The cafe is located along North Parade Avenue, nestled amongst the leafy streets of North Oxford and just a short walk from the bustle of the city centre. There is a South Parade as well, but it is north of North Parade – obvs…. just another one of those quirky Oxford things that make it such a delightful place to live/visit! Quirky is a good word for North Parade generally, a small street packed with pubs, restaurants and a rather good deli it is fast becoming a bit of a ‘go to’ location for foodies.
I popped in for a coffee and a chat with Will who runs Brew along with Arthur to find out more….. I started by asking about location and there were two criteria when choosing the location; to be in North Oxford and for it to be somewhere small enough that it could be run by just one person. Keeping the size small also avoids creating an expectation for hot food or sandwiches to be provided. Have no fear though, there is always a tasty selection of cakes on offer and lets be honest, beyond cake and coffee you don’t need much else!
Though compact and bijou the interior of Brew Oxford has an opulent 1920’s feel to it courtesy of the wood panelling, the twinkling chandelier style light fittings and the colour pallete that has been chosen for the walls. The interior makes a real change from the industrial, bare concrete styling that is so popular at the moment.
The one thing you can’t help noticing when you walk in the door though is the simply stunning espresso machine. A work of art in copper and bronze, the Elektra Belle Epoque P1 Espresso Machine squats on the bar like a steampunk R2-D2, clad in copper and sporting his finest steam wand and portafilter attachments. Discovered on eBay the machine was rescued from a wildlife centre where it had been sitting dormant and unloved, great to see it taking pride of place and getting full use.
The coffee menu is short and sweet without venturing into the pretentious realms that seems to be set on putting people off visiting coffee shops, rather than welcoming folk through the doors.
There is also the high-caffeine Fritz Cola or the intriguing ‘Club Mate’ which is another caffeine rich drink from Germany derived from the Yerba Tea Plant so if coffee isn’t your thing but you enjoy that caffeine buzz Brew Oxford have the bases covered. A wide selection of loose leaf teas are also available, including caffeine-free options.
The highlight of the menu for me is the Pour Over at £3.00 a pot and I went straight for this on my first visit, opting for the Yirgacheffe after discussing the options with the ever helpful Will. You can sit back and watch from your table as the beans are freshly ground on the ancient Mahlkönig grinder before the pour over is made with the care and attention that goes into everything that takes place behind the counter at Brew.
The pour over comes served in a small Hario pot along with a rounded glass that sits nicely in the hand and makes for a great way to consume coffee, pouring a little at a time and savouring the taste with each mouthful. It gives the impression of lasting longer, of it being more of an experience than having a larger single mug. It also helps to appreciate the change in flavour of the coffee as it cools so if you do visit, be sure to order yourself a pour over and discover just how good coffee can be!
I also tried an espresso while I was there as I was keen to see R2-D2 produce a shot and I wasn’t disappointed. It was served in a similar small glass as the pour over (they fit neatly into R2’s mouth to keep them nice and warm) and really was fantastic.
Keen to try something with milk in but aware another coffee might push me over the brink I opted for a hot chocolate and can HIGHLY recommend you try one, none of your mucky instant stuff here and it is made with the same care as everything else.
As a bit of a vinyl geek I was pleased to see the record player in the corner along with an accompanying stack of vinyl. Looking just like the one my gran used to have it adds a nice touch to the place and provides the perfect musical backdrop while you sip your flat white and watch the world go by out of the large window looking out onto the comings and goings of North Parade.
The main wall is dominated by shelving that contains an impressive range of home brewing goodies from Hario along with a selection of beans from Round Hill Coffee Roasters who are based just along the M4 in Bath. You can also expect to find guest beans featuring on the shelves and in the grinders to provide variety and the odd surprise. It has to be said that with Christmas not too far away now there will be a few items going onto my list but I think the best thing about having such a good range on offer is that you can get your ‘hands on’. Usually these things are only seen via the internet so it is good to handle them, get advice from the chaps and see them in action.
North Parade serves as a useful crossing point for students moving between the numerous colleges in the area and on the couple of times I have visited there has been a wide variety of accents to be heard from the other clientel, reflecting the eclectic and vibrant city that Oxford is. The close vicinity to the colleges means there is a strong connection to Eduroam and OWL (Oxford Wireless LAN) available to students but unfortunately nothing provided to ‘normal’ visitors which is probably the only gripe I had with Brew. Numerous power points dotted around the cafe are useful for charging laptops, just make sure you don’t unplug the record player 😉