Located in the charming, higgledy piggledy Lanes area of Norwich is the wonderful Strangers Coffee House. Our visit felt long overdue, especially as Tom is a Norwich boy himself.
We were welcomed warmly by Alex Sargeant, co-owner. He’s a barista who looks the part, with cap, beard and tattoo. He’s also knowledgeable, affable and passionate about coffee, without being even slightly up his own bottom, thank goodness.
It wasn’t always like this, Alex tells us. Like every coffee guru that ever was, he had to learn his trade from scratch. The defining moment was in 2009 when, while working as a mortgage broker, Alex was hit by redundancy. As one door closed, another opened, as he and his brother-in-law decided to set up Strangers.
He is the first to admit that it has been a big learning curve: apparently their coffee back in the early days was pretty awful. Time, hard graft and a not inconsiderable sprinkling of natural talent has given Alex a better understanding of great coffee and a successful coffee shop. Now, he’s one of the most respected baristas in the country. We saw him compete at the semi-final of the UK Barista Championships last year.
Luckily for us, Alex offered to whip up one of his competition signature drinks (if you’re unfamiliar with this idea, just think of it as a barista’s creativity unleashed – a kind of coffee cocktail, usually espresso-based).
It was an amazing combination of white chocolate infused steamed milk, Ethiopia Yirgacheffe espresso, balsamic glaze (that’s right!) and a powder made from freeze-dried strawberries and icing sugar. The combination was unexpectedly awesome, creating a delicious chocolately, mulled wine-flavoured coffee.
That particular combo you won’t find on the menu, but the regular drinks are just as lovingly prepared and high quality.
As well as all the usual espresso-based drinks there are brew bar options too. The house blend is sourced from local roasters Butterworths, with guest coffees from other roasteries, sometimes including Square Mile and HasBean, on offer as well.
We don’t always stop for lunch on our coffee shop crawls but we were mighty glad we did so today. The sandwich fillings weren’t the usual run of the mill combinations and were so tasty! Tom’s simple little mind was blown away by the epic pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing in his Reuben sandwich, and I had smoked brie, sundried tomato and rocket. Just gorgeous.
The shop itself is bright, welcoming and cool. Adding to the friendly atmosphere were lots of regulars greeted by name, which I always like.
Like its becapped owner, Strangers is brilliant, welcoming and unpretentious. It’s a must if you’re visiting lovely Norwich and fancy a coffee. Actually, GO to Norwich just for Strangers. Pop in to The Window too, and be glad that Norfolk now has two national-standard coffee shops.
…and get a sandwich.
Abi (with some additions from Tom)
We visited on 3 January 2014.