Exeter: From indie coffee shops to pirates for tea

I had a hint that Exeter’s independent coffee scene could be going well as I watched their Indie Xmas Trail develop over on Twitter.

The driving force behind that campaign was my first port of call in Exeter, although Café@36 is not really in the city centre.

It’s less than 10 minutes’ walk to Cowick Street from the High Street, though, and it’s always nice to pick up the vibe on shopping streets away from the centre, where the standard retail chains often dominate.

Outside Cafe@36 in Exeter

Café@36 is a great little coffee shop, with a real mix of clientele. This is not a trendy, urban coffee shop like we found in Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham. There must have been all ages in there from teenagers to OAPs.

They were just changing their drinks regime on the morning I turned up. So Rory, a barista from Origin Coffee in Cornwall, was on-hand helping make the coffees on the excellent Marzocco machine.

The Marzocco espresso machine at Cafe@36 in Exeter

Coffee at Cafe@36 in Exeter

And they’d just got a sample in of loose-leaf teas as well, from Teasme, also based in the South West, but whose teas I tasted in Southwell of all places! And I can assure you, they’re lovely.

John and Sue are the kind of people I marvel at for the way they juggle so many activities in their lives (they remind me of the couple who ran the lovely Tea Cupboard in Cumberland, Maryland).

Sue holds down a full-time job, but manages to keep the Café twitter account going very actively; and not satisfied with just running their excellent little café, John is pushing Indie co operation in Exeter, with his Xmas Trail across a dozen or so outlets.

It’s thanks to that trail that I also discovered Devon Coffee, right up in the city centre on Queen Street (and right next door to one of the corporate coffee outfits).

Coffee and cake at Devon Coffee in Exeter

Devon Coffee focuses almost exclusively on the coffee, though owner Steve was just getting a tray of brownies out of the oven as I pitched up. They also serve the lovely Origin Coffee, but have some guest roasts too, and an Italian barista in Pier.

Along with their fantastic stripped walls, on which they found some remarkable old bill posters, this makes Devon Coffee a lovely, intimate experience the people of Exeter would be daft to ignore.

Poster on the wall at Devon Coffee in Exeter

From great coffee experiences, I had a bit of a hiccup in my day when I turned up at the Cathedral.

This is one of the Cathedrals that have opted to go for an entrance ‘fee’ rather than relying on donations. I always raise the issue as a matter of principle, but am resigned to it being the way a handful of cathedrals have decided is the way forward.

Exeter Cathedral

What I object to is being told that ‘most cathedrals’ now charge for entrance; and when I challenged this, being told that over 20 of the ‘44’ cathedrals now have an entrance fee.

Of course, Fancy a Cuppa?’s cathedral tour takes in all denominations, and there are in fact more like 120 cathedrals across the churches all over the UK. But even taking just the Church of England cathedrals, I have yet to find 20 that oblige visitors to pay to go in, and I’ve only a handful left to visit now.

The trouble was that, in addition to paying to go in, there wasn’t even a cheery welcome from any of the staff standing around the place. It really didn’t have the feel of Truro, Wells or Portsmouth from my recent visits…

Tea was a real tonic in Exeter, though.

In front of Jolly Roger Tea Room in Exeter

The Jolly Roger Tea Rooms down by the river raised my spirits after my cathedral come-down.

What a fantastic range of loose-leaf teas they have on offer here; and a wonderful menu of afternoon teas to choose from too.

Tea at the Jolly Roger Tea Room in Exeter

There was great service from Dawn and Hannah in the absence of owners Annie and Andy. And Annie’s another person juggling many lives, running a massage centre next door and making her own jewellery for sale in between making tea and doing massages!

What a positive vibe to the place, though. I must make a point of coming back on International Pirates Day, when apparently everyone dresses up in costume (though apparently it gets a bit scratchy and hot as a pirate if the weather’s warm…)

Yep, for coffee and tea, Exeter is an excellent place to come!

But before you get too excited about the amazing looking Mol’s Coffee House, sadly this is no longer a coffee shop, but it must have had some great stories to tell from the time it was…




Video: Exeter – from indie coffee to pirates for teaMols Coffee House in Exeter

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