Christmas in Oxford always comes a bit early—as the university term ends at the beginning of December, the rest of the city begins celebrating early as well. So as all of Oxford’s coffee shops are looking cozy and Christmassy, with fairy lights in the windows and mince pies on offer, I thought I’d stop by a few of my favourites to properly get into this year’s Christmas spirit.
The Handle Bar is a lovely place on St Michael Street located just above a cycle shop. Frequented by cyclists and pedestrians alike, it is a great place to meet up with friends for breakfast or lunch, or to go alone to get some uni work done. Wood floors, whitewashed brick walls, large windows and bicycles hanging from the ceiling—the café has an unmistakably bright and quirky feel.
The food options are varied, with plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. I’m currently obsessed with the wild mushroom and polenta, a deliciously spicy dish that’s perfect for warming up after a cycle trip out in the cold.
The ambiance here is great, with some indie classics playing in the background. As I’m sat by the window working through my emails, I am surrounded by the light buzz of soft chatter and laughter, just enough to feel the positive vibes that characterise this place. So far, I’ve only been here to meet friends for lunch, but today I’ve learned that it’s just as perfect for some relaxing solo work time.
Another favourite is Peloton Espresso, a cozy little coffee shop on Cowley Road. It’s small but surprisingly bright and open, with lots of light coming in through the front windows even on a rainy day like today. There’s a back garden, but that’s better for slightly drier days. The place is decorated with cycling paraphernalia and art prints for sale. It’s clearly a cyclist’s coffee shop—there’s a ramp up from the main entrance so you can easily take your bike with you to the back.
By the counter you can grab a glass of water to refresh, perfect if you’ve just come in from a ride. The staff are cheerful and helpful, happy to share their favorite food choices and willing to help a confused coffee-newbie like me make a decision. I’m offered a sample of the current filter coffee, an Ethiopian coffee with “notes of blueberries”—usually I can’t taste this sort of thing but the blueberries were strong with this one. The fabled Peloton banana bread is served lightly toasted, cut into thick slices. It’s wonderfully moist and flavourful, with a lightly crunchy crust. I’ve heard there have been songs written about this banana bread, and no wonder—I may have to write a blueberry-and-banana symphony of my own to celebrate this visit!
The tables are small and cozy, just the perfect size to set up with a laptop and get some work done. As I sit here processing some photography from the last few days, people come and go—some to meet up with a friend for coffee, some to relax with a book on the sofa by the front windows. It’s a very comfortable, relaxed environment. I could stay here all day, and definitely will come back to do just that in the future.
Barefoot Bakery is located towards the top of Walton Street in Jericho. It’s an adorable little shop with a seafoam green front featuring its gorgeous cakes and fresh breads in the front window. During the warmer months, it’s lovely to sit out front with your coffee and cake, or in the little back garden. But today it’s a bit cold for that, with the first snowflakes of the winter settling on my bike seat as I lock up outside.
The shop has an unmistakable aesthetic—the seafoam green from the front extends to the chairs and stools inside, contrasting with soft pinks, yellows and darker wood-brown of the floors and benches. Barefoot is clearly ready for the holidays—a little Christmas tree shares the front window with the usual selection of cakes and breads. The back room, where I’ve settled with my cake, features a selection of Christmas-themed pillows. It’s not a large shop, but the seafoam green/pink color palette in conjunction with lots of whites keep it feeling bright and open.
Cakes are served on dainty floral dishes with gold trim, complementing the aesthetic of the shop perfectly. I almost let my macchiato go cold because I’m too busy taking artsy photos of it. When I do finally get around to drinking it, it’s as delicious as it is beautiful. The pumpkin maple pecan pie is dense and sweet, topped with rich cream cheese icing and a little gingerbread man.
Like many coffee shops, there is a good mix of people coming to meet with friends and people coming to get some work done. This isn’t the place to come for large amounts of coffee to get you through a long day, but it’s perfect for escaping the real world for a while in favor of appreciating something truly beautiful. When I head out back into the cold, I’m finally feeling properly ready for Christmas.
So wrap up warm, brace yourself and hop on your bike to discover some Oxmas delights! Make sure you stop by the Oxford Christmas Market along the way.
Written and photographed by Maren Fichter.