasis on the “coffee” in “coffee shop”.
The cosy, simplistic vibe of The Missing Bean is an ideal contrast to the hustle of Market Street. Whether you need a quick pick-me-up before exams, or a soothing place to chill after studying, be sure to look for The Missing Bean!
#3: The Jericho Café [Walton St, Jericho]
A neighbourhood abundant in top restaurants and lively pubs, the colourful streets of Jericho have a number of locations worthy of a spot on this list. Nonetheless, we went with The Jericho Café itself, for the sheer reason that it combines every aspect of what makes their surrounding counterparts great. With a menu offering British, Italian, and Greek delicacies, it’s as though someone condensed all of Jericho into one building.
From a range of coffees and teas to cool and refreshing smoothies, you won’t be going thirsty anytime soon; but this bistro is really known for the food. High-stacked burgers top the list, followed by a mouthwatering selection of £7 melts, as well as any and every kind of salad under the sun. With massive portion sizes that will appease even the hungriest uni student, the large servings more than make up for the good to mid-tier price range (approx. £10 for a burger; £3-4 for a smoothie).
There’s not only variety on the menu, but also in the ambiance. The upper level offers a more ‘traditional’ coffee shop vibe above the sit-down bistro on the ground floor. As a certain fast-food company famously once said, “Have it your way” (though their burgers don’t come close to The Jericho Café’s).
#2: Yellow Submarine [Park End Street, Oxford]
Simply astonishing. In a city filled with award-winning, decades-old eateries, this humble shop just off the Castle Mill Stream remains the top-ranked café in Oxford on TripAdvisor. And the reason is simple – it goes beyond just making good food and drink; the Yellow Submarine makes a difference in the local community.
Under the charity of the same name, this groundbreaking café has been employing and training staff members with intellectual disabilities and autism. Enabling them to gain both work experience and confidence, the Yellow Submarine helps people of all circumstances and backgrounds succeed, a goal they have maintained since the café’s establishment in 2013.
And yes, in addition to the awesome story behind the place, the food is also really lovely, especially for the price! No more than £3 for a sandwich that, according to many of the TripAdvisor reviews, rivals those of M&S and Pret. Though manager Paul is flattered by the comparisons, he’d say the coffee has no equal, and for the price range of £1 – £2 (depending on the variety), we can’t help but agree with that statement!
So come to the Yellow Submarine; It’s got a colourful atmosphere with even more colourful personalities behind the counter! And don’t let those low prices fool you because the value of this place goes so much further than the numbers on the board.
#1: Café CoCo [Cowley Road, Cowley]
If you’re going to have a restaurant on Cowley Road, it’d better have the same diversity and energy for which the neighbourhood is famous. Enter Café CoCo.
This is the kind of place that attracts everyone, from ladies who lunch to working-class lads on break. The range in clientele is equalled by the variety of food choices; whether you’re cleansing with their famous gluten-free Superfood porridge or munching away on a classic full English, CoCo can hit anyone’s spot just right.
Beyond British classics, their modern menu also offers a mass of contemporary Mediterranean showstoppers, from Greek-style prawn saganaki to juicy North African merguez. Oh, and we haven’t even gotten to the beverages yet. There’s freshly-pressed fruit juices and colourful cocktails galore, but ask anyone who’s been there, and they will scream in a heartbeat that the cappuccino is a must. Hailed by many as the best in town, it’s the perfect way to ‘cap’ off an iconic spread of Anglo-Mediterranean favourites.
Not only is the food exquisite, but you’d be hard-pressed to find better value for quality (most entrées don’t cost more than £9-£10).
It’s for these very reasons that Café CoCo can be viewed as a crossroads, not only between cuisines but between clients and demographics alike. Its location at the very north of Cowley Road is thereby fitting, positioned as it is between the student-heavy city centre to the more local Cowley. Café CoCo not only has a special place on its road but also in the hearts of all of its inhabitants. Head up there and find out why.
Image credit: Holly Woodhead