Cambridge Espresso

Coffee & beer go hand-in-hand for me. They counter, and compliment each other. Many an evening pub trip is preceeded by a perk-up coffee. Many a “morning after” is booted in the backside by couple of shots of espresso. But it isn’t medicine! Coffee should be seen as high quality drink that, like cask ale, requires love an attention from the raw ingredients through to the cup. My life as a “coffee geek” pre-dates my deep interest in beer, I lived in Sydney for 7 years while the “artisan coffee revolution” was raw & cutting its groove in Sydney social life. I worked around the corner from Toby’s first little café and roastery on Cathedral street. Lured in by the heady smell of roasting beans every morning. I’d down 4 ristretti, and come back at lunch for 4 more. Those were wired days!

Coffee, like beer, is undergoing a renaissance in the UK. When I moved to the UK in 2006 is was incredibly difficult to find a good espresso, even in London, and at the time I started blogging about coffee in my quest to find it. The British have no real love for coffee, but the situation is definitely improving. The rise of “craft coffee” names like HasBean and Square Mile in the last few years has been inexorable. I get a new bag of coffee every week from HasBean, it is as exciting as any craft beer delivery I receive. (At least the coffee I can enjoy right away in the office… I’ve tried that with beer, it attracts odd looks.)

You’d think Cambridge, a pretty yuppie, hipster & well-to-do town would have great coffee venues leaking out its ear holds… However, until fairly recently there was NO GOOD COFFEE IN CAMBRIDGE. No hyperbole intended, there literally wasn’t anything. To the best of my knowledge it was all crap. People I know who love good coffee and have lived here for a decade bemoan the “bad old days”. Then one great café opened, then another… currently, to the best of my kowledge, we have two decent espresso palaces. They are:

Massaros: The original, and still the best. Using their own blend supplied by HasBean and pouring shots with an attention to detail on their wonderful hand-pull espresso machine, this is the place for the Cambridge espresso lover to go. They use a brighter perkier roast than the ubiquitous burnt-to-death Italian, and I love them for it. This is truly coffee in the “modern style”. If they’re unhappy with the pour, they start again. Every morning they carefully adjust their grind to get it right and are terribly apologetic if they think the coffee just isn’t quite on form. If you love coffee, you must try Massaros!

Hot Numbers: I still think of them as “the new place”, simply because they popped up after Massaros. They’re an established cafe now and have built up an excellent following. Located just off the hubbub of Mill Road this is a perfect post-pub-lunch or pre-pub-evening stop. Great espresso, far above the English average, and they do vac pot and V60 coffees on demand. Pure coffee geekery. I’m sure they do an excellent job with the milky stuff too. They’re even roasting their own coffee now.

I wrote this post in response to a local article promoting the 5 best cafés in Cambridge. They included Hot Numbers and left Massaro’s out. Travesty! Amongst the five were Fitzbillies and CB2, both great places… but… their coffee sucks. Back in Sydney they wouldn’t “cut the mustard” as cafés in my opinion. I’m going to check out the other two “best cafés” soon and will extend this post as appropriate. Perhaps they’ll be added as 3rd and 4th great destinations for coffee above? I suspect not…

It seems, when it comes to cafés, the English don’t rate the coffee. How absurd.

What do you think?