Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters

The Giesen roaster at Quarter Horse, Birmingham.Quarter Horse Coffee started life on Oxford’s Cowley Road, where, indeed, the original Quarter Horse remains. Back then, it used Square Mile, it’s two founders, Nathan and James, having worked closely with the London roaster while working for Store Street Espresso before setting up Quarter Horse. However, Nathan, who originally hails from Normal, Illinois, was a roaster before he came to the UK, and he’s always wanted to return to his (roasting) roots.

So, it was no great surprise that, when looking to expand beyond a single shop in Oxford, Quarter Horse turned to roasting. What is less predictable is that Quarter Horse would do it in Birmingham and would open a coffee shop/roastery in the process. However, given the prevalence of this model in the US, perhaps it makes sense that Nathan would choose this route.

Whatever the reasoning, Quarter Horse has created a lovely spot; a large, spacious coffee shop on one hand (which features in its own Coffee Spot), with an attached roastery which is visible from pretty much every part of the building. Right now, Quarter Horse roasts one or twice a week, so you’ll have to be lucky to see the roastery in action!

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Quarter Horse on Bristol Road, Birmingham, both coffee shop and coffee roasters.
  • This is the coffee shop side of the business, which is the subject of its own Coffee Spot.
  • ... while today we're going to concentrate on the roastery side.
  • By the time you read this, the sample roaster in the window should be gone...
  • ... leaving this shiny, new Gieson as the sole roaster.
  • This is the entire roastery by the way...
  • Another look at the roaster, this time from the business end.
  • And the raw materials, the sacks of green beans.
  • One of the great things about Quarter Horse: you can see the roastery from anywhere.
  • Alternatively, grab a stool and get up close and personal.
  • In case you've wondering, this is where a lot of the beans end up...
  • ... although you can also buy the coffee to take home with you.
Quarter Horse on Bristol Road, Birmingham, both coffee shop and coffee roasters.1 This is the coffee shop side of the business, which is the subject of its own Coffee Spot.2 ... while today we're going to concentrate on the roastery side.3 By the time you read this, the sample roaster in the window should be gone...4 ... leaving this shiny, new Gieson as the sole roaster.5 This is the entire roastery by the way...6 Another look at the roaster, this time from the business end.7 And the raw materials, the sacks of green beans.8 One of the great things about Quarter Horse: you can see the roastery from anywhere.9 Alternatively, grab a stool and get up close and personal.10 In case you've wondering, this is where a lot of the beans end up...11 ... although you can also buy the coffee to take home with you.12
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Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters occupies a double unit on Birmingham’s Bristol Street, 10-minutes’ walk south of the centre. The two parts of the business occupy either side of the unit, each with its own front door. On the right as you enter, coffee shop, while on the left, the roastery. However, with the dividing wall knocked through, the interior feels like a single space, only the separate doors hinting at the original configuration.

The roastery itself is, for the moment, fairly modest. Separated from the rest of the space by a long, waist-high tiled counter, there’s plenty of room for expansion. Pride of place goes to a very modern-looking 15kg Giesen, all angles in contrast to the conventional wisdom which says that drum-roasters should be, well, drum-shaped. It looks a little isolated, with just a rack of shelving holding the obligatory sacks of green beans for company, but, as the roastery gets busier, I’m sure it will soon be surrounded.

Quarter Horse roasts a single espresso blend (“Dark Horse”) and a small selection of single-origins for both filter and espresso. The bulk of Quarter Horse’s output is for its own use, the original Quarter Horse in Oxford taking the lion’s share. The Dark Horse blend is seasonal, changing every three-four months, while the single-origins are bought in 70kg sacks, Nathan rarely buying two sacks of the same green bean. It takes 7-8 weeks to get through a sack and then it’s onto the next. During my visit, there were two single-origins on espresso, a Kenyan AA Nyeri and an El Salvador Santa Anna, with an Ethiopian Kochere on filter. I also spotted some bags of a Colombian on the retail shelves.

The one thing that Quarter Horse doesn’t currently roast is decaf. Chatting with the ever-friendly Nathan, he explained it currently made little sense. Since he’s principally just roasting for the two coffee shops, demand is relatively low (a few kilos a week) so it would take forever to get through a sack of green beans, running the risk of considerable wastage. Instead, Quarter Horse gets its decaf from Bath’s Round Hill Roastery. Round Hill was one of the first UK roasters to adopt the Giesen and head-roaster, Eddy, was very helpful in getting Nathan going.

I also asked Nathan why, with a coffee shop in Oxford, Quarter Horse had established chosen to expand in Birmingham. The answer, quite simply, is rent. For an equivalent rent in Oxford, Quarter Horse would be lucky to get something one quarter of the size. It was either that or an anonymous unit in an industrial estate. Instead, by moving to Birmingham, Quarter Horse has been able to open both a coffee shop and roastery, the coffee shop effectively covering the rent.

In common with many new roasters, winning new accounts is a slow process. Having been with  Square Mile for so long, Nathan knows first-hand how attached coffee shop owners become to their roasters. Displacing an incumbent, especially when you’re new with no track record, is a challenge. While picking up a couple of accounts in Birmingham and has featuring as guest roaster at the likes of London’s Daily Goods and Lyle’s, Nathan’s content roasting primarily for his own shops. This, he freely admits, is much easier than roasting for multiple small accounts!

88-90 BRISTOL STREET • BIRMINGHAM • B5 7AH
www.quarterhorsecoffee.com +44 (0) 121 4489660
Monday 08:00 – 18:00 Roaster Quarter Horse (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 08:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Bars, Benches (Outside)
Wednesday 08:00 – 18:00 Food Breakfast, Sandwiches, Cake
Thursday 08:00 – 18:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 08:00 – 18:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 09:00 – 18:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 09:00 – 18:00 Power Limited
Chain Regional Visits 30th, 31th July 2015

Liked this Coffee Spot? Then check out the rest of Birmingham’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Birmingham.


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