The Pocket, in Belfast, is south of the city centre, down on University Road, opposite Queen’s University. It was one of the places that practically everyone said I should visit, a quirky little spot with some great outdoor seating and an Alice in Wonderland inspired theme, although it’s fairly subtle, so you could miss it if you’re not paying attention.
Although it’s relatively small, there’s a large kitchen tucked away down a corridor at the back which produces a concise but impressive brunch menu, served until four o’clock, while it’s joined by lunch from eleven in the morning. There are also a wide selection of cakes, including some awesome doughnuts, if you want something sweeter.
When it comes to coffee, The Pocket serves only single-origins. There are two options on espresso and one on bulk-brew, all of which change on a monthly basis or sooner if The Pocket runs out. The coffee mostly come from Dublin’s 3FE, although fellow Dublin roasters, Cloud Picker, occasionally makes an appearance on the second grinder. There’s a range of loose-leaf teas from Bristol’s Canton Tea Co served in individual infusers and an egg-timer so you know when it’s done.
Just up the road from Root & Branch, and a little further down from General Merchants, District is another addition to Belfast’s growing speciality coffee scene, adding to the small cluster of great places along Ormeau Road, each one offering something different. In the case of District, it’s excellent contemporary café food to go with locally-roasted coffee, all served in a bright spot set back a little from the road with plenty of seating both inside and out.
District is a new name to Belfast, opening at the end of 2016. The first of (so far) two, with the second opening on Stranmills Road a couple of months later, District uses local roaster, Bailies, with single-origins served on espresso and pour-over through the V60. The former is effectively the house espresso, while the latter changes regularly, occasional giving way to a guest roaster for variety. There’s also tea from local tea merchants, Suki Tea.
The other main draw is the excellent food, with lots of vegetarian and some vegan choices (something I occasionally found lacking in Belfast) on both the breakfast menu (served until 3 pm) and lunch menu (from noon). There are also sandwiches and an abundance of cake.
In Belfast’s growing speciality coffee scene, there is a pleasing array of places from the tiny (Root & Branch) to the large (Established Coffee). Weighing in firmly at the large end of the scale is Town Square, a self-appointed meeting place for lovers of good food and great coffee on Belfast’s Botanic Avenue, opposite the Botanic Station.
Effectively split into two, there’s a coffee bar at the front, beyond which you need never stray if all you want is a cup of coffee (and you’re not planning on lingering), while at the back, is a large seating area, centred on a sunken space with a long, communal table. This is ideal if you’re staying in, particularly if you are partaking of breakfast, lunch or dinner: pleasingly Town Square stays open well into the evening, making it the perfect spot for a late-night coffee.
Talking of which, Town Square uses Dublin’s Roasted Brown and only serves single-origins, with one option on espresso, which changes every month or so, another on batch-brew and a third on pour-over. The two filter options change every few days, with the pour-over being offered as Aeropress or V60, while there’s a Chemex option if you’re sharing.
Belfast has a varied speciality coffee scene, although one of the main trends I noticed during my visit in March was the tendency for coffee shops to occupy relatively large spaces, with an emphasis as much on food as on the coffee. However, firmly bucking that trend is today’s Coffee Spot, Root & Branch.
A roaster as well as espresso/brew bar just off the busy Ormeau Road, Root & Branch is tiny, with a covered courtyard that’s bigger than the shop and with more seating on the pavement than it has inside, where it’s standing-room only! However, don’t let that put you off, since there’s also a cosy upstairs, where there’s a pair of chairs and a few stools.
Despite the lack of room, Root & Branch has miraculously managed to fit in a 6kg Giesen coffee roaster in the corner, which turns out all the coffee, including the Saints & Scholars seasonal espresso blend. This is joined by a single-origin on the second grinder, while pour-over fans won’t be disappointed, with three more single-origins available through either Kalita Wave or Aeropress, depending on the particular bean. There’s also a small selection of delicious cake to go with your coffee.
You can’t really talk about speciality coffee in Belfast without talking about Established Coffee, which opened in December 2013. Located at the northern edge of Belfast’s historic Cathedral Quarter, Established occupies a surprisingly modern building on the corner of Hill and Talbot Streets. It’s a large, bright, uncluttered space that, during my visit, was constantly busy.
Established serves coffee from Dublin’s 3FE and various guests on both espresso and filter. There’s usual a choice of three coffees, plus a decaf. One of these is always unique to Established, another is from a rotating cast of guests, while the third is only available as a batch-brew filter. Unusually, the other two are available as both filter and espresso.
As well as coffee, Established has an extensive food offering, all cooked in the kitchen behind the counter. This is based around an all-day breakfast menu of poached eggs on toast, with various sides, supplemented by a selection of seasonal plates. If that doesn’t appeal, there’s always the option of toast or granola, plus a soup of the day. Everything’s available until the kitchen closes at three o’clock. If that isn’t enough, there’s always an interesting selection of cake to be had.