Quarter Horse Coffee, Birmingham (Original)

The Quarter Horse Coffee logo: a profile of a knight from a chess set, surrounded by an oval with the words "Quarter Horse Coffee" written around the outside.Quarter Horse Coffee, which opened in February 2015, may be new to Birmingham, but it’s not new to coffee or to the Coffee Spot. The original, which was in Oxford, remained open for a while before becoming Peleton Espresso, Quarter Horse focusing on its combined coffee shop/roastery on Birmingham’s Bristol Road, a few minutes’ walk south of the centre. The roastery is the subject of its own Meet The Roaster feature, which also covers the move to Birmingham, but for now, I’ll just concentrate on the coffee shop.

Bright and spacious, Quarter Horse is a far cry from the much-smaller Cowley Road branch, although just as the original’s a product of limited space, so the new one’s a product of excess space. The décor is simple and extremely effective, being predominantly white, which, along with high ceilings, an uncluttered layout and windows front and back, make it feel even brighter and more spacious than it is.

The coffee (with the exception of the decaf, from Bath’s Round Hill) is roasted on-site, with house-blend and single-origin on espresso, another single-origin on Aeropress and bulk-brew for those who can’t wait. There’s tea from Cardiff’s Waterloo Tea and a decent selection of food and cake, including breakfast served all day.

August 2020: I’ve updated my piece on Quarter Horse Coffee. This is the original write-up, published in July 2015. For an up-to-date description, please see the updated post, while you can see what’s changed in my Coffee Spot Update.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters on Bristol Street, Birmingham.
  • The opening times are conveniently written on the door (both doors, in fact).
  • The road is quite busy, but if you fancy sitting outside, there are a pair of handy benches.
  • Quarter Horse has two doors. The one on the  left leads into the roastery...
  • ... while the one on the right opens out onto the wonderful coffee shop.
  • Not that there's much separating the two, as this view, back towards the windows, shows.
  • On the roastery side, check out this little fellow in the window, although he's leaving soon...
  • This is his big brother, who does all the roasting these days.
  • The entire roastery...
  • Looking from coffee shop to roaster: these tables are in the middle, between two pillars.
  • If you don't fancy sitting there, how about sitting in the sun in the west-facing windows?
  • There's more seating around the counter...
  • This bar, for example, on the right-hand side between the door and counter...
  • ... or this bar along the side/end of the counter by the espresso machine.
  • There's more seating at the back, tables on the right, and against the far wall...
  • ... while there's also this little bar by the door.
  • Talking of which, right now there's no seating out back, but things can always change...
  • The water station is at the back too, behind the second of the two central pillars.
  • Although it's bright, there are still plenty of lights, such as these, over the roastery...
  • ... or these over the table between the coffee shop and roastery.
  • There are lots of individual lights too, like this one at the back by the roastery.
  • Talking of light, I loved the shadows cast on the benches by the windows.
  • Coffee tree?
  • A retail shelf greets you as come in. Quarter Horse coffee, of course, plus bits of kit.
  • The coffee and food menus are to your right by the second door...
  • The food faces you at the end of the counter, cake to the left, sandwiches to the right.
  • The cake, all locally baked, changes on a daily basis. This was on my first visit...
  • ... while this selection awaited me on my return.
  • There's always a good selection of sandwiches on display, plus more on the food menu...
  • ... and a daily special.
  • Quarter Horse also does tasting flights and (cake) sharing platters.
  • The beautiful, tiled counter is a mine of information.
  • For example, details of the coffee on offer are prominently displayed by the till...
  • ... with more details on the bags themselves.
  • In case you've missed them, there's more info on the hoppers of the two grinders!
  • Next to the till is the bulk-brew filter and the boiler for tea and Aeropress coffee.
  • After a small gap in the counter, there are the grinders and espresso macbhine.
  • The EK43's for decaf and filter, while the house and guest espresso have their own grinders.
  • Tea, by the way, is from Cardiff's Waterloo Tea...
  • ... and is beautifully presented on lovely wooden trays.
  • I, however, came for coffee. On my first visit, a flat white to go in my new Frank Green cup.
  • Although Alex, the barista, did well to do latte art in my Smart Cup, this is more typical.
  • On my return, I enjoyed the espresso flight, sitting in the sun by the window...
  • ... with a slice of the amazing Apple, Cinnamon and Walnut Loaf.
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Quarter Horse’s elegant façade feels quite old, Victorian perhaps, but the interior seems very modern. Occupying a knocked-through double-unit, the roastery, with its ultra-modern Giesen roaster, is on the left, the coffee shop, on the right. The divide is marked by a pair of pillars with a long, communal table between them. The only other indicator that you’ve crossed from one to the other is the floor, wooden on the roastery side, concrete for the coffee shop.

Being a double unit, Quarter Horse has two of everything: two doors, two front windows, two benches on the pavement (although the busy dual-carriageway outside makes them rather unappealing). Technically, the left-hand door’s for the roastery, while the right-hand one leads into the coffee shop, but it really doesn’t matter which you use. That said, the one on the right leads you directly to the counter, where you’re confronted by the considerable selection of cake and sandwiches, the menu looming helpfully above you on the wall to your right.

There’s an abundance of seating options. If you don’t fancy the tables dividing coffee shop from roastery (with their dilemma of whether to sit back-to-the-roaster or back-to-the-counter), there’s a choice of multiple tables with benches or bars with bar stools, all on the coffee-shop side.

The first bench, complete with its own set of tables, is along the front window. Alternatively, against the right-hand wall, there’s a bar between door and counter. The counter itself, a beautifully-tiled affair with a lovely wooden top, has a classic L-shape, cake to the fore, the long part of the L running parallel to the right-hand wall. You order here, then, if you can’t stay, collect your coffee at the far end, past grinders and espresso machine.

If you are staying, there’s a cluster of bar stools at the counter’s far end, where you can chat with the barista and probably get in the way of the takeaway customers. The coffee shop narrows beyond this point, the additional space being required for an enclosed kitchen. There’s more seating in the shape of benches and tables on the right-hand and back walls, while on the left, there’s a two-person bar. Right at the back, a glass door looks tantalisingly out onto a broad patio. For now, there’s no seating out there, but who knows what might happen? It would certainly make an excellent spot.

I visited twice. The first time, en-route to the Ashes at Edgbaston, I had a flat white to go. On the recommendation of the barista, Alex, I went with the El Salvador Santa Ana single-origin (the guest). The following day, when I could stay a little longer, I had the espresso tasting flight, which was the house-blend, plus the guest, side-by-side for comparison purposes.

Normally the house-blend is Quarter Horse’s seasonal Dark Horse Blend, but a sudden rush of cricket fans going to the Ashes had temporarily cleared them out, so it had been replaced by another single-origin, a Kenyan AA Nyeri. I thought I’d prefer Central American to African, but it was actually the other way around. Both were bright and fruity, and I enjoyed them both, but I found the Kenyan more balanced and well-rounded. The El Salvador was brighter, but not too sharp and, as I’d previously discovered in my flat white, it went very well with milk: sweet, but with its fruitiness coming through.

I paired my espressos with a slice of apple, cinnamon and walnut loaf which was nothing short of divine. Rich, moist, spicy, crumbly and with real chunks of fruit, it was heaven in a slice of cake!

www.quarterhorsecoffee.com +44 (0) 121 4489660
Monday 08:00 – 18:00 Roaster Quarter Horse (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 08:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Bars, Benches (Outside)
Wednesday 08:00 – 18:00 Food Breakfast, Sandwiches, Cake
Thursday 08:00 – 18:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 08:00 – 18:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 09:00 – 18:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 09:00 – 18:00 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.

You can see what fellow coffee blogger, Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato fame, made of Quarter Horse when she visited in 2021.