Drinking coffee from a market stall is perhaps not the most appealing idea. At least, this was what I thought as I approached Monk Coffee in Durham Indoor Market. Tucked up in a small corner near the bakery and news stall its owner Michelle calls it the “hidden gem of the market – you need a treasure map to find it!” Irrespective of location, it’s worth finding. On arrival, the first thing I noticed was the sparseness of the stall. With plain wooden tables, bags of cloth sitting somewhat randomly and hemp cloth functioning as cupboard doors, you may be forgiven for thinking that the stall is a work-in-progress. But what the décor lacks, Michelle more than makes up for.
Offering me various bags to smell almost instantly, I was swept into a coffee haze. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am no huge coffee enthusiast; my weekly trips to Costa and Café Nero are mostly social occasions, with coffee a trigger for conversation more than a daily uplift. American-born Michelle, however, is a coffee aficionado and a great conversationalist, who can tell you just about anything you want to know on the subject. Her coffee is micro-lot coffee. This means it is sourced from a range of small farms, each specially picking beans to get the best flavour. Although ethical practice behind micro-lot coffee is harder to ascertain than Fairtrade produce, as the Fairtrade label applies to co-ops and not individual growers, it nonetheless relies on a carefully-nurtured relationship between farmer and seller.
All Merry Monk Coffee is individually packaged and tailored to you. You can have it ground, in bean form or even have beans covered in chocolate. There are gift box options and if you wish to mix flavours you can. Flavours? Now this is the exciting bit. As well as selling various single-origin coffees from Brazil, Ethiopia (the home of coffee), and India amongst others, Merry Monk specialises in flavoured beans. On offer include, crème brûlée (sweet-smelling), English toffee (slightly tart, and as one customer put it “lemony”), butter rum (this is a good one), chocolate mint (like an After Eight) and a lush maple walnut. Michelle recommends mixing vanilla with orange for an ice-creamy coffee.
If these flavours sound bizarre or too sickly for you, let me assure you there are not. Also on sale, cafetière coffee which Michelle makes on the spot for you with the bean of your choice. Now as I said, being a casual coffee drinker, this appeals to me much more than buying a bag of beans I hope to use, but realistically won’t. I opt for mocha orange. Five minutes later, it’s ready. Dark, steaming, with a rich coffee taste that is delightfully offset with an orangey aftertaste, it really is a different experience to my usual skinny mochas.
Now, I have been told, for the coffee aficionados out there, that being served cafetière coffee is fairly rare. It seems to be something you make at home rather than buy in a plastic takeaway cup. I think part of the charm is being able to pick your bean. With so many flavours and options to try, it really is an unusual experience. It is somewhat unusual to find a coffee shop that only does black coffee, there is no milk frother in sight. However, as someone who I prone to lattes, even I can tell how flavoursome these beans are.
A few things should perhaps be pointed out: Merry Monk only does takeaway coffee. This might be suited to a big shopping centre, but in Durham Market this can be inconvenient unless you are heading to lectures or the library. I also found that whilst I enjoyed browsing the stall, being continuously offered so many bags of coffee to smell can sometimes seem an abrasive sales tactic and I would probably suggest going when you have a bit of time on your hands. At the same time, I recommend that you at least try the coffee there once. It’s a whole different way of drinking coffee to what most of us are probably used to. Plus, with free samples brewing everyday, there really is no reason not to at least give it a shot.