Colonna & Smalls, Bath

August 10, 2012

Bath has, I think, always been one of those places. A place that people pigeon-hole as being a bit posh (awful word, but it serves a purpose), a bit stuffy, a bit faded-glamour but thinks it’s still got it. Its long history as a spot for retreat and recuperation for the upper echelons of society, its demonstratively expensive architecture, and its elongated vowel sound all contribute to an image of warmly-glowing superiority. Indeed, when the accomplice and I visited last week, we went into a superbly stocked bookshop in which, despite having a staff to customer ratio of 1-1, we were totally ignored. We also found the books wrapped in plastic. Most of them. Which sort of says “we’re not fussed that you’re here, and, by the way, our books are nicer than your hands”. Which might be true, but as a former bookshop manager of no little skill, the accomplice was left unimpressed. So that was a first impression of Bath.

The purpose of the visit, though, was to visit Colonna & Smalls. An earlier recce by our friend the director had stoked the fires of my enthusiasm. He described it as the best coffee he’d ever had, and he knows things about things. But, I was a little worried. Coffee shops can develop an air of stern-faced superiority all too easily, as I think Monmouth have, for example, and I feared that a place in Bath with such a good reputation, and a barista who did extremely well in the WBC this year, might suffer from that.

I was wrong. Colonna & Smalls is quite simply magnificent.

Colanna & Smalls, BathThe first impression is of space, light and airy. If this coffee shop were in London, I think it would have to cram twice as many tables into its space, but it’s not, so it doesn’t. There is even a downstairs area where courses are hosted on cupping, tasting, latté art, and so on. There is a faintly Scandic feel to the design, and with a soft wash of powder blue from the saucers and coffee-related wall art, the effect is both modern and calming. The space contributes to a relaxed environment and this is augmented by the staff, who are welcoming and chatty. I really enjoy discussing coffee with baristas and I think it speaks volumes about a place’s knowledge and enthusiasm when then the baristas are willing and able to talk coffee.

And C&S are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They served a choice of three espresso base shots and three brewed coffees. I was sorely tempted to try one of the latter, but it’s not my thing so I stuck with what I know. First up was a macchiato, though it was really more of a piccolo, using Hasbean’s Kicker as a base shot. It was seriously good. So good, in fact, that I can only think of one place that makes a macchiato/piccolo that well (the Piano Bar, Camden Market, when Zane is working). The creamy sweetness of the milk brought out the nutty tones of the shot and left a sweet, almost caramel taste in the back of the mouth. It was made perfectly with lightly stretched milk. It was so good, I could have left then and been hugely impressed. I then, though, requested an espresso shot, which was made with a single origin from Rwanda, from the Sacof Rulindo farm. This was a punchy, complex shot, with great mouthfeel. It was unguent and healthily biting, not too acidic and with a slightly honeyed taste at the front of the mouth. It’s roasted by Origin, and this trip was as much a tribute to the skill of the two roasters as it was to C&S itself. Both drinks were priced at £2.20, which is higher even than most London prices, but it was well worth it. I didn’t spot a loyalty card, but then I’m not in Bath often, so I wouldn’t really see the point for myself.

Colanna & Smalls, BathThe accomplice is not a coffee drinker, as readers of the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs review may remember, but she does like a decent tea. According to her, the tea at C&S was unusually good as well. Unlike many speciality coffee shops, where tea is secondary, she said that C&S appeared to have put thought into their selection (though I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t find out what they used), and that it was a very pleasing loose-leafed number. So that’s a thumbs up from her too. I also took the unusual step of getting some food, a little lemon cupcake for herself and a flapjack for me. They were both yummy, and the sweet, sagging oatiness of the flapjack complimented my third coffee, another macchiato using the single origin. By this time I was basically in love with Colonna & Smalls, in case you hadn’t guessed. It was a genuine shame when the threat of a parking ticket caused us to have to amble away.

I suppose that the thing I liked most about C&S, when all is tallied and totted up, is that their exceptional quality isn’t accompanied by any self-satisfaction. I was, I confess, expecting it a little, but I was off-beam. These people know their stuff, but they also want you to know it. There is a pride in the quality of the product, yes, but it’s not the kind of pride that seems to demand your unquestioning admiration or even, as I’ve sometimes experienced in London venues, a kind of gratitude. I genuinely don’t know how well the business does, or how popular or renowned it is in Bath. I actually wonder whether, without the kind of coffee culture which does exist in London, and which leads to discussions, reviews, word-of-mouth recommendations, the people of Bath know just how good they’ve got it. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Colonna & Smalls is surely one of the holistically best coffee shops in the country. Even before you take Max, the barista who did so well in this year’s WBC, into account. Everything about the place sings superb, and the best thing is, for all the right reasons, they want you and me to join the choir. Wherever you live, get yourself down to Bath, and sharpish. That is all.

Colonna & Smalls, 6 Chapel Row, Bath, BA1 1HN

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @Colonna_Smalls


2 Responses to “Colonna & Smalls, Bath”

  1. Alex, your writing is amazing…I really cannot stop nosing around liquidjolt now !

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