While the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly hit the speciality coffee industry hard, it has also provided unforeseen opportunities for some. Quarter Horse Coffee opened its café/roastery in Birmingham in early 2015, but in recent years, Nathan, the driving force behind Quarter Horse, has wanted to make some major modifications. However, the question was always how to justify the disruption caused by the required structural work, which would inevitably shut both roastery and café for several weeks. Then along came COVID-19, with its enforced shutdown, giving Nathan his opportunity…
Originally the roastery was behind an open counter on the left of the café. While this had the obvious advantage that customers could see the roaster in operation, the layout had some serious operational disadvantages. The resulting remodelling has seen the roastery remain in place, but enclosed in its own room, the café being reworked to provide more seating in a slightly reduced space, a clever trick if you ask me. And, of course, the excellent coffee is still there, along with an enhanced food offering.
Today’s Coffee Spot Update focuses on the café, which reopened on the last day in July, while the roastery has its own update.
You can see what’s changed after the gallery.
Quarter Horse Coffee occupies two adjacent units on Birmingham’s Bristol Street, each with large, multi-paned windows, a half-timbered door inset on the right. Originally, you could see the roastery through the left-hand windows, while either door led to the café, where the roastery was on the left, clearly visible behind a waist-high counter.
Since the remodelling, the lower windows of the left-hand unit have been whitewashed, the door politely pointing to the door in the right-hand unit, now the café’s sole entrance. Inside, the remodelling is more obvious, a wall running along the line dividing the two units, stretching about two-thirds of the depth of the units, separating roastery from café, while not quite reaching the (admittedly very high) ceiling.
Those of us who enjoy watching roasters in action might rue the loss of the view, although a window in the wall near the front offers partial compensation. Meanwhile, the sliding door next to it, which provides access to the roastery, has its own thin, tall window inset in the middle, looking straight across at the Giesen roaster, so all is not lost. For more on the changes to the roastery, check out its own Meet the Roaster Update.
The counter which the wall replaces used to run to its left, which means that the roastery is slightly bigger than before, while the café is correspondingly smaller. Despite this, there is more seating in the new Quarter Horse Coffee, spread out in a number of distinct spaces which has the added advantage during the COVID-19 pandemic of providing better social distancing. There are three two-person tables in the windows at the front, two six-person tables in a bay on the left, opposite the counter, with more seating at the back, including a small outside seating area.
Beyond the counter, which runs back roughly level with the extent of the roastery on the opposite side, the seating spreads the full width of the two units. There are three four-person tables on the right, plus a three-person bar against a stub of wall. On the left, a smaller seating area has a pair of two-person tables along with a single four-person table. Two doors in the back wall (one for each unit) lead to the outdoor seating area, where you’ll find a couple of benches and some cycle racks.
The counter is also new, although it’s in the same place, set back from the door on the right-hand side, with a new set of retail shelves in front of it against the right-hand wall. The new counter is slightly wider than the old one, the extra space occupied by an open kitchen. There are the obvious COVID-19 modifications, with a Perspex screen at the till, while Quarter Horse provides clear instructions, asking you to wear a mask if moving around the café, as well as providing several hand-sanitising stations. If you don’t have a mask, one can be provided, free of charge.
Quarter Horse has an all-day light food menu and plenty of cakes, while from Wednesday to Sunday, it serves a full brunch menu from 10:00 – 14:00. Since I was there on a Tuesday morning, I was limited to the light food menu, selecting the excellent avocado toast.
However, I’d really come for the coffee, with a pair of blends on espresso and a single-origin pour-over option via the Marco SP9 automated brewers. As well as a standard espresso menu, Quarter Horse offers an espresso taster (one shot of each blend) and an espresso flight (one blend as an espresso shot and piccolo).
I had the espresso flight, choosing the Roan blend (natural Ethiopian and natural Rwandan) over the Dark Horse blend (Colombian and Brazilian). My reward was an excellent pair of drinks, the Roan achieving that rarest of things: being superb both in milk and on its own. In my piccolo, milk and coffee combined to provide a rich, smooth drink, while on its own, the same richness was there, but the fruitiness of the naturals came through much more strongly for a really beautiful espresso.
|88-90 BRISTOL STREET • BIRMINGHAM • B5 7AH|
|www.quarterhorsecoffee.com||+44 (0) 121 4489660|
|Monday||08:00 – 18:00||Roaster||Quarter Horse (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||08:00 – 18:00||Seating||Tables, Bar; Benches (Outside)|
|Wednesday||08:00 – 18:00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Sandwiches, Cake|
|Thursday||08:00 – 18:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||08:00 – 18:00||Payment||Cards Only|
|Saturday||09:00 – 16:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||09:00 – 16:00||Power||Limited|
|Chain||No||Visits||Original: 30th, 31st July 2015
Update: 25th August 2020
If you enjoyed this Coffee Spot, then take a look at the rest of Birmingham’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Birmingham.
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