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, the building undergoing a major refurbishment. This led to the mantel of Yorks Bakery Cafe being taken up by the new flagship 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 (once home of the comparatively venerable, but now closed, 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 The extensive menu and freshly-cooked food has been replaced by a small range of (equally freshly-made) sandwiches and cake.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.

July 2016: with the move to roasting in-house, the Espresso Bar now serves a single-origin espresso  and decaf, plus a weekly single-origin filter available through Aeropress or V60.

January 2018: I can confirm that the rumours are true: the Espresso Bar has closed for good. That now means that both Yorks and 6/8 Kafé are gone from either end of the Great Western Arcade.

August 2018: it seems that I jumped the gun. Yorks Espresso Bar is back at the end of Colmore Row. I’ve not had a chance to check out the shop since I reopened, but it looks very similar from the outside.

December 2018: and, as you were. It looks like Yorks Espresso Bar has gone for good, with its comeback a rather short-lived affair.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Yorks Espresso Bar, at the Great Western Arcade's northern end, seen from Colmore Row.
  • The A-board makes a compelling case.
  • As it says: 'what's the worst that could happen?'.
  • Yorks Espresso Bar, like Bath's Society Cafe, is right on the corner of the arcade...
  • ... with the long edge running along the inside of the arcade.
  • Talking of which, I present the Great Western Arcade. Isn't it magnificent?
  • However, back to Yorks. Going inside, this is the view from by the door.
  • The front is very spacious: plenty of room for people to browse and order.
  • You can sit in the window-bar if you like (or on the bench outside on the broad pavement).
  • The view across Colmore Row to Snow Hill Station and something ending in 'osta'...
  • Alternatively, you can look up, where there's a mezzanine level!
  • Staying downstairs for a moment, there are two more window bars on the left.
  • This one, just by the door, is pretty representative of them both.
  • Evenutally though, you're going to end up at the back, by the La Marzocco.
  • This is easier to read when you're there than it is to photograph. Key point: seating upstairs.
  • Up here, you mean?
  • Ah, yes, so there is!
  • The view from the top of the stairs.
  • There's this four-person table immediately to your right...
  • .. and this row of seats along a bench on the left-hand wall.
  • There's also a row of three-person tables along the front of the mezzanine.
  • ... all of which have views overlooking the front of the store.
  • The window bar again.
  • Time to go back down...
  • Why is it stairs always look steeper from the top?
  • A view of the ground floor from halfway down the stairs.
  • I loved the lighting, by the way: bulbs attached to copper pipes. These are upstairs...
  • ... as are these.
  • Close-up.
  • These, meanwhile, are downstairs.
  • Another close-up.
  • They are even in the front window.
  • There are some more conventional (bare) lightbulbs.
  • On or off?
  • Last one, I promise.
  • So, to business, and the beautiful, striped wooden counter.
  • Directly opposite you as you come in: the cold-brew coffee, on tap like beer.
  • To the right, the food.
  • There's cake...
  • ... and next to that, the bulk-brewer.
  • No, I didn't know!
  • The sandwiches come next...
  • ... and then the chiller cabinet, with the soft drinks, and the drinks menus above.
  • Talking of which, here they are. I think they're some of the loveliest menu boards I've seen.
  • Here in more detail. And there's a lot of detail!
  • All the coffee (three filter, two espresso, plus decaf) is for sale. Some is exclusive to Yorks.
  • Next come the three espresso grinders, so dangerous that they have to be kept in cages!
  • And then, finally, the bright yellow La Marzocco espresso machine.
  • Turn around and you'll find the takeaway station between the two window bars.
  • At the far end of the second window bar, at the bottom of the stairs, is a retail shelf.
  • More bags of coffee. These are for the staff though, as is the loose-leaf tea.
  • Even more coffee, this time over by the bulk-brewer.
  • To business. My Rocko Mountain Reserve, through the V60. Admiring the handleless cup...
  • ... I turned it around to pour some coffee into it. Oh well.
  • My lovely cheese and pickle sandwich.
  • A lovely flat white, although not for me...
  • ... and a single-origin Colombian El Mirador, exclusive to Yorks. This one is for me, by the way.
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The Great Western Arcade, one of Birmingham’s beautiful Victorian shopping arcades, runs north-south from the semi-pedestrianised Colmore Row, where it’s opposite the entrance to Snow Hill Station, to Temple Row, where it’s opposite a branch of Coffee Republic. Oh well, you can’t have everything. Yorks Espresso Bar occupies the right-hand corner of the arcade’s northern end, facing onto Colmore Row. And the branch of Costa across the way. Oh well, you really can’t have everything…

Yorks is about as tall as it is wide and maybe twice as deep. The ground floor has glass on two sides, the shorter edge, complete with recessed corner-door, facing Colmore Row, the longer side running along the arcade’s central aisle. In that respect, it’s reminiscent of Bath’s Society Café, which occupies a similar spot at the end of The Corridor. If anything, however, it’s even more beautiful.

Window-bars, complete with bar stools, line the windows, providing all the ground floor seating. Stairs along the back wall lead up to the mezzanine via a 90 degree right-hand turn. The rest of the downstairs is taken up with the amazing counter, which forms a curving L-shape underneath the mezzanine. There is a small extension at the front along the right-hand wall, holding the sandwiches and the chiller cabinet.

You very much face the corner of the counter, which is opposite you as you enter. Dead ahead, a beer tap dispensing cold-brew. To your right, cake then sandwiches, separated by the bulk-brew filter. To your left, bags of coffee for sale, masking the filter rack for the V60s, beyond which are three grinders (two espresso plus decaf) and a bright-yellow two-group La Marzocco espresso machine. It’s very well laid out with a natural flow, taking you along the length of the shop, depositing you by the stairs. If you’re waiting for takeout, there’s plenty of space at the front, where you can stare longingly up at the mezzanine.

Talking of which, the bulk of the seating’s up here. There’s a bench on left-hand wall with four two-person tables, plus a row of three three-person tables overlooking store-front below. There’s also a four-person table in the niche by the stairs. The décor here is slightly less elegant. Concrete walls, floor and ceiling  are present throughout, but downstairs they’re masked by an abundance of wood. Upstairs, however, they’re on stark display, with only the back wall clad in wood. Despite this, it’s a lovely spot with exposed copper pipes for the lights (a feature that is also on display downstairs).

I had a long chat with both baristas, who I’d met before on previous visits to Birmingham. We started with a V60  of the Ethiopian Rocko Mountain Reserve (their recommendation, other options being a Kenyan Karimikui and Caravan’s Special Bru filter blend). Well-presented in a flask on a tray, cup on the side, initially it was really juicy and fruity. However, as it cooled, it developed a bitter edge that wasn’t really to my liking, which is extremely rare.

I lunched on a cheddar, pickle and salad sandwich on Focaccia. With it’s tasty, sweet pickle; mature, tangy cheddar, plus plenty of salad, it was lovely. Before leaving, I tried the Colombian El Mirador single-origin espresso (Caravan’s Market Blend was the alternative), which, sadly, was too bright for my palette.

Monday 07:00 – 18:00 Roaster Yorks Coffee Roasters (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables (upstairs), Bars (downstairs), Bench (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 18:00 Food Sandwiches, Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 18:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 07:00 – 18:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 09:30 – 17:30 Wifi Free
Sunday 10:00 – 17:00 Power Limited (upstairs only)
Chain Local Visits 31th July 2015, 18th July 2016

Liked this Coffee Spot? Then check out the rest of Birmingham’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Birmingham.

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