Perhaps more than anywhere else in the UK, Oxford is home to a truly thriving and diverse independent café scene. Apart from London, I can’t think of anywhere where so many different people bring their own coffee cultures to one city. The result? You can never grow bored of the endless variety of spots for work, food, catch-ups, and of course, great coffee. Here is Cherwell’s definitive guide…
High St. Café
This one is a true sleeper pick. Stay away in the winter when the door is open and heating is limited, pastries and cakes always look appealing but are overpriced. Coffee is Illy, reasonably priced, and generally well made but the crepes are the star of the show without a doubt. Sweet and savoury are on offer but the smoked salmon and poached egg is an all-time favourite.
Love Coffee has been a Cowley Road stalwart for years but made the move to the top of the High Street last year. Open until 8 PM, it offers all manner of food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (shoutout to the chicken salads and club sandwiches). Greek coffee here is unrivalled anywhere else in the city and the sheer number of Greek pastries and cakes is extraordinary.
Italiamo, oh Italiamo. I’ve written an extended review and ode to this student favourite that you can find here but for the purposes of this piece I’ll stick firmly to coffee. The Italian beans, both decaf and standard, are superb and the Crick Crock, cannoli, cantucci and other bites all come in at around £2 for an ideal pairing.
Vaults and Garden
William Pouget has a little Oxford Eatery empire going that started with Alpha Bar and now incorporates Salsas del Sol and Chickpea. Vaults and Garden is at the high end of the price range for both drinks and food but the unique setting, both inside and out, does make it stand out.
Opera Café, by Deborah Ogunnoiki
Opera café is a quiet café situated on Walton Street just opposite the junction on Little Clarendon Street. I first encountered it on the walk back from Port Meadow with a friend, I had never heard of this little café before despite living on Walton Street myself. I knew what drink I wanted: Iced Caramel Latte with Oat Milk. A tough drink to get right, too much coffee and I’ll throw up, too much caramel and I’ll be bouncing off the walls. It’s safe to say they made the perfect Latte, one so good that I have all my meetings and friendship dates in the Opera Café now. Absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it is a 2-minute walk from my bed…
Colombia Coffee Roasters, by Thomas Bristow
Colombia converted me into a coffee drinker. It’s a short walk from college and is by far the best coffee I’ve had in the city. In my opinion, it tastes almost the same everywhere else, but Colombia has a rich chocolatey flavour which is completely unique. Furthermore, the staff are pleasant and there’s a decent amount of seating. Located in the Covered Market, it is the perfect place to people-watch and procrastinate.
Art Café, by Aryemis Brown
“A peanut butter smoothie, please.” That was my very first order at Art Cafe on my very first day in the United Kingdom. The barista smiled warmly. “A milkshake?,” she replied. I have frequented the place for their peanut butter “milkshake” now for the past two years. It is second only to the kindness and passion of the wonderful staff. If I’m feeling especially adventurous, their Sexy Brazilian sandwich is delicious! I’m a creature of habit for those two, but may I also recommend their egg and avocado toast, English breakfast, and blueberry muffins – to be enjoyed inside or outdoors?
Jericho Coffee Traders
It might be small and seats are hard to come by but students across the city swear by these guys. They provide coffee for countless other cafes and their filter is superb but the charming spot on the High Street is open until five and ever-reliable.
Yet another place with a full written review and podcast, Mayas is a true coffee lovers’ café. Om will talk you through everything and anything on offer from countless different beans, to drip, filter, and superb hot chocolate. If you love your caffeine and need to kill some time, just pop in for a chat!
THE Cowley Road café. A beautiful garden and great value high-quality coffee are punctuated by the best banana bread and cakes around. Simply sensational in everything it does.
Wow, there’s so much to say about Cornmarket’s Pret. One of four Pret a Manger’s in the city, this is where essays get written, deadlines get just about met, and union careers are born. Coffee? Overpriced and bang average. Atmosphere and wonky tables? Depressing to say the least.
Ole and Steen
I love Ole and Steen for their cakes, salads, sandwiches, and basically, any kind of food they offer. The coffee is a different story. Terrifyingly expensive, synthetic-tasting, and often poorly made, stick to the Too Good to Go boxes and the teas.
Tick Tock Café
Tick Tock Café is an Oxford institution and the only real true greasy spoon still around in the city. Value is absolutely sensational and although the coffee might not blow you away, it sure tastes better at these prices!
Queens Lane Coffee House
Oldest coffee house? This debate is a little like the seemingly endless list of places that claim to be the oldest pub in London. The prices certainly reflect it but the food is high quality when it comes out the kitchen. The cakes share a supplier with Sofi de France and are certainly an indulgence for when you’re feeling fancy but bring your wallet!
Another place that I love so much it has its own full review, article, and podcast. As well as morning deals on pastries and coffee, the freshly piped cannoli are hands-down the best in town. The decaf coffee comes from a secret Italian supplier and is too on a different level. The owners are authentically delightful and the WIFI never falters.
Fast-food? Yes. Great quality? No. I tell you what though, the taste is passable and the price is unbeatable.
I know, another fast food chain. I absolutely wasn’t planning on including Subway but they have one saving grace. £1.99 for an acceptable Americano and cookie might just become my new go-to for when I need a pick-me-up on a budget.
Since moving to the corner of the High Street, Blacksheep Coffee has found a whole new fanbase. This is the only chain that offers a genuinely high-quality variety of beans. The decaf is good too and the long-black is my choice for an extra-strong version of an Americano. The ‘black-hoof’ is the signature with just a little more milk than a macchiato and you can add whatever you want to your drinks, from CBD to protein and chia. Food is good too with Belgian waffles and breakfast baps standing out. The loyalty scheme is also better than most.
Tree Artisan Café by Iustina Roman
I fell in love with Tree Artisan Café from the very first coffee I had there, and I only wish I had tried it out sooner. It’s on Little Clarendon Street, in an area already populated by many well-loved cafés — but this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t stand out. In fact, you would be lucky to manage to grab a seat inside this cosy spot! Their silky oat lattes are among my favourites in Oxford, and this café is great for catching up with a friend or grabbing a quick lunch.
An even better option as we head into the summer for all of those walks around University Parks, Horsebox offers good quality grinds in normal drinks but has a pleasing rotating filter option. The current one is brilliantly fruity and unique.