When I lived in Oxford, I drank a lot of coffee. (One had to.) In my last year I wrote an extensive catalogue of every coffee spot I visited and why it was nice and/or nasty. It's over on Bonjournal if you want to read the full whammy of thirty spots, but here I have compiled my top five, because ranking all things in life is important whether it is your preferred coffee corner or your children.
Truck Store is a coffee cum vinyl shop, and the sort of absurdly trendy establishment that I outwardly decry but in whose sunlit corners I secretly while away entire afternoons. The pros of such a hip establishment are a constantly evolving soundtrack of ambient beats and staff who really “know” their coffee (as well as presumably their 90s neo pop bands and their purveyors of vintage moustache trimmers). I still hold the top floor of Waterstones as home to the best chai latte in Oxford, but Truck Store's comes pretty close, and its prices certainly reflect the student market it’s catering to in a way that central Oxford cafes do not. And although it's true that the clientele is predominantly early 20s based, on my last visit I did get into an interesting conversation about romantic poetry with a very old woman in a dressing gown and slippers; unfortunately it swiftly evolved into an attack on language-censoring that left myself and the two Brookes students listening in desperately trying to reverse out of. The price Cowley pays for being a 'real' city is that it has its fair share of real opinions.
Quarter Horse Coffee
I’m always won over by an attractive barista, and this place has at least five. It’s an artsy little cafe always bristling with MacBooks, tortoiseshell spectacles, and hushed philosophical conversation. If you’re into caffeine products for the taste as well as the buzz, then this place is the dream; they have a constant rotation of exotic blends (this week’s is deathly strong and Ethiopian), and sell various fancy coffee-making products that resemble alien possibly-sexual accessories to the tea-drinking proletariat. There’s also a great selection of toast and pastries for the breakfast market, which you can eat perched on stools against the window and stare/be stared at by Cowley Road’s 9am zombies. It’s also not just a coffee place; there a host of events that go on in this space in the evenings, from wine and cheese and conversation to talks from big dog writers and artists - although I’m not sure I’m cool enough to attend any of them.
Zappi's is a recent discovery - mainly because of it's in-the-know location so sneakily hidden away above one of the myriad bike shops of central Oxford. Always littered with laptops and men in very form-fitting gear, Zappi's attracts both the trendy student crowd and the edgier end of town. As well as plenty of extremely keen old cyclists - late morning on a Saturday you cannot move for lycra, if that's what you're into. The service is delightful, if slow, and the quality of coffee and conversation is always top notch. A nice little coffee nook for when TSK and the Missing Bean are just unbearable.
Turl Street Kitchen
A go-to. Ideally placed in centre-town and opposite a bank of that rare Oxford breed of the ATM, TSK is a favourite amongst undergrads and professors alike. It’s got squishy armchairs and oak tables, great coffee and tattooed staff, and there’s an upstairs lounge full of sofas and sunlight for quiet contemplation - or surreptitious gossiping. I don’t know, you do you. A long-established favourite for those who eschew the Rad Cam for the coffee-shop-studying experience, this cafe is a hub for constant charity and social events; fundraising and music-making evenings galore, and a varied selection of artwork and photography can be found gracing the walls of the dining area. On writing, the front room is taken up with an installation for the Oxford Photography Festival, and Student Minds have their HQ in the upper storeys.
The culinary credentials are just as impressive as the caffeine side of things, and the kitchen flaunts its delicious and regularly changing selection of home-cooked food and varied wines on giant chalkboards - but that’s all beside the point. Because if you want a quiet coffee in the centre of town, whether it's for a date with a dishy dude or a date with your essay on postmodernism, TSK is the place.
The Missing Bean
The Missing Bean is a tiny one room cafe in the heart of Oxford - a hipster's dream that on your average weekday is furnished with two MacBooks a table and almost as many horn-rimmed specs. You'll also find it packed with middle-aged tutors discussing romantic poetry, business types on their lunch break, and everyone else you can imagine because the coffee here is absolutely divine. There's not too much to say beyond that; the hygiene rating is dire, so don't try the food, but the atmosphere is always buzzing and you will be too after caffeinating here.
So there you have it; go forth and caffeinate.