Under Pressure Espresso

A wizard is shown underneath a large coffee cup. This is surrounded by lightning and is being filled by a stream of coffee from above.Sutton Coldfield, to the northeast of Birmingham, on the way to Lichfield, is, like Beeston (west of Nottingham), not one of those places which immediately springs to mind when I think of speciality coffee. However, I’d been hearing consistently good things from my Birmingham friends about Under Pressure Espresso (although I keep getting it confused with Reading’s Coffee Under Pressure…) so I thought it was about time I visited…

Sandwiched between an insurance agent and a large, generic bar/lounge, Under Pressure Espresso is bigger than it looks, going a long way back from its small street-front. That said, it’s still quite small, with space for about 25 people if everyone squeezes up.

The coffee is usually from London’s Workshop, but sometimes the owner, Matt, rings the changes with other roasters getting a look-in. There’s a single choice on espresso and another on filter, Under Pressure Espresso taking the unusual route of using the Clever Dripper. Regardless of roaster, the coffee changes on a regular basis, usually when Matt tires of the current offerings. There’s a selection of loose-leaf teas and, if you want something with your coffee, there’s some excellent cake, either home-baked by Matt/Matt’s wife or from Lil’s Parlour.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Under Pressure Espresso in Sutton Coldfield, as seen approaching from the station.
  • The straight-on view gives you a better feel for the crazy slope of Birmingham Road!
  • Inside, Under Pressure Espresso goes a long way back...
  • ... while at the front, there's a window-bar + a communal table between window & counter.
  • A slightly bettter view of the communal table and of the lights hanging in the window.
  • Under Pressure through the Looking Glass (immediately to the right of the door).
  • Next comes a bench, coat hooks and retail shelves, all in one!
  • The majority of the seating is over here, a row of tables disappearing into the distance.
  • The seats at the back (plus artwork on the walls).
  • Right at the back are the shelves of fame, the best beans that Under Pressure has served.
  • Under Pressure is a rather green space. This one sits on the communal table...
  • ... while this one props up the books on the window-bar.
  • Multi-tasking picture: plants, light-fittings, exposed-brick and artwork.
  • This is one of several bespoke pieces that graces the walls of Under Pressure.
  • To business. There's Matt, while Workshop's Stuart Ritson (& colleague Susan) popped in too.
  • The front part of the counter houses the cake and the filter station.
  • There's quite a lot of cake...
  • ... from pecan and chocolate slices...
  • ... to various loaves, there's quite a selection.
  • And finally, there are these Scandinavian chocolate buns over on the main counter.
  • The menu, behind the counter, is beautiful in its simplicity.
  • Meanwhile, an old packing case is pressed into service as a cupboard...
  • ... which doubles as a display for the current espresso and filter beans.
  • Espresso is courtesy of this shiny two-group La Marzocco with its colour-coordinated cups...
  • ... while the filter coffee is through the Clever Dripper. This is an immersion brewer...
  • ... which then filters through the bottom. The coffee's served in a carafe, cup on the side.
  • My coffee and Scandinavian bun.
  • Although it looks a little like filter coffee, this was a rare foray into long black territory for me.
  • My bun is worth a second look as well.
  • I followed this up with a split shot to see what it tasted like as an espresso and in milk.
  • Naturally there had to be more cake: the last slice of the cinnamon streusel.
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From the street, there doesn’t seem to be much to Under Pressure Espresso. Other than a (glass) door on the right, the entire front is a single floor-to-ceiling window, in front of which is an L-shaped arrangement of benches. Inside, the layout’s similarly simple, counter on the left, the majority of the seating on the right. There’s a small bench (with coat hooks and retail shelves on the wall above it) next to the door, then a row of five tables against the right-hand wall, which extends beyond the counter where Under Pressure narrows to accommodate the toilet. There’s a two-person and a six-person table opposite the counter, with three more two-person tables beyond.

There’s more seating on the left: a three-person window-bar, with stools, plus a large, square, communal table with benches on all four sides between window and counter. This is an L-shaped, wooden affair, cakes and Clever-drippers on the bottom part of the L, facing the window. The longer side faces the opposite wall, with the till, La Marzocco espresso machine and single grinder.

Although long and thin, Under Pressure’s bright and airy, due to both the large window and the generous provision of lights (which Matt wants to upgrade to make it even brighter). There’s a concrete floor, wooden furniture and polystyrene ceiling tiles, while to the left, by the window, there’s a little bit of exposed brick. The remainder of this wall’s painted red, which really lifts the place, while the right-hand and back walls are a light-grey, the colours coordinating with the cups (the small ones are red, the large ones, grey).

When it comes to the coffee, service is very important in Under Pressure. Everything comes with a glass of water, which is constantly topped up by the ever-attentive Matt. Filter coffee is served in a carafe with a cup on the side, and all the cakes come with knife/fork and neatly-fold napkin. I approve.

But what to have? Normally I don’t drink long blacks. However, emboldened by my adventures with Jess (of EatingEast), I accepted Matt’s recommendation of Workshop’s Cult of Done (currently a Rwandan Kamajumba) stretched with a little hot water. While I enjoyed the resulting cup, a rich, fruity coffee with plenty of body, it did rather reinforce my prejudice/taste that I’d prefer filter over a long black. It also left me keen to discover what it would be like on its own and in milk, so Matt made me a split shot.

In milk, I felt it was a little anonymous, but very pleasant, while the milk was excellent, holding its latte art to the bottom of the cup. However, for me, it really shone as an espresso. A surprisingly bright, punchy coffee, it’s still well-balanced, very much a back-of-the-mouth experience.

I paired my long black with a Scandinavian chocolate bun (from Thirteen), a rich, chewy dough, liberally sprinkled with dark chocolate, but not so much that the chocolate is over-powering. The other cakes looked equally tempting, including a pecan slice which almost edged the bun out. However, at Matt’s recommendation, I had the last slice of the cinnamon streusel (a cinnamon-swirled cake with an immensely rich, coffee cream icing on top) with my split shot.

In case you’re wondering why Sutton Coldfield, Matt grew up here. On his return two years ago, after several years working in speciality coffee in Canada, he looked to open in central Birmingham. However, unable to find anything suitable, when this unit became available, he jumped at the chance to return to his roots, opening Under Pressure Espresso at the end of 2014.

23A BIRMINGHAM ROAD • SUTTON COLDFIELD • B72 1QA
www.underpressureespresso.co.uk +44 (0) 7521 955589
Monday 08:00 – 17:00 Roaster Workshop (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 08:00 – 17:00 Seating Tables, Window-bar, Benches (outside)
Wednesday 08:00 – 17:00 Food Caked
Thursday 08:00 – 17:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 08:00 – 17:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 08:00 – 18:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 10:00 – 16:00 Power Yes
Chain No Visits 12th April 2016

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