Idle Hands, Dale Street

The Idle Hands logo, taken from the A-board outside the pop-up on Dale Street.Regular readers know that I have a soft spot for Manchester’s Idle Hands, and its owners, Dave and Lucy. Having started as a pop-up near Piccadilly Station, Idle Hands is now into its fourth incarnation, although this location, in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, is its first permanent home.

In comparison to previous incarnations, the new location is huge, with plenty of seating and, for the first time, a large kitchen at the back. Idle Hands has always been known both for its coffee and its (sweet) pies, both of which are on display here. A true multi-roaster, Idle Hands usually has two single-origins on espresso, another on batch-brew and five or so on pour-over through either the Aeropress or V60, depending on the chosen bean. The options change regularly: whenever a particular bean runs out, it’s replaced.

When it comes to pie, there are usually five or six choices, all made fresh that day by Lucy. When a pie is gone, that’s it for the day, although don’t expect to see it the following day, since Lucy frequently rings the changes. In addition, there are now full breakfast and lunch menus, along with beer, wine, spirits and cocktails.

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Just Between Friends Coffee

A lovely Assembly espresso (a washed El Salvador) in a Kaffeeform cup, made from recylced coffee grounds, at Just Between Friends Coffee in Manchester.I’m in Manchester for my annual Manchester Coffee Festival visit, having arrived a couple of days early to check yet more of the city’s excellent coffee scene, including a whole slew of places which have opened since my previous visit (for last year’s Manchester Coffee Festival). I also met up with fellow coffee blogger, Charlotte Scotland (whose blog, Coffee All Way, has just launched), so it was appropriate that we ended up at Just Between Friends Coffee.

Just Between Friends occupies a small spot on the south side of Tib Street, halfway between the venerable North Tea Power and another newcomer, Siop Shop. There are a couple of two-person tables outside on the busy street, while a large sign proclaiming “Coffee” in big letters catches the eye. Inside, Just Between Friends is a small, cosy space with limited seating and a warm welcome. The coffee, from London’s Assembly, is available on espresso, with a daily batch-brew option.  There’s also a limited food menu, including toast, muesli, a couple of toasties and a selection of cakes.

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Redemption Roasters, Lambs Conduit Street

The Redemption Roasters logo from the front wall of the Lambs Conduit Street coffee shop.Redemption Roasters has been on my radar since I met the founders at London Coffee Festival way back (or so it now feels) in 2017. Roasting from a facility inside Aylesbury Young Offenders institute, Redemption Roasters offers training in both coffee roasting and barista skills, as well as helping finding ex-offenders find work in the coffee industry. Not long after that meeting, in July 2017, the first (of currently three London-based) Redemption Roasters coffee shop opened on Lambs Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, just around the corner from Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The space itself is simple enough, a large, bright, open rectangle with the counter on the right and the bulk of the seating on the left, with some more at the front and outside on the pavement. However, the real draw is the coffee, with the Aylesbury Blend on espresso, pulled through a Slayer Steam espresso machine (one of only a handful in the UK) and four single-origins on pour-over through the V60, one of which is available as batch brew. Naturally all the beans are available for sale in retail bags. There’s also a limited breakfast and lunch offering, with plenty of cakes to tempt you if you’re hungry.

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SHOTS Espresso Bar

A slightly out-of-focus shot of Unkle Funka from Extract Coffee Roasters at SHOTS Espresso Bar in Birmingham.SHOTS Espresso Bar (aka Shots by Saints, Shots for short) is an offshoot of Saint Kitchen, in St Paul’s Square, Birmingham. It occupies the same location on nearby Water Street as the now defunct Upstairs Coffee, a delightfully tiny gem that was on the ground floor, but upstairs from a cocktail bar (which has also gone, replaced by a men’s hairdressers). If you remember Upstairs Coffee, then Shots will be instantly recognisable, right down to the La Marzocco Linea espresso machine, wood panelling and gorgeous light fitting.

However, some things have changed. For example, batch-brew has joined the usual espresso-based menu, with all the coffee coming from Extract Coffee Roasters (which also supplies Saint Kitchen). There’s also a small selection of tea, plus Kokoa Collection hot chocolate. Even better, while Upstairs Coffee only had takeaway cups, Shots has a handful of proper cups for those staying to drink their coffee.

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Short + Stout

The Short + Stout logo from above the door of the shop in Hoole.For the longest time, Chester, closest city to Holywell, the town where I grew up, has been poorly served by speciality coffee. However, in recent months a spate of new openings have joined stalwarts such as The Barista’s and Jaunty Goat in the city centre and Little Yellow Pig, out in Hoole, which is where you’ll find today’s Coffee Spot, Short + Stout.

Occupying an interestingly-shaped building on a narrow corner at the end of two terraces in a relatively quiet, residential area, it’s not a huge space. Despite this, Short + Stout acts like a much larger coffee shop, offering breakfast, brunch and lunch menus, complete with full table service, a clear sign of its Melbourne roots, which is where the owners, Sarah and Will, first got their inspiration.

The coffee is from nearby Ancoats Coffee Co in Manchester (Sarah having known Manny, from Ancoats, when they were both working in Melbourne). During my visit it was espresso only, with the ubiquitous Warehouse City blend joined by Ancoats’ seasonal decaf. However, Short + Stout, which had been serving cold brew over the summer, was in the process to switching to offering guest roasters on batch-brew alongside the espresso-based drinks.

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Manchester Coffee Festival 2018 Preview

The Manchester Coffee Festival LogoIt’s that time of year again. Next week sees the arrival those fixtures of the autumn calendar: Halloween, Bonfire Night and, of course, the Manchester Coffee Festival. Yes, that’s right, the Manchester Coffee Festival is back, this year on the weekend of 3rd/4th November. Once again, the festival is gracing the halls of the Victoria Warehouse in Stretford, where it’s been since the second Manchester Coffee Festival in 2015.

This is one of my favourite coffee festivals and a great chance to celebrate the coffee culture of Manchester and beyond. I’m pleased to say that I’ve been to all four so far, starting with the original Cup North in 2014. I’ve been so keen to attend that last year I flew back from Chicago, arriving into Manchester the day before the festival! This year I’ve planned things a little better, flying back from Tokyo the weekend before (ie yesterday!).

Whether it’s your first time or you’re wondering what this year’s festival will hold, this preview is for you. With weekend tickets for just £18, or £10 if you only want to do a single day, it really is a bargain. What are you waiting for? Get your tickets now!

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Story Coffee

A flat white from Story Coffee, made with Square Mile's Red Brick espresso and served in my Therma Cup.Occupying a bright, sunny corner just a few doors down from Birdhouse, Story Coffee has been part of the furniture in this part of London, which is just west of Clapham Junction station, for close to four years. Give how often I go up to London, this shows just how little I get out of the station rather than zipping through it on the train. The loss, frankly, is all mine.

There’s not much to Story Coffee, just a single, unfussy rectangular space, with plenty for room on the broad pavement for a cluster of tables. Meanwhile, inside is a mix of tables and bars. Since it started, Story Coffee has used London’s Square Mile, but that’s slowly changing, Story having recently started roasting its own coffee. For now it’s Square Mile’s Red Brick on espresso, with a different single-origin on batch-brew and another on pour-over. These change every day or two and represent your best chance of sampling Story’s own coffee, which occasionally makes an appearance.

For somewhere so small, there’s also an impressive brunch menu, prepared in the kitchen downstairs, and served until three o’clock each afternoon (four o’clock at weekends). Naturally, there’s a good selection of cake.

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Little Yellow Pig

A shot of Dark Arts Coffee's Lost Highway single-origin espresso in a gorgeous cup at Little Yellow Pig in Hoole, Chester.My knowledge of Chester’s speciality coffee scene has, until recently, largely been confined to the city centre, and, in the case of Moss Coffee, Brook Street, which leads between the centre and Chester Station. However, for the last 4½ years, (literally) on the other side of the tracks, Little Yellow Pig has been doing its thing in Hoole. Although part of Chester, Hoole has its own distinct look and feel, complete with a compact centre, packed with shops and restaurants, Little Yellow Pig fitting in perfectly.

From humble beginnings, Little Yellow Pig has grown into a large coffee shop and brunch venue, serving Lost Highway from Dark Arts Coffee on espresso, with plans for pour-over in the near future. Just as importantly, there’s food, with excellent breakfast and lunch menus, supplemented by a great selection of cakes, all cooked on site. There’s also fresh bread for sale every day. You can sit in the original part, where you’ll find a more traditional coffee shop setting, complete with counter and some tables, or next door, in the larger, lounge-like area which Little Yellow Pig annexed two years ago. There’s even a small outdoor seating area on Westminster Road.

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Escape the Daily Grind

A lovely flat white, made with Brades Farm milk and Volcano Coffee Works Full Steam espresso at Escape the Daily Grind in Balham.Balham, in south London, isn’t short of good coffee. There’s the venerable Camden Coffee House by the station, and the equally venerable M1lk. More recently, these have been joined by a branch of Brickwood, a couple of doors down from M1lk on the busy, pedestrianised Hildreth Street, while, just around the corner on the more subdued Bedford Hill, there’s the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Escape the Daily Grind.

Serving the dependable Full Steam espresso from Volcano Coffee Works, offering a simple brunch menu until 3 o’clock and supplementing that with a selection of very tempting cakes, pastries and tarts, Escape the Daily Grind does a few things and does them well.

This is all served in a bright, relaxed space a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of M1lk and Brickwood, which are just a street away. In fact, if you knocked through the back wall of Escape the Daily Grind, there’s every chance you’ll end up in Brickwood… I was there on a Saturday lunch time, and while every table was taken in Brickwood and M1lk, with queues out of the door, Escape the Daily Grind offered a choice of tables and a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.

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Wayland’s Yard, Birmingham

The A-board outside the Birmingham branch of Wayland's Yard promised proper coffee and proper food.In an industry where small, independent coffee shops seem to be the order of the day, Birmingham has always had (in my opinion, at least) more than its fair share of large shops, serving excellent food to go along with the coffee, with the likes of the original Yorks Bakery Cafe and the Boston Tea Party leading the way. The latest entrant to throw its hat into this particular ring is Wayland’s Yard, which opened in March 2018. Starting life last year in Worcester, the Birmingham branch on Bull Street is the second one, although I suspect there will be more in due course.

What you get for your money is a large, long, open space, the size of say, the Birmingham 200 Degrees. There’s a front section with limited seating, and a grab-and-go chiller cabinet, while at the back is an even large main seating area with plenty of tables. The coffee is from Herefordshire’s Method Roastery, with a bespoke house-blend and single-origin on espresso and two more on pour-over through the V60. Just as important is the food, with a full breakfast/brunch menu that gives the likes of Yorks Café and Coffee Roasters a run for its money.

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