This review comes from Will Pearce – you can read more from Will at willpearce.wordpress.com.
Tucked away from the bustle of St. Nick’s Market on the aptly named Small Street, you’ll find the equally aptly named Small St. Espresso. The black, white and baby blue signage simply exudes ‘cool’, with a laidback, playful logo that will have graphic designers weeping tears of typeface-induced joy into their macchiatos.
Inside, the décor is what you might call industrial-lite, all exposed wood, exposed brick, exposed pipes, while the two (fully clothed) members of staff dispense caffeinated delights from behind an elegant black-tiled counter. The vibe is minimalist and effortlessly hip. The clientele, mainly young and tastefully tattooed, drape themselves over cubic tables and seats seemingly fashioned out of old crates in a single small but perfectly formed room.
The walls are adorned with screen-printed posters and tee shirts, while exposed pipes are decorated artfully with stickers promoting what I can only assume to be record labels or club nights (none of which I’m hip enough to recognize). The people behind Small St. Espresso are clearly endowed with an eye for design almost as keen as their nose for coffee.
I looked to the retro letterboards hung on chains from the wall for guidance. There were three blends to be had: the house blend; a guest blend, which at the time of my visit was El Meridiano Tolima from Colombia; and Los Mones Huila, also Colombian, for filter coffee. If memory serves, there was also decaff, although that’s really not my purview. Espresso-wise, all the usual suspects are on offer – lattes, mochas, cappuccinos and the like – as well as less familiar concoctions such as chai lattes and piccolos, while Aeropress and cold brews are available for filter fans. Vegans and the health-conscious are catered for with soy and almond milk.
I opted for a house blend flat white and a slice of irresistible-looking pecan pie, just one of a selection of sweets that included salted caramel brownies and Danish pastries. I’d rather foolishly taken lunch not long before my visit, so didn’t quite have the stomach to partake of the sandwiches on offer, but they all sounded very delicious, and all were served on sourdough bread (what else?) from the inimitable Hart’s Bakery. The staff were friendly, approachable and mercifully free from the hipper-than-thou syndrome that has been known to afflict baristas in coffee houses of this calibre.
My flat white arrived promptly, served in a dainty powder blue cup that matched the gorgeous La Marzocco espresso machine. It was good and hot (tepid flat whites being the bane of any coffee-lover’s life) with a silky texture. The coffee itself – 60% Rwandan Gisuma and 40% Finca la Esperanza, from Guatemala, by way of Clifton Coffee Roasters – was sweet without being overly fruity, full-bodied and slightly smoky, with a bright, perfectly balanced acidity. The generous helping of pie comprised earthy pecans suspended in an indulgently sweet and sticky purée, rich with flavours of honey and brown sugar, all of which was topped with a slightly perplexing layer of what I took to be gelatin, while the sweet shortcrust pastry case was thin and perfectly baked. All in all, it was delicious, and the perfect accompaniment to a nigh-on perfect coffee.
With its relaxed atmosphere, elegant appointments and a modest selection of books (coffee-related and otherwise) to pore over, Small St. Espresso is the sort of place you could lose an entire afternoon without even realising it. I recommend doing so at your earliest convenience.