As the ancient saying goes: I like my coffee as I like my women – strong, powerful and with a good recommendation from Coffee Society. For Vision readers with a deficit of both, it seemed only right to choose our top picks of student budget cafes in York, testing their advice to its limits.
York Cocoa Works
My first stop was at the York Cocoa works – with the first flashes of winter biting at my heels I walked through the doors to a blanket of chocolate. Situated right next to their factory, you leave the building with the scent permeating your clothes. Perhaps slightly off the beating track, you do not expect such comfort in such an industrial building. With a range of seating from sunken armchairs to rather harsh wooden benches, the atmosphere is modern but not unwelcoming – if you’re not a fan of the colour blue you may want to avoid as it seems to lay itself on every available surface, creating the sense that Violet Beauregard exploded while still inside this chocolate factory. However, if you’re a fan of quick service and a low price tag I would certainly recommend – with the exception of their luxury hot chocolates, prices range between £1.80 for an espresso to £2.95 for their Cappuccino. I opted for a Mocha, trying a generous cup of their coffee and locally crafted chocolate for £2.90. Rich, dark chocolate, undercut by the coffee’s bitterness, leaving a smooth, rounded aftertaste I was not disappointed. While not a particularly well known spot, in maintaining York’s tradition as ‘the Chocolate City’, York Cocoa Works provides a secluded space of luxury slightly offset from the bustling center. As a student attempting to combine this excuse for excessive amounts of coffee with an imminent deadline, however, I was disappointed by the lack of free Wi-Fi, although as a quiet space it would be perfect for someone forward thinking enough to download the material beforehand.
I then moved onto the first of Coffee Society’s recommendations. A doorway I recognized from nights at Mansion (it stands almost directly opposite) I was pleasantly surprised to find what lay behind its doors. The kind of room you hear television designers with slicked back hair and lenseless glasses declare to be ‘Scandinavian’, it was open, fresh and simple. With lots of nooks to work in or tables for a classy chat, it seems the perfect spot for a working or socializing student. It even had a lollipop holder á la childhood chemist, ready and waiting for mid-essay breakdowns. On the recommendation of Coffee Society, I opted for their flat white. The only café to serve it properly hot, it was subtle and creamy, leaving a smooth, sweet aftertaste. Using their own Yorkshire-based roastery, they also sell a good range of beans in 250g bags, a fact you are drawn to by their seeming shrine to coffee, inlaid by sacks proudly stamped with ‘York Emporium’. While perhaps oppressive at first site, this does assert the fact that this is not just another roadside café – they know their coffee and want to present the customer with the best insight into their world. With prices ranging from £2.00 for their Espresso to their £2.95 Mocha, it was not expensive, although it did not provide the same level of choice as other options. Their selling point, however, is their encouragement of people working in their café, and even have areas dedicated for this purpose and meeting rooms for hire. At £50 per month for access to a desk, or £15 for a day, however, this rather seems unrealistic for your average student with a library in proximity, and with these advertised you are made to feel rather uncomfortable if you have your laptop out in the small café area.
Sitting next to Coffee Society’s second recommendation, Coffee Culture, which at the time of writing was under renovation, La Bottega was a rather last minute resort. However, I was not entirely disappointed. Rather like I imagine Gino DiCampo’s imagination, the food and coffee were delicious, the Baristas very Italian and the decoration singularly unique. Clearly an admirable attempt on up-cycling, my favorite piece was a wheeled metal bath turned into a plant display by a hidden wooden sledge. Around the walls hung Jackson Pollock-esq local art, providing a lively, colourful and friendly atmosphere affirmed by plush velvet armchairs. With a quieter room detached from it’s bustling café, La Bottega seems to welcome all groups, and it was easy to work as I relaxed with a Latte in the corner. A more expensive option, with prices ranging from £2.10 for an Espresso to £3.40 for an Affogato, the coffee matched up to the other locations. Strong, bitter and with an earthy aftertaste, La Bottega are particularly proud of the fact that they use organic milk – a strong factor to consider when it makes up 90% of your drink.
Bakes & Co
Finally, I ended my crusade of York’s coffee shops with a visit to Bakes & Co, a small shop by the ‘Bile Beans’ sign – always guaranteed to incite appetite. On walking in, you are immediately confronted with a mood of happy chaos. A deli counter filled with delicious fresh wraps, sandwiches and pastries combines with shelves of local produce and a ramshackle mix of rustic, modern and traditional comfort to provide a lively venue, made ever the more welcoming by the friendliest staff I came across. Furthermore, as the only place with readily available WiFi, it provided a place where students can easily mix with local regulars, especially due to a more cosy room available through a door at the back. The coffee, although too cold for my taste, was nevertheless rich and fruity, and had the foam styled into a leaf – a factor that I’m always happy to let cover a multitude of sins.
Personally, therefore, I’d be tempted to favour Bakes & Co, while a bit further out. However, the range of coffee shops in York is ever flourishing. Although I was sadly unable to follow up recommendations from Coffee Society, it remained easy to find a good coffee and welcoming space for some casual work or shelter from winter’s endeavors to break our spirit.
Featured images by Iwan Stone