Cambridge Coffee Shops

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I first published this post back in 2015 as a ‘newbie’ to the Cambridge coffee scene. Over the last six months, while I’ve been on maternity leave, I’ve checked out a few more! As well as adding new cafes, I’m also introducing a new two-part rating system, incorporating scores out of ten for coffee and the baby friendliness factor (taking into account things like access and space for buggies, changing facilities and general atmosphere). This is totally subjective and just for fun really. Please bear with me while I add ratings for the existing entries and include entries for new places. The latest addition is for Tom’s Cakes on Mill Road, which I’m delighted to have discovered just today. As always, I’d love to hear your tips for others to try!

Hot Numbers – previously my number one favourite. It could be partly because it was the first ‘artisan’ style place we discovered. I’ve now tried the Gwydir Street branch, as well as my once regular haunt on Trumpington Street, just across from the Fitzwilliam Museum, which is a handy cycle both from home and from ‘town’. Needless to say, the coffee is good: the beans are roasted on the premises (in a customised Toper, apparently) and are carefully sourced and prepared. The varieties change – I am sitting in Hot Numbers as I write this and today they include Ethiopian Liyu Guji and Colombian Vereda Pavon – but the coffees, served in four different sizes so you can choose your flavour strength, are uniformly tasty. The décor is stripped wood, exposed bricks and hessian coffee sacks. The vibe is casual but intellectual: with several University departments and the Judge Business School in the vicinity, you can often overhear some pretty rarified conversations! The staff are young, friendly and laidback and when you can’t smell bacon sandwiches the caffeine-drenched aromas in this small hangout are intoxicating. As you can tell, I like it here!

Coffee rating: 8.5

Baby friendly factor: 5. Unfortunately, my visits to HN have plummeted post-baby. It’s too small to get a buggy in easily and if it’s busy it feels a bit of a no-go zone. There are no high chairs or baby changing facilities and while there is a lovely little courtyard at the back, it’s through an awkward door and down a difficult set of steps. The toilets are also through there which means it’s not easy for mum to take a comfort break if you’re on your own! The Gwydir Street one is better, being larger, it’s just not as convenient for me.

Fitzbillies – a Cambridge classic, this well-established café with its beautiful art nouveau shop front has been serving up its deservedly famous sticky Chelsea buns since 1921. Today it combines a traditional tearoom offering table service with a more informal coffee shop with a big central communal table. The flat whites are hot and strong and the buns are very fine – rich, fruity and imbued with cinnamon. The latter are a little sickly, it’s not like me to suggest sharing a cake, but it’s good advice for these!

September 2016 update: a second branch of Fitzbillies has opened on Bridge Street. Light and airy, with friendly staff the second cafe still sells the traditional Chelsea buns but has more of a modern feel to it. Great addition to the Cambridge coffee scene.

Espresso Library – huge, hangar-like and like an outpost of Hackney hipsterdom in the Fens. The blackboard outside proclaims Coffee Culture and Cycling; inside, there are bikes and enormous submarine-yellow lights dangling from a high ceiling, with lots of tinfoil-wrapped pipes on display. There is of course the expected range of coffees on offer, and my flat white was strong, smooth and priced as you’d expect in a gourmet coffee shop. I’m not singling out the Library; all the cafes reviewed here price their lattes/flat whites in the same £2.50-£2.90 range, although I do think the cost of their sandwich/salad options is pretty steep. Light, airy and clean, this place has a Scandinavian feel to it, with bleached wood and pared back grey furniture much in evidence, with the odd dash of colour adding interest, as in the canary-yellow bar stools and the hanging lights. On the culture front, there are rotating art and photography displays , as well as events, and if you flourish in an easy going coffee shop atmosphere, maybe your own creativity will be inspired!

Coffee rating: 9

Baby friendly factor: TBC

Cambridge Chop House – like a reverse Cinderella, at noon this place becomes a restaurant, offering adventurous British cuisine such as potted squirrel. Before that, it is a stylish take on a Parisian café, all dark wood and enormous windows, which here have a captivating view out onto King’s College. The Chop House is part of the CambsCuisine group, and as I’m already a fan of The Tickell Arms in Whittlesford, I was looking forward to trying out its morning coffee slot (drinks and pastries available from 8.15am). On my visit (I’ve only been once so far – but I’ll be back!) it was relaxed and friendly and the coffee reminded me of that served in my favourite London coffee shop, Walthamstow’s Hirondelle. Despite its location and the peak summer season, the café was surprisingly quiet and free of tourists (sorry, tourists!) and so the perfect place for the portfolio careerist to work for a while.

Afternoon Tease – this is a fairly recent find on King Street. And very sweet it is too – coffee is served in dainty, floral, mismatched teacups and while not massively memorable, is perfectly decent. And the cakes are delicious! There is always an alluring array stacked up in front of the coffee order point. I don’t always give into temptation, but when I do, I don’t regret it! They also do breakfast, lunch and have a loyalty card. A good discovery methinks. Update: now closed and much missed 😦

Gog Magog Farm Shop – a bit of a cheat this one, as I’m not sure it’s strictly in Cambridge (the address given on its website is Shelford Bottom). But it’s an easy cycle/drive from home for me and it serves tasty Monmouth coffee (reminds me of Borough Market) and great cheese scones and cakes. Going there feels fun and different and it nestles in the fringes of the countryside. It also has lots of tempting cookery books scattered around, so it’s good for getting the creative cookery juices flowing. As well as the café, there are a couple of wonderful little deli shops (with eye-wateringly expensive produce). The only real downside is it has no wifi and very little mobile signal – great if you want to switch off, otherwise not ideal.

Coffee rating: 8.5

Baby friendly factor: 8

This was a pre-baby favourite of ours and we’ve been taking our baby there since she was 5 days old. The staff are very welcoming, there is room inside for buggies (can be a push when it’s busy) and plenty outside when it’s warm. There are high chairs and baby changing facilities. The latter are a bit awkward to use but OK.

AMT Coffee – it would seem unfair to exclude these coffee booths on Cambridge station, as I used to use them more than anywhere else in my old life as a regular commuter to London! The staff are friendly and while the latte is a bit weak and milky for me, I find the skinny cappuccino perfectly decent. Despite being a chain, there are no loyalty cards, which is a shame, as if there were, I would be awash with reward points, but rumour has it that they give free coffees to regular customers at Christmas, so I’m already looking forward to that!

Coffee rating: 6.5

Baby friendly factor: n/a – it’s a take away hut. Actually, I think the ones on Platform 1 have attached waiting rooms and these would be fine for buggy access. Baby changing facilities are in the public toilets in the middle of the platform.

I recently discovered Co coffee shop in Cherry Hinton. I have clearly been misjudging the area, as this venue is very trendy. It is also welcoming and friendly, and along with the stripped-back floorboards and soothing Scandi-style decor, it has warm service and a community-focused noticeboard. The coffee was great: brewed with Hot Numbers beans, my flat white was strong and comforting, just how I like it. Even better was the food. I had a pesto soup with gnocchi, which was not only delicious, but also amazing-looking, as it came beautifully presented and bedecked with colourful edible flowers. I also sampled a chocolate brownie (gluten-free of course, it’s that kind of place!) which was very good, although the portion sizes seem rather small for the price. Indeed, nothing is cheap, but it’s a great place for a luxurious treat and may well draw me back to Cherry Hinton!

The Pret a Manger on the new Station Square deserves a grateful mention here. As a new mum, and a coffee-lover (decaff these days, as first I was pregnant and now I’m breastfeeding), it’s good to have a destination in mind for those ‘let’s get some fresh air’ walks with the pram. The staff are without exception kind and helpful: I now get VIP table service for my flat whites, pots of bircher muesli and pain aux raisins! I’ve always liked Pret’s coffee, surprisingly high quality for a chain, and am very grateful to have this branch within a good walking distance. I’ve just started trying to go dairy-free, so on my next visit will be sampling their almond milk flat white …

Coffee rating: 7.5

Baby friendly factor: 9. It can be crowded but with a little manoeuvring you can easily get your buggy in. The staff are unfailingly helpful and it has good, clean changing facilities.

Shelford Deli While not technically in Cambridge, this place has the most amazing coffee – even the decaf is excellent. Plus the staff are lovely and friendly and on a cold day there is even a real fire to up the cosiness factor. As has become the norm for the modern artisan coffee shop/deli, there is homemade soup with sourdough bread, sausage rolls and a tempting array of cakes. The Deli also offers up a wider range of salads and hot meals, though as usual for these places, they’re not cheap. Being a deli, there is of course a shop with organic, locally-grown veg and luxury pastas, cheeses breads, sauces etc.

Coffee rating: 10

Baby friendly factor: 7 – often full of families with little ones and the staff seem to love babies. It can be crowded if you have a buggy and I haven’t checked out the baby changing facilities yet.

Flock at Burwash Manor. Again, slightly out of town and you need a car but very good coffee and an appealing wooden décor that feels light and welcoming in a Scandi style. Flock is on Burwash Farm and is part of a collection of tempting upmarket shops gathered around a couple of courtyards adjacent to a working farm. Plenty of parking onsite which is a bonus too. The café does some creative breakfasts and lunches and also has a pizza oven (I haven’t tried the pizzas).

Coffee rating: 9

Baby friendly factor: 8 – quite a bit of room between tables which helps with buggies and I always feel welcome with my baby. I haven’t checked out the baby changing facilities yet.

Cambridge Cookery School – I only discovered this when I went to my postnatal Urban Fitness course (as an aside, I’d also recommend this if you’ve recently had a baby. Run by the brilliant Emma in her lovely garden studio, it’s a six week programme aimed at working your pelvic floor, strengthening your core and reintroducing you to exercise in a safe and expert environment. Funnily enough I discovered Emma’s programme through a flyer at Co. cafe – proof that the coffee shop lifestyle is a healthy one!). After class we often went to the Cambridge Cookery School and I was quite blown away by it. Delicious coffee, cinnamon buns, tasty open sandwiches … you feel as though you’re in Sweden! It’s a bistro as well as a café as there is a three-course menu for lunch and dinner, with the dishes changing daily. The café is right next to the cookery school so if there is a class on you can also enjoy the aromas drifting in as the students cook! Having been on a weekday lunchtime I’m very keen to go back to sample their weekend brunch.

Coffee rating: 8

Baby friendly factor: 8. Lots of babies here! Space can be quite tight but the staff are very accommodating and will happily move tables and chairs around to help you. There are good baby changing facilities too.

Urban Larder – one of many coffee shops on Mill Road and currently my favourite in this area. It was a tip from my friend Kate who lives nearby: we met up there and while I’ve only been back a few times since, I’ve loved it each time. It also has a witty tagline – ‘coffee served with a larder love’ – which I like! The coffee is excellent, their sourdough sandwiches are enormous and they have delicious cakes and pastries. I tried an experimental-sounding parsnip and walnut cake on my most recent visit and it was fantastic. A nice touch is that they have free bottles of chilled water to take to your table. I’m always trying to keep up my water intake so this particularly appeals to me.

Coffee rating: 9

Baby friendly factor: 6. If it’s warm enough to sit outside, there are pavement tables, otherwise space inside is limited so it’s not that suitable for prams. It does have adequate changing facilities – a bit cramped but perfectly fine. And I’ve been there lots with my buggy so the space issue certainly hasn’t put me off!

Relevant Records – another Mill Road stalwart with light meals as well as the usual coffee and cakes and a basement full of records. Popular with parents and prams as well as music lovers and while there’s not masses of space, it seems to work pretty well, even for groups with a few buggies (I’ve been there with my NCT group, for instance). Lively atmosphere although in my opinion the coffee’s not the best.

Coffee rating: 6

Baby friendly factor: 8. As noted above, it’s relatively spacious and their baby changing facilities are excellent.

Stir – a neighbourhood café in Chesterton, this is a big place with plenty of tables and a few interesting alcoves to sit in. It’s also very popular though, so you might find them all full at the weekend! The decor is inviting, with stripped floors, bright white furniture and London Underground cushions, There are lots of brunch options, salads, cakes and fancy coffees. I’d say it’s on the expensive side. As well as being a café, it runs activities like yoga classes and baby groups – its tagline is ‘local social CB4’, which is a good summary. Outside the centre, it’s usually fairly easy to park on the nearby streets, making it a viable option even if you’re not a local.

Coffee rating: 7

Baby friendly factor: 9. More space than most cafes in Cambridge, activity areas for kids, good changing facilities and even free nappies!

Tom’s Cakes 32 Mill Road

One of my mummy friends told me about this recently and it was a hot tip indeed – I cannot believe I haven’t discovered this place before! For anyone with a sweet tooth like me, the display of cakes and goodies is amazing. I sampled a bite of Hummingbird cake (a bit like carrot cake but with banana and pecan nuts in it), then eventually plumped for lime and blueberry, which was deliciously sweet and sharp at the same time. The cakes are all homemade from locally sourced ingredients so they feel worthy if not healthy! On a summer’s day the other big bonus is a surprisingly spacious walled courtyard and garden out the back, with a grassy area ideal for crawlers and toddlers if it’s not too busy (which it wasn’t on my visit – Friday, late morning).

Coffee rating: 7

Baby friendly factor: 8. That garden is a huge plus and it is reasonable spacious inside too, easily manageable with a buggy. Has high chairs, haven’t checked out the baby changing yet.

I’m looking forward to discovering more cafes that I’m not even aware of yet so that I can keep adding to this post! Do send any tips or recommendations of your own.

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