The Eating Exeter Coffee Marathon


In Exeter we do Coffee Shops really well.  Cafes, Coffee Houses, no matter what you call them, are everywhere and although we have a number of the standard bland depressing chain coffee shops, we also have a raft of excellent cafes that do something with coffee that you’re unlikely to find in Costalot or Starbucks.

To celebrate this fact, I came up with The Eating Exeter Coffee Marathon, a quest to find the best cup of coffee in Exeter.  This would be an unscientific exploration of coffee shops and an experience that would help to personify why people go to coffee shops in the first place, because after all it isn’t just the coffee.

The marathon was less of an endurance race, but moreso a gentle tour of the places that Exonians like to go to have coffee.  There are a raft of wonderful independent cafes and a hoarde of chains that are still quite popular  and in the great coffee marathon we can’t ignore them completely. So last week on one of my sacred days off, we held our first marathon.

There has been some sort of place serving coffee in Exeter since at least the 18th century. Mol’s Coffee House is often stated as one of these early places, although it didn’t actually last that long (it stopped functioning as a Coffee House in 1837) the name stuck.
Dellers Cafe in the High St., The Clock Tower Cafe, El Zamba in Fore St. are all cafes that have existed but still remain fondly in the memories of older Exonians.  But times and tastes change and the café scene in Exeter has changed beyond recognition over the last twenty years.  Luckily I had my copy of the South West Independent Coffee Guide produced by Salt Media which includes at least five Exeter based coffee shops worth visiting and we managed to visit two of them.  Tori was joining me on this caffinated quest, sketchbook in bag, ready to draw something in each place we visited.

1. Pret A Manger

I’ve done quite well ignoring this place.  London is littered with these little shops, all of them small clones of each other serving the same sort of coffee.  And they are always frantic.  The Exeter branch is no different, a busy bustling hell-a-bub of bodies, babies, buggies and lunchtime shoppers, shoving and moving.  Eating, drinking, chatting, and so much noise.

But there are big windows, perfect for people watching, and lots of natural light.  The coffee was inexpensive compared to Costalot, an Americano and a Cortada was under £5 for both of us.

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Pret Manger interior

The coffee wasn’t undrinkable.  Tori quite enjoyed the experience, and the surroundings were certainly an improvement over the majority of London branches, but the feeling that this was just another chain doing the same thing as the rest of them was hard to shift.  But wait…am I right in thinking Pret give away unsold food at the end of the day to homeless? Compared to Costa who chuck it in a bag and weigh it? Yup.  According to an ex-Costa employee that we spoke to later that afternoon, this is something that actually happens. This just gave Pret some browny points.

Our coffee marathon was intersected with a trip to the wonderful Circa 1924 to sample their lovely Pop-up lunch menu. Which you read by clicking the link.

After a lovely stuffed feeling, we walked off our food with a quick visit to a couple of shops. But after a small mooch, we got back on the caffiene trail and headed over the Chadnos Deli.

2. Chandos Deli

– Apologies to Chandos Deli, my auto-correct decided to rename it Chadnos! Now edited!

I have to admit, I have never stepped foot through the doors of this cool little Deli-Cafe. The little brother of the other four based in Bristol, Chandos is hidden behind the retail megaliths that make up Princesshay.  Such a shame, as this is the only real Deli in this part of Exeter.

The coffee is from Brian Wogan, the only other place in Exeter that serves this brand is Dart’s Farm.  I went for a flat white, it was full of flavour and quite bitter.

There was a good range of items available to purchase in the shop, the sandwiches and baguettes are renowned for being well made and very full.  A good lunchtime spot for more people watching with more big windows and the perfect viewpoint.

3. Devon Coffee – www.devoncoffee.co.uk

At this point I was giggling like a mad thing and saying ‘bibble’ a lot.  So we decided that given my highly caffinated ramblings and the fact we were running out of time, that the marathon would stop at Devon Coffee.

Devon Coffee has recently given birth to Exe Coffee Roasters.  They have opened a new premises opposite The Pyramids swimming baths, and I am sure that I’ll be paying them a visit in the future.  But for the moment, this is the original Devon Coffee.

Its a cosy affair with a wall covered in the original wooden cladding that was exposed during the refurbishment of the shop.  Posters that had not been seen for generations are now back on display, albeit a little battered, but nonetheless impressive.  And, like this fantastic wall, the coffee is quite lovely.  Their roast changes regularly, and along with the coffee they also sell Luscombe drinks, cakes and other assorted bits to eat. I like cake.

We had a good natter with the barista who let us take some photos.

We got home, I buzzed my way through the evening but still managed to sleep through the night.  But the next day I had a caffiene hangover, not even a fried breakfast could cure.

Will I do another marathon? Possibly.  I wanted to visit The Exploding Bakery and Artigianos (I am a bit of a regular there) as they are listed in my copy of the South West’s best coffee guide.

For coffee lovers, you really need to get yourself a copy of the South West Independent Coffee Guide.  They are on number two now, which just shows that it is going from strength to strength and is a definite read for those who take their coffee seriously.

The best cup of coffee in Exeter is quite a title, I think Devon Coffee was my winner this afternoon, but who will score on the next Eating Exeter Coffee Marathon?

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Author: Chris

He may look very complicated, but he is in fact very simple. He runs on sausages and beer. Co-founder of Eating Exeter. Librarian at Exeter College.

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