I went to Espresso Library about two weeks ago, so why am I posting about it now? Blame the dissertation chapter draft I handed in today to my supervisor, who, a little less than a week ago, said that today was a good time to give her something to read (translation: “I want your chapter on this date. Or else”). And hey, I’m convinced that if you give me one week or one month to do something, you will get similar quality drafts, so why not give me the earlier deadline? But anyway, I won’t have to think about the chapter until I meet with her, so now I can think about other things, like baking sprees and coffee shops…or my next chapter.
I kind of miss writing academic things in America. They encourage punny or slightly humorous titles. Here it’s just: “Debiles in the 6th and 7th centuries” (seriously, that is the name of one of my titles, and I’m crying a little on the inside). Last year I wrote about medieval tournaments and how they became socially exclusive over time, and I really wanted to use, “You Can’t Joust with Us!” as a chapter title. Unfortunately, my thesis adviser had never seen “Mean Girls,” so that did not end up happening.
But all of this has nothing to do with the fact that one of my floormates told me about a coffee place that opened this February that she really liked, so of course I had to check it out. Espresso Library (210 East Road, CB1 1BG) is a bit far from my college, but I thought I’d trek over there with a friend. We both had presentations to give the following week in front of the Medieval History faculty + our fellow MPhilers, so we had to come up with things to say. And it’s safe to say that coffee is an excellent word-creating beverage.
The door was open, so we strolled in. The menu is written on a chalkboard, they have a Slayer espresso machine, fair trade tea, and bicycles everywhere. I didn’t try the lunch, but I’m told they do a really good brunch/lunch. They get their bread from Norfolk Street Bakery, and macarons from Fiona Patisserie (Ely). Have I been to either of these places? No, but the internet loves Norfolk Street Bakery, and Fiona McDuff of Fiona Patisserie won Cambridge’s first ever Bake Off competition in 2013, so we’ve got some pretty good credentials there. If I get around to trying their brunch or a macaron, I’ll update this post.
The staff are super friendly. When my friend and I entered the coffee shop and saw that all of the tables on the right side of the café were taken, the staff cleared some space at the communal table on the left side of the café and asked a patron who was already sitting there to move down a couple of seats so that I could park there. Usually I have to do that, and I do it pretty awkwardly. Their help was very much appreciated. My friend and I set up camp and went to get caffeine.
I approached the counter and, to my delight, the pastries were all at eye-level. The lunch was a bit harder to see.
I got a slice of the date and port pound cake and a chocolate rooibos chai latte (because how could I order anything but that combination of droolworthy beverage ingredients?). My friend ordered a cappuccino. Silly me did not write down the prices, and now I can’t remember how much I paid because I was there two weeks ago. Sorry about that. I will say that it cost less than five pounds total, and that students get a 10% discount when they show their university ID (which I had on me, so hooray!).
I’d never had a date and port pound cake before, so this was pretty interesting. It reminded me of the brown sugar bundt cake I had at Afternoon Tease a while back, but with dates instead of pears. The crumbly topping it had (you can kind of see it in the picture) was not too sweet, and had a nice crunch to it. The cake itself wasn’t too dry or moist (probably very slightly closer to dry), and was a bit sweet, but definitely nowhere near the level of sweetness of non-scone Fitzbillies pastries (I realize I’ve just made two references to places I’ve blogged about that you may not have read, which is either mean of me because I’ve given the impression that I expect you to read my other posts, or clever of me because now I’ve implicitly suggested that you now go read those posts if you haven’t yet).
Admittedly, because this place is called Espresso Library, I should’ve tried the espresso. But I saw “rooibos chocolate chai latte” and that sounded too good to pass up. It really should just be called “rooibos chocolate latte,” though, because I did not taste the chai at all. Espresso Library may want to rethink its rooibos chocolate chai supplier.
Thankfully, my friend did the sensible thing and got something with espresso.
She said good things about it. I did not press her further, for she was revising her presentation and deep in thought about Greek manuscripts.
We worked there for a solid three hours. They were broadcasting the Giro d’Italia cycling race on projection screens on the walls that weren’t covered in bicycles, but the volume was at “You can listen if you’re actually interested, otherwise you can fade it out pretty easily” level, so it was excellent background noise. I was way more productive than I thought I would be, and got through most of the primary sources that would make up my second chapter. I mention this just because there are some places that are great for studying, and others that, however lovely they are to sit in or how nerdy they feel, are not the greatest work environments. When I was an undergraduate, I tried to work in the main undergraduate library café. There were other students working there, plenty of outlets, and usually a free table if you were smart about when you went in, but I could never focus there. I went there with a friend to study for a midterm, and we got absolutely nothing done. The next day, I took the exam and couldn’t locate Constantinople on a map (bit embarrassing for a medievalist, I have to admit, and now I feel like all the people who study Byzantine history are judging me). Or sometimes I worked in a Starbucks, went back to my room, and realized that most of what I’d written had to be scrapped. But the student café in one of the upperclassmen houses that blasted “Closing Time” when they wanted you to get out? That place was great.
That said, it is a bit of a trek for me to get to Espresso Library. But the bathroom is accessible, so this is a place where you can really just camp out for the day (seriously, they’re open from 7am-7pm Mon-Sat, 9am-6pm Sun), eat your meals, drink your coffee, and get stuff done.
Entrance: Flat, door was already open when I got there.
Counter: Good height to see pastries, not the lunch items.
Coffee: They use a Slayer espresso machine to make study-friendly espresso drinks; Tea: Rooibos chocolate chai latte needed more chai; Hot chocolate: Did not try, but will have to try next time I camp out there.
Pastries: Good accompaniments for the coffee, but I wouldn’t go there just for the pastries. They feature Fiona Patisserie’s macarons, which look delightful.
Other: The staff is super friendly. 10% student discount if you show your university ID. Combination of espresso drinks, fair trade tea, and bicycles everywhere would make a Brooklyn hipster feel less homesick.
For more information: You can like Espresso Library on Facebook or follow them on Twitter (@EspressoLibrary).
Thanks for reading! As always, if you like what you’ve read, feel free to like this post, share this on the social media outlet of your choice, follow this blog, or follow my Twitter (@Access_Bakeshop). Next week: Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cherry Walnut cookies! Or something with a shorter or snappier name that still contains those ingredients.