Last updated on December 18, 2023
I (Victoria) can more or less call myself an expert in Bristol’s cafes (I write most of this blog from them!), but it’s taking me a while to get into speciality coffee (for years, all single estate coffee tasted like ayahuasca to me!). So while my love for fancy coffee is growing, I decided to enlist the help of an already established coffee snob to write this post. So here’s a guide to the best speciality coffee in Bristol from Mr Miles Skinner. Over to Miles….
The best places for speciality coffee in Bristol
I don’t know about you, but I often apply more credence to reviews and opinions from people I already have shared interests with, or an affinity towards, so it might be useful to know a little about me.
I’m Miles and I met Victoria in (you may have already guessed) a café. We struck up a conversation, which turned into a working relationship and now friendship (and yes, the café we frequent does feature in this list, of course).
I work remotely from cafés (and more adventurous places when the fancy takes me) as a technical copywriter and writer. I’m also a surfer and cyclist as well as an amateur coffee enthusiast. I’m quite ethically and ecologically conscious. Care, attention, and respect matter to me. That’s probably why speciality coffee resonates with me, and perhaps why Victoria asked me to write this piece for Bridges and Balloons.
What is speciality coffee anyway?
Speciality coffee is defined (by the Speciality Coffee Association) as ‘any coffee with a score of 80+ on the Q graders scoring system’ (whatever the heck that is) and looks at the whole of the process involved from bean to cup.
A speciality café takes that whole process into account and delivers a service befitting that coffee. A speciality café will put in the time to learn about their coffee, invest in the entire service and process, and give it respect, care and attention in order to give you the best experience possible: from bean to cup to belly.
There are cases where this may be taken a bit far and you’re left feeling out of place and confused. Perhaps you’ve experienced walking into a speciality café and asking for a cappuccino only to be advised that the coffee you chose is better without milk as a pour-over filter method of brewing. While it’s likely true, to the novice among us those words will mean nothing and you might be left feeling insulted. This is something that any good café can avoid with friendly and wise staff that help you have the best experience possible.
Coffee culture in Bristol
The coffee culture in Bristol is verging on unparalleled. We’re blessed with a myriad of superb cafes run by genuinely lovely humans serving brilliant coffee, which is often roasted locally by equally excellent people. Because of this choice, it can be hard to know where to start.
Hopefully this article will introduce you to somewhere new. Or maybe just reaffirm your faith in your choice of refuge, which is what I think a café is: a refuge (or a ‘third place’).
Cafes as a ‘third place’
Here’s a little sociology to give some insight into why cafes are so important and why we should support them.
According to sociologist Ray Oldenburg, a third place is a separate social environment to that of home (the first place) and work (the second place). A café is one of these third places. Many other establishments can fall into this category (like a bar or library), but the café will always be my favourite refuge.
I believe cafés as ‘third places’ are of paramount importance to society, human interaction, and our own sense of joy. Even if we go to a café and speak to no-one, we are still among people, all partaking in a group activity. There is unity in that. And in these trying times, sometimes that base level of unity and community is all we need to get through the day. Don’t underestimate the power of a café as a third place.
What I’m looking for in a cafe
When I go to a café, I want to feel welcome. I want to be greeted and made to feel like my visit matters. I want to feel like my money is going to people who care about their job and the community they’re building by operating a café in that neighbourhood. I want to have consistently good coffee made by people who are passionate about their craft.
The cafes I’ve chosen for this list are the ones I think deliver the best overall coffee experience. They’re also independent businesses where your visit really matters. Nothing against baristas in those chain cafes, they may really care about the coffee they serve, but the corporate vampires don’t care about anything but profits. Please support your local caffeine dealer – you’ll have a much better time and a much better drink.
So now you know what I’m looking for, hopefully if you visit one of these places you’ll see why I think they’re at the top of their game.
Think I’ve missed one? Let me know. I’ll go a couple of times then add it to the list if I agree with you. Remember it’s about the quality of the coffee and the care and attention that goes into it. Some cafes are amazing for other reasons, but this list is about speciality coffee only.
9 best speciality cafes for coffee in Bristol
So without further ado, here’s a list of top places in Bristol for speciality coffee.
(Cotham – Clifton/Redland)
My local. Cotham Hill’s (unofficial) community centre, as it’s sometimes referred to by their own sign, is just that: a bustling playground for meeting friends, old and new.
1B Pitville is the epitome of a neighbourhood café, bringing everyone in the area together and providing introductions to locals and regulars. It’s a place where sharing a table with someone new is recommended, encouraged and sometimes necessary to sample the menu. The team have exceptional knowledge of coffee and offer a refined selection of brewing and filter methods. There’s a consistently interesting rotation of new beans and roasts celebrating local talent.
The décor could be described as outdoor-indoor. They currently use patio furniture to create a relaxed and flexible environment that can shift and adapt to accommodate everyone. And with front and back outdoor space, you can make the most of the great outdoors. Getting a laptop out isn’t frowned at, but with interesting conversation and a great soundtrack at all times, it might be difficult to not be enthralled by the environment.
There’s a reason this café has such loyal regulars: the product on offer is of excellent quality, the customer service is attentive and genuine, and the atmosphere is welcoming and fun. With a food offering of locally produced baked goods, fresh and interesting sandwiches, toasties and soups, all made in house using unique ingredients that change regularly, it’s hard not to spend the entire day here.
Full Court Press
(Old Town – City Centre)
This is my go-to for coffee in central Brisol. With an extremely knowledgeable and friendly team, FCP (as it’s known to the locals) is also a Bristol roastery producing some of the best coffee for your home brewing needs. If you want to enter the Bristol coffee scene, a visit to Full Court Press is a must, the team will happily talk beans and roasting with you, and help you find the perfect cup for every palette.
The interior is refined and simple with wood, white and grey walls, and coffee equipment making up the décor. Great coffee, good vibes, and a consistently fun and energetic environment attracts people from all backgrounds. There is some limited seating downstairs, as well as outside in the now dedicated area (thank you covid for giving us al fresco seating!).
To be a barista at FCP is to really care about the product you are using and serving, so you can expect an exceptional cup of coffee every time you visit. Importantly here though, there is not one drop of snobbery anywhere on site. And for such a highly regarded and well-known spot, this is a very important note. With a small selection of cakes made locally and a limited non-caffeinated menu, this really is a place for coffee lovers, experienced or new.
What do you get when you mix two outstanding humans, a gin distillery, sheer passion, and coffee knowledge coming out the wazoo? Interlude, that’s what.
Based inside the site of Psychopomp gin distillery in St Michael’s Hill, Cotham, comes two former Full Court Press team members’ new venture. It’s a cosy spot with outdoor seating and high tables inside.
Lawrence and Chloe excel in delivering exquisite speciality coffee from Dino’s, their sister small-batch roastery, as well as from other local roasteries. Add to this genuine, engaged conversation and a warming environment to take a break from the humdrum of modern life and you’re on to a winner.
With exciting plans up their sleeves, such as a Sunday small plates offering made by Chloe (Picky Bites), natural wine and of course caffeine, Interlude is definitely one to get excited about, even if you only go to check out their space age machinery.
(North Street – Southville/Bedminster)
Sweven certainly gives the impression of being next level in speciality coffee and is arguably the height of Bristol’s foray into that world. The décor is bright white, industrial minimalist offset with dark wood. Sparse and spacious, with small tables, built-in seating, and a striking large honeycomb tiled counter. Undeniably a statement in itself, the décor might be an attempt to give you only one thing to think about while you’re there, and that’s the coffee.
Sweven has a focussed and quiet team playing host to a quintessentially Bristol clientele. There’s a high proportion of babies permeating the clinical background, giving rise to the impression you’re in a strange waiting room. To complement the high standard of coffee, there’s also a good selection of cakes, bakes and non-caffeinated beverages.
Some of the equipment used looks like it should belong in a laboratory instead of a café. Perhaps not as bustling or joy filled as other establishments on this list, Sweven delivers a different experience, one that is concentrated and focussed, considered yet passionate. When there’s the potential of spending over £5 on a single cup of coffee, you know you’re somewhere serious.
Mercy Mercy Mercy
This prime site in Clifton Village has been exceptional ever since Kyle and Sid took it over with Papersmiths back in 2013. It’s been through several incarnations since in the form of Sunday General, and now Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.
With an exceptional food menu and a suitable amount of ‘hair of the dog’ hangover cures this might be more of a brunch spot to nurse the hazy memory of the night before. On quieter days, though, it is an equally suitable place to simply enjoy a coffee made with Cardiff-based Hard Lines beans and enough attention to detail to feature on this list.
A bit of a stretch to call it speciality compared to some on this list, I know, but comparative in the Village area, this is where I’d go for a pick-me-up. I’m looking forward to Mercy settling in to their new spot with plentiful outdoor seating and a suitable mix of indoor seating options, there’s plenty of room to go around.
(Wapping Wharf – Spike Island)
There’s a warm and friendly atmosphere at Little Victories with an attitude that’s unwaveringly calm and focussed – impressive considering the footfall it meets during peak summer hours.
The food offering is great for a quick lunch with bread-based delights and a strong range of cakes available. The drinks menu is one of the largest on this list, offering speciality filter methods like V60 and Chemex for a rotating range of coffees. And it also has a great list of non-caffeinated beverages for the whole family.
On the more unusual side in terms of furniture, Little Victories offers a range of seating, and by range I mean variation in height. The inside has a few taller seating options, so you can perch up high and watch the world go by, or sit outside on street level in their well sheltered corner of bustling Wapping Wharf.
In such a prime location there’s certainly a different ambience here than some of the other cafes on this list, and with the harbour in sight, there’s an almost holiday vibe, which is a welcome thing in any city.
I’ve never known a café to be so aptly named as Greytone, even if Sweven changed their name to Whitetone. With very little in this café not being a shade of grey, they win the award for most industrialist café on this list.
The new speciality coffee locale for those of us to be found in the Stokes Croft and St Paul’s area of town gives us exactly what is needed in speciality coffee dealings: attention to detail, sharp and precise measurements and pours, and a very strong rotating selection of espressos and filters.
Perhaps not the most comfortable seating experience on this Bristol breakdown but, like Sweven, this is a serious place for serious caffeine consumption.
A small selection of homemade baked goods with some interesting flavour profiles really elevate the experience, akin to a cheese pairing with wine.
As the name suggests, this café is a vibrant mix of both plant life and people, with good food and coffee served in a compact old store front in Clifton Village.
Foliage Café sells a little selection of plants, locally roasted coffee (as well as brewing equipment) and deli goods, alongside serving a refined but tasty food menu and very decent drinks selection.
The coffee on offer varies slightly from roastery to bean to keep things fresh and is clearly made with the care required to fall into the category of speciality. I did um and ah about including Foliage in this list for a while, as although the coffee is certainly good, it’s definitely more of a café to go for food in.
Very rarely quiet, there is always a queue for takeaway drinks and cakes. And being quite a small space, Foliage is more a place for visiting and enjoying socially rather than sitting in for an extended period of time for a little peace and quiet. I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable cracking out a book and having a slow coffee with people queuing out the door eagerly awaiting my table. This, though, is testament to just how good the food is and proves that Foliage is worth the visit
Cabot Circus – Central East
Coffee roasteries in Bristol are a dime a dozen, and that is no bad thing. We are fortunate to have some of the best in the country right here on our doorstep. And what’s better than having just the roastery? Having that same roastery open up a café in house. I’m a big fan of roastery cafés (like FCP) for the simple reason that we really get to see the whole ‘bean to cup’ care and attention of speciality coffee in one sitting.
Wogan (nope, not Terry) have been around for a long time and are well established as purveyors of fine beans. But with their recent rebranding work and new café opening up in their warehouse roastery behind Cabot Circus, they’re giving customers a comprehensive coffee experience that delivers on every level bar one. That is the unfortunate view of the M32 entrance to Bristol, which gives the overall feeling of being in a motorway services (albeit a very clean, modern and well-designed service station).
Wogan offer the most brewing methods I’ve seen in one establishment. And while some are certainly only there to show you how not to have a coffee, it’s hard to fault the enthusiasm. I must say that even though the expansive selection of coffee and brewing methods might be overwhelming to the uninitiated amongst us, the team are approachable and more than happy to talk coffee to help you get the best cup.
They also serve a large selection of tea, a few soft drinks, some sandwiches from Emmeline and a small batch of bakes. Overall, I highly rate this establishment and strongly recommend you visit. If you’re new to speciality, try the Wondering with Wogan offering as a well thought out introduction to coffee brewing, past, present and future, to see how far we’ve come.
New Cut Coffee
Set in one of Spike Island’s old workshops is the newest café in this rundown: New Cut Coffee. Staying true to the origins of the building it inhabits, the décor is rustic and raw, with steel, concrete and wood coming together to form a comfortable space with a range of limited seating. Facing the harbour provides an open view of Bristol life from the outside benches.
Being situated on the popular Wapping Wharf, you can expect a range of clientele passing through for a coffee, from tourists grabbing a coffee to keep them going as they explore Bristol, to afficionados coming to work in the accommodating environment and to chat coffee with the friendly team behind the counter. The coffee selection changes regularly, and with a unique cake selection, small menu of savoury bites and good range of non-caffeinated beverages, there is something for everyone here.
The only one on this list that could be considered a chain, though a small chain at that. Society Café has firmly established itself in Bath, Oxford and Bristol as a home to digital nomads, city visitors and hometown explorers alike. With two accommodating and spacious venues in prime central locations in Bristol, Society Café has a firm hold on delivering coffee culture for the masses.
Both locations stay true to their original buildings by showcasing the original beams of an old storehouse, and highlighting the modern industrial nature of office life. Society then adds charming art, striking photography and a muted colour palette with pops of colour to create comfortable spaces that feel modern and clean.
With a varying coffee offering, in addition to a good range of cakes and extensive menu of fresh smoothies, teas, and soft drinks, it would be hard not to find something for you on the menu.
The teams are always welcoming and attentive, working together to form a well-oiled machine to easily deal with busy periods while still smiling. Certainly a different kind of café compared to any other on this list due to its capacity for patrons, it still manages to consistently deliver on product quality.
Small Street Espresso
The clue is in the name for this one. It’s on Small Street, it serves coffee, and it’s small in nature. It’s a cosy and comfortable refuge on a quiet side street of bustling Old Town in central Bristol. In my opinion, the combination of brick and natural woods with warm lighting and a low ceiling make this the cosiest café I’ve featured. The perfect spot to have a quiet chat with a colleague or relax tucked away in a corner with a good book. The café has a range of sandwiches and baked goods, highlighted by doughnuts fresh from Small Goods (part of the same company).
The coffee served here is understated and doesn’t disappoint. Be sure to try the constantly changing guest offering, showcasing local and national roasters. Small Street Espresso is a delightfully unassuming establishment with a justifiably loyal clientele. For me it’s very much a refuge from life’s demands.
The following cafe’s are my honourable mentions. These are other great cafés that do the business, though for varying reasons aren’t places I regularly visit.
- Coffee + Beer
- Coffee Under Pressure
- 404 Bristol
- Baristas Coffee Collective
- 25a Old Market
- Oddkin Coffe Roasters
Coffee roasters in Bristol
Note from Victoria: I have an article on Bristol’s coffee roasters earmarked for the future, but for now, in case that’s what you’re looking for, here are some links to the ones I know. A good way to try out some of these at home is by signing up to The Local Coffee Club who will send you a different bag of locally roasted coffee beans every month.
- Triple Co Roast
- Radical Roasters
- Full Court Press
- Extract Coffee Roasters
- Lost Horizon
- Bristol Twenty
- Two Day
- Blind Owl Coffee
- Boona Boona
- Odd Kin
- Clifton Coffee Roasters
- Girls Who Grind
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Bristol food: 30 of the best restaurants in Bristol | 8 of the best Bristol bakeries | Best places for brunch in Bristol |The best cafes in Bristol | 8 of the best places for speciality coffee in Bristol | Bristol’s best Sunday roasts