Quarter Horse Coffee started life on Oxford’s Cowley Road (where the original Quarter Horse has become Peleton Espresso). Back then, Quarter Horse used Square Mile, it’s two founders, Nathan and James, having worked closely with the London roaster while working for Store Street Espresso before setting up Quarter Horse. However, Nathan, who originally hails from Normal, Illinois, was a roaster before he came to the UK, and he’s always wanted to return to his (roasting) roots.
So, it was no great surprise that, when looking to expand beyond a single shop in Oxford, Quarter Horse turned to roasting. What is less predictable is that Quarter Horse would do it in Birmingham and would open a coffee shop/roastery in the process. However, given the prevalence of this model in the US, perhaps it makes sense that Nathan would choose this route.
Whatever the reasoning, Quarter Horse has created a lovely spot; a large, spacious coffee shop on one hand (which features in its own Coffee Spot), with an attached roastery which is visible from pretty much every part of the building. Right now, Quarter Horse roasts one or twice a week, so you’ll have to be lucky to see the roastery in action!
October 2020: I’ve updated my piece on Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters. This is the original write-up, published in September 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 occupies a double unit on Birmingham’s Bristol Street, 10-minutes’ walk south of the centre. The two parts of the business occupy either side of the unit, each with its own front door. On the right as you enter, the coffee shop, while on the left, the roastery. However, with the dividing wall knocked through, the interior feels like a single space, only the separate doors hinting at the original configuration.
The roastery itself is, for the moment, fairly modest. Separated from the rest of the space by a long, waist-high tiled counter, there’s plenty of room for expansion. Pride of place goes to a very modern-looking 15kg Giesen, all angles in contrast to the conventional wisdom which says that drum-roasters should be, well, drum-shaped. It looks a little isolated, with just a rack of shelving holding the obligatory sacks of green beans for company, but, as the roastery gets busier, I’m sure it will soon be surrounded.
Quarter Horse roasts a single espresso blend (“Dark Horse”) and a small selection of single-origins for both filter and espresso. The bulk of Quarter Horse’s output was initially for its own use (the original Quarter Horse in Oxford used to take the lion’s share, along with the attached coffee shop). These days there are an ever-growing number of wholesale customers around the country.
The Dark Horse blend is seasonal, changing every three-four months, while the single-origins are bought in 70 kg sacks, Nathan rarely buying two sacks of the same green bean. It takes 7-8 weeks to get through a sack and then it’s onto the next. During my visit, there were two single-origins on espresso, a Kenyan AA Nyeri and an El Salvador Santa Anna, with an Ethiopian Kochere on filter. I also spotted some bags of a Colombian on the retail shelves.
The one thing that Quarter Horse doesn’t currently roast is decaf. Chatting with the ever-friendly Nathan, he explained it currently made little sense. Since he’s principally just roasting for the two coffee shops, demand is relatively low (a few kilos a week) so it would take forever to get through a sack of green beans, running the risk of considerable wastage. Instead, Quarter Horse gets its decaf from Bath’s Round Hill Roastery. Round Hill was one of the first UK roasters to adopt the Giesen and head-roaster, Eddy, was very helpful in getting Nathan going.
I also asked Nathan why, with a coffee shop in Oxford, Quarter Horse had established chosen to expand in Birmingham. The answer, quite simply, is rent. For an equivalent rent in Oxford, Quarter Horse would be lucky to get something one quarter of the size. It was either that or an anonymous unit in an industrial estate. Instead, by moving to Birmingham, Quarter Horse has been able to open both a coffee shop and roastery, the coffee shop effectively covering the rent.
In common with many new roasters, winning new accounts is a slow process. Having been with Square Mile for so long, Nathan knows first-hand how attached coffee shop owners become to their roasters. Displacing an incumbent, especially when you’re new with no track record, is a challenge. While picking up a couple of accounts in Birmingham and has featuring as guest roaster at the likes of London’s Daily Goods and Lyle’s, Nathan’s content roasting primarily for his own shops. This, he freely admits, is much easier than roasting for multiple small accounts!
|88-90 BRISTOL STREET • BIRMINGHAM • B5 7AH|
|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||Regional||Visits||Original: 30th, 31st July 2015
Update: 25th August 2020
Liked this Coffee Spot? Then check out the rest of Birmingham’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Birmingham.