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The Coffee Spot Guide to Birmingham

Birmingham Cathedral, right in the heart of the city, between Colmore and Temple Rows.Birmingham is the UK’s second city, but when it comes to coffee, until very recently it would have struggled to make it into the top ten. Fortunately, things are rapidly improving, with new coffee shops and roasters opening across the city.

These are clustered around Birmingham’s compact, vibrant city centre, all within 10 minutes’ walk of each other, not withstanding a couple of outliers to the north and south. These days I’m a frequent visitor as I’m travelling through to and from my parents’ in North Wales, finding it convenient to break my journey at New Street station, where most of Birmingham’s finest coffee shops are within easy reach.

As a city, Birmingham is surprisingly beautiful. I have memories of it from the 1980s, when it was entering its post-industrial slump, and there are still pockets of what can best be described as urban desolation. However, the city centre itself is very green and a joy to walk around, while the shopping afforded by the refurbished Bull Ring will no doubt appeal to some. The towpaths of the canal network also provide an interesting way to get around the city.

As with all these guides, this is not, and does not claim to be, a comprehensive guide to Birmingham’s coffee scene, particularly not with the number of new places which are opening at the moment.


Header image: looking across Victoria Square to the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, with the Town Hall to the left.


Coffee Spots

200 Degrees, Birmingham

The number 200⁰ in a diamond outline over the word "COFFEE"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.

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6/8 Kafé, Millennium Point

The 6/8 Kafé logo, the numbers "6/8" in black, with the words "six eight" in red beneath them.The original 6/8 Kafé, one of Birmingham’s first specialty coffee shops, is a cosy, compact spot on Temple Row, right in the centre. The new 6/8 Kafé is about as far away from that as you can get in almost every respect except that both serve excellent coffee. Located in Birmingham’s new Millennium Point development, the new 6/8 is filling a valuable niche: serving speciality coffee in a mass-market setting.

Millennium Point is a science centre extraordinaire, housing Birmingham’s Thinktank science museum and faculties from both Birmingham City University and Birmingham Metropolitan College. And 6/8 Kafé. Frankly, I take my hat off to Devinder, 6/8’s owner, both for getting such a high-profile spot and for having the bravery to go for it. It’s exactly the sort of spot you’d expect to see a run-of-the-mill chain, so it’s refreshing to see somewhere serving excellent coffee.

And make no mistake, although Millennium Point lacks the original 6/8 Kafé’s cosy atmosphere, the quality’s every bit as good. The only compromise is dispensing with hand-pour filters, sticking instead to a single Has Bean blend on espresso. That said, it’s a pleasant place to sit and drink your coffee or quickly refuel before/after visiting Thinktank.

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Another Pop Up in Digbeth

The words "Another Pop Up in Digbeth" written in orange inside an orange circle on a blue background. POP UP is in capitals, with the space in the O replaced by an upwards-pointing arrow.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.

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Boston Tea Party, Birmingham

The Boston Tea Party on the corner of Birmingham's Corporation Street.Here I am in Boston, Massachusetts, and so I thought to myself, what’s more appropriate than posting about The Boston Tea Party? Well, I’ll be the first to admit, it's probably not very appropriate at all, but it suits my sense of humour, so there you go.

Today’s Boston Tea Party is, to date, the most northerly Tea Party. Yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s the Birmingham branch, which has been going just over a year. As a chain, the Boston Tea Party has the commendable habit of taking iconic buildings and turning them into excellent cafés. In Birmingham, it’s done it again and, what’s more, I think it’s surpassed itself this time with its most handsome branch so far. It’s also got the largest single-floor area of all the branches I’ve visited.

Being a Boston Tea Party, there’s the usual Tea Party offering, including a full range of food (with the all-important all-day breakfast menu), extensive cake selection and coffee from Bristol roasters, Extract, with espresso-based drinks and single-origin on the bulk filter. It also pulls off the usual Tea Party trick of simultaneously being a Boston Tea Party and yet being very much its own place.

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Cafephilia

A black circle, with a clear dining room chair in the centre. "Cafephilia" is written at the top of the circle and "Moseley" is written at the bottom.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.

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Faculty Update

A series of vertical wooden boards with the words "Faculty" and "speciality coffee & tea" written horizontally across them, with a blue division sign in the centre.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.

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Jake's Coffee Box

Jake's Coffee Box, occupying the left-hand of the two red telephone boxes, with a table out front, acting as a counter. Jake himself stands in the door, waiting his next customer.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…

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Quarter Horse Coffee, Birmingham

The Quarter Horse Coffee logo: a profile of a knight from a chess set, surrounded by an oval with the words "Quarter Horse Coffee" written around the outside.Quarter Horse Coffee, which opened in February, may be new to Birmingham, but it’s not new to coffee or to the Coffee Spot. The original, in Oxford, is still going strong, but it’s now been joined by a combined coffee shop/roastery on Birmingham’s Bristol Road, a few minutes’ walk south of the centre. The roastery is the subject of its own Meet The Roaster feature, which also covers the move to Birmingham, but for now, I’ll just concentrate on the coffee shop.

Bright and spacious, Quarter Horse is a far cry from the much-smaller Cowley Road branch, although just as the original’s a product of limited space, so the new one’s a product of excess space. The décor is simple and extremely effective, being predominantly white, which, along with high ceilings, an uncluttered layout and windows front and back, make it feel even brighter and more spacious than it is.

The coffee (with the exception of the decaf, from Bath’s Round Hill) is roasted on-site, with house-blend and single-origin on espresso, another single-origin on Aeropress and bulk-brew for those who can’t wait. There’s tea from Cardiff’s Waterloo Tea and a decent selection of food and cake, including breakfast served all day.

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Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters

The Giesen roaster at Quarter Horse, Birmingham.Quarter Horse Coffee started life on Oxford’s Cowley Road, where, indeed, the original Quarter Horse remains. Back then, it used Square Mile, it’s two founders, Nathan and James, having worked closely with the London roaster while working for Store Street Espresso before setting up Quarter Horse. However, Nathan, who originally hails from Normal, Illinois, was a roaster before he came to the UK, and he’s always wanted to return to his (roasting) roots.

So, it was no great surprise that, when looking to expand beyond a single shop in Oxford, Quarter Horse turned to roasting. What is less predictable is that Quarter Horse would do it in Birmingham and would open a coffee shop/roastery in the process. However, given the prevalence of this model in the US, perhaps it makes sense that Nathan would choose this route.

Whatever the reasoning, Quarter Horse has created a lovely spot; a large, spacious coffee shop on one hand (which features in its own Coffee Spot), with an attached roastery which is visible from pretty much every part of the building. Right now, Quarter Horse roasts one or twice a week, so you’ll have to be lucky to see the roastery in action!

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Saint Kitchen

A beautiful piccolo from Saint Kitchen, using Extract Coffee, made in an espresso cup with an over-sized saucer.Birmingham’s city centre has a very compact coffee scene, with the likes of 6/8 Kafé, Yorks Cafe & Coffee Roasters, Upstairs Coffee and Tilt all within a few minutes’ walk of each other. Saint Kitchen falls into this category, forming the cluster’s north-western outpost at St Paul’s Square.

Those with a long memory may recall Saint Kitchen as Saint Caffé, which it was until the start of 2014. That’s when new owner, Will, a chef, took over (the previous owners going on to found Faculty). His mission was to combine Saint Caffé’s already excellent coffee with equally great food. The good news is that, with the help of head-barista Liam, he has succeeded.

I visited twice, once in February, soon after the re-opening, and again in early August, to see how things had evolved. The coffee is from Bristol’s Extract, with the usual espresso-based range being supplemented on my return by pour-over (V60 or Aeropress). There’s also an extensive loose-leaf tea range and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate. The food was largely unchanged, with all-day breakfast, lunch and cake on the menu.

The biggest change was in the layout, with the seating reorganised to accommodate a new deli bar.

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Tilt

The Tilt A-board, proudly displaying Tilt's credentials: craft beer, speciality coffee, loose-leaf tea and pinball. Naturally.So, coffee and pinball is a thing. Who knew? Clearly not me, although a few months before Tilt opened its doors on Birmingham’s City Arcade in November last year, Chiswick’s Chief Coffee also opened its combined coffee-and-pinball joint. Mind you, Tilt’s not just coffee-and-pinball. It’s coffee-craft-beer-and-pinball. And wine. And spirits. And loose-leaf tea. Right now, the food’s limited to a choice of two cakes, but once things are up and running, there’ll be a simple breakfast/brunch menu.

Tilt, by the way, isn’t just a gimmick. It’s serious about its coffee, owners Kirk and Richard bringing in ex-Has Beanie, Gary, to run the coffee side of things. The house roaster is Cornwall’s Origin, supplying one of the two espresso beans, while regularly-rotating guest roasters fill the hopper of the second Mythos One grinder, Gary buying 5-6 kg at a time. When it’s gone, it’s gone and it’s onto the next roaster/bean. Both house and guest are also available as filter through a pair of small-batch brewers, Tilt offering a tasting flight of espresso, espresso with milk and batch-brew, all for a very reasonably-priced £4.

Tilt offers eight craft beers on tap, 26 in bottles/cans, wines, spirits and 10 different loose-leaf teas.

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Upstairs Coffee

An old-fashioned, heraldic shield, in white, with a black diagonal line running through it, bottom left to top right, with a handle added on the left to turn it into a coffee cupThe 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!

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Yorks Café & Coffee Roasters (Yorks Bakery Café Update)

Detail of the Yorks sign which used to hang above the door at Yorks Bakery Cafe, Stephenson Street, and now occupies the back wall of the newly expanded Yorks Cafe & Coffee Roasters.I visited Yorks Bakery Café on Birmingham’s Stephenson Street in January this year, not long after it had opened, replacing the original on Newhall Street, which is currently closed for 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. Currently, Yorks just has espresso-based drinks and bulk-brew filter, but expect pour-over to return to the menu at some point.

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Yorks Espresso Bar

The front of Yorks Espresso Bar, at the northern end of Birmingham's Great Western Arcade. The door is on the left, and the window-bar is clearly visible through the window to its right.Yorks Espresso Bar is a new addition to Birmingham’s growing Yorks chain, which started with Yorks Bakery Cafe on nearby Newhall Street. Technically the espresso bar is now the longest serving branch of Yorks, since Newhall Street closed at the end of 2015 while its building undergoes a major refurbishment. In the meantime, the mantel of Yorks Bakery Cafe has been taken up by the new cafe/roastery on Stephenson Street.

Regular readers know my love of Coffee Spots in Victorian Arcades, so it’ll be no surprise that I fell in love with the Espresso Bar the moment I saw it. Occupying a corner spot at the Colmore Row end of the Great Western Arcade, which joins Colmore Row with Temple Row (and the comparatively venerable 6/8 Kafé), it’s an amazing location. Spread over a compact, elegant ground-floor and a stripped-back, cosy mezzanine, it gives Faculty a run for its money as Birmingham’s most beautifully-situated (and beautiful) coffee shop.

Smaller than the Bakery Cafe, sacrifices have had to be made. The extensive menu and freshly-cooked food has been replaced by a small range of (equally freshly-made) sandwiches and cake. However, there’s no compromise when it comes to coffee, meaning the “espresso bar” tag’s a bit misleading, Yorks offering an extensive range from Caravan, including three pour-overs, two espressos and decaf.

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Sutton Coldfield

While technically not Birmingham, the Coffee Spots of Sutton Coldfield are too good to leave out of this list…

Under Pressure Espresso

A wizard is shown underneath a large coffee cup. This is surrounded by lightning and is being filled by a stream of coffee from above.Sutton Coldfield, to the northeast of Birmingham, on the way to Lichfield, is, like Beeston (west of Nottingham), not one of those places which immediately springs to mind when I think of speciality coffee. However, I’d been hearing consistently good things from my Birmingham friends about Under Pressure Espresso (although I keep getting it confused with Reading’s Coffee Under Pressure…) so I thought it was about time I visited…

Sandwiched between an insurance agent and a large, generic bar/lounge, Under Pressure Espresso is bigger than it looks, going a long way back from its small street-front. That said, it’s still quite small, with space for about 25 people if everyone squeezes up.

The coffee is usually from London’s Workshop, but sometimes the owner, Matt, rings the changes with other roasters getting a look-in. There’s a single choice on espresso and another on filter, Under Pressure Espresso taking the unusual route of using the Clever Dripper. Regardless of roaster, the coffee changes on a regular basis, usually when Matt tires of the current offerings. There’s a selection of loose-leaf teas and, if you want something with your coffee, there’s some excellent cake, either home-baked by Matt/Matt's wife or from Lil's Parlour.

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Map

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