Cambridge Coffee

I first published this post back in 2015 as a ‘newbie’ to the Cambridge coffee scene. While I was on maternity leave, I checked out a few more venues and as well as adding new cafes, I also introduced 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 – I love coffee and the whole cafe culture, but I’m by no means a real coffee expert. Having had quite a few requests for links to my coffee post, I’ve decided to devote a whole page of my website to it, to make it easier to find.

Having stalled on the coffee updates for a while, I’m now (August 2019) starting my latest round of updates. Please bear with me while I add ratings for the existing entries and include entries for new places. The latest addition is for the newest horse in the Hot Numbers Stable, the Roastery branch at Shepreth, which I’m delighted to have visited (twice!) yesterday following a hot tip from my friend Lisa. As always, I’d love to hear your tips for others to try!

ABANTU

Currently my favourite city-centre coffee stop, Abantu is mellow and welcoming with great coffee, wholesome homemade food and tempting cakes served in massive portions. It used to be Stickybeaks and I must confess it only really came onto my radar after the much-mourned Afternoon Tease round the corner on King Street closed down.  Abantu means ‘people’ in Zulu, in the community sense, and this tiny haven does manage to have a friendly vibe. Like many cafes in central Cambridge its tables are tightly-packed and I’ve often had chats with fellow customers. Highly recommended.

Coffee rating: 8.5

Baby friendly factor: 7.5. it is small and often crowded, so it can initially feel a little daunting to navigate your way in there with a buggy and shopping bags. It’s worth persevering though as there is usually space to be found and it’s very welcoming to babies and toddlers in my experience. There are a couple of baby booster seats and while toilet facilities are limited in general (there is only one unisex loo) there are adequate baby changing facilities.

HOT NUMBERS

A hot favourite. This was the first ‘artisan’ style place we discovered when we moved to Cambridge and the Trumpington Street branch, a handy cycle both from home and from ‘town’, fast became a regular haunt. 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  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! The Gwydir Street branch is similar in style, but more spacious and located just off the popular Mill Road. This is actually the original Hot Numbers cafe and is trendily housed in an old Victorian brewery. And now there is the new Roastery at Shepreth – and unusually for the Cambridge coffee scene, it has tons of space. Airy and welcoming, and offering coffee courses alongside the trademark Hot Numbers jazz sessions, the new HQ is a bit of a piece de resistance. It also has a big garden, which was very popular on our first visit yesterday on a hot August bank holiday.

Coffee rating: 8.5

Baby friendly factor (Trumpington Street): 4. Unfortunately, my visits to my original 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.

Baby friendly factor (The Roastery): 9. Very good for babies and toddlers, with lots more room, high chairs, a changing table in a spacious toilet and babycinos.

Baby friendly factor (Gwydir Street): 7. For a central Cambridge venue this place has quite a lot of space, though it can still get crowded and feel difficult to manoeuvre a buggy around. It has high chairs and the Gwydir Street car park is close by. I haven’t checked for baby changing facilities yet.

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 it has now become a regular for me, most notably for my Saturday morNing ‘me time’ after my kettlebells class at nearby Romsey Rec. 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 one visit and it was fantastic. There is a good breakfast selection too.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 and the toilet facilities in general are pretty basic, but fine. I’ve been there lots with my buggy so the space issue certainly hasn’t put me off! There is one high chair and also a few books and toys so it’s definitely baby friendly in the sense of being welcoming, it’s just challenged for space, as are so many Cambridge cafes.

SCOTT’S ALL DAY

The latest addition to the cafes on Mill Road, this is a real gem. I’m sitting in the place as I write this. It’s a Saturday morning, post-kettlebells and I feel guilty for defecting from my usual hangout, the lovely Urban Larder. But this place is just too tempting. The breakfast/brunch menu is excellent – generous portions, fresh and a variety of modern, trendy and traditional dishes. When brunch is over (3pm during the week, 4pm at the weekend), the menu switches over to sourdough pizzas. The space is large, light and welcoming, with brick walls, bare walls and stripped-back, worn wooden tables and chairs. The service is fast and friendly. The cakes and pastries look tempting (I haven’t tried them yet; judging by today’s visit, it looks as if there is a wider selection at the weekend). And the coffee (from Caravan) is excellent. Strong, hot and tasty, even with soy milk. What’s not to like? I can see myself becoming a regular here!

Coffee rating: 10

Baby friendly factor: 9. Plenty of space for buggies, high chairs available, baby changing facilities. My little one hasn’t quite reached the stage of kids’ menus, but there is one and my babycino taster was happy with her frothy drink.

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. More unusually, it has a pizza oven! (I haven’t tried the pizzas.) Being a deli, there is of course a shop with organic, locally-grown veg and luxury pastas, cheeses breads, sauces etc. Recently revamped, this is a lovely space and the pan con tomate is a fab breakfast treat.

Coffee rating: 10

Baby friendly factor: 8 – often full of families with little ones and the staff seem to love babies. Plenty of high chairs and good baby changing facilities. A great garden for the summer.

GOG MAG FARM SHOP

Again, not strictly in Cambridge (the address given on its website is Shelford Bottom) but going there feels fun and different as it nestles in the fringes of the countryside and has an appealing rustic/farm vibe. 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). It doesn’t have wifi and very little mobile signal – great if you want to switch off, otherwise not ideal. I am very attached to the Gogs and am a frequent visitor. If I’m honest, for my taste, the coffee seems to have gone downhill. They used to serve a very tasty Monmouth Coffee Brew (which reminded me of Borough Market); I’m not sure if they’ve changed their suppliers but I find I can’t drink their decaf any more as its taste is just too weak. One of my favourite places to walk is Wandlebury and the Gogs is an excellent place to go for a coffee stop afterwards.

Coffee rating: 6

Baby friendly factor: 8

This was a pre-baby favourite of ours and we’ve been taking our little one 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 and aren’t in the main cafe but are OK. Plenty of onsite parking – and if I’m feeling in need of exercise I can (just about!) cycle there from Trumpington with my cargo bike.

BOULD BROTHERS

I’ve not been here very often but I associate it with incredibly good coffee. Small, hip and friendly it is, as the name suggests, run by two brothers, Max and Alex. They don’t take a back seat either, as they can be seen making coffees and serving and greeting customers cheerily along with their baristas. On a recent visit, I was a bit disappointed with my soy flat white, which was quite weak, when I was very much in need of a caffeine pick-me-up on a rainy Sunday morning. However, a very kindly member of staff took my order and payment outside and brought my coffee to me as I huddled on the bench under the awning while the little babycino drinker snoozed in her bike, so I have absolutely no complaints about the service. Everyone can have an off-day so it certainly won’t put me off going there again: I love the vibe of this place and desperately want to be able to get an astonishingly good decaf  soy/almond/oat flat white . Update: I went there again this afternoon and have revised my score upwards, having had a much more satisfying decaf flat white (with ordinary milk) this afternoon. I also understand that the coffee-loving brothers will be opening a second branch so I’m very much looking forward to that and keeping my fingers crossed for more space to make it more accessible for babies and toddlers.

Coffee rating: 8. If I think of this as an ‘average’ score across my handful of visits, it is definitely pulled down by my weak cup of soy flat white, but that was very unexpected and my other coffees have been sooo much better. They do need to get that non-dairy option singing though, so I won’t give up trying it – hey, this place is recommended by Vogue and Vanity Fair so they must be getting something right!

Baby friendly factor: 3. It’s tiny downstairs, with a high bar in the window to perch at and the upstairs seating area, while very lux, is accessible only by a narrow cramped staircase. The toilet is a level higher still, with no baby changing facilities. Definitely not an easy destination with a buggy. When the weather is fine (or when you’re prepared to hunker under the awning!) you can sit outside. My sense was that the inconvenience was worth it for the deliciousness of the brew and I hope that we can get this to be the case for the dairy-alternative choices too!

FLOCK AT BURWASH MANOR

Another slightly out-of-town venue and you need a car to get there (plenty of onsite parking) but excellent 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. The café does some creative breakfasts, delicious salad lunches and also has a pizza oven (I haven’t tried the pizzas). The cakes are great too when in need of a bit of indulgence. It always feels like a proper treat to come here.

Coffee rating: 9

Baby friendly factor: 7 – quite a bit of room between tables which helps with buggies and I always feel welcome with my little one. There are baby changing facilities available in the toilets which are across the courtyard from the cafe.

ESPRESSO LIBRARY

Huge, hangar-like and a bit of 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 usual 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 the sandwich/salad options is pretty steep here. Light, airy and clean, this place has a Scandinavian feel to it, with bleached wood and pared back grey furniture much in evidence, and 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. As one of the more spacious Cambridge city coffee shops, it’s great for access with a buggy. I need to confirm what’s available in terms of high chairs and changing facilities so I haven’t felt able to give it a rating yet.

TOM’S CAKES

One of my mummy friends told me about this Mill Road cake mecca and it was a hot tip indeed – I cannot believe I hadn’t discovered this place before! For anyone with a sweet tooth like me, the display of cakes and goodies is amazing. On my first visit, 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 inaugural visit – Friday, late morning). The coffee unfortunately is nothing special. It’s fine, but for me, at Tom’s Cakes, it’s all about the cakes!

Coffee rating: 6

Baby friendly factor: 6.5 – the garden is a huge plus and it’s reasonably spacious inside too, manageable with a buggy. It has high chairs but the big downside is that the toilets and baby changing facilities are downstairs.

MAISON CLEMENT

There are two branches of Maison Clement, one on Hills Road (at number 28) and a more recently opened, larger, one at 7 Derby Street in Newnham. Both represent new discoveries for me, thanks to a tip on one of my ever-helpful parenting WhatsApp groups. As the name suggests, they are French, and on my most recent visit to the Derby Street site (yesterday!) it was heartening to see (well, more hear) that quite a few of the clientele  were French too. The coffee is good and the almond croissants are amazing. Both places, and particularly the Hills Road one, which basically just has one shared table, are more bakeries than cafes and the displays of breads, pastries and cakes are very enticing but the cafe side of things is fairly basic.

Coffee rating: 7

Baby friendly factor: 5.5 at Derby Street (DS), 4 at Hills Road (HR). At the latter there simply isn’t very much space, so visiting with a tot can be tricky. Both cafes are friendly and happy to provide babycinos, but beyond that there is nothing specifically to cater for little ones (although I believe DS has colouring stuff). HR has no toilet at all; the one in DS is up a flight of rickety stairs and it feels like you’re trespassing in someone’s bathroom. I found this vaguely disturbing – and not that clean either. Manageable with a mobile toddler, it would be very difficult with a baby. No high chairs at either branch. But those almond croissants: oh my!

PRET A MANGER

This place on the new Station Square deserves a grateful mention from me. As a new mum, and a coffee-lover (generally decaff these days, as pregnancy, breastfeeding and then a bit of a health kick has got me into the habit), 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: while visiting with my newborn I routinely got 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. Lately I’ve been trying out dairy-free and as I write I’ve just finished sipping a soya flat white. The coconut milk option is a little sweet for me but it’s great to have choices. My current craze is for ‘clean eating’ so I’m a regular consumer of their coconut rice porridge on the days I commute into London, I’ve always liked their soups and salad ranges and at the moment am enjoying the gluten-free avocado and smoked salmon open sandwich options.

Coffee rating: 8

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, spacious changing facilities. The only reason I haven’t scored it a 10 is there are no high chairs. These days I mostly come here on my own, in and around work meetings, but the little one still gets her regular fix of Pret babycinos as she comes here most Saturday mornings with daddy while I go to kettlebells.

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 on Trumpington Street 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!

There is now a second branch of Fitzbillies 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.

Coffee rating: 9 (for the Trumpington Street branch – I need to revisit the Bridge Street Branch to confirm whether it’s as good!)

Baby friendly factor (Trumpington Street): 8 – as I remember from having to deal with an explosive nappy in the early days while having afternoon tea with a friend, there are good changing facilities here! Also high chairs. The usual challenges of navigating narrow aisles with a buggy, but not too bad.

Baby friendly factor (Bridge Street) – untested. I don’t think I’ve taken the little babycino drinker to this branch yet and I haven’t been suitably observant about the facilities.

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 (now closed down, unfortunately) – 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 licensed bistro as well as a café and there is a three-course menu for dinner, with the dishes changing daily. I haven’t managed to try this yet, but would like to. 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! Lovely on a weekday lunchtime and also for 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. Plenty of high chairs as well.

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 many cafes in Cambridge, activity areas for kids, good changing facilities and even free nappies if you’ve run short! Parents with children are definitely part of the target market for this place, so you certainly feel welcome.

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) 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.

Coffee rating: I’ll have to go back to remind myself what the coffee was like!

Baby friendly factor: my one and only visit was pre-baby and even pre-pregnancy so I didn’t have my baby-friendly antennae switched on at all. I sense another visit is called for ..

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. Writing this I actually feel a bit guilty as these days if I have time I generally buy my coffee for the train from Pret. And I have it on good authority (thanks again, Lisa!) that the coffee vans outside the station are good too, so I want to try those. Always good to have AMT there for when I’m in a rush or when my train has been delayed though, so I haven’t neglected them entirely …

Coffee rating: 6.5

Baby friendly factor: n/a – it’s a take away hut. Actually,  the ones on Platform 1 have attached waiting rooms and these are fine for buggy access. Baby changing facilities are in the public toilets in the middle of the platform. As is often the case for public facilities, these are annoyingly separate from the loos.

RELEVANT RECORDS

Another Mill Road stalwart with light meals (great veggie sandwiches!) as well as the usual coffee and cakes. More unusually, it has a basement full of records and comfy sofas. It’s very 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). It has a lively atmosphere although in my opinion the coffee’s not the best.

Coffee rating: 6 (though I feel it’s time for a revisit to reassess soon)

Baby friendly factor: 9. As noted above, it’s relatively spacious and their baby changing facilities are excellent. From memory, I’m pretty sure it has high chairs too.

COMING SOON:

BALZANO’S

MAISON CLEMENT

THE OLD BICYCLE SHOP

PROVENANCE

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! For instance, I know I need to tear myself away from Urban Larder every now and again to sample some of the many other coffee shops on Mill Road. And there are lots of enticing places on Regent Street between the railway station and the city centre too.

Do please send any tips or recommendations of your own, I’d love to hear your ideas!

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