Welcome to the third of my detailed write ups of the third annual Birmingham Coffee Festival. I can’t believe a whole month has gone by since I was in Birmingham, exploring all things coffee. I got things underway with my write-ups by starting with traditional festival round-up, before moving on to talk all about the wonderful roasters I met in the Meet the Roasters feature. Today it’s the turn of all the lovely food-related stuff I found at Birmingham Coffee Festival.
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: Birmingham is one of the better catered coffee festivals, which is important to people like me who are going to be there all day. Yes, with the wristband system, you can pop out and get something to eat at one of several excellent cafés in the Custard Factory (the festival’s venue) but ideal I want something I can quickly grab, eat and get back to the action, which is where the excellent street food village came in.
However, it wasn’t just the street food. This year, we also had plenty of cake stands, led by old friends, Cakesmiths, while there were also chocolate companies and a specialised Turkish catering company.
Welcome to the second of my detailed write ups of the third annual Birmingham Coffee Festival, where I had a fabulous time, exploring all things coffee. I can’t believe where the time has gone though: was it only two weeks ago that I was in Birmingham? Apparently so! Last week I got things underway with my traditional festival round-up, while this week it’s the turn of the roasters, who came from far and wide, although with a definitely focus on local roasters from the city and the wider West Midlands are.
I’ve split this into three, starting with familiar faces, before moving to some (old) new friends that I made at last year’s event (where, sadly, I didn’t have time to do a detailed write up on all the wonderful roasters I met) before finishing with my (new) new friends that I met this year. Although Birmingham Coffee Festival has always had a focus on local roasters, this year’s event clashed with World of Coffee in Berlin, where quick a few of the higher profile UK roasters were in attendance, so I want to say a special vote of thanks to those who made the effort to attend both Berlin and Birmingham.
This time last week I was at the third annual Birmingham Coffee Festival, taking place at the Custard Factory in Digbeth, Birmingham. I went for the first time last year, enjoying it so much that I decided to return to Birmingham this year, even though it meant missing the World of Coffee in Berlin. In all I spent two days there, Friday and Saturday, skipping the final day (Sunday). Of the two, Friday was much quieter, as you would expect.
If you’ve attended any of the UK’s smaller coffee festivals (Manchester or Glasgow for example), then you’ll know roughly what to expect: coffee, coffee equipment and handful of related stands. Alternatively, if you’ve been to London Coffee Festival, then the Birmingham festival is much smaller and far more relaxed, featuring mostly local roasters and coffee shops, with a handful of national names.
As I usually do for coffee festivals, I’m going to write up my visit over a series of posts, starting today with a general round-up of the festival and the space. Subsequent posts will deal with the various roasters I visited, all things food-related, plus there’ll be a general round post covering everything else (including tea of all things!).
This time last year, I was preparing to head for the Birmingham Coffee Festival, at that point an unknown quantity to me. It had had its first outing in 2017, joining the likes of the London Coffee Festival (still by far the biggest), Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and The Coffee House Project (in Bristol). I missed the Birmingham Coffee Festival’s inaugural year, but alerted by my friends at Cakesmiths, I was on the lookout in the 2018.
Since I was actually in the country for the event (the usual reason I miss coffee festivals is because I’m abroad: it’s why, for example, I’ve never been to the Edinburgh or Bristol festivals and why I missed Glasgow this year), I decided to attend. Not sure what to expect, I initially only booked for the one day, but I really enjoyed myself, finding more than enough to keep me occupied, so returned the following day.
Next weekend, the festival is back for its third year in the Custard Factory in Digbeth, running from Friday to Sunday. Once again, I’m in the country, so I’ll be heading up to Birmingham on Friday for the festival (although I won’t be there on Sunday).
So, what can you expect?
Although a semi-regular visitor to Birmingham for many years, I tend to stick fairly close to the centre, coming and going via Birmingham New Street station. For that reason, while I’ve heard much about the excellent coffee scene in Harborne, the suburb to the west of the centre, I’ve never made my way out there. Until Saturday, that is, when, driving up to my Dad’s in North Wales, I realised that it made a good break-point for my journey, provided that I didn’t mind a 15-minute detour.
I therefore made a beeline for The Steam Room, which opened in early 2017 and which I’d heard several good things about. A little to the north of Harborne High Street in a very residential area, it’s a gem, serving weekly single-origins from Has Bean on espresso (including decaf), batch-brew and pour-over, with the decaf being given equal billing on the menu (always nice to see). There’s a decent selection of tea, plus craft beer and ciders, as well as wine by the glass/bottle. If you’re hungry, check out the regular brunch menu, with breakfast and lunch specials on the menu behind the counter, plus a generous cake supply from old friends, Cakesmiths.
Liar Liar, in the small town of Oswestry on the England-Wales border, has been on my list for some time now. I first visited right at the end of 2017, on my way back to Guildford from my Dad’s, but I couldn’t stay very long. I vowed that I would return the following year, but what will all the travelling I have been doing, 2018 came and almost went before I was able to call in again, exactly one year to the day later, while (you guessed it) on my way back to Guildford from my Dad’s.
Liar Liar is a real gem, located in the (semi-pedestrianised) heart of the town, spread over three floors (only the first two are open to customers) of a lovely old shop right on the corner, giving it windows on two sides, plus plenty of outside seating. A multi-roaster, Liar Liar uses some of the best roasters in the country, including the nearby Hundred House Coffee & Manchester’s Ancoats Coffee Co., changing up the options (always single-origins) on espresso and filter (V60, Aeropress, batch-brew) roughly every monthly. There are interesting breakfast, lunch and panini menus from in-house caterers, Hayes Kitchen, plus plenty of cake.
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.
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.
I’ve already written about my ignorance regarding Lichfield when I visited the Melbourne in Lichfield coffee shop on Bird Street. However, this is where it all began in April last year, when the original Melbourne in Lichfield opened, a small kiosk on a narrow alley called Bolt Court in the heart of the city. There’s not much to Melbourne in Lichfield, but the output’s impressive, reminding me in ambition of Reading’s Tamp Culture, albeit with slightly more shelter.
It consists of a kiosk with a small, covered seating area to the left and with three bar stools at the counter, semi-exposed to the elements. The coffee is from Union Hand-roasted with a house espresso, Maraba, a single-origin from Rwandan, plus a guest espresso from either Union or a guest-roaster as well as decaf (Union again). There are retail bags from Union and various guests, plus a decent selection of cake.
The list of the UK’s coffee festivals is growing. First there was London, still the biggest of the lot, followed by the likes of Manchester and Glasgow. Then, last year, slipping quietly in, was the inaugural Birmingham Coffee Festival, which I completely missed. It has such a low social media profile that I almost missed it this time around as well, but I was saved from that ignoble fate by my friends at Cakesmiths, who clued me in.
As luck would have it, I was actually in the country for the event (the usual reason I miss coffee festivals is because I’m abroad: it’s why, for example, I’ve never been to the Edinburgh Coffee Festival), so I decided to attend. It was held last weekend in the Custard Factory in Digbeth, from Friday (industry day) through Saturday and Sunday (consumer days). I was working on Friday, but headed up to Birmingham for the Saturday. Not sure what to expect, I’d only booked for the one day, but I found more than enough to keep me occupied, so returned on the Sunday, although I suspect that the average consumer will only need a single day (or part day) to see everything.