“Today I write part two of my Cardiff Uni reflections” is a sentence I probably said to myself this morning. But I’ve been sitting here for an hour and I can’t stop ranking Cardiff’s cafes in my head. I’ve learned that when I let myself write What I Want the outcome is much nicer (with the exception of all of my poetry in 8th grade), so I’m not going to fight this. As someone who’s spent more hours in coffee shops than lecture halls this spring, I think I’m uniquely qualified to tell this story.
Before my arrival, I naively assumed that beyond the odd Starbucks frappé no one really drank coffee here. My mental link between Brits and their Tea was just too strong. So imagine my surprise and delight as, over my first several weeks, I encountered café after café boasting fair trade beans, local roasts, and skinny flat whites that were proper lush*. I had to replace all of my Madison frequent-buyer cards with Welsh ones, and I’m thrilled about it.
Please don’t expect any sort of scholastic discussion re: roasting method or tasting notes below. I love coffee, and I appreciate when baristas geek out about the beans they serve. But for me a café’s ambiance is just as important. Imagine a quiet-ish, laid-back room of friendly-looking people sipping tasty drinks with great music playing in the background: this is my nirvana. It’s so much less isolating than studying in a library. It’s a love triangle of caffeine-fueled productivity, motivational tunes, and a sense of community. And it exists here in Cardiff in many, many places. So without further ado:
Part Un: Honorable Mentions
- The Plan Café in Morgan Arcade
The food at the Plan is really good. Their vegan salad is huge! They also do a hearty vegan sandwich (pine nuts, hummus, spinach deal). I’m far from vegan, but sometimes it’s nice to eat a big salad to balance all the cheesy chips and cider. And the mellow lighter-roast espresso they use comes from fair trade beans. The two big windows in the picture? If you go upstairs, you can sit by them and look out across the arcade.
- Garlands in Duke Street Arcade
For the average American tourist (me), Welsh and English identity often blur into one “British” feel (don’t tell anyone I said that). So I really applaud the people of Garlands, because they make a point of using Welsh ingredients and recipes in their cozy, buzzy spot. Their Welsh Rarebit – cheese, beer, and mustard sauce baked onto homemade toast – is unparalleled. And the coffee’s great too!
- Stag Coffee on Crwys Road
Teeny little Stag Coffee is full every time I walk past – I’ve only been in twice. Which sucks, because they play Vampire Weekend, and brew ethically-sourced coffee roasted in South West Wales. From the little camping heater in the corner to the cutting boards they serve food on, Stag is a kitschy hipster haven. I keep hoping it’ll become too mainstream and empty out so I can visit again before I leave.
- Coffee Barker & Barker Tea House on High Street Arcade
One serves tea and tasty cakes; one serves coffee and tasty cakes. Both feel like an eccentric old lady’s sprawling study with big comfy chairs, antlers and gilt-framed pictures on the walls, and mismatched vintagey cups and saucers. My friends bonded over afternoon tea at Barker in January, and it’s been a standby ever since. It’s not coffee, but their six-spice chai is delicious.
- Coffee #1 on Queen Street (because the Wellfield one doesn’t have WiFi – boo)
“A chain?!” you gasp. But Coffee #1 is a pretty small chain. I mean, they don’t even have it in London. And more importantly, it’s good! The coffee is a nice Costa Rican something-or-other. The atmosphere is pleasant. They’re open until 6 (late by Cardiff standards). Best of all, they sell an orange polenta cake from Castell Howell bakery that I have fallen in love with. It is perfection in cake form; it is polenta’s highest calling. In the picture, you can see that I had started cutting my slice in half to share, then changed my mind.
As always, thanks for reading – stay tuned for Part Dau. Hopefully you’re inspired to go get an iced mocha at Indie or, better yet, to catch the next plane to Wales for a cuppa.
*On advice from my friend Fabienne, I haven’t had a cappuccino in months. Flat whites have more espresso. Less milk. More microfoam (velvety, smooth). Less of that frothy stuff that gives me a foam moustache. More character? You Be the Judge. “Skinny” is just British for “with skim milk”, and “lush”, as far as I can gather, means something tastes really good.