Something rather special is happening at Tilt, Birmingham’s speciality coffee, craft beer and pinball joint. Tilt has been serious about its coffee ever since it opened, but recently Tilt’s owner, Kirk, has taken things to a whole new level. For example, there is a continuous rotation of guest roasters on espresso, with Tilt using coffee from around the world. Right now, Tilt is serving a single-origin from Manhattan Coffee Roasters (from Rotterdam in the Netherlands), which replaced one from Onyx Coffee Lab (from Arkansas in the US). However, the really exciting thing, exciting enough to have this whole Saturday Supplement dedicated to it, is the Frozen Solid Coffee Project.
I was completely unaware of the Frozen Solid Coffee Project when I visited Tilt two weeks ago, only realising that it was there when Kirk pointed it out to me on the menu. Indeed, it’s the sort of thing that you can easily miss if you don’t already know about it. For the uninitiated, the Frozen Solid Coffee Project enables Tilt to offer an extremely wide range of single-origin pour-overs (29 at the time of writing!) from farms/roasters around the world, some of which are extremely rare micro- and nano-lots.
So how does Tilt do it? You can find out after the gallery.
The clue to how Tilt manages to offer such a wide range of coffee is in the name, the Frozen Solid Coffee Project. The traditional problem facing coffee shops that want to carry a wide range of coffee is one of freshness. You have to be reasonably sure that you can sell enough cups of the coffee in question before it goes stale. The solution is to extend the coffee’s life by freezing it, something which regular readers will know that I’ve been pushing for some time.
However, whereas I freeze whole bags of coffee, Tilt freezes individual doses, brewing the coffee straight from frozen. Whenever Kirk sees a coffee he particularly likes, he’ll order a bag or two. Then, when it arrives, he’ll brew up a few samples (using the Kalita Wave filter) to get the grind size/recipe just right, before weighing out the rest of the coffee into individual doses. These are then vacuum packed and frozen, which means that, in principle, the coffee can be kept fresh for years if necessary (I’ve had coffee from back of my freezer which tasted fine after five years).
When the customer orders a particular pour-over, the coffee is retrieved from the freezer, immediately ground, then brewed in the Kalita Wave before being served to the customer. There’s no need to wait for the coffee to defrost: it goes straight from freezer to grinder to filter. Indeed, you want to do this as quickly as possible to avoid the frozen beans/grinds from picking up water moisture from the air.
Since Kirk can keep the coffee in the freezer for years if necessary, this enables him to offer some very special coffees. As I write, Tilt has two Geshas, grown and roasted by Ninety Plus in Panama. These come with a commensurate price tag (£10.50 and £11.50, the most expensive coffee on the menu), although if that’s a little too much for your budget, the prices start at £5, with plenty of options available.
When I visited, I had another Gesha, the Nano Lot N14, grown by Creativa Coffee District in Panama and roasted by The Hub in Malaysia, which came in at £5.25 a cup. I was drawn by the tasting notes of blueberry, cherries, red apple and apricot, and, while the finer points were lost on my notoriously undiscerning palate, it was nonetheless a very find cup of coffee, maturing as it cooled to bring out more of the coffee’s fruity notes. Kirk also let me have a sample of the Tabi XO, another rich, fruity coffee, which has since gone on the menu. This is from Finca Potosi in Colombia, roasted by Rogue Wave in Edmonton, Canada.
I should point out that Tilt is not alone in doing this. Kirk told me about a similar project from Rosslyn Coffee in London (launched around the same time as the Frozen Solid Coffee Project), while I’ve since learnt (from Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato) that BUSI in London is doing a similar thing, but on a much smaller scale. All of these, by the way, build on similar efforts in some Australian cafés. Kirk also recommended The Physics of Filter Coffee, a book by astrophysicist Jonathan Gagné, which has been a big influence on him.
This is just the start, by the way. Kirk showed by a secret room in the basement (off to the right, past the pinball machines). He plans to convert it into a tasting room dedicated to the Frozen Solid Coffee Project, where you can get the whole experience!
In closing, I think that this is a fantastic project, allowing you to try some amazing coffees from around the world. I also think it offers some great possibilities, like being able to sample the same crop, from the same farm, but from different years. How cool (frozen?) would that be!
|CITY ARCADE • UNION STREET • BIRMINGHAM • B2 4TX|
|Monday||10:00 – 23:00||Roaster||Guests (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||10:00 – 23:00||Seating||Tables|
|Wednesday||10:00 – 23:00||Food||Cake|
|Thursday||10:00 – 23:00||Service||Table|
|Friday||10:00 – 00:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||10:00 – 00:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||10:00 – 22:00||Power||Limited|
|Chain||No||Visits||Original: 8th January 2016
Update: 1st, 2nd July 2021
If you want to know more about Birmingham’s speciality coffee scene, check out the Coffee Spot Guide to Birmingham.
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