Canterbury does its best to mix the ancient and the contemporary – and it’s no different with its coffee shops and tea rooms.
The two coffee shops we found both opened in the last 12 months, but with different coffee and a very different feel from each other.
The tea room is a classic: been around for 14 years in a building that goes back more than 400 years.
Canterbury itself has some hideous 1960s buildings, some of which are apparently listed these days (whose idea was that??), but it also has Roman bits and a wonderful city centre full of independent shops.
The coffee shops we liked are a little bit off the main high street (for rental cost reasons, no doubt). But both are little gems…
Well, in the case of Browns Coffee House on Water Lane, not so little. It shares the premises with the Punting Company, which must be fun when the notion of punters goes beyond your average coffee customer.
They do Origin Coffee, roasted in Cornwall, but obviously extending its reach all along the south coast now that it’s reached the eastern end of Kent. It’s a lovely coffee, though, and went down very easily with the locally-baked apple pie (hey Kent IS the orchard of England, so what better pastry to have here?).
Great atmosphere here, even on a blowy winter’s day; with the River Stour streaming past, you can see why the punting gear is hanging on the coffee shop wall rather than flowing downstream on the Stour at this time of year.
Great to meet owner Josh and barista Luke, both passionate about their coffee and the coffee shop they set up just 9 months ago.
Just around the corner – in Stour Street, but ironically NOT on the riverbank itself – is the other coffee shop we loved in Canterbury.
Willows Special Kitchen is very different from Browns. It’s tiny for a start, which gives it a more intimate feel in one way, but also means if you’re there in a big group you just might feel a bit cramped.
We loved it, though, especially as they serve two of my favourite coffees in the UK: from Has Bean and Allpress. The cappuccino was the Has Bean Jail Break blend I’d had before in Birmingham and loved. Just as good here, too.
And what a great pair of baristas serving (in the absence of owners Stuart and Sarah). Jake and Charlie are the types of guys who can talk about their coffee till the cows come home, not to mention all the other local products they painstakingly prepare and serve here.
Oh, and nobody even batted an eyelid when the other member of the Cuppa team asked for a decaff, having had her daily limit at the coffee shop round the corner.
They served up a really special Aussie Latte in a small glass. Made from Red Cherry roaster in Whitstable. This was so tasty and fruity that it might even convert me to decaff…one day.
Willows push their vacuum press coffee, and next time I’m there I’ll definitely give it a go, just to see what these amazing contraptions do (and one of their specimens dates back to the 1800s). But this time around we’re having cappuccino everywhere, just so we have a level playing field for everyone.
So, all caffeined up, we went off to visit the HQ of English cathedrals.
The trouble with Canterbury Cathedral is that it costs £9.50 to enter even the cathedral grounds; and there’s no free guided tour as is the case in most of the cathedrals that make you pay an entrance fee. No, you fork out another £4 for an audio tour and a fiver if you want a human to guide you round.
I know all the arguments about why a handful of cathedrals have begun charging. I don’t agree with them, but that’s their choice.
What they need to realise is that by charging an entrance fee they are also changing the relationship with the visitor. I don’t enter such places with the same reverence as I do a holy place that doesn’t charge; I feel more like a customer, and that makes for a very different attitude as I walk around; I am no longer in awe of the mystery and holiness: I want the customer service to be excellent and the welcome as good as it is in an independent coffee shop.
Just take note of that, you cathedrals that want to be tourist destinations. It will change your relationship to your visitors forever…
One person who knows how to nurture the relationship with his customers is Nimmy Sandhu, who runs the wonderful Moat Tea Rooms in Burgate, Canterbury.
This is a classic tea room, with 40 types of loose-leaf tea on offer, blended and supplied by a local company with direct links to India. They bake their cakes in-house and it’s all served on lovely tiered platters. This and the beautiful 15th century building with low oak beams upstairs and great Tudor frontage makes me wonder why it hasn’t made it to the Tea Guild’s list yet…
It certainly goes on our list. And we particularly loved the way Mr Sandhu and his nephew Kelvin were just as welcoming to overseas tourists turning up in big groups as they were to their regulars, like Trevor the local jeweller who sat and passed the time of day over a cuppa while we had our afternoon tea.
So, with this Canterbury tale of tea and coffee we finish this current tour of the UK’s cathedral towns and cities.
Canterbury was the 89th place we’ve visited in the UK in 2012 in search of coffee and tea by the cathedral. The job now switches to editing so that I have something manageable to make into the next Fancy a Cuppa? book.
But don’t worry. I’m sure there’ll be other things to blog about over the next few weeks and months as I whittle down the words to something less than biblical in size…