District, Ormeau Road

A single-origin Colombian espresso from Ballies in Belfast, served as the house-espresso in District, looking resplendent in its classic blue cup.Just up the road from Root & Branch, and a little further down from General Merchants, District is another addition to Belfast’s growing speciality coffee scene, adding to the small cluster of great places along Ormeau Road, each one offering something different. In the case of District, it’s excellent contemporary café food to go with locally-roasted coffee, all served in a bright spot set back a little from the road with plenty of seating both inside and out.

District is a new name to Belfast, opening at the end of 2016. The first of (so far) two, with the second opening on Stranmills Road a couple of months later, District uses local roaster, Bailies, with single-origins served on espresso and pour-over through the V60. The former is effectively the house espresso, while the latter changes regularly, occasional giving way to a guest roaster for variety. There’s also tea from local tea merchants, Suki Tea.

The other main draw is the excellent food, with lots of vegetarian and some vegan choices (something I occasionally found lacking in Belfast) on both the breakfast menu (served until 3 pm) and lunch menu (from noon). There are also sandwiches and an abundance of cake.

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Town Square

Does what it says on the box: coffee, breakfast, lunch, dinner, all at Town Square in Belfast.In Belfast’s growing speciality coffee scene, there is a pleasing array of places from the tiny (Root & Branch) to the large (Established Coffee). Weighing in firmly at the large end of the scale is Town Square, a self-appointed meeting place for lovers of good food and great coffee on Belfast’s Botanic Avenue, opposite the Botanic Station.

Effectively split into two, there’s a coffee bar at the front, beyond which you need never stray if all you want is a cup of coffee (and you’re not planning on lingering), while at the back, is a large seating area, centred on a sunken space with a long, communal table. This is ideal if you’re staying in, particularly if you are partaking of breakfast, lunch or dinner: pleasingly Town Square stays open well into the evening, making it the perfect spot for a late-night coffee.

Talking of which, Town Square uses Dublin’s Roasted Brown and only serves single-origins, with one option on espresso, which changes every month or so, another on batch-brew and a third on pour-over. The two filter options change every few days, with the pour-over being offered as Aeropress or V60, while there’s a Chemex option if you’re sharing.

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Root & Branch

The Root & Branch sign, pointing the way to good coffee on Belfast's Jameson Street.Belfast has a varied speciality coffee scene, although one of the main trends I noticed during my visit in March was the tendency for coffee shops to occupy relatively large spaces, with an emphasis as much on food as on the coffee. However, firmly bucking that trend is today’s Coffee Spot, Root & Branch.

A roaster as well as espresso/brew bar just off the busy Ormeau Road, Root & Branch is tiny, with a covered courtyard that’s bigger than the shop and with more seating on the pavement than it has inside, where it’s standing-room only! However, don’t let that put you off, since there’s also a cosy upstairs, where there’s a pair of chairs and a few stools.

Despite the lack of room, Root & Branch has miraculously managed to fit in a 6kg Giesen coffee roaster in the corner, which turns out all the coffee, including the Saints & Scholars seasonal espresso blend. This is joined by a single-origin on the second grinder, while pour-over fans won’t be disappointed, with three more single-origins available through either Kalita Wave or Aeropress, depending on the particular bean. There’s also a small selection of delicious cake to go with your coffee.

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Established Coffee

Detail from the sign outside Established Coffee in Belfast, showing the letters ESTD.You can’t really talk about speciality coffee in Belfast without talking about Established Coffee, which opened in December 2013. Located at the northern edge of Belfast’s historic Cathedral Quarter, Established occupies a surprisingly modern building on the corner of Hill and Talbot Streets. It’s a large, bright, uncluttered space that, during my visit, was constantly busy.

Established serves coffee from Dublin’s 3FE and various guests on both espresso and filter. There’s usual a choice of three coffees, plus a decaf. One of these is always unique to Established, another is from a rotating cast of guests, while the third is only available as a batch-brew filter. Unusually, the other two are available as both filter and espresso.

As well as coffee, Established has an extensive food offering, all cooked in the kitchen behind the counter. This is based around an all-day breakfast menu of poached eggs on toast, with various sides, supplemented by a selection of seasonal plates. If that doesn’t appeal, there’s always the option of toast or granola, plus a soup of the day. Everything’s available until the kitchen closes at three o’clock. If that isn’t enough, there’s always an interesting selection of cake to be had.

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