“It works like a dream,” says Pete the barista, gesturing to the 30 year-old espresso machine as he loads in a fresh dose of coffee grounds. Many customers will greet him by first name and slip instantly into familiar chatter, whilst he concocts their brew of choice.
It seems unlikely that Pete, together with his friend Jake, both formerly in the dockless bikes business, opened up Common Ground Workspace as a pop-up store just a month and a half ago.
Fittingly, the large open space has an “unfinished” look to it, populated mostly by an array of mismatched tables and working desks, with customers’ bikes leaned against poster-filled walls. The coffee station, featuring the big vintage brewing machine and a tempting line-up of homemade bakes, stands in front of a blackboard wall covered in handwritten chalk scrawls.
Though the drinks selection seems at first glance pretty standard, the coffee itself is really something special. My current go-to is the ‘Dirty Chai’ which, for me anyway, has the coffee to sugar and spice ratio down to a T. Once you’ve tried it, together with a homemade slice of sticky vegan brownie or banana loaf, it’s easy to see why so many people keep coming back.
Common Ground sources its coffee from the Bristol-based Clifton Coffee Roasters, who pride themselves on ethical trade relationships established with coffee producers overseas.
It’s not, however, all about the coffee. As Pete puts it, the aim is to “provide a social space where you can go and talk to people and even talk to me.” In the academic pressure cooker that is Oxford, where exams and essays sometimes threaten to swallow us whole, a change of scenery can bring a much-needed glimpse of the bigger picture.
A hybrid of a cafe, library and JCR, Common Ground Workspace is just that — a relaxed, shared workspace that offers conversation as well as a caffeine kick. So whether you need an escape from the resident mouth breathers of the college library, fancy a cheeky Dirty Chai, or could do with an arty backdrop to your procrastination session, it’s well worth giving this place a try.
Common Ground Workspace is on 37-38 Little Clarendon St, open seven days a week.