If you’re anything like me, nothing is more pleasing than finding, upon the arrival of my flat white, an elaborate adornment of coffee art. A café experience for many is not just about taste, but rather the visual – or, to put it bluntly, whether it’s going to go down well on Instagram. Here are some of my favourite aesthetic adventures: the cafés of Oxford that don’t just boast great coffee, a cosy atmosphere and lovely food, but that are also truly worth an Insta feature.
The Natural Bread Co. has blossomed from a Famers Market stall, the project of two bread-baking enthusiasts, to a fully-fledged company with outlets in Eynsham, Woodstock and Little Clarendon St. Devoted to exceptional baked goods and equally sublime coffee, this café and shop is a visually pleasing experience throughout. It’s always heaving, but the baristas are never rushed in their execution of enchanting coffee art. The sizeable pastries are wonderfully picturesque, and with wooden tables and jolly coffee cup colours, you’ll easily please your Instagram followers. You can almost smell freshly baked bread over Instagram.
The Handlebar – formerly Zappi’s
Most of us Insta-grammers held our breaths when beloved Zappi’s closed its doors last year. Everything about it seemed so perfect, why change? They were entirely right to expand, though, because everything fab stayed the same and the principal change was just an increased likelihood of actually getting a table. The Handlebar, you have superseded our expectations. Now about three times as large and with beautifully arranged bikes and strangely enchanting views over the backs of the buildings of Oxford (if you venture into the side bit, which can be a trifle chilly but worth it for the view) – The Handlebar is light, airy and always sporting a bubbly atmosphere. The ‘berry and banana pancakes’ are excessively wonderful, practically overflowing the plate (or Instagram pic.) Their other food is imaginative and never fails to impress. My personal fave are their tiny cookies, which are just a perfect coffee accompaniment when a huge slice of something seems overly ambitious.
If you’re willing to trek from the city centre, there’s not really anything more worthy to trek for than Oxfork. In addition to the vibrant and eclectic crockery, the general vibe is super cheery. Their menu is as far from usual café grub as you can get in Oxford, but their coffee is as delightfully reliable as any of the city’s institutions. It’s worth going just to check out their teapot collection. With fabulous brunch and an even more enticing dinner menu, Oxfork is an unusual and quirky café you can’t miss. The dishes are locally supplied and seasonal, and their brownies are a serious business. Almost always worth reserving a table, though, lest you be disappointed by a very long wait for your excellent brunch.
I was ashamed when first visiting the new Barefoot Oxford Café, to learn that I had in fact been consuming their wonderful cakes and goods since I started at the University. No matter – it seems I will just have to sing their praises now. I have never seen such incredible cakes in a café, nor such a diverse selection. It can be oh so tedious being confronted time and time again with the same carrot cake, brownie, tired-looking croissant and so on. Think peanut butter and banana cake, vegan chocolate cake with avocado icing and courgette and lime cake – and now you’re in Barefoot Coffee. I have simply never come across a brownie of such squelch, as their salted caramel brownie. It’s really no wonder that I first went a week ago and have already filled up my loyalty card with stamps (they also stamp for cakes! Yippee!) Quite simply the most photogenic cakes in Oxford, and an excellent way of sprucing up the ol’ Instagram account with new and varied slices.
G&D’s was a firm favourite of mine from the day I first set foot in Oxford. There are three in the city, which means you don’t really have to ever walk very far to get to one – super fortunate when those late night ice cream cravings come calling. The ice cream here is actually fabulous. Made on the premises alongside freshly baked goods, there are a multitude of flavours –Baileys, honey and lavender, for example – and bits you can put on top, like chopped nuts and chocolate fudgy sauce. Their banana milkshakes are a particular highlight, and I’m also rather partial to their bagels. Don’t miss their waffles, exquisite in combination with their wonderful ice cream. If you’re looking for Instagram pictures that exude gluttony, G&D’s is your place: the portion sizes are extremely generous. Be quick, though, because your ice cream will almost certainly have been eaten/melted by the time you get round to remembering to Insta it!
A photo posted by @tifffhung on
Combibos Café is famous across the city for its excellent breakfasts. If you fancy something a little more exciting than a croissant with your coffee, Combibos will more than suffice, sporting French toast and multiple varieties of pancake (blueberry, chocolate, crispy bacon…) as well as a very satisfying full English and veggie breakfast. These come with coffee or tea, which is always a plus. Make sure you get there early to snag one of their brilliant window seats, or even sit outside in the Gloucester Green courtyard. If you’re in the main café, which is very cosy indeed, be prepared to feel inspired by the many-framed wise words that adorn the walls inside. The portions here are hearty – particularly the pancakes, which come in stacks of about six! Bliss. Definitely one for Instagram.
I’ve saved the best coffee art in Oxford till last: Rick’s café is home to some amazing person (possibly Rick himself? Who knows) who has a serious, serious talent. The coffee here puts the traditional cute swirls, hearts and wonky bird-shaped flowers to shame, instead greeting you with a with a menagerie of coffee-froth-animals. There’s a really great spread on the breakfast menu, but make sure you have perused it thoroughly, because it’s so easy to miss the multitude of exciting things on offer. Their crepes are to die for; their macaroons are beautiful and come in a wealth of colours and flavours – a classic Instagram favourite.
Rosie Shennan is a Geography student and choral scholar at Oxford University. In her spare time she adores food and travel, publishing daily on her blog – asconeatatime.wordpress.com– or on Instagram @a_scone_atatime. Rosie’s life revolves principally around cooking and eating. She writes restaurant reviews and a recipe column in the Oxford Student Newspaper and has written for the Daily Telegraph. You can probably find Rosie in one of Oxford’s many fabulous eateries, downing a pot of tea or munching on a scone…