Not wowed by Winchester, but we found great coffee and tea

Funny to think people didn’t even know what coffee and tea was when Winchester was capital of England, some 900 years ago. The place is full of bistros, coffee shops and cafés these days.

Winchester doesn’t always get a good press, though, coming high in those annual surveys of ‘cloned’ high streets. It’s also occupied now by thousands of commuters who travel up to London for highly-paid jobs (well, if they can afford the season ticket price from Winchester…), so you hardly hear the true Hampshire accent my great grandad would have had when he was a postman round here 100 years ago.

And even though there are quite a few venues for a cuppa which are not corporate chains, it took us a while to find the place that felt right for the Fancy a Cuppa? approach.

Barista Coffee House in Winchester

Barista Coffee House is in the High Street, but has no website so doesn’t appear in any google searches; it’s also more at the office end of the High Street, away from most of the tourists in town. But this means it gets a good set of regulars who work locally, which has been helpful for a new business setting up in the middle of a recession.

Alan and Jens, the owners, are an example to us all. They are proof that, with an inquiring mind, an eagerness to learn, a bit of passion AND above all a great skill in communicating with and listening to their customers, you don’t HAVE to be an expert in coffee growing or roasting to run a good coffee shop.

Cappuccino at Barista Coffee House in Winchester

This place had a really positive vibe to it; and the coffee and cake were very good. With a warm welcome from the guys, too, it makes it an easy choice for the Winchester entry in Fancy a Cuppa?‘s next publication.

The Cathedral, on the other hand, was relatively disappointing. Regular readers will know of my objection in principle to being forced to pay to enter a place of worship. Visiting Winchester Cathedral is like going to the cinema, these days: you even get a cinema style printed cardboard ticket; I’m surprised the ushers don’t sell ice cream as well as point you towards the cathedral shop…

Sadly, the guided tour wasn’t that exciting, either: a rather dull list of Bishops and other worthies entombed here or remembered there. Amazingly, there was no mention of the King Canute connections or the importance of King Arthur to the area. Even the Jane Austen section felt a little over-worked, given that she only spent the last few months of her life in Winchester.

Winchester Cathedral

Ah well, but it is a beautiful building. And backs onto a lovely area where the Winchester College sits, along with the ruins of Wolvesey Castle. Well worth a stroll to get your appetite up for afternoon tea.

For tea, it had to be the Forte Tea Rooms in Parchment Street.

Forte Tea Rooms in Winchester

They do a great selection of top quality loose-leaf teas (supplied by Drury of London), wonderful scones baked on the premises and jam – also home-made – that tasted as if it had come from berries picked the day before. The clotted cream to make up the cream tea was pretty darned good as well. This felt like a quality place for tea.

Cream tea at the Forte Tea Rooms in Winchester

The owners weren’t around for a chat, but we met Jessica who has worked there for six years and shares the Fancy a Cuppa? passion for good tea. It makes such a difference when the people working in a tea room or coffee shop have the same level of enthusiasm and commitment as the people who run the place. A rare treat.

At the end of the day, although I loved the venues I’d found for coffee and tea, I didn’t feel the connection to Winchester that I’d hoped for given my family’s history nearby. I think next time I need to delve deeper and hook up with some people who have connections to the area going back a bit further. But do those people exist anymore in a town that has changed so much in recent years?

Video: Tea and coffee in Winchester



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2 Responses to Not wowed by Winchester, but we found great coffee and tea

  1. EA says:

    I’m surprised that Winchester scores highly on the cloned high street lists – it’s a lovely little town and has quite a few independent shops. Travel down the road to Southampton if you want a real example of a grubby, miserable ,litter-strewn high street filled with the usual suspects. Winchester is like a halcyon village compared with that.

    Your comments on the cathedral are also unfair. You may dislike paying to get into a place of worship, but how do you think these magnificent (and expensive) buildings are maintained and run? They have to get the money from somewhere.

    And surely you mean King Alfred? Not the fictional King Arthur? I agree more could be made of both, but these things go with the current fashion and if Jane Austen fans are making up the majority of visitors, that’s who they’re going to cater to.

    I agree with your comments about the Forte Tearoom though. It’s a great little place. Although it would be nice if they opened on Sundays …

    • admin says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment EA.

      Sadly Winchester does figure highly in the Clone Town Britain survey done by the New Economic Foundation. But my aim is always to get beyond the chain stores and I did manage that thankfully.

      I was very struck by the number of commuters pouring off the London trains at the end of the afternoon, though; and couldn’t help noticing that very few had a real Hampshire accent, as all of my grandfather’s generation would have had. Regional accents do fade over time but it did feel less ‘local’ than I remember it in my childhood.

      As to the principle of cathedrals charging to enter, I’m afraid I just have to counter with the fact that of 110 cathedrals I visited on this tour, only 12 have a formal entrance ‘fee’ you are forced to pay, so 98 others manage somehow; and sadly many of the paid staff on duty were far less enthusiastic or passionate than the wonderful volunteers who welcome people at the cathedrals where you don’t have to pay.

      Glad you like the Forte Tearooms too!

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