Are you feeling cooped up? Stuck at home? Would give just about anything right now to responsibly and ethically go somewhere fun on vacation, to explore and experience and enjoy life for once in your life? Same, frankly! And on the very top of our listy-list for when things get back to whatever normal means anymore is, wait for it, the city of Cardiff, Wales.
That's right! Not London, not Edinburough, not even nu-loft trendy Manchester, but Cardiff, the Welsh capital city that is a gateway to that region's extraordinary natural bounty, and home to a fine food, wine, and coffee scene.
Someday we'll get there, but in the meantime let's visit vicariously through a look at Mec Coffee, a project that joins together a few names that might already be familiar to Sprudge readers: Sabine Parish, winner of the 2018 Sprudgie Award for Best Coffee Writing; Will Davies, a well-known UK barista; and Luke Adams of all-world Slovakian coffee magazine Standart. As if that weren't enough, they also run a wine shop across the way with an irresistibly punny name.
We spoke digitally with Mec Coffee co-owner Sabine Parrish to learn more.
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Introduce yourself to our readers—tell us about your cafe!
We are Mec Coffee, a boutique coffee shop in the very heart of Cardiff, Wales. In addition to our cafe we also run a monthly coffee subscription service serving the entirety of the UK and using rotating roasters from across Europe. Our focus is serving the absolute best coffees we can in an accessible way without being intimidating for specialty coffee novitiates or the occasional lost tourist. We love seeing the spread of people who visit our shop, from your classically hipster musicians and tattoo artists to city councilors and grandmothers!
Our unit is small, but we think we use what space we have well: downstairs you’ll find our coffee bar and a tiny space to stand and chat, while upstairs is a quiet seating area with space to work. Being in an old Victorian building has its challenges, including the steep stairs but we think the payoff is worth it in terms of charm—we promise the afternoon light in the upstairs seating area makes the crazy stairs worth it!
What equipment do you use in your shop?
We make espresso on a Kees van der Westen Spirit, batch on a Moccamaster, and have just about every brew method your heart could desire on reserve for your drinking pleasure. Well, not a siphon or anything giant because there’s just not enough space…
Which roasters do you serve?
Our house roaster is Round Hill Roastery with whom we have been working with for years. We’re huge fans and friends and wouldn’t dream of entrusting our house coffee to anyone else! That said, we adore so many roasters that we knew we always wanted rotating guest coffees. In addition to the coffees we include in our subscription service (from two different roasteries each month) you can usually find another roastery or two represented in the shop. Right now we’re serving Skylark Coffee and really enjoying it—their Colombia Santa Ana is a big ol’ strawberry bomb. They’re a new roastery and we think their work is really important: run by Micah Sherer (who Sabine originally met when doing research in Brazil) and Ben Szobody, 100% of their income goes to supporting charity projects and vulnerable people in their community in England.
What is the neighborhood like where you're located? What's some other cool stuff nearby?
We are bang in the centre of the city, tucked away in one of Cardiff’s many famous arcades and located just steps away from the gorgeous and historic Cardiff Castle. Our arcade is developing a great little food scene and here you can also find Dusty’s Pizza, Madame Fromage, Wally’s Liquor Cellar, and our sister shop, Bulles, which sells natural wine. We love that you can grab a drink and a snack and trot across the street to sit on the lawn inside Cardiff Castle! Pick up a game from Rules of Play or a book from Troutmark Books and we think you’ve got the perfect afternoon on your hands.
Did you close during a mandated Coronavirus shutdown, and if so, for how long?
Wales has been in and out of a series of lockdowns over the last year, and so we’ve ricocheted between being open as normal, being open for takeaway only, and being shut. We only opened for business in December of 2019—out of the now 14 months we’ve been open we’ve only been able to operate in our physical location for a total of six. I can’t say we thought of including the eventuality of a global pandemic when we were drafting our business plans but we’re still here, thanks in large part to our customers who have kept us busy with deliveries! We love dropping off coffee and brightening peoples’ days.
At present, our physical location is closed completely but we continue to deliver (in-person in Cardiff and via post for the rest of the UK). Wales is due to announce new measures soon and we hope to reopen in March, but for the time being its best to follow our Instagram or visit our website for updated hours and shipping information.
How has Coronavirus impacted daily work at your cafe?
Lockdown regulations have been pretty exhausting, but we’ve always done our best to be as safe as possible and aim for “one click stricter” than the official guidelines to ensure we are protecting our guests and staff. That said, the biggest impact for us is the profound effect on what being hospitable means. It can be hard some days to have the same emotional drive to run a takeaway-only business, especially when you got into the game looking to build connections and social spaces.
What's something cool or unique about your cafe you want folks to know?
The natural wine shop across the balcony from us shuttered early on in the pandemic. We loved the shop and the staff—we’d usually knock off work and head straight there for a glass of wine! So after a few months of looking longingly across at the empty unit and wistfully missing our friends we did an eminently unreasonable thing in the middle of a pandemic: rented out the unit and started our own natural wine shop, Bulles.
We brought back the manager, Tom Bull (from whom, yes, we absolutely punned the name Bulles, meaning ‘bubbles’ in French), re-did the unit, loaded up on wine, and then bam! Two days after we opened the wine bar, Wales went into a snap lockdown again, from which we have yet to emerge.
Luckily, we’re also a bottle shop and everyone needs a drink (or three!) right now, so we just rolled into local wine deliveries and have been doing that ever since. We cannot wait to have everyone back in the shop for a toast, but in the meantime we deliver twice a week so you can keep up with your wine drinking in the safety of your own living room. As with Mec, our philosophy at Bulles is providing quality drinks with a minimum of pretension. Good wine and good coffee for all people, we say!
Photos courtesy of Mec Coffee, used with permission