As anyone who dabbles in the world’s favourite drink will know that it’s impossible to have ‘just’ a cup of coffee any more. Of course, there are plenty of people who think that knowing the origin of the beans they are about to drink, or a board featuring tasting notes, is hipster geekery of the highest order, and would prefer to sup their mid-morning caffeine jolt without talk about extraction times or water quality. But for those who are happy to be enlightened a bit further about the cup o'Joe they knock back every day, and want to enjoy some top quality drinks made with plenty of TLC, then these are your guys.
Based on Chapel Street in Bath, the cafe itself is a lovely bright and welcoming space, with plenty of comfy seating, including a bench at the counter for those waiting for take out, and a patio garden area, whose red-tinged trees were perfectly glowing in the autumn sun on our visit.
So far so average; but, in a retail focused, money driven world where ‘the customer is always right’, C&S have made the refreshing decision to attempt to manage their customer expectations and serve coffee the way they believe it tastes best. But ,before you get the impression that this is all rather worthy and dull - and it is true that there is plenty of concentrated science-y stuff going on that might not be everyone’s cup of tea – there is a passion and buzz at Colonna and Small’s that goes beyond the caffeinated buzz from their drinks.
So, while you may not find any flavoured syrups, powdered chocolate, whipped cream, or, heaven forfend, a nice cup of tea, you can be sure of finding the six best varieties of coffee, three served as espresso or with milk in the form of a latte, flat white or cappuccino; and three filter coffees at the ‘brew bar’ which may be made with syphon, clever dripper, Aeropress, or plain old witchcraft, depending which method suits them best.
Of course they'll happily take your order and bring your drink to your table without indulging you in a demonstration, and even allow you at their hidden stash of sugar if you really want - signs suggesting sugar should not be added may appear as saccharine fascism to some, but Colonna and Small’s preferred roast tends towards the lighter side, meaning their coffee may actually appear more bitter when drunk with sugar, in contrast to many Continental blends which are roasted to be drunk with the sweet stuff.
Again, this ethos won't suit all, but as they point out on their blog, why freely offer people sugar for their coffee when, in all likelihood, it's addition is going to lead to an inferior product.
We started with a couple of filters, one made with the syphon and one with the Aeropress. While the syphon method may be considered the apogee of silliness, resembling some sort of bad chemistry experiment you had to conduct in the fourth form, it is a superlative way of brewing coffee as it is not subject to the vagaries of the drip method - which manages to leave pockets of coffee both over and under extracted – meaning the quality of coffee on offer to the customer can remain consistent. It’s also great fun to watch.
As I have written before, often, for me, coffee promises a lot more than it delivers; the glorious smell and the exciting gadgets and rituals are eclipsed by the final product, but the filter coffee here may just be nigh on my idea of perfect. And while the average layman may struggle to distinguish notes of ‘cashew’ or ‘stone fruit’ in their cup, the helpful tasting boards give an idea about how your drink will taste, with real differences being apparent - in both flavour and colour - between our choices.
As well as being brewed at around 94 degrees - boiling water scorches the bean and causes bitterness - they are also recommended to drunk when they have had a chance to cool down a little further to allow their full flavours to develop, and the wait proved perfect time to sample some of the homemade cakes on the counter. Between us, the Ewing and I managed to try the pumpkin seed and cinnamon muffins; the carrot cake with cream cheese frosting; the Stilton and rosemary shortbread; and while the lavender biscuits that smelt, disconcertingly, a little like may Nan’s wardrobe, they tasted divine.
After all the clean, bright flavours of the filter we fancied a sort of coffee ‘ pudding’ to finish and choose a flat white and cappuccino, each made with a double espresso. My flat white proved a delight; malty and milky with a little kick to counteract the soporific effect of the dairy.
In my working life - based primarily in front line customer service, in both retail and local government - there has been the ever-present pressure to adapt, find ways to stay relevant, maximise profit and footfall and provide customers with what they want (or certainly what they think they want). For this reason Colonna and Small’s ethos and ideas, written about in more depth their blog, makes a refreshing read, with musings on the idea of compromise, customer satisfaction, the attempt to provide the best product possible, and, possibly most importantly, the love, excitement and passion the humble bean can provoke. Oh, and did I mention the coffee’s rather good….