Oxford has a historic and beloved café culture — in fact, the UK’s first coffeehouse opened in Oxford in the 17th century! Today, drinking coffee remains a popular student pastime. It can have many purposes, after all; it can be a casual way to initiate or strengthen friendships, provide the caffeine-hit to craft a tutorial essay, get you moving in the morning, and help you explore Oxford’s nooks and crannies. In short, coffee is your friend. Even if there are further lockdown restrictions in Michaelmas, fear not: lots of cafés have outdoor seating, and you can always get takeaway and walk. Make ‘We should go for coffee sometime’ your go-to phrase and you can hardly go wrong! With all that in mind, here are a few recommendations to start with:
Queen’s Lane Coffee House
Biased I may be, since this coffee house lies just across the road from Univ’s door —however, it offers excellent British and Turkish food and drink options, a lovely dark wooden interior, outdoor seating and takeaway (pandemic friendly), and is a family-run business. What more could you want? I especially recommend the Turkish coffee and Baklava. That stuff can rescue even the worst essay crisis. Coffee here also comes with history — the coffee shop is the longest serving in Europe, and prides itself on its history of being a place where people from different cultures come together. Pretty cool, right?
Hours: Mon-Fri: 8am-4.30pm, Sat: 9am-5pm, Sun: 10am-4pm
A student staple, the Missing Bean could hardly be missed off this list. After all, the queue of students lining up every morning is a daily reminder of its enduring popularity. Note that there are actually two, both very conveniently located for a stop-off: one on Turl Street (opposite the entrance to Lincoln), the other in the English and Law Faculty building. I have to venerate the baristas of the Turl Street café, since one ran down the street after me to return the tote bag I left behind last year… not all heroes wear capes. On a more objective note: the café also has good outdoor seating for a catchup with a friend, especially in summer. If you like this café, you’ll also love Jericho Coffee Traders on the High Street.
Hours: vary by which store! Longest open is in Westgate: 9am-8pm
Say what you will, but succumbing to basic-ness can come at a more economic price. If you do drink a lot of coffee/tea/smoothies, it may be a good idea to try the Pret subscription. At the risk of sounding like a paid ad, it’s five drinks a day for £20 a month, with the first month free. This seems steep, but when a coffee is £2 minimum it can be a good investment, especially if you time your free trial with term… However, the two locations on Cornmarket street can be very busy in the mornings, so it might be wise to choose elsewhere if you’re trying to meet a friend, avoid the hacks, or secure a table for work.
Located in Jericho, Oxford’s hip suburb, Gail’s boasts some of the best cakes and sourdough going (the cinnamon buns…). Top tip: it also sells ready-to-cook cookie dough. About fifteen minutes away from the RadCam, it can be a lovely walk in the morning and help you venture further afield. If you’re lucky you’ll even spot Hugh’s students out in the wild. It’s a popular working space for wizened second and third years both outside and inside the café, perfect if you want to be slightly off the beaten track.
Vaults & Garden Café
I hear excellent things about this café’s 14th century vaulted ceiling, although the pandemic did bar me from inspecting it myself. Sit under its beams or in the University Church of St Mary’s garden, right in Radcliffe Quad, and enjoy breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea. Again, like The Missing Bean, this café comes highly recommended by the loyal band of students who frequent its outside tables. Why beat them if you could join them?
Hours: Mon-Fri: 11am till late, Sat & Sun: 9am- late
A coffee is best shared — so why not enlist one or two of your new friends and go check out this themed café. Located in Gloucester Green, also the site of a fab open-air market, Thirsty Meeples is a board game café. If you love a good game of Scrabble or cards, you may never be seen again outside these premises. Pay a cover charge of £6 and access the game library of 2,700 titles including Monopoly, Dungeons & Dragons, Uno and much much more… Whilst you’re playing you can also enjoy their menu, which includes coffee, cake and sandwiches. You heard it here first.
Notable mentions: Taylor’s (pasta bar!), Colombia Coffee Roasters (different flavours of hot chocolate), Café Nero in Blackwell’s (workspace), Waterstones Café (workspace), The Handlebar Café (cool theme)
Image Credit: Bex Walton via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).