Wonderful food, a warm welcome and a beautiful location.

Totnes Coffee Crawl

[This is one in a series of blog posts written by Charlotte the Intern.  Tune in daily to find out about what she’s been up to, what she has been learning about, and all of the crazy things she does as part of the Manna from Devon team.]

Today I spent the morning wandering around Totnes, shopping the high street and participating in one of my favorite activities: wiling away hours on end in coffee shops.  I know that coffee shop owners and employees generally despise people like me, who order a single cup and maybe a snack and then sit for an hour at least with a book or magazine, but what can I say?  I love it.  Coffee shops always have such a warmth, and a buzz about them.  I love the sound of the espresso grinder being switched on periodically, and the low hiss of milk steaming away.  I love the hushed conversation of people at nearby tables, the soft shuffle of chairs and shoes,  and the regular opening and closing of the door.  To me, they feel like such places of simultaneous productivity and pleasure.

When I was last here in Devon, in June, with a group of fellow students from my university, we did the Transition Town Totnes tour, and on that tour we learned about Totnes’s efforts about a year ago to block the opening of a Costa coffee on its High Street.  I was impressed to learn about this.  I come from the country that created Starbucks, where small coffee shops are hugely outnumbered by drive-thru coffee supercenters where the smallest size available is 16 ounces (that’s 1 full pint for you Brits!).  But I love independent coffee shops, with all of their quirks and big-personality baristas, so I found it very cool to hear how highly Totnes values its independent coffee culture.

So!  Today, I decided to do my own exploration of Totnes: the Totnes Coffee Crawl.  It is by no means comprehensive; according to some estimates, Totnes offers over 40 places to find a cup of joe, and no matter how caffeine-resistant I have trained myself to be, trying to cover even a small fraction of those in a few hours would have left me incapacitated well into tomorrow morning.  I decided, for now, to highlight just three well chosen sites.  All I had to do was scout them out.

I started at The Curator Cafe, where I had a cappuccino and a sfogliatelle from the lovely Italian proprietors.  The Curator Cafe is very cool, with a great selections of coffees, pastries, and other snacks and sandwiches.  It is decorated well, has a huge stack of magazines available for customers to peruse, and is stocked with artwork and Italian food products that are for sale to the public.  In terms of “buzz”, this place quintessentially represents what I go for when I look for a good place to hunker down with a book and a cup of milky tea.

Next, I wandered up to La Fourchette, which boasts that it won the title of Barista Champion at Totnes’s Independent Coffee Festival last year.  I had an Americano, and while the coffee was good, the cafe was decidedly empty, depriving me of much of the entertainment I get from just watching the world go by as I sit and enjoy my cuppa.  It did, however, give me a pretty peaceful setting to enjoy the book I had just picked up at the discount book shop up the road.

Finally, I went to The Brioche, almost at the top of the High Street, before it veers off to the left and becomes Cistern Street.  At Brioche, I opted for tea, feeling like my tastebuds needed a bit of a change.  Brioche was nice and cozy, with big tables that can accommodate quite sizeable groups for its breakfast, which it serves until 12.  The smells from the kitchen were delicious, but I hadn’t quite worked up an appetite yet after my earlier pastry, so I’ll have to go back and check out the food situation sometime soon.

At this point, overly caffeinated and bordering on jittery, I made an impulse purchase of some slippers for my perpetually frozen feet, and made my way back to the bus for Dartmouth, passing many an interesting looking cafe as I went, namely the Totnes Peoples’ Cafe, and the Vintage Tea Room at the bottom of Fore Street.  I’ll have to go back to Totnes soon to continue my coffee (and tea!) crawl soon!  All in all, I was very happy to discover that Totnes as a community has embraced the independent, and local (and with it, many eccentricities), rather than the big and commercial.  It represents the kind of move in business communities that I hope will become prevalent in many more places as the effects of the large food industry become better and better known.  But no more thinking of all that tonight.  Now I’m off to don my cozy new slippers and relish in a night of good, hard sleep after my inevitable caffeine crash.  Good night!

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