Reflections on Home Coffee, Albert Road

Christine Lawrence continues her exploration of Portsmouth’s cultural and cafe life in a review of Albert Road’s Home Coffee, taking a trip to Burundi in just one sip. 

Over the past few years several new coffee shops have opened in Portsmouth, many of them in Southsea. Whilst I hear some people bemoaning another cafe in the city, I don’t think you can have enough coffee shops – particularly if they are independent and offering something more than just the usual fast-coffee range.

I’m always on the look-out for something new, somewhere to relax and write, and soon found myself in Home Coffee in Albert Road.  I’d been there before, having had lunch there with my son and daughter just a few months after it had opened and I recalled that whilst we’d enjoyed the meal, it was predominantly a place where they serve great coffee in a relaxed atmosphere.  I’d thought at the time that this would be the perfect place to sit and write or to just watch the world pass by.  It has a totally different clientele to that of the Cafe Nut in North End, another of my occasional haunts, although it is equally as interesting.  Home Coffee is a ‘proper’ coffee shop, selling speciality coffees – what they call on their blackboard ‘seasonal coffees’.  I make a guess, as I sit and look at the menus, that coffee crops must be as seasonal as apple crops.

Home Coffee opened on 18th December 2014, the joint venture of Andrew Chance, Russell Ison and Rob Nichol who were passionate about bringing good coffee to Portsmouth – a passion that runs through everything in Home Coffee. As well as the eponymous coffee, Home serves quality teas and infusions, smoothies, ice-cream shakes, pressed juices and cold soft drinks, tasty food made on the premises and fresh to order, gluten-free and vegan cakes, bites and menu items, with local sourcing, and are ‘proud to work with other independents’.  They  offer a ‘beans and brewing’ service whereby customers can buy single origin beans and both the Aero press and Haria V60 brewing systems which are used in the coffee shop itself.  They will grind the coffee for the customer and are always happy to advise and demonstrate how to use the equipment so that one can have a fresh cup of coffee any time at home or in the work place.

Home Coffee is a small, narrow room with a garden to the rear.  Tables are set out in such a way as to make the most of the limited space without giving a cramped feeling, rather it is laid out for comfort.

I enjoyed my usual Americano and Biscotti.  Biscottis are hard and I’d forgotten about my loose filling – still, no one seemed to mind my dunking the Biscotti into the coffee.  It was 11.00 on a Friday morning – I spent an hour in pleasant surroundings, and watched a steady stream of people coming in, some for take-away coffees.  Many stayed to chat, read, or work on lap-tops.  The staff were all friendly, quick to serve and to tidy the tables once each customer had left.  New customers were made to feel welcome – many were regular and were greeted as old friends. I spoke to one of the proprietors who was happy to spend time telling me about their range of coffees and the varied ways that they were brewed.  I learnt that coffee crops were indeed seasonal and that the beans on offer therefore change frequently.

Although there are other similar premises in Southsea, it seems that there is always room for another that provides such a specialist service – this one is doing well enough to support the three proprietors and their staff after only ten months of opening.  They aim to make their customers feel comfortable, as though ‘coming home’.

Each table has access to wifi and the owners welcome the use of laptops.  A notice on the door says Home is a dog-friendly space and whilst I was there, a young couple came in with a dog and all three, including the dog, were greeted as old friends.  I commented on the welcoming nature of the staff and was told that this was exactly what they were aiming for.  Each of the proprietors are extremely enthusiastic about the ethos of the cafe, Rob stating that the fun thing is when people try something new.

A week or so later, I returned for another visit, intrigued by the concept and conscious that I’d previously only had my tried and tested Americano. This time, I asked for a recommendation and was offered a mug of Burindi Nyabihanga Buziraguhindwa, from the Kayanza region, a fully washed Bourbon variety produced by Salume Ramadham and smallholder farmers at an altitude of 1900 – 2000 metres.  It has the flavour of tropical fruit, IPA hops, grapefruit and lychee.  To my palate, at first taste it’s smokey but smooth, then I noticed a faint grapefruit tang on the back of the tongue.  It’s definitely worth a try and much more interesting that my regular Americano.

Rob stopped by my table and asked how I’m enjoying my drink.  He’s genuinely interested and told me that Burundi was one of the first coffees brewed when they opened last year – the season has now come around again.  He says that he gets quite excited when new coffees crops come into season and they can try out new blends.

I’m very tempted to stay for lunch – maybe try their spicy butternut squash soup.  I watch as two steaming bowls, each with a hunk of granary bread, are carried past me to the ladies on the next table.  I decide to keep that pleasure for another day. The smokey taste of Burundi coffee lingers in my mouth and I savour this as I prepare to leave for home.  I smile to myself as I realise the unintentional pun and leave Home Coffee, a home from home.

Photography by Sarah Cheverton.