Amidst the towering cathedral, the rushing river Exe, steep hills, and unique architecture paved with cobblestoned paths, the English city of Exeter is home to an array of down to earth cafes and coffee shops. First settled in 250BCE in the Hellenist Era, and centuries later being home to the Romans, leaving behind crumbling structures that once acted as a fort, this bustling city is filled with ruins and ancient history that span across many eras of time. Situated within the beautiful coastal Shire of Devon, Exeter connotes some of the indie and hip aspects of this enriching region. As you peruse around the busy high street, through vast gardens, and along the river dotted with swans and seagulls, there’s no shortage of places in which to enjoy a cup of coffee, a tasty cake and soak up the city’s atmosphere and history.
Situated just outside of Exeter Central Station, this lovely and warming cafe welcomes you with smells of baking bread and melting cheese. Started in 2011 by owners Oliver Coysh and Tom Oxford, this bakery began as a business idea to provide delicious and simple cakes to cafes throughout Devon. A secondhand oven was obtained and the bakery was born. Now it has grown into not only a well-known bakery but a much-visited cafe in the heart of Exeter.
The shelves here are filled with homemade pickles, antiques, recipe books, and natural wines. And the coffee on offer comes from a range of hand-selected roasteries based around the UK, including Roundhill, Yallah, and Origin. The perfect order here includes a cup of batch brew, a toastie, and maybe a delicious apricot flapjack. You could even take home a box of brownies for later—the traybakes here especially good, from brownies to lumberjacks and ginger dicks, each served inside eye-catching Exploding Bakery baking paper. The bakery also has an HQ located across town that supplies numerous other cafes around the UK.
The coffee here is prepared on a La Marzocco Linea Classic espresso machine, paired with two Nuova Simonelli Mythos One grinders as well as a Mahlkönig EK43 grinder. For excellent coffee and bread in Exeter, make this your first stop.
Crankhouse Coffee Roasters
Exeter’s well-known thoroughfare, Fore Street, is home to a range of lovely independent shops, Zero Waste stores, and awesome restaurants. Here you’ll also find Crankhouse Roastery, a specialty roaster with a dedicated cafe space called 130 Basement. The cafe was opened in 2020 by Tony Isaacs and Rosie Lamb, a barista-baker dynamic duo that knows how to pull a balanced espresso and bake mouth-watering banana bread, but the roasting project dates back to 2015, and was founded by Dave Stanton.
The wafting aroma of baking cookies will encircle you upon entry, as the sound of the roaster gently hums below. The menu offers a selection of filters and espresso beverages in addition to an assortment of freshly-roasted coffees to take home. Cakes are handmade right in front of you with the most flavorful combination of sugar and spice.
This cosy space is filled with plants, wooden furniture, and beautiful art. Stanton roasts on an Italian 1995 Petroncini TT7.5, with Isaacs manning the La Marzocco Linea PB paired alongside two Mythos One grinders and a Mahlkönig EK43 grinder for pour-overs and batch brew, respectively.
After visiting the excellent No Guts No Glory plant shop on Fore Street, you must also visit the sister plant-based brunch cafe Sacred Grounds in McCoy’s Arcade for some vegan waffles and a delicious coffee of choice. As soon as you enter the Arcade, the gentle lights of the cafe call to you and the plant-filled space brings an air of freshness. The menu offers an array of plant-based options including numerous delicious toppings on toast and a seasonal soup or vegan sandwich.
A beautiful Victoria Arduino Eagle One awaits your order for a specialty espresso-based beverage with Mythos One grinders. Founded in 2018, owners Nathan Maker, Hayley Maker, and Becca Allen have more or less perfected the vegan brunch experience with an ever-changing plant-based menu, from cinnamon buns to stuffed waffles, all of it perfect to pair with coffees roasted by locals like Tiverton’s Roastworks Coffee and Crankhouse. Houseplants creep down the brick-laden walls illuminated by old-fashioned bulbs dangling from the ceiling. It’s a beautiful cafe and home to some really beautiful food.
Elsewhere on Fore Street, you’ll come across an old letterpress shop that was refurbished into a cafe in 2020. This is Press House, which today pulls dual duty as both a coffee shop and a working letterpress firm, creating original cards and stationery of exquisite detail and craftsmanship. Press House take a similarly careful approach to specialty coffee beverages, served in handmade ceramics from the Peak District. Brewing espresso from Devon-based Voyager Coffee on a new Sanremo Zoe Vision with an EVO SR83 grinder, and serving cakes from just Wildflour, a bakery situated in Bath, you can feel a spark of creativity in everything they do here, surrounded by plants, art, and gorgeous furnishings.
EXE Coffee Roasters
If the bright orange tents do not lure you, the smell of roasting coffee will entice a visit to EXE Coffee Roasters. Situated just outside the city center, this sweet and small cafe and roastery was started by Kim and Steve Pearson back in 2012. Originally operating on the high street, the duo moved to a location outside of the city center to roast more coffee, generating nearly 300 kilos per week; the small roastery is quite impressive with its engineered business strategist owner who actually built the first roaster from scrap pieces back in the day. Roasting on a Probatone 12, EXE Coffee Roasters seeks to support local wholesale customers about how to brew specialty coffee.
The cafe itself offers a range of espresso-based beverages in addition to various filter options including Chemex and v60, all brewed from the beans roasted below in the Probat. Coffee bags and brewing materials line the shelves as you enter and are greeted by a barista, ready to brew you something locally-roasted.
The Common Beaver
As you venture outside of Exeter and emerge onto the lovely Magdalen Road—home to independent stores and charming farm shops—you may find yourself confronted by a gold-encrusted dancing beaver plastered upon a storefront. You have arrived at the Common Beaver, whereby delicious and hand-crafted coffee awaits.
Started back in 2018, this venue offers a unique spin on the classic pairing of coffee and bagels—a common pleasure in, say, New York City, but found less often in Devonshire. The house coffee here sourced from Fire and Flow in Cheltenham, along with a bit of Crankhouse for filter coffees and guest espressos. The shop’s espressos are pulled on their two-group La Marzocco Linea PB with a Mythos One grinder.
As with every cafe in this guide—indeed, every cafe in England, and across the world—COVID has forced a bit of a rethink on how the shop operates. Today the Common Beaver is offering takeaway only, but there’s something nice about having a bagel for your walk down Magdalen Road, windowshopping, and gull-watching. And the coffee, well— Common Beaver really does serve dam good coffee.
Michaela Tomchek is a specialty coffee professional. This is Michaela Tomchek’s first feature for Sprudge.