So, coffee and pinball is a thing. Who knew? Clearly not me, although a few months before Tilt opened its doors on Birmingham’s City Arcade in November last year, Chiswick’s Chief Coffee also opened its combined coffee-and-pinball joint. Mind you, Tilt’s not just coffee-and-pinball. It’s coffee-craft-beer-and-pinball. And wine. And spirits. And loose-leaf tea. Right now, the food’s limited to a choice of two cakes, but once things are up and running, there’ll be a simple breakfast/brunch menu.
Tilt, by the way, isn’t just a gimmick. It’s serious about its coffee, owners Kirk and Richard bringing in ex-Has Beanie, Gary, to run the coffee side of things. The house roaster is Cornwall’s Origin, supplying one of the two espresso beans, while regularly-rotating guest roasters fill the hopper of the second Mythos One grinder, Gary buying 5-6 kg at a time. When it’s gone, it’s gone and it’s onto the next roaster/bean. Both house and guest are also available as filter through a pair of small-batch brewers, Tilt offering a tasting flight of espresso, espresso with milk and batch brew, all for a very reasonably-priced £4.
Tilt offers eight craft beers on tap, 26 in bottles/cans, wines, spirits and 10 different loose-leaf teas.
July 2021: I’ve updated my piece on Tilt. This is the original write-up, published in January 2016. 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.
Tilt’s at the end of Birmingham’s City Arcade, which runs off at a diagonal from Union Street. The Arcade ends at the junction of Warwick and Union Passages, with Tilt on the Warwick Passage side, occupying a large space running alongside the City Arcade.
The space is best described as, well, weird. What, you want more than that? Okay. It’s roughly L-shaped, but only if it was drawn by someone who hasn’t quite got the hang of Ls yet. In fairness to Tilt, it’s largely dictated by the shape of the building, which apparently was built around an older building, explaining the weirdness.
Warwick Passage meets the City Arcade at an angle of 60°, Tilt crammed into the corner. There’s a door on the Warwick Passage side, with Tilt running away ahead of you. The left-hand wall’s perpendicular to Warwick Passage, while the right-hand wall’s parallel to the Arcade. Tilt, therefore, is wedge-shaped, narrowing as you head further inside.
This, the top part of the L, is very much the coffee-shop part of Tilt, with five well-spaced tables on the right, three more on the left, and windows on two sides, making it lovely and bright. The counter is a little way back on the right-hand side, coming after the seating. It houses the espresso machine and three grinders, with eight beer taps in the window behind it. The counter carries on and, just as Tilt reaches its narrowest part near the end of the counter, the bottom part of the L appears.
The far wall of this (on your right as you turn into it) runs perpendicular to the Arcade, but the left-hand wall turns by 90° to run parallel to Warwick Passage, so this is also a wedge, narrowing to almost a point at its end. There’s a door (at the thick end) onto the Arcade, while at the tip, stairs double back to the basement. Don’t even get me started on the basement (which is still under development and just as weirdly-shaped)!
This second space is where you’ll find the pinball machines, seven of them, against the left-hand wall, while the right-hand wall has four two-person tables. There’s also a single-seater tucked in next to the door, another at the top of the stairs and two more between counter and door. It can be fun sitting back here, but also really noisy when the pinball is in full swing.
In some ways, it’s best not to think of Tilt as L-shaped, rather as a wedge-shaped coffee (and beer) shop which collided with a wedge-shaped pinball arcade, the two liking each other so much that they decided to stick together.
I’m not qualified to comment on the beer, wine, spirits or tea, but several customers sang the praises of the beer to me. The coffee, meanwhile, was excellent. Gary selects the guest roasters, but generally trusts to Origin to send something interesting for the house espresso, which can be a blend or a single-origin.
For my visit, both the house and guest (from Sheffield’s Foundry) were Nicaraguan single-origins. I selected the Foundry, which was surprisingly sweet and a little sharp, but not excessively so. It was a little fruitier on the second sip, when it had more of a kick, while the third mouthful was more like the first. All-round, a very lovely espresso! Gary also made me a shot of the Origin to compare: it was a very different, pleasant enough, but much less to my taste.
Tilt also does small-batch filter, with plans to introduce hand-poured filter on the Kalita Wave. Gary told me that Birmingham tap water is too soft, so he adds magnesium, making up batches each day as a temporary measure while a permanent supply is installed. If Tilt runs out of this enhanced water, Gary stops serving the filter rather than use tap water, such is the adverse impact on the taste!
|CITY ARCADE • UNION STREET • BIRMINGHAM • B2 4TX|
|Monday||10:00 – 23:00||Roaster||Origin + Guest (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||10:00 – 23:00||Seating||Tables|
|Wednesday||10:00 – 23:00||Food||Cake (breakfast & brunch coming)|
|Thursday||10:00 – 23:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||10:00 – 00:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||10:00 – 00:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||10:00 – 22:00||Power||Limited|
|Chain||No||Visits||Original: 8th January 2016
Update: 1st, 2nd July 2021
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.