Quarter Horse Coffee opened its Birminghamcafé/roastery in 2015, the roastery operating on one side of the space, the coffee shop on the other, the two separated by a waist-high counter. While this arrangement had the obvious advantage of making the roastery very visible to the customers, it had its drawbacks. As the roastery became busier, the inevitable interruptions that come from having such an open and visible roasting operation began to have an impact on productivity.
Nathan, the driving force behind Quarter Horse, decided that he need to make some major modifications to improve the roastery. However, the question was how to accommodate the disruption that the structural work would cause, which would inevitably shut both roastery and café for several weeks. Then along came COVID-19, with its enforced shutdown, giving Nathan his opportunity…
The results of the remodelling were plain for all to see when Quarter Horse reopened on the last day in July. Although it would be more accurate to say that they weren’t plain to see. Although the roastery hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s now enclosed in its own room, leaving Nathan and his team free to get on with the important business of roasting in peace.
This Coffee Spot Update focuses on the roastery, while the café has its own update, where you can find more details of the physical changes.
The last stop on my brief tour of Birmingham is Ngopi, which exclusively serves single-origin Indonesian coffee, all of which is roasted in the little roaster visible through the front window. Ngopi was my find of 2019, after the staff opened my eyes to the variety and sheer quality of Indonesian speciality coffee at that year’s Birmingham Coffee Festival.
Like the rest of the UK’s speciality coffee shops, Ngopi was forced to close by COVID-19, only reopening in July following the relaxation of restrictions in England. The obvious COVID-19 precautions are now in place (Perspex screens on the counter, reduced seating, etc) but otherwise, Ngopi is very much its old self. In particular, the coffee is just as good as I remember it, while there’s a menu of light Indonesian dishes and desserts which, had I not just come from lunch at Wayland’s Yard, would have been very tempting.
I revisited Wayland’s Yard in Birmingham at the end of August, almost exactly two years after my first visit, seeking a late lunch one Tuesday afternoon. Looking reassuringly similar from the street, the only obvious differences were the lack of outside benches (there used to be one on either side of the door, underneath the windows) and the presence of the bold “we are open” sign on the door.
Inside, the changes are similarly subtle, with several of them pre-dating the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the additional seating on the left in front of the counter. Of course, there are the COVID-19 precautions themselves, mostly the clearly-marked one-way system on the floor, but otherwise, Wayland’s Yard is much as I remember it.
The coffee, from Herefordshire’s Method Roastery, is as good as ever, with a bespoke house-blend and single-origin on espresso, although for now, there’s just a solitary single-origin on pour-over through the V60 rather than the customary two. The brunch menu has similarly been cut down, but is just as innovative as before.
Faculty/Sixteen Kitchen has long been my go-to option when changing trains at Birmingham’s New Street Station. Located at the bottom of the Piccadilly Arcade, opposite the station’s New Street entrance, it’s a great breakfast/lunch option, courtesy of Sixteen Kitchen, although I’ve tended to call in the afternoon for coffee and cake at Faculty when changing trains, its proximity to the station making it perfect if you have a few minutes between trains.
Like many in the speciality coffee industry, Faculty has been feeling its way back, initially reopening for takeaway only, when it served from the door. Since then, it’s reopened its seating areas and is slowly expanding its opening hours as people return to the city centre. For now, the coffee offering has been reduced slightly, with just one option on espresso and another on pour-over. Similarly, Sixteen Kitchen is offering a cut-down menu, although you can always get cakes and a small selection of toasted sandwiches from Faculty.
The usual COVID-19 precautions are in place, including reduced seating to ensure social distancing, a queuing system at the door and Perspex screens on the counter. One non-COVID change is the appearance of a Modbar espresso system on the counter!
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.
Worcester’s Steam Coffee Shop (not to be confused with The Steam Room, in nearby Birmingham), was a chance discovery from earlier this week. Amanda and I had stopped in Worcester for lunch, intending to visit another coffee shop, when we walked past Steam Coffee, the display of lightbulbs in the window initially catching my eye. A quick perusal of the menu increased our interest and, on discovered that the coffee was from old friends Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters, our decision was made.
Steam Coffee occupies the final shop on the eastern flank of Worcester’s Corn Market, a large, open space opposite St Martin’s Church on the eastern side of Worcester’s compact, medieval centre. Four outside tables on the broad pavement compliment another eight in the cosy interior, which has a simple layout, with the counter at the back. There’s a standard espresso-based menu, the coffee provided by Quarter Horse’s Dark Horse blend, along with a decaf option, while there’s also a wide range of loose-leaf tea from Golden Monkey Tea Co. in nearby Warwick. However, the real draw is the food, with innovative breakfast, sandwich and lunch menus, plus a range of cakes, all made using local ingredients wherever possible.
The Espresso Station has been around for a while, since I can remember it from the early days of the Coffee Spot. These days it’s grown to a sizeable operation, providing coffee around the West Midlands. There are to two outlets in stations (Dorridge and Moor Street), two in sports clubs (Aston Villa FC and Worcester Warriors Rugby) and two coffee shops (the Espresso Barn and Espresso Farm). Maybe one day we’ll see the Espresso Station at Edgbaston (hint, hint).
Today’s Coffee Spot is a two-for-the-price-of-one, with the Espresso Station at Birmingham’s Moor Street, where there’s a lovely station café on the main concourse and a smaller, mainly takeaway operation behind the ticket barriers by the platforms. Both serve a standard espresso-based menu using a seasonal espresso blend from nearby Monsoon Estates Coffee Company, along with limited breakfast and lunch menus, plus a selection of cakes, pastries and sandwiches.
Obviously, the café, with a small amount of indoor seating, plus some “outdoor” tables, sheltered under the soaring glass roof of the station concourse, is the more accessible of the two, since you don’t need to buy a train ticket to visit it, so that’s the focus of today’s Coffee Spot.
I came across Ngopi, which opened on 9th July last year, at this year’s Birmingham Coffee Festival. Birmingham is already blessed with some outstanding coffee shops and roasters, but what makes Ngopi stand out from the crowd is that it deals exclusively in coffee from Indonesia. What’s more, all the coffee is roasted on-site in a small 1 kg roaster that sits proudly in the window. The shop itself is lovely, a simple, bright, uncluttered space which is the perfect place to showcase the coffee.
Talking of which, Ngopi, which only roasts single-origins, typically has six different beans in stock at any one time, all of which are available to buy in retail bags. One of these is on espresso, the specific bean changing roughly once a week, plus Ngopi has three different options on pour-over through the V60. This is all backed up by a range of traditional Indonesian coffee drinks, most of which involved condensed milk or ice (and often both) and use their own specific bean.
If you are hungry, there’s an all-day menu, featuring breakfast, lunch and sweet items from Indonesia. If you want something more western, there’s a selection of cakes from old friends, Cakesmiths.
Welcome to the third of my detailed write ups of the third annual Birmingham Coffee Festival. As usual, I got things underway with my traditional festival round-up, before moving onto the detailed write-ups, with each one focusing on a different subject. The first was the Meet the Roasters feature, where I caught up with all the roasters. This was followed by one on all the excellent food I found at the festival, and was entitled Food, Glorious Food. Today’s feature is an eclectic mix of subjects, so after wracking my brains for hours, I’ve come up with the snappy title of Part III.
Today’s post looks at sustainability, where the Birmingham Coffee Festival is making great strides. Speciality, I’ll talk about First Mile and Mawley Milk, two very different companies, but both doing their bit for sustainability. Following that, the focus shifts to coffee equipment and an interesting new grinder that you won’t be finding in my kitchen any time soon, but you may start it seeing it in some UK coffee shops. I also cast my eye over some lovely pottery from Speckled Grey. And finally, I’ll end on a very un-Coffee-Spot-like note with a look at some tea!
Java Lounge is a name with history when it comes to coffee in Birmingham, first opening in Moseley in 2005. For a long time, it was just a local institution, but in 2015, the second Java Lounge opened, right in the heart of the city on Colmore Row. Now there are four branches and a rebrand in the offing (with a name change to Java Roastery to reflect its new focus). I first became aware of Java Lounge when I met with Akram, the owner, at last year’s Birmingham Coffee Festival, catching up with Akram and the team at this year’s festival. It was, I thought, high time I paid Java Lounge a visit.
The Colmore Row branch occupies a beautiful, high-ceilinged space with a main room at the front with more seating in a smaller room at the back. Alternatively, you can sit outside where there’s a small row of tables on the relatively quiet street. The coffee is all roasted in-house with a pair of seasonal espresso blends and a single-origin on pour-over through the V60 (for one) and Chemex (for two). If you’re hungry, there are breakfast and lunch menus, plus a selection of sandwiches and cakes.