I have long despaired over Bristol’s coffee scene. For a city that offers so many great things — from top-notch cinema at the Watershed to great shopping in Cabot Circus and some lovely restaurants in Clifton Village — the coffee scene is shockingly nonexistent. Perhaps it’s better to say it was nonexistent because the guys at Small Street Espresso are trying their hardest to craft coffee in a city that is more Caffè Nero than Cafe Integral.
My schedule for my time in Bristol was dreadfully business like. Get new ID card, visit bank, activate ID card, buy a bag that actually zips shut, etc. On it was everything that you don’t really want to do but feel grown-up when you cross it off your to-do list. My day received a much-needed jolt from a stop by Small Street Espresso, which is in the center near Cabot Circus. While it, unfortunately, isn’t close to the university, it is near-enough to other places that you would actually want to visit, making it a brilliantly located oasis.
Small Street Espresso is a tiny slip of a cafe in terms of what you find in Bristol, but the small size worked in its favor. There was plenty of benches to sit on and little wooden tables on which to perch your coffee. When I walked in at midday on Friday, it was mostly empty. Customers drifted in and out while I drank my coffee. It didn’t seem like space would be much of an issue here as I’m guessing most customers in the neighborhood are getting their caffeine to take away during the morning hours.
I walked in, glanced at the board and ordered a cappuccino. My barista (one of the two owners, I’m guessing) began explaining the two different beans that I could choose from for my coffee. I wanted to jump up and down, I was so thrilled to FINALLY have a serious coffee experience in my university town. I chose their house blend, which was described as having a rich dark chocolatey/nutty edge. I forget the name of the other one (which was a rotating option), but he described it as milk chocolate-y and sweet.
My cappuccino was good, though a touch milky. Had I ordered a latte I would have been thrilled. The coffee was excellent, I just wanted more of the flavor. Is this my ordering fault or is it the drink? I’m going to say a bit of both. The cappuccino was well-made, just in a larger cup than I would have expected from my NYC coffee experiences. Seeing as a cortado is my go-to drink in New York, I’m perpetually disappointed by cappuccinos that are too milky. Very rarely do I have one that hits the nail on the head. Next time I go back I probably wouldn’t order a cappuccino, but I have a feeling that I’ll enjoy whatever I chose to drink.
That being said, this is good coffee. It’s not just good, for Bristol. The guys who own Small Street are clearly passionate about their work and the drink options are fantastic. If you are in Bristol, or in the South West, definitely stop by Small Street Espresso. The cafe is an oasis in an otherwise uniform experience.
Not to mention, they had a great little coffee-book library complete with The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee and the 2012 guide to NYC cafes. That’s a winner for sure.
What’s the best cup of coffee that you’ve had outside of a traditional coffee “city”?