Wednesday 11th May 2016
We had shared our full attention with the cathedral and Wells Farmers' Market until midday. Just for reassurance, we asked the last cheese stall owner for the general direction of St Cuthbert Street. He confirmed the very simple route out of the corner of the market and when I told him I was looking forward to an espresso at 'Strangers With Coffee' he also confirmed that I'd chosen the perfect place for my brew. Not exactly my choice, if I'm honest. Even though my wife doesn't drink coffee she had found this place on an internet search before our trip to Somerset... I really don't deserve her, do I.
We arrived, slightly damp from showery rain and loaded down with wonderful cheeses from the market.
Ivan Hewitt gave us a quiet, cheery welcome. His wife, Susan was still in the kitchen but would soon make an appearance and contribute to a delightful hour and a half of fabulous food, fruitful chatter and, I'm pleased to say, very good coffee.
There are few frills to décor or furniture. But, on closer inspection, everything is deliberately chosen and builds a comforting sense of the owners’ care.
Food was our first need. Susan’s menu is well-established and she relies on tried and trusted recipes. All of them have flavour at their heart. I got the strong impression that she is only limited by regular demands for the repeat of crowd-pleasers. Her chorizo, scrambled egg and slow-roast tomato wrap and a roast beef sandwich were simple ideas perfectly presented. More importantly, they were inescapably delicious.
I urge you to look at the wonderful array of baking which Susan produces. These Facebook albums have ample and overwhelming evidence of her skill. We were terribly sensible or horribly stupid and decided against any cake prior to our evening meal. Next time... next time.
So, I've left the coffee element until last. You've already had my spoiler and know that, by my judgement, it was great. I don't muck about too much at home and almost exclusively end up making a double shot of espresso with beans from the folk at Has Bean who I have previously recommended. Ivan introduced me to his own preferred supplier of quality roasted beans, Allpress Espresso. After a bit of earnest deliberation, I enjoyed an espresso macchiato courtesy of Allpress's Redchurch Espresso Blend. Bright, sweet, chocolatey deep flavours punching through what, for me, was an unaccustomed dash of creamy milk. Lovely stuff. I came away with half a kilo of those beans and have managed to pull more shots at home with equal enjoyment.
I talked a bit of nonsense about coffee, baristas and equipment. Ivan responded with down-to-earth knowledge and experience which just about balanced me out. We strolled along the strand which is littered with grains of coffee rather than sand and we stopped short of talking of cabbages and kings. I gathered fresh inspiration to explore my love of coffee with a little more consideration. Rather than a dangerous thing, I think a little more knowledge can be the road to increased appreciation and enjoyment.
Failing to take those few steps to 'Strangers With Coffee' seems almost criminal. What Susan and Ivan offer is so vastly superior to the everyday 'ordinary' of the city centre chain outlets. In those, you will be served coffee and food. What you will totally miss is the skill, quality and passion which come from two people who love what they are doing and love unreservedly sharing what they do with every visitor. Obviously, I expect your glowing reports back to me whenever you are next in Wells.
A smashing experience and all thanks to two people who deserve much continued success. Thank you, Susan and Ivan.
Right... now to submit a snappy review over on #TripAdvisor. I'll edit it down so it's not as flowery as this but all the positives will remain.
Here is Ivan reflecting on a set at the UK Barista Championship in 2014. YouTube mistakenly have him down as from Norfolk. He was already in Wells, having left Yorkshire. That spurious connection could have been a lovely reality for me as a regular visitor to the city of Norwich!