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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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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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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Ropes & Twines

A Colombian single-origin espresso extracting on a Mavam espresso system at Ropes & Twines in Liverpool.Liverpool’s Bold Street is no stranger to great coffee, with the eponymous Bold Street Coffee leading the way for many years. More recently, it’s been joined by a host of others, including, on nearby Wood Street, Mother Espresso, and now, on Bold Street itself, Ropes & Twines, which describes itself as a “Coffee and Wine Room”. Perhaps taking the lead from the likes of Filter + Fox, Ropes & Twines offers coffee and wine in a high-class setting, including a rather awesome set of cellar rooms, along with sandwiches, cakes and charcuterie (the only other coffee shop I can think of offering coffee, wine and charcuterie is London’s Fernandez & Wells).

When it comes to the coffee, there are two single-origins, one on espresso, one on pour-over, both roasted for Ropes & Twines by Maude Coffee in Leeds. In keeping with the elegance of the setting, Ropes & Twines has dispensed with the usual bulk of the espresso machine, instead going with what I believe is the UK’s first Mavam espresso system outside of London. This modular system hides the boilers and pumps out of the way, just leaving the group heads and steam wands rising above the counter.

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Mother Espresso

My 6oz with milk at Mother Espresso in Liverpool.Coffee shop chains are strange things. Sometimes places expand quickly, adding shop after shop, building a strong brand name. Other times, a second branch is only added after long, careful consideration. And sometimes, that second branch is so far removed in look and feel from the original that, until the barista tells you about the connection, you are completely clueless.

So it is with Mother Espresso, the Liverpool outpost of Manchester’s finest, North Tea Power, which opened a mere eight years after its parent and is about as different as can be in terms of look and feel. In my defence, as soon as the barista told me, I remembered, having read about the opening at the end of 2017 on social media, but by the time I came to visit, I’d completely forgotten about the connection, the name “Mother Espresso” not exactly screaming “North Tea Power” at me.

Like its parent, Mother Espresso does many things, excelling at them all, from coffee through tea, craft beer, wine and cocktails to an impressive food menu. The coffee is from Has Bean, with a pair of single-origins on espresso (for milk and black drinks respectively), while there’s also pour-over and batch-brew.

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Moss Coffee

Some lovely latte art in my flat white, made with the Arboretum Blend from Dark Woods and served at Moss Coffee, Chester.Having grown up just over the border in North Wales, Chester is, in many ways, my home city. I frequently pass though on my way to/from my Dad’s, but rarely stop, partly due to circumstance, but also because, when it comes to coffee, there’s not much to entice me to get off one stop earlier at Chester Station. However, with the arrival of the likes of Moss Coffee, that’s slowly changing.

Chester has struggled a little with speciality coffee. Apart from the well-established The Barista’s and Jaunty Goat, coffee shops, such as Moon Beer & Coffee, have tended to come and go. Hopefully Moss Coffee can buck that trend. It’s off to good start, serving an espresso-based menu with the Arboretum blend from Dark Woods, along with a small selection of locally-baked cakes. The owner, Daniel, is keeping things simple for now, with plans to expand in the future.

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Manchester Coffee Festival 2017 Part II

Dale Harris, the UK Barista Champion, pulling me a shot of his competition coffee on a La Marzocco Modbar at the Manchester Coffee Festival the day before he flew to Seoul where he would go on to win the World Barista Championship.Welcome to Part II of my round up of this year’s Manchester Coffee Festival. In Part I, I took a look at the venue itself, and also reported on my favourite coffee competition, the UK Cup Tasters’ Championship, won for a second year running by Freda Yuan from Caravan. This time I’m focussing on the coffee, looking at the various roasters who were there in force this year. I’ll finish things off next week in Part III with a roundup of everything else!

In previous years, I’ve tried to get to visit roasters who are new to me, but this year, most of the names were familiar. However, there were still a few I’d not heard of, and, as is always the case, I still failed to get to see everyone. Quite a few roasters made guest appearances at various stands, including Neighbourhood Coffee, North Star and Ozone, none of whom I managed to get around to seeing!

Despite this, I did manage to visit many excellent roasters, tried lots of great coffee, both filter and espresso, which included the coffee that won the World Barista Championships this year, and, yes, I did make some new friends along the way.

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Ezra To Go

The Ezra & Gill logo etched in wood from the wall of Ezra To Go on Tib Street.Ezra & Gil was one of several coffee shops which opened in Manchester’s Northern Quarter in 2015, although it was always a little different, occupying a large spot, its focus as much on food, plus a small area selling various provisions up by the counter. Now there’s a second, albeit smaller, member of the Ezra & Gil family, Ezra To Go on the eastern edge of the Northern Quarter, just down Tib Street from North Tea Power and across the road from Siop Shop.

Don’t let the name fool you though. Ezra To Go has plenty of seating, particularly in the adjacent space, a lifestyle shop called Ezra’s Utilities, so you are welcome to stay. However, the concept is that everything is either pre-prepared or, if it’s off the main menu, quick, which includes the coffee (no pour-over here or filter).

The menu’s necessarily cut down from Ezra & Gil, but nevertheless puts many coffee shops to shame. There’s porridge, plus various things on toast, including eggs and avocado. If you can’t wait that long, there are plenty of pre-prepared sandwiches, which can be toasted, plus soup of the day, salad and quiche, and, of course, a selection of cake.

November 2018: Erza To Go has become Ezra Has Gone. I popped by while in town for the Manchester Coffee Festival and discovered, sadly, that it has closed! Ezra & Gil is still going strong though.

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