The subject of today’s Meet the Roaster has a long history. I visited the original Yorks Bakery Café on Newhall Street during my first trip to Birmingham exactly four years ago today, when I met a knowledgeable, engaging young barista called Richard. Since then Yorks has expanded, both in size and ambition. First came the new Yorks Espresso Bar at the Colmore Row end of the Great Western Arcade. Then, at the end of 2015, Newhall Street closed, the site undergoing a major redevelopment, with Yorks moving the Bakery Café to new premises on Stephenson Street, next to Birmingham New Street Station. Now there’s a third Yorks, with a new branch at the Ikon Gallery.
However, that’s not the half of it. Soon after moving into Stephenson Street, Yorks acquired the adjacent unit, effectively tripling its size. While it was still a building site, I was given a behind-the-scenes tour by a very excited Richard, who pointed out a small, awkward area at the back, cut-off from the rest of the space by stairs giving access to the basement. That, he told me, was where the new Probat was going. Yorks, it seemed, was going to become a coffee roaster…
You can read all about it after the gallery.
Since the start of 2016, I’ve been a semi-regular visitor at Stephenson Street, popping in for a quick coffee between trains at New Street Station. I’ve watched (and tasted) as Yorks changed from old suppliers, London’s Caravan, to roasting all the coffee in-house. Throughout this transition, Richard and his colleagues had nothing but praise for Caravan, who offered support and advice while losing a customer in the process!
Sadly, with my fleeting visits, I’ve not had the chance to sit down and talk roasting. However, last week, I had a few hours between trains, so took the opportunity to catch up over a flat white. Yorks roasts once a week on a Wednesday, so naturally I arrived on Thursday. Also, having been hard at work helping open the Ikon Gallery branch, Richard was on holiday, so I sat down with Elliott, who shares the roasting duties.
Yorks has been roasting for over a year on its 12kg Probat, the coffee going by the name “Soul in the Machine”. There’s a washed Rwandan on espresso, while three more single-origins are roasted for filter. These currently come from Nicaragua, Colombia and, unusually, Bolivia, with a decaf, also from Rwanda. These are all sourced from importers Falcon Speciality, and are all seasonal, changing as each one runs out. The espresso changes every three/four months, with the filters, bought in smaller batches, change more frequently.
Espresso forms the bulk of the output, with a different single-origin filter roasted in rotation each week and bagged-up for retail in-store. Stephenson Street and Ikon Gallery also offer filter as bulk-brew, while Yorks Espresso Bar offers V60 or Aeropress, depending on the particular coffee.
Since they’re only roasting once a week, both Richard and Elliott still work as baristas, giving them vital hands-on experience using the coffee, an important source of feedback. Elliott’s keen to stress that they’re still learning, even after a year of roasting. We chatted about the roasting community, which has a reputation of being far less open than other areas of the speciality coffee industry. Whereas baristas seem keen to share everything they know, perhaps spurred on by the likes of the World Barista Championship, resources for roasting are much thinner on the ground.
It’s something that many roasters have told me, each one seeming to learn everything from scratch. However, Elliott thinks things are changing, particularly with the advent of the Roaster Guild of Europe, which held its first roaster camp last year. Resources are becoming more widely available and roasters no longer feel as if they’re having to do it all by themselves.
Elliott sees his job as getting best out of the beans and is fascinated by the science behind it, particularly the chemistry. From what I’ve seen (and tasted), Yorks is doing an excellent job. Whereas I’ve noticed a distinct drop-off in quality and consistency when some coffee shops move to in-house roasting, at Yorks, I’ve always been impressed with the in-house coffee.
Of course, the proof of the pudding (coffee) is in the eating (drinking) so in the interests of research, I’d popped into Yorks Espresso Bar earlier in the day, where I enjoyed the Nicaraguan, a very rich, full-bodied coffee, as an Aeropress. Meanwhile, Elliott treated me to an excellent flat white made with the current Rwandan espresso, milk and coffee in perfect harmony.
At the moment, you can only get the coffee as retail bags from the three Yorks stores. However, Yorks is looking to expand its wholesale market, hopefully in and around Birmingham, targeting places, including less traditional outlets, who want to serve excellent, locally-roasted coffee.
|29 STEPHENSON STREET • BIRMINGHAM • B2 4BH|
|www.yorksbakerycafe.co.uk||+44 (0) 121 643 4331|
|Monday||07:30 – 22:00||Roaster||Yorks Coffee Roasters (espresso + bulk-brew)|
|Tuesday||07:30 – 19:00||Seating||Tables, Window Bars, Tables (outside)|
|Wednesday||07:30 – 20:00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Cake|
|Thursday||07:30 – 20:00||Service||Order at Counter (get a table number first)|
|Friday||07:30 – 20:00||Cards||Amex, Mastercard, Visa|
|Saturday||08:30 – 20:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||09:30 – 18:00||Power||Yes|
|Chain||Local||Visits||27th July 2017|
Liked this? Then don’t forget to check out the Coffee Spot Guide to Birmingham for more great Coffee Spots.
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