While England is known for its long-standing marriage to tea, the area surrounding the University of Oxford seems to be teeming with cafés with full menu espresso offerings. As someone who was expecting to be disappointed with England’s caffeinated selection, I was delightfully surprised. Of course, what must ensue is a taste test to present my favorites and help any fellow coffee drinker survive amongst the ancient colleges of Oxford.
First and foremost, I brought an Aeropress in case of emergency. If you are unfamiliar with Aeropress, it’s a remarkably efficient coffee maker that utilizes pressure to create espresso, regular coffee, and even iced coffee.
It took up very little space in my already over-packed suitcase and was, in general, a smart expense. However, this comes with a bit of downsides. I forgot my own beans at home, meaning I need to forage the local shops for a roast I enjoy rather than get a coffee with a bit of nostalgia for home as I intended. You must also have access to hot water. This is not hard in a country of tea drinkers. Kettles are as easy to come by as posh accents.
With that in mind, the first place I purchased coffee from was Café Nero in Gloucester Green, right near our stay at Worcester College. Nero is a chain in England with relatively solid espresso. Though I like iced coffee, England’s temperature even in the summer lends to a desire for a cozy hot latte. Even the trend of oat milk that has taken over the states has made its way to the United Kingdom.
The latte was solid. I would give it a 5/10. Not a strongly flavored roast, but foamed well and certainly not disgusting. I’d definitely try a cappuccino or espresso in order to see if the espresso’s flavors come through more, but overall I was impressed at the customer service, especially when I had them repeat the word “takeaway” three times because I forgot what it meant.
The same day, I purchased a cappuccino from Black Sheep Coffee and Cocktails. This shop has several locations in England, and its touch screen ordering is COVID-safe and a nice touch for someone who may dislike face-to-face ordering. I am a big fan of asking baristas their favorite drink, so I wish I had the chance to do so, but for speed and efficiency it definitely was a nice touch.
The cappuccino itself was similar to a latte– not strongly leaning into the espresso flavor it offered. I believe that strategizing around more espresso-forward drinks may be the way to go in a country that prefers– but as Black Sheep’s location is close to where we’re staying, some of our program became morning regulars before class. For its speed and efficiency, it certainly is worth a stop for students who need their fix. 6/10.
I also visited several other shops. The Café Ashmolean (hidden in the basement of one of England’s oldest museums) is brightly lit for a basement, has gorgeous pastries, and a cappuccino that is mostly foam. 5/10 for the coffee, 10/10 as a study space and for the pain au chocolat I managed to snag.
By far my favorite coffee shop so far is The Missing Bean. It might be a bit americanized– they’re also a local roaster, embracing third wave coffee and doing traditional latte art in a way I have not seen yet in England. But what they’re doing, they do it well. They have lovely outdoor picnic tables, a great view of the buildings of Oxford, and their cappuccino is genuinely good. Overall, they’re a 8/10 in my book, with minus two for not having enough indoor space. I studied there for a full afternoon and adored it, the coffee I had, and the cake I ordered.
Overall, Oxford is a coffee town. More so than I expected, and I’m happy to say I’ve been actually enjoying spending time in these shops and learning the different quirks that British coffee has to offer. From sprinkling chocolate on top of their cappuccinos, to almost always having outdoor seating, they are certainly broadening my coffee horizons even in a traditionally tea-centered country. Don’t be afraid to venture out and explore your own “coffee” in another country, whatever it may be. You never know what another place has to offer.