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.
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…
200 Degrees, which started life as a roaster in Nottingham, before opening its first café two years ago, has now expanded into Birmingham, hot on the heels of its second Nottingham outlet. The Birmingham branch, which opened its doors in August, is very much in look and feel like the original in Flying Horse Walk in Nottingham. Both are long and thin, replete with wooden panelling and exposed brick, although the Birmingham branch has much higher ceilings and a simpler layout.
In keeping with the original, 200 Degrees is unashamedly aimed at the mass-market coffee drinker, with a plush, well-appointed interior that would put many coffee chains to shame. The house espresso, Brazilian Love Affair, has a touch of Robusta which might put some off, but it provides a strong, dark coffee that many in the mainstream will be familiar with. This is backed up by the interestingly-named Mellowship Slinky Decaf, while there’s always a single-origin guest espresso, plus another single-origin on filter which provide a path to speciality coffee for those who want to tread it. Finally, there’s cold-brew on tap, a good range of breakfast, lunch and sandwich options, plus cake, all enjoyed in very pleasant, relaxed surroundings.
Back in 2013, while the likes of 6/8 Kafé and the original Yorks Bakery Cafe were ploughing a relatively lonely furrow in the centre of Birmingham, out in Moseley, a short bus ride south of the city centre, Cafephilia first opened its doors. Very much a neighbourhood place, Cafephilia is rooted in the local community, providing good coffee, tea and food well into the evening. It’s a cosy place, with a sun-drenched front, particularly in the afternoon, and a more restrained seating area at the back, with subdued lighting and a very comfortable sofa. Like Thursday’s Coffee Spot, Forloren Espresso, Cafephilia is another L-shaped café.
The coffee is from Staffordshire’s finest, Has Bean, while the tea comes Joe’s Tea in London. Cafephilia’s uses the ubiquitous Jailbreak blend, with a fairly standard, espresso-based menu. Those looking for piccolos and pour-overs will be disappointed. There’s bread, from the local No. Thirteen Craft Bakers, which is available to buy and which also forms the basis of Cafephilia’s food menu. This includes toast, toast with various toppings, croissants and an extensive range of sandwiches, available on a choice of bread: white, focaccia and panini, and which can be had as is or toasted.
Despite the name, Another Pop Up in Digbeth (Pop Up Digbeth for short) isn’t a pop-up, although it is in Digbeth, so I suppose one out of two’s not bad. Digbeth, for those not in the know, is an old, industrial area, immediately southeast of Birmingham city centre, about a 20-minute walk from New Street Station. Both Digbeth’s history and regeneration can be neatly symbolised by the Custard Factory, where Bird’s once made its famous custard powder, and where Pop Up Digbeth now makes its home, along with a host of start-ups and other small businesses.
Having opened at the start of the year, Pop Digbeth is here to stay, serving healthy food to go at breakfast and lunch, backed up by a rotating offer on espresso from the local Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters. There’s also a selection of home-made cakes for those looking for a sweet-treat with their coffee. Seating is provided in a spacious adjacent unit, with more seating outside overlooking the pool in the Custard Factory’s central courtyard. Mostly serving the offices that call the Custard Factory home, Pop Up Digbeth’s opening hours reflect this with a closing time of 3.30 and very limited weekend opening.
Faculty is now an old hand in Birmingham’s booming speciality coffee scene, having opened at the start of 2014. Located at the southern end of the beautiful Piccadilly Arcade, it’s right outside the New Street entrance of Birmingham’s New Street station and literally just around the corner from the new Yorks Café & Coffee Roasters.
Just like my write-up of Yorks a couple of weeks ago, this was meant to be a simple Coffee Spot Update, but it turned out that there had been sufficient change since my first visit two years ago to warrant writing a new post. Rather than going over old ground, if you want to read about Faculty’s roots and a little of the history of the amazing Piccadilly Arcade, then please take a look at the original write up. Otherwise, keep going…
Faculty’s a true multi-roaster, offering a single-origin on espresso and two more on V60, plus there’s a decaf option. If you don’t like the roaster/options, come back next week and the chances are they will have changed. There are cakes from Sixteen Kitchen, which occupies the unit next to Faculty, from where it serves breakfast, lunch and sandwiches in an interesting space-sharing operation.
I visited Yorks Bakery Café on Birmingham’s Stephenson Street in January 2016, not long after it had opened, replacing the original on Newhall Street, which had to close due to a major refurbishment. Even then, changes were afoot at Stephenson Street since the neighbouring unit had become available, giving Yorks the chance to expand. I wrote up my original visit, intending this post to be a short update describing the new space. However, on my return last month, I found the newly-expanded Yorks to be so radically different that I scrapped that plan and decided to start from scratch…
Also worked subtly into the expansion was a name-change from Yorks Bakery Café to Yorks Café & Coffee Roasters, reflecting Yorks move into roasting its own coffee. As well as plenty of additional seating, Yorks has used the extra space to install a very shiny Probat roaster. There’s also a fabulous basement which houses more much-needed seating and a large kitchen. This is now turning out a really impressive (and expanded) breakfast & brunch menu, plus an equally impressive lunch menu. Yorks is serving espresso-based drinks using a seasonal single-origin, plus bulk-brew filter with a rotating single-origin which changes every week.
Once upon a time, in the summer of last year, I read an interesting article in the Birmingham Mail about a coffee shop that had opened in a phone box. It was the end of July and, as luck would have it, I was passing through Birmingham that week, so I took a wander along Colmore Row, where I found said telephone box. But no coffee shop. Somewhat dispirited, I wandered off again and the whole coffee-shop-in-phone-box thing rather slipped my mind. Unknown to me, the article had jumped the gun and the coffee-shop-in-phone-box, Jake’s Coffee Box, actually opened the following week…
Fast-forward to this summer and I was once again wandering along Colmore Row, looking for another coffee shop that hadn’t actually opened yet (the Birmingham branch of 200 Degrees). Glancing down Eden Place, I suddenly remembered the phone box, so I wandered down to see what was there…
July 2017: Sadly Jake’s Coffee Box is no more. I believe that Jake has realised his long-term amibition to go travelling in Brazil and was unable to find anyone to take the Coffee Box on, but I’ve not been able to confirm that. Thanks to Nick for the initial heads-up about the Coffee Box closing.
The latest addition to Birmingham’s growing speciality coffee scene opened in April, excellent timing considering that I was passing through at the start of May. A few weeks later, there I was on Water Street, home to Upstairs Coffee, where I had my first (temporary) disappointment: it’s on the ground floor! However, my profound disappointment was short-lived as I discovered that it was indeed correctly named, being upstairs from a (soon-to-be-opened) basement cocktail bar.
That little misunderstanding successfully resolved, I quickly fell in love with Upstairs Coffee. It’s a tiny, corridor-shaped space, about as wide as London’s Goodge St Espresso, but not quite as long, making it one of the smallest places I’ve been. Lovingly decked out in reclaimed materials, it’s also one of the best looking! The counter’s at the back and there’s space for a couple of seats at a bar on the left, but other than the bench outside, that’s it as far as seating goes.
The coffee is from Oxfordshire’s Ue Coffee Roasters, plus there’s loose-leaf tea and croissants/brownies from the local Peel & Stone Bakery, but that’s it. A word of warning: Upstairs Coffee only has takeaway cups, so don’t forget to bring your own!
Yorks is a chain of three Birmingham cafés which started with Yorks Bakery Café on Newhall Street. This was joined by Yorks Espresso Bar on Colmore Row, while there’s now a third at the Ikon Gallery. However, the original on Newhall Street closed when the building underwent a major refurbishment, the mantle of Yorks Bakery Café passing to the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Yorks’ Stephenson Street branch.
These days, Stephenson Street is Yorks’ flagship branch. Not long after it opened, Yorks expanded into the adjacent unit, adding additional seating at the back and more in a lovely basement, which effectively tripled the available space. Best of all, there was rooom at the back for a roaster, Yorks making the transition to Yorks Café & Coffee Roasters.
These days Yorks roasts all its own coffee, serving a seasonal single-origin espresso, plus a rotating single-origin filter on bulk-brew, with all the beans available to buy. Just as much of a draw is the food, with awesome breakfast, lunch and evening menus, plus a tasty selection of cake. You can sit in the original, wedge-shaped area at the front, in the new seating at the back, or downstairs in the spacious basement.