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, it’s fast becoming 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 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, there’s 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; this is courtesy of wood panelling, twinkling light fittings, and the colour palette on 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, the machine sports his finest steam wand and portafilter attachments. Discovered on eBay, it 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 pretentious realms that seem set on putting people off coffee shops.
There’s also the high-caffeine Fritz Cola or the intriguing ‘Club Mate’, 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. I went straight for this on my first visit, opting for Yirgacheffe after discussing options with the ever helpful Will. Sit back and watch from your table, as 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, alongside a rounded glass that sits nicely in the hand. This makes for a great way to consume coffee, pouring a little at a time, 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 a pour over and discover just how good coffee can be!
I also tried an espresso, keen to see R2-D2 in action, and wasn’t disappointed.
It was served in a similar glass to 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, but aware another coffee might tip me over, I opted for hot chocolate. I’m pleased to say I can HIGHLY recommend you try one. None of your mucky instant stuff here, and it’s 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; it also provides the perfect musical backdrop while you watch the world go by out of the large window overlooking 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, based just along the M4 in Bath. You’ll also find guest beans on the shelves and in the grinders, providing variety and the odd surprise. It has to be said, with Christmas not far away, there will be a few items going onto my list; but I think the best thing about such a good range is that you can get your ‘hands on’. Usually these things are only seen online, so it’s good to handle them, get advice and see them in action.
North Parade serves as a useful crossing point for students moving between the numerous colleges in the area. On the couple of times I’ve visited, there’s been a wide variety of accents from other clientele; reflecting the eclectic and vibrant city that Oxford is. Close vicinity to the colleges means there’s 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 don’t unplug the record player! 😉