Garden Social Coffee House

The front of Garden Social Coffee House on the corner of Catherine and Charlotte Streets, the open door showing no favouritism to either!Today’s Coffee Spot, Garden Social Coffee House, continues the exploration of Chester’s speciality coffee scene and how it’s expanding beyond the historic (and compact) city centre, which started with Monday’s Coffee Spot, Ginger Monkey Number 31. This time we’re northwest of the centre, heading in the direction of Blacon/Sealand, where I stumbled upon Garden Social. tucked away in the dense network of residential streets, lined with tightly-packed terrace houses, between the River Dee and the canal. As the name suggests, Garden Social has an outside seating area at the back, along with some well-spaced seating in the bright and airy interior.

Occupying what was an old-fashioned corner shop, there’s nothing old-fashioned about Garden Social, sporting a brand-new Eagle One espresso machine and its twin Mythos One grinders, serving up a house-blend (Jailbreak) and a regularly-changing single-origin. There’s also a filter option, available through AeroPress, Kalita Wave or Chemex (for two), grinding provided by the ubiquitous EK43, all the coffee coming from Has Bean. This is backed up by a selection of tea, hot chocolate and various iced drinks. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes, plus a concise toast-based breakfast menu, along with a handful of toasties and sandwiches.

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Ginger Monkey Number 31

A lovely flat white, made with the Trio blend from Crosby Coffee and served in a glass on a geometrically patterned saucer at Ginger Monkey in Chester.To its credit, Chester’s rapidly expanding speciality coffee scene isn’t confined to the compact, historic city centre. For example, the pioneering Little Yellow Pig has been out in Hoole since 2014, joined by Short + Stout in 2018. Staying to the east of the centre, we now have Ginger Monkey Number 31, conveniently located at 31 Christleton Road in Boughton, a 20-minute stroll out from the city centre.

Ginger Monkey is a relatively new addition to the area, having relocated from its original home in Saltney (a little further out to the west of the city) in December 2020. It occupies a compact spot on the north side of the road, which means that it catches the sun for most of the day. There are a pair of benches outside on the pavement, along with a window-bar and a handful of tables inside.

The coffee is from Crosby Coffee Roasters, with its Trio blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a rotating guest roaster on batch brew. There’s a selection of tea and hot chocolate, along with various iced versions, but the other big draw is the food, concise breakfast and lunch menus being joined by an all-day brunch menu.

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Frozen Solid Coffee Project

My coffee, the Nano Lot N14, a Gesha grown by Creativa Coffee District in Panama, roasted by The Hub in Malaysia and served in a carafe, with a lovely ceramic cup on the side, all presented on a wooden tray, part of the Frozen Solid Coffee Project at Tilt in Birmingham.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.

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Gloria and Lil’s

Gloria and Lil's, written in an elaborate cursive script, taken from the sign above the café.Gloria and Lil’s is a (relatively) recent addition to Coventry’s speciality coffee scene, opening in November 2019, which has meant that, for most of the time, it’s been under COVID-19 restrictions. However, this hasn’t stopped it from carving out a loyal, local customer base. Occupying a spacious, modern unit located just south of the ring road and close to the university, there’s a limited amount of indoor seating (thanks to the COVID-19 social distancing requirements) with plenty more tables outside on the quiet street.

Gloria and Lil’s was recommended to me by my local source, Jenny Watts, who praised the food in particular. Since it was a mere two minutes’ walk from my hotel, it became a no-brainer when I was looking for breakfast on my recent visit. Talking of which, there’s a unique, bagel/flatbread-based brunch menu, with everything made to order. This includes the flatbreads which are literally baked as the rest of the meal is being prepared. The bagels are also baked fresh every morning, as are the cakes. The coffee, meanwhile, is from St. Martin’s Coffee Roasters in nearby Leicester, with the Intrepid blend and decaf on espresso and a single-origin on batch brew.

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Lily London, Shard

A flat white in my HuskeeCup at Lily London, ShardAt the start of 2021, when I was wondering if there would be any coffee shops I could write about, an unexpected bonus arrived in my hometown, Guildford in the shape of Lily London, a coffee shop in a telephone box! Since then, Lily London has opened three more coffee shops in telephone boxes in (appropriately) London, Eastbourne and Edinburgh.

The London telephone box is on St Thomas Street, around the back of London Bridge station and almost directly under the UK’s tallest building, The Shard. Passing through the capital last weekend, I thought it was about time that I paid it a visit. For those who don’t know, Lily London serves its own coffee, imported from Brazil by the owner, then roasted by Plot Roasting. There’s a standard espresso-based menu, along with retail bags of the coffee. Unsurprisingly, it’s takeaway cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.

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Bean & Leaf Coffee House

The Bean & Leaf Coffee House logo from the A-board in Hertford Street.When contemplating my recent trip to Coventry, the one place that everyone recommended was Bean & Leaf, located in the heart of the city’s pedestrianised shopping centre on Hertford Street. A fairly small spot in an interestingly-shaped space with high ceilings and a quiet, cosy basement (which more than doubles the available seating), Bean & Leaf has plenty of charm. You can also sit outside, where there are a couple of tables and a pair of benches.

Since it opened in 2017, Bean & Leaf has established quite a reputation, serving some excellent coffee from roasters from around the country. There’s a house espresso (currently from Manchester newcomer, Blossom Coffee Roasters) and a guest roaster (currently Bath’s Colonna Coffee), which changes every month, supplying a second option on espresso/batch brew and a single-origin on pour-over.

Although it sees itself as primarily a coffee shop, Bean & Leaf (as the name might suggest) takes its tea just as seriously, with a wide range of loose-leaf tea from Bath’s Teahouse Emporium, served in pots with coloured egg-timers so that you know when your particular brew is done. All of this is backed up by a range of sandwiches and tempting cakes.

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Tilt Update

Details of the new (to me, at least) A-board from outside Tilt in Birmingham, promising craft beer, speciality coffee and pinball.To the best of my knowledge, Tilt is just one of two speciality coffee-and-pinball places in the UK, the other being Chiswick’s Chief Coffee, both of which opened in 2015. Mind you, Tilt’s not just coffee-and-pinball. It’s coffee-pinball-and-craft-beer, serving up to 18 different draught beers, plus there’s cider, wine, spirits, and cocktails, not to mention twelve different loose-leaf teas and five types of hot chocolate.

I first visited Tilt in January 2016, not long after it had opened. Back then, it just occupied the ground floor of an interestingly-shaped spot in Birmingham’s City Arcade, with work underway to open up the basement. Since then, it’s come a long way, not just opening the basement, but, during the enforced COVID-19 shutdown of 2020, adding an upper floor, both offering additional seating and more pinball machines.

These days, Tilt still bases its offer around pinball, beer and coffee, and its in this latter department that it perhaps has taken the greatest strides. Tilt was always serious about its coffee, but recently the owner, Kirk, has taken things to a whole new level with the Frozen Solid Coffee Project, an exciting development which I’ve dedicated an entire Saturday Supplement to.

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Espresso Quarter

The sunlit front of Espresso Quarter in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham.Last week, I went on a quick tour of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, starting with Hatch @ Hazel & Haydn. From there, it was on to Espresso Quarter, the latest addition to the Espresso Station family, which includes two station coffee shops (Dorridge and Moor Street), plus Espresso Barn and Espresso Farm.

In a display of impressively bad timing, Espresso Quarter opened in March 2020, just six days before the first round of COVID-19 restrictions came into force. Despite this rocky start, Espresso Quarter has made it through the pandemic thus far, and is now welcoming customers back, with its combination of a simple, tasty food offering and a bespoke seasonal espresso blend from local roasters, Monsoon Estates Coffee Company.

Espresso Quarter is on the northern side of Warstone Lane, between the Brookfields Cemetery and the iconic Chamberlain Clock. Fittingly, it occupies an old jeweller’s shop, complete with the safe still built into the wall, where the stock was kept overnight. It’s a pretty small spot, with a couple of tables outside on the pavement and limited interior seating. The simple all-day brunch menu goes well with the concise espresso-based menu, while there’s also hot chocolate and a range of tea.

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Hatch @ Hazel & Haydn

A flat white, made with the Dark Horse blend from Quarter Horse, and served in my HuskeeCup at Hatch in Birmingham.Sometimes I physically stumble across places, such as Monday’s Coffee Spot, Medicine New Street. More often, the stumbling is virtual, as it was when I spotted Hatch a few weeks ago on Instagram. A relatively new addition to Birmingham’s speciality coffee scene, Hatch is part of Hazel & Haydn, a hairdressers in the Jewellery Quarter. It’s strictly takeaway though, with seating limited to two benches outside on the pavement.

Hatch is well-named since it’s effectively just that, a hatch (or, for the more pedantic, a window) at the far end of Hazel & Haydn. This opens onto the street, allowing Bianca, Hatch’s barista, to serve customers from her single-group La Marzocco G3. Using the Dark Horse blend from nearby Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters, Hatch has an extremely concise espresso-based menu, plus hot chocolate, tea and a very limited range of cakes. Since it’s takeaway only, don’t forget to bring your own cup.

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Medicine New Street

A classic decaf flat white served in a classic white cup at Medicine New Street in BirminghamToday’s Coffee Spot was a chance discovery at the end of my visit to Birmingham last week. I was on my way along New Street when an A-board caught my eye. It didn’t even say “speciality coffee”, but there was something about it that piqued my interest, so in I went, ascending a flight of stairs to find a real gem (in more ways than one) hidden in the very centre of Birmingham.

Medicine Bakery is an artisan bakery, café and gallery which grew out of Medicine Bar in Digbeth. After that closed in 2011, the team behind Medicine turned to baking, opening a bakery, deli and café in the village of Codsall in Wolverhampton. This is turn led to the opening of a second Medicine in 2018, which is the one I stumbled upon on New Street, along with a more recent addition not far away in the massive Mailbox shopping centre.

Medicine New Street occupies a glorious, open space (a former art gallery), serving classic breakfast, brunch and lunch dishes, plus masses of cakes and pastries. There’s a standard espresso-based menu with coffee from Iron & Fire, plus a small selection of tea, soft drinks, smoothies, cocktails, craft beers and wine.

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