Coffee served at Bould Brothers, one of Cambridge's speciality coffee shopsBould Brothers

Having worked in specialty coffee for several years, and now leaving behind a city where I was (perhaps a little too) familiar with the best places to grab a brew within walking distance; coming to Cambridge to study there was one question on my mind: where should I go to drink coffee?

Specialty coffee is a premium product which showcases the result of great attention to detail in growing, grading, roasting, and brewing only the finest cups. Over the past ten or so years specialty coffee has seen a rapid rise in popularity across the world. In the UK, major cities like London have witnessed a surge in specialty coffee roasteries and cafés. However, many smaller towns and cities are still waiting for specialty coffee to put down roots. However, I have been surprised to find that Cambridge, despite its size, boasts a range of truly remarkable specialty coffee experiences. Whilst this range may not compare to some of the globe’s coffee capitals, for a population of just over 100,000, the breadth and quality of coffee available here is incredible.

I sat downwith some of the pioneers of Cambridge’s specialty coffee scene, to chat about what they have to offer, and why they think the people of Cambridge love it so much.

Hot NumbersPhilip Magowan

Why does Cambridge have so much great coffee?

On my quest to understand the sheer quantity of wonderful coffee experiences in Cambridge, I cycled out to the freshly opened Hot Numbers roastery in Shepreth to meet head roaster Justin, and coffee sourcer, Sophie. Hot Numbers opened in 2011, The name is an homage to an old vinyl store in Cambridge, and the cafés host live jazz events, and at any other given time play it on heavy rotation.

As Justin and Sophie show me around the sparkling new roastery, with the equipment from a coffee nerds’ dreams nestled on the bar, I ask them about Cambridge’s love for great coffee. Justin recounts how Hot Numbers came from initially roasting coffee in a shed in Trumpington to the space I was busy marvelling at, explaining “when someone, [owner Simon] trusts their instincts and invests in that passion, it becomes contagious, there’s an infectious energy that people get sucked into.” The Hot Numbers passion infection certainly seems to have invaded Cambridge. Now with three busy cafés spread across the town their popularity is growing and growing.

Max and Alex, the founders of Bould Brothers have had a similar experience. I chatted with them in their busy central café tucked in behind the Round Church, the mystifying never-ending queue beneath its distinctive striped awning coaxing to passersby. For them, it’s about providing a unique and memorable experience paralleling the quality of the coffee they serve. Alex explains “for every customer, we hope to provide the equivalent of a 5* hotel experience in what can sometimes be a duration of minutes.” To the guys’ credit, after a warm Bould Brothers welcome followed by gazing around the fun and elegant interior with a great coffee in front of you, you can only but accept that this is true.

“While you’re studying here, make sure to enjoy the coffee this town has to offer”

The existence of Hot Numbers, Bould Brothers, and many other specialty-oriented cafés in Cambridge have proven that the population of the town is captivated by artisanal products and the unique experiences they have to offer. The people of Cambridge include students from all over the world, who obviously love coffee, and tourists, who want to experience the best of what local craft Cambridge has to offer. “It’s a hypertown”, Sophie from Hot Numbers explains, “it readily includes and creates extremified versions of things… because of the culture it’s a catalyst for development.” She laughs as she describes it, “multicultural students, tourists, all squished into this tiny little town on bikes.”

So, where are the best coffee experiences in Cambridge?

Hot Numbers have three spaces where you can enjoy their coffee. Their roastery, situated in Shepreth, offers a large open space great for a day trip on the bike, and a wonderful spot to watch the theatrics of the roasting process as you sip on your brew. They also host events such as pizza nights, so keep your eyes peeled! Alternatively, their more central spots, Gwydir Street and Trumpington Street offer spaces to study, have lunch, and pick up a bag of their coffee for your home/ college brewing needs. Justin assuredme that they always have an accessible and fun range of origins available, both him and Sophie recommended their Finca El Oasis from Columbia.

Bould Brothers’ café located beside the Round Church is usually very busy. Despite this, quality is always ensured and they offer a classy customer service experience using coffee from some of the best coffee roasteries in the UK. They also have a second site opening in the centre of town very soon, and they made me promise a follow-up article in six months celebrating its success! As they explained their equipment and processes to me they described their journey as a ’constant pursuit of refining and making everything a little bit better.


Mountain View

Vulture Restaurant Reviews: The Locker

The Locker is a café dedicated to art in more forms than just coffee! They are the exclusive server of Hot Numbers’ ‘Brilliant Corners’ blend and also offer a range of coffee from international guest roasters such as La Cabra from Denmark. Go and visit - make sure you get that student discount too!

Other local businesses dedicated to serving specialty coffee which come with heavy recommendation are Stir Bakery and Espresso Library. Cambridge is constantly adding to its steadily growing range of coffee experiences. Chat to your baristas – there are even some spots off the beaten track and without much of a digital footprint which they may draw your attention to.

Whilst Cambridge may not compare to some of the world’s specialty coffee capitals, for its size, it certainly offers a few gems. While you’re studying here, make sure to enjoy the coffee this town has to offer.

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