Although a semi-regular visitor to Birmingham for many years, I tend to stick fairly close to the centre, coming and going via Birmingham New Street station. For that reason, while I’ve heard much about the excellent coffee scene in Harborne, the suburb to the west of the centre, I’ve never made my way out there. Until Saturday, that is, when, driving up to my Dad’s in North Wales, I realised that it made a good break-point for my journey, provided that I didn’t mind a 15-minute detour.
I therefore made a beeline for The Steam Room, which opened in early 2017 and which I’d heard several good things about. A little to the north of Harborne High Street in a very residential area, it’s a gem, serving weekly single-origins from Has Bean on espresso (including decaf), batch-brew and pour-over, with the decaf being given equal billing on the menu (always nice to see). There’s a decent selection of tea, plus craft beer and ciders, as well as wine by the glass/bottle. If you’re hungry, check out the regular brunch menu, with breakfast and lunch specials on the menu behind the counter, plus a generous cake supply from old friends, Cakesmiths.
Welcome to the third and final instalment of the first Travel Spot of 2019, covering my first trip of the year. This started when I flew to Phoenix on the 4th January, getting upgraded to First Class along the way, and ended with my return from Chicago on 1st February, when I had to slum it in business class. Along the way I spent two weeks in the warm, winter sun of Arizona and New Mexico and then flew from Phoenix to Chicago, arriving in time for the polar vortex and the second coldest spell in Chicago’s history.
In all, I spent four days in the suburbs, hanging out with my friends, before catching the commuter train into Chicago proper, which was when it got really, really cold. Perhaps fortunately, I was there for work and, knowing the reputation of Chicago winters, had already booked the hotel in the same building as my office, so I didn’t actually have to go out… The downside was that I only had a single day to explore, but, given the weather, that’s probably just as well. Then, as soon as my meeting was over, I was off to O’Hare for my flight home.
I’ve had something of a hit-and-miss relationship with Atkinsons, the Lancaster-based coffee roaster and tea merchant. I’ve enjoyed Atkinsons’ coffee over the years and regularly run into the team at events such as the Manchester Coffee Festival. I even made a special stop in Lancaster in 2017 to visit one of the three Atkinson coffee shops there, but was foiled by IT problems which delayed my arrival until gone midnight…
I was therefore delighted when Atkinsons opened a coffee shop in the restored Mackie Mayor, Manchester’s old meat market, which dates from 1857. I even stayed on an extra day after the 2017 Manchester Coffee Festival in order to visit, only to find that Mackie Mayor, and hence Atkinsons, closes on Mondays…
Undaunted, I returned in 2018, this time before the Manchester Coffee Festival. Along with fellow coffee blogger, Charlotte Scotland (blogging as Coffee All Way), we paid Atkinsons a visit one Friday evening, taking advantage of its late opening hours. Along with a full espresso-based menu, with a choice of blend or decaf, there’s pour-over through the SP9, a selection of cake and cocktails, and, perhaps best of all, a working 100 year old Uno roaster in the corner!
Ultimo Coffee provided my first Philadelphia speciality coffee experience when I visited its Graduate Hospital branch on Catherine Street in 2014. Back then, there were just two locations, that one and the original, Newbold, on South 15th Street, but in 2017, Ultimo opened a third, more central, location just west of Rittenhouse Square which I visited on my way to the station during my trip last year.
Easily the smallest of the three locations, its comparative lack of size doesn’t limit its ambitions when it comes to coffee. On my previous visits to the two other Ultimo locations, it was using Counter Culture, but in 2016, Ultimo started roasting its own coffee in the Newbold location (sadly after I visited). I was therefore excited, since this was my first chance to taste Ultimo’s coffee.
There are several seasonal single-origins available at any time (there were five during my visit), all available as pour-over, with three of them on espresso, two iced and one through the Aeropress. If you’re in a hurry and it’s before 11 o’clock, there’s also one on batch-brew. Add to that 12 different teas, plus a selection of cakes and bagels, and Ultimo has you covered.
I first dsicovered Edinburgh’s Machina Espresso in 2013, when I wrote about it as part of my first-ever feature for Caffeine Magazine. Back then it was an equipment supplier, in November that year, it opened its first coffee shop in Brougham Place, where it fulfilled dual roles of coffee shop and equipment supplier, its shelves full of (very) shiny home espresso machines, compact grinders, great cups, tampers, pouring kettles and so on. However, that was only the beginning…
In 2017, Machina Espresso took two big steps forward. First, in May, it started roasting its own coffee in a dedicated facility (sadly not open to the public) and then, in the summer, the second branch, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, opened on Nicolson Street.
In keeping with its roots, there is plenty of coffee kit on sale, although Nicolson Street stops short of grinders and espresso machines. Machina Espresso only roasts single-origins, with two choices on espresso (for drinks with and without milk), while there’s another on batch-brew. If you’re hungry, Machina Espresso has a good selection of cakes, plus a concise combined breakfast and lunch menu available until four o’clock (although the porridge is only available until 11 o’clock).
Something that I really admire about the speciality coffee industry is its commitment to improving the lot of coffee farmers by paying them a decent price (far above commodity prices) for their coffee. At the same time, the industry’s finding new ways to ensure that more of the value stays with the coffee farmers/producers. Perhaps one of the most exciting is the concept of farm-to-cup, also known as crop-to-cup (which has the advantage of being alliterative), where the entire value chain remains with the farmers who control every stage from production (crop) to the final drink (cup).
I’ve seen this in countries such as Vietnam (Oriberry Coffee), Thailand (Akha Ama Coffee) and China (Lanna Coffee), but the first time I saw it outside of a coffee growing region was in Arizona, when I visited Peixoto, in Chandler, southeast of Phoenix. Peixoto was set up specifically to roast and sell coffee from the family farm in Brazil, something which it’s been doing for the last four years (it celebrated its fourth birthday on 31st January). I’ve already written about Peixoto as a coffee shop: today, in this Meet the Roaster feature, I want to look at the rest of Peixoto’s operation.
Small Batch Coffee has been a cornerstone of Brighton & Hove’s speciality coffee scene for many years. Currently there are seven outlets in Brighton & Hove itself, including two carts (one at Brighton Station, the other at Hove Station), a new roastery in Portslade and the latest branch, just along the coast in Worthing. I’ve always been Small Batch fan, so it’s a bit odd that that I’ve only written up the Norfolk Square branch, and that was four years ago! So, on my return to Brighton at the end of last year, I made a Small Batch visit a priority and where better than where it all started, the original roastery/espresso bar at Goldstone Villas?
These days, of course, the roastery is no more, having moved out in September 2017. Instead, you effectively get two coffee shops in one, the old roastery having been converted into the Workspace, designed to attract remote workers, although anyone is welcome to use it. The offering is the same in both: a standard espresso menu using the Goldstone house-blend (or decaf if you prefer), plus a daily option on batch-brew. If you’re hungry, there are pre-prepared sandwiches and cake, with doughnuts on Saturday.
I first visited Fourtillfour in February 2018, at the end of the first of two USA trips that year. Back then it was using San Francisco’s Four Barrel, although following Four Barrel’s well-publicised troubles, Nico and Mia were in the process of choosing a new roaster. When I returned the following month, FourTillFour had switched to another Californian roaster, Verve, although that was just a stop-gap while Nico and Mia moved to their ultimate solution, roasting their own coffee, which went live in October last year.
Although I’ve visited Glasgow many times, I rarely venture east of the city centre, normally spending my time in the centre itself, in the West End and, starting last year, the south side. I’d heard about the appropriately-named East Coffee Company, which opened in January 2018, on my visit for that year’s Glasgow Coffee Festival, but with my bad back, I’d not been able to get out there. However, on my return to the city in December, I made it a priority to head over to East for coffee and some lunch.
It’s a lovely little place, occupying a front and back room in a row of shops, with tenements above, a very typical set-up for Glasgow. Despite the small size, there’s plenty on offer, including a seasonal single-origin espresso from local roasters, The Good Coffee Cartel (a Colombian during my visit) with decaf from Dear Green Coffee. If that doesn’t appeal, there’s a daily batch-brew, featuring roasters from around the country. While I was there, it was the turn of Sacred Grounds from Arbroath, with a Black Honey processed El Salvador. East also offers a concise all-day breakfast/lunch menu, the food cooked in an open kitchen behind the counter.
Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for La Colombe, the Philadelphia-based coffee shop/roaster chain with branches in various east coast cities, California and Chicago, where I visited the Wicker Park branch on my round-the-world trip in 2016. Today’s Coffee Spot, the Gold Coast branch, is Chicago’s fifth La Colombe, having opened in February 2018.
It’s a small spot, with just enough room for the counter (which has a few bar stools at the back) and a row of four tables along the window at the front, plus, in the summer, a bench out front. The lack of size doesn’t stop it from offering pretty much the full La Colombe range though, with two options on espresso, another two on batch-brew and three on pour-over through the Silverton dripper. There’s also a range of in-house teas and draft lattes and, if you’re hungry, cakes and prepared salads.