This is how we brew it: The cafés of the Cotswolds

.Having lived in the shadow of its Antipodean counterpart, British coffee-shop culture is finally thriving. Ben Lerwill visits the Cotswolds, where it all began.

Drift a short way east of the Cotswolds to the cobbles and spires of Oxford and you’ll find the site of England’s first coffeehouse, which opened in the early 1650s. It’s reported to have been a meeting place for enlightened thinkers, although it’s a safe bet that it wasn’t serving flat whites and oat-milk cortados, sourcing almond croissants from the local sourdough bakery or providing Kilner jars of dog treats.

Our expectations of what a good café should entail — and, for that matter, a good coffee — have shifted within the space of a generation. The ongoing march of high-street café chains has been an unavoidable part of this, but more influential has been the growth of stylish independent cafés with a more finessed, artisan approach to coffee-making, as well as a commitment to quality produce and authentic customer service.

This is as true in the Cotswolds as it is anywhere. The region’s soft valleys and stone-clad villages have traditionally been synonymous with tea and scones, but, these days, you can barely turn a corner without encountering a steaming espresso machine. New, high-quality cafés — including these five recent openings — are springing up all the time.

‘It has to be about more than good coffee and good food. It’s about meeting, greeting, acknowledging and smiling’

Lynwood & Co, Moreton-in-Marsh —

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Run by Australian husband-and-wife team Rob and Kats Broadbent, Lynwood & Co now has eight cafés in and around the Cotswolds. Its first, in the riverside town of Lechlade, has been serving customers since 2015, whereas its most recent opening — which poured its first latte in early 2024 — is in pretty Moreton-in-Marsh.

‘It used to be very difficult to get a decent coffee in the Cotswolds, apart from perhaps Cirencester,’ says Mr Broadbent. ‘It felt to me that the UK was 10 years behind Australia in the coffee world, so, when an opportunity came up in Lechlade, we went for it.’

‘For a long time, the UK accepted the larger chains as how coffee should be,’ he adds. ‘Then, slowly, you introduce speciality baristas who go to great lengths to make an amazing product. It’s now taken off and people accept quite gladly that this is how coffee should taste.’

The Lynwood brand is named after the New South Wales farm owned by Mr Broadbent’s mother, who made chutneys and preserves. Food also figures prominently in Lynwood & Co’s cafés: ‘We make everything, from the breads and pastries to the salads and sandwiches,’ he explains.

He has little patience, however, for overly snobbish coffee shops. ‘There are places in London where it’s as if you’re expected to feel honoured to be there. We base our whole ethos on the value of looking after people and making the café a special place to come. It has to be about more than good coffee and good food. It’s about meeting, greeting, acknowledging and smiling. If you have bad customer service, people don’t forget.’

‘Number one is community’

Boho on the Hill, Stroud —

Founded by Pennie McKenzie in 2016, The Boho Collective started life as an independent catering company, working the British festival circuit over the summer and the French Alps over winter. It later put down roots as The Boho Bakery, based in a former cow barn outside Stroud, before relocating last year to nearby Chalford Hill and becoming Boho on the Hill.

‘I think the new café has got two things at its heart,’ says Miss McKenzie. ‘Number one is community. We try to create a sense of community wherever we go and here on the hill we’ve been so lucky, they’ve really welcomed us in.’

Baking is the great passion behind Boho. ‘We’ve done cakes for the likes of Lily Allen and WOMAD [festival]’s 40th birthday,’ Miss McKenzie continues. ‘We bake everything here on site — Bakewell tarts, brownies, Victoria sponge, quiche, sausage rolls, you name it.’

Coffee, too, is at the café’s heart. ‘Everybody’s become more attuned to what makes a good coffee,’ she explains. ‘They know what they’re after. We get so many requests these days for styles such as cortados and long blacks. It keeps it interesting from our perspective. Our roaster, Fire & Flow, is fantastic at barista training.’

She also highlights a vital asset for any rural café. ‘What the Cotswolds does better than almost anywhere is welcome dogs,’ she says. ‘We get so many in here that we make our own dog treats. There’s even a cat that comes in with its owner.’)

‘I’d hate to serve a coffee I wouldn’t drink myself’

King Shots Coffee, Cheltenham —

Bringing yet another Antipodean link to the Cotswolds café scene, Chris Kingshott developed an obsession with coffee-making after taking a backpacking job at a café in Perth, Australia. On returning home, he set up King Shots Coffee — a mobile coffee van that counted Prue Leith as its first customer — before opening The Dug Out Café in mid 2023.

Its name is inspired by its location in Burrow’s Field, a 15-acre spread of greenery and playgrounds where the community football pitches of Leckhampton Rovers FC take centre stage. ‘I used to love going to the park with my young daughter, but, without being disrespectful, the coffee on offer was nothing I would look forward to,’ Mr Kingshott remembers. ‘When this opportunity came up, the vision I wanted was for people to be able to have a really nice cup of coffee when they’re heading to the playground or watching their kids playing football.’

He already sees seasonal fluctuations in the drinks being ordered — more caffé mochas in the winter, shorter coffees or iced brews in the summer — and bakes his own brownies year round. Supplementing the menu, local farms, bakeries and butchers supply everything, from apple juice to bacon. Children can expect milkshakes and ice creams; dogs can look forward to ‘puppuccinos’.

Mr Kingshott’s overriding priorities, however, are non-negotiable: ‘To me, it’s paramount that great customer service and great coffee are at the forefront of the café. I’d hate to serve a coffee that I wouldn’t drink myself.’

Chris Kingshott will drive to your event, as at Elmore Court in Gloucestershire, when not offering succour at Burrow’s Field.

 ‘Coffee isn’t just a dark, roasted thing’

Society Café, Cheltenham —

Adrian and Jane Campbell-Howard are the former owners of The Dial House Hotel in Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire. After selling the property in 2008, they subsequently ran a hotel in Marrakech, Morocco, before returning to the Cotswolds. ‘We thought, what if we took everything we’d learned from high-end hospitality and put it into a coffee shop?’ recalls Mrs Campbell-Howard. ‘Somewhere comfortable and friendly, where people would feel fine coming in with wet shoes, but somewhere stylish, too.’

They opened their first café in Bath in 2012. ‘We wanted to bridge that gap of having speciality, high-grade coffee, but without the slightly sniffy, laboratorial attitude you found with some coffee shops,’ explains Mrs Campbell-Howard. The Bath café has since been joined by others in Bristol, Oxford and — most recently, in March 2023 — in a spacious period building in Cheltenham. All offer locally sourced food and a house coffee blend, alongside a range of guest roasters.

The best-selling coffee style at all their cafés is the flat white, with plenty of demand too for lattes and cappuccinos. ‘Batch brew, a kind of filter coffee drunk black, is becoming more and more popular, too,’ says Mr Campbell-Howard. ‘It’s almost tea-like in its flavour because it’s made very light. People are cottoning on to the fact that coffee isn’t just a dark, roasted thing.’

‘A great café should be a hub,’ he continues. ‘We called it Society because we want every-one to feel at home, from business people and parents with pushchairs to people who really want to geek out about the process and provenance of the coffee itself. We always say that the cafés are our customers’ spaces, not ours. That’s so important.’

‘Coffee culture is such a big thing, it’s like a religion almost’

Rise & Flour, Chipping Norton —

New Zealand native Joanna Alani — a former patisserie teacher — moved from London to the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with her husband in 2020. Settling in Fifield, she soon spotted a gap in the market for quality fresh bread and began baking sourdough loaves for the likes of Upton Smokery and Burford Garden Company. She subsequently opened Rise & Flour in nearby Milton-under-Wychwood, initially as a small bakery, but, from the summer of 2022, as an elegant village café.

‘We put a lot of love and effort into the whole process,’ Mrs Alani says, smiling. ‘Coffee culture is such a big thing in New Zealand and Australia — it’s like a religion almost, with people stopping in at their local café on the way to work — so we wanted to bring a bit of that to what we’re doing. It’s a beautiful community-based café, that’s the biggest thing. We make our own bread, cook from scratch and have great coffee.’

Among a menu of brunch items and pastries, the café’s home-baked banana bread and cinnamon buns always sell well, whereas flat whites, cappuccinos and lattes are the most commonly ordered coffees. ‘And it’s incredible how many people have oat milk with their drinks now,’ Mrs Alani adds.

She feels strongly about customer care: ‘The cafés I’ve really connected with are the ones that are friendly, that care about who I am as a customer. That’s what I love and that’s what I wanted for here. The more you give, the more you get back.’