Strangers with Coffee – review

Strangers with Coffee; meet Ivan & Susan Hewitt

Strangers with Coffee; meet Ivan & Susan Hewitt

I’d like you to meet Ivan and Susan Hewitt, the owners of the Strangers with Coffee speciality coffee shop in Wells, Somerset.  We came across this little gem when visiting Wells and to be honest, we were like a pair of tourists in seeing the sights and having lunch in a local cafe.

We had spotted Strangers with Coffee on our way strolling from the car park towards the beautiful Cathedral in Wells.  It looked a nice place to have our lunch and we decided that that’s where we’d go, unless we found anywhere else more tempting.  Nothing obvious leapt out and therefore it was indeed Strangers with Coffee that we aimed for.

It is a small single fronted cafe, at 31 St Cuthbert Street, Wells.  Inside it looked small and cosy; definatley an individual alternative to the Costas of our world.

The Coffee

Ethopian coffee at Strangers with Coffee

Ethopian coffee at Strangers with Coffee

Once inside I knew it was promising as there was a lovely smell of coffee wafting passed me, almost to the point of immediately saying “I’d like some of that coffee, whatever it is, please”.  I took a look at the selection on offer and went for the Ethiopian.  Ivan gave me the opportunity of having sugar and milk but recommended it black – and that’s exactly how I had it.  My coffee was served a few minutes later and in a manner which reminded me of seeing waiters pouring a little wine out of a newly opened bottle for a diner to sample, before the rest of the glass is served.  Ivan poured out al title for me to try while saying the flavours would continue to develop a little more as it cooled.

I can tell you, that coffee was lovely.  A lovely coffee, which I savoured.  No need to elaborate any further, it was lovely.

The food

We both had Falafels, from the ‘specials’ menu.  These are made from chickpeas, spices and other subtle ingredients to form a plum-sized ball which is then baked.  We had the choice of our Falafels being served as wraps but we went for the pitta bread option.  Served with garnish, salad and yoghurt it made a healthy and tasty light lunch.  Again, we enjoyed it and although the taste wasn’t excessively spicy, I could still taste it later on in the afternoon which added to the satisfying feeling from the meal.  It’s certainly worth checking their ‘specials’ board, there were some tempting offerings.  Some, I must admit, were new dishes to me and where I had to ask for an interpretation – which was willingly answered.

In conversation with Susan, who makes all of their dishes, said that it was common to fry Falafels but she’d gone for baking them and therefore might end up being a little more crumbly.  It occurred to me that it’s not often you get to speak to the person who has cooked your food from scratch (unless at home!).

“And Strangers with Coffee….?

I never did get the chance to ask about the name but there’s a pretty strong clue as soon as you start chatting to Ivan and Susan.  “You’re not local then?” I enquired, adding that I wasn’t either.  They’re from Yorkshire, which we guessed first time and it was a delight to hear a little of their journey from previously serving “pie ‘n’ mushy peas up north” to a speciality coffee shop down south.

Once again I’m finding myself in the position of admiring a couple who’ve taken a big step in setting up their own enterprise. They’re doing it with pride which shines through.   It seems Ivan takes care of all things coffee, lovingly running his hand over the top of his coffee making machine, like a proud Jaguar owner stroking the bonnet of his XK8.  Susan takes care of kitchen tasks in preparing the food.

I was intrigued about the coffee culture insight from Ivan.  It is clear there’s a growing number of coffee shops on every High Street, up and down the country.  Often these are national or international chains but the independents are fighting back and it seems a number of London based independents are Australian in origin which intrigued me all-the-more.  Nevertheless it is certainly nice to see the growth of these shops and if it is at the expense of pubs and bars, so much the better.  In fact it grieves me to say this but Cameron’s idea of a pavement / cafe culture growing is a sound idea and addresses many of the night time economy problems which plague many communities.

I asked if successful coffee shops depend on being in trendy places, or affluent places.  “Not really” suggested Ivan.  Getting known for great coffee is the main ingredient as customers will go out of their way to meet friends for coffee and there it appears there’s some flexibility in getting to know your market.  I asked whether many cyclists stop by and learnt that a few groups stop on weekend mornings, often for scrambled eggs as well as coffee: must be good as we cyclists can be a picky bunch!

My verdict?

Nice, very nice.  Reasonably priced, tasty food.  Friendly service, with flexible business approach in catering for different customers and the kind of place where you could so easily arrive as a customer and leave as a friend.  Nice ambience in the cafe, tastefully presented although the small rear courtyard is still under development with plenty more potential.  All in all, highly recommended and I wish Ivan and Susan every success.

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