Harlequin Coffee and Tea House

Thumbnail - Harlequin Coffee and Tea House (DSC_9354)York is a city very close to my heart. I went to university there and have always had a soft spot for its tea rooms and coffee houses. Gentle, delicate and refined, they are wonderful places in many ways. In fact, some of my favourite spots are tea rooms. They’re just not necessarily places where you’d expect find top-notch coffee. Enter Harlequin, to challenge all your (my?) preconceptions and to bring speciality coffee to the good folks of York by stealth.

At first sight, everything about Harlequin is reassuring to the average tea room visitor (and slightly off-putting to the dedicated hunter of speciality coffee). The carefully arranged tables, the neat, white tablecloths, the net curtains at the windows and the gentle chink of tea pots. Even the coffee comes in cafetieres (although there is an espresso machine).

However, having lulled them into a false sense of security, Harlequin goes for the kill. All the coffee is from Has Bean, not exactly the choice of the average, run-of-the-mill coffee house. There’s also hot chocolate from those purveyors of fine, chocolaty goodness, Kokoa Collection.

And yet is still looks just like your typical tea room. Genius, I tell you, pure genius.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • The narrow door is not a promising start: at least the arrow's pointing in the right direction!
  • Ah, wait, step back. Between Boots and Nero & above Ladbrokes. Now, this is more like it.
  • In fact, this looks very promising indeed!
  • Having climbed the stairs, this is the view from just inside the door...
  • ... and a peak around the corner at the counter.
  • Tables in more detail. A very typical tea room, one might say.
  • The view from down by the counter. Since my visit, they've been replaced by square ones...
  • ... and now they look like this (from my visit in August 2015).
  • At least the layout is still the same. I liked these ones by the window...
  • ... and still do now that they're square.
  • The view from the window. Lovely window boxes by the way!
  • I was particularly fond of the mirror above the fireplace. And of the fireplace itself...
  • ... so much so that I took another picture of it on my return a year later!
  • I was there just before the Tour de France so there was a little cycling thing going on.
  • You have to admire a place with its own chutneys and pickles.
  • There's a decent food menu...
  • ... and a decent cake/sweet menu too.
  • However, Harlequin starts to reveal its true nature with the speciality drinks menu...
  • Standing by the espresso machine is my perpetual stalker, Kokoa Collection hot chocolate!
  • Meanwhile, behind the espresso machine, you'll find the cafetieres and teapots...
  • ... and next to it, the cake!
  • Since you don't get cafetiere coffee very often, I thought I'd try some.
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Harlequin Coffee and Tea House, to give it its full name, does not look very promising from the outside, just a narrow doorway stuck next to a Nero. However, you need to elevate your gaze, where, above the Ladbrokes, a pair of window boxes gives the first hints of better things to come. Make your way up the stairs, double back on yourself, and suddenly you’re in what looks like a very traditional tea room.

Harlequin is L-shaped, with the wide part of the L at the front and the counter right at the back, at the top of the L. The tables are arranged in neat rows of three, running across the width of the room (although the one by the door only consists of two tables). There are five such rows and, while I was there, the tales were round, each seating three or four people. However, they were all replaced with square tables shortly after my visit (see the gallery for some pictures of the new tables).

The décor is also very traditional tea room, with a wooden floor and white painted walls and ceiling, from which multiple chandeliers hang. Two large windows at the front fill it with natural light and the aforementioned chandeliers ensure that it’s bright even at the counter at the back. The menu, at first glance, is also traditional tea room: soup, paté, sandwiches, salads and afternoon tea for two.

However, turn your attention to the speciality drinks menu and you realise that something is amiss in this vision of familiar cosiness. There are a couple of cafetiere options, a Burundi Mutara Hill natural and a Tanzanian Sellan natural, while the Burundi is also available as filter. Tasting notes suggest cassis and dark chocolate for the Burundi and liquorice and black cherry for the Tanzanian. Even the tea choices have gone a bit weird, with a sweet, woody Baimudan White Peony tea and a naturally sweet, caffeine-free Rooibos. Suddenly, you’re in a speciality coffee shop!

I’d just come from Spring Espresso and had a couple of other stops to make that day, so in order to preserve myself, I went for a Has Bean decaf in a cafetiere, which, I believe, was the standard Has Bean (espresso) decaf (I utterly failed to make any notes). It was, however, lovely, packed full of flavour, smooth and with lots of body, once again proving that a good decaf, in the hands of a decent roaster, can be every bit as good as its caffeinated counterparts.

I was there for lunch and paired my coffee with the Wensleydale and Chutney sandwich (using Harlequin’s very own chutney) which was excellent. The highest praise I can give it is that I’m normally not a fan of Wensleydale. My coffee also stood up well to the somewhat spicy chutney. However, due to the aforementioned other stops to come, I passed on the cakes, although the range did look lovely.

I leave you with a mention of The Attic. If, instead of stopping at the first landing and going into Harlequin, you carry on up the stairs, you will come to The Attic, the hard core coffee arm of Harlequin. Open only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, you’ll have to wait until Thursday’s Coffee Spot if you want to find out more…

2 KING’S SQUARE • YORK • YO1 8BH
http://harlequinyork.com +44 (0) 1904 630 631
Monday 10:00 – 16:00 Roaster Has Bean (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 10:00 – 16:00 Seating Tables
Wednesday 10:00 – 16:00 Food Lunch, Cake
Thursday 10:00 – 16:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 10:00 – 16:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 10:00 – 16:00 Wifi Free
Sunday 11:00 – 15:00 Power Yes
Chain No Visits 22nd June 2014

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