Although a semi-regular visitor to Birmingham for many years, I tend to stick fairly close to the centre, coming and going via Birmingham New Street station. For that reason, while I’ve heard much about the excellent coffee scene in Harborne, the suburb to the west of the centre, I’ve never made my way out there. Until Saturday, that is, when, driving up to my Dad’s in North Wales, I realised that it made a good break-point for my journey, provided that I didn’t mind a 15-minute detour.
I therefore made a beeline for The Steam Room, which opened in early 2017 and which I’d heard several good things about. A little to the north of Harborne High Street in a very residential area, it’s a gem, serving weekly single-origins from Has Bean on espresso (including decaf), batch-brew and pour-over, with the decaf being given equal billing on the menu (always nice to see). There’s a decent selection of tea, plus craft beer and ciders, as well as wine by the glass/bottle. If you’re hungry, check out the regular brunch menu, with breakfast and lunch specials on the menu behind the counter, plus a generous cake supply from old friends, Cakesmiths.
Coffee shop chains are strange things. Sometimes places expand quickly, adding shop after shop, building a strong brand name. Other times, a second branch is only added after long, careful consideration. And sometimes, that second branch is so far removed in look and feel from the original that, until the barista tells you about the connection, you are completely clueless.
So it is with Mother Espresso, the Liverpool outpost of Manchester’s finest, North Tea Power, which opened a mere eight years after its parent and is about as different as can be in terms of look and feel. In my defence, as soon as the barista told me, I remembered, having read about the opening at the end of 2017 on social media, but by the time I came to visit, I’d completely forgotten about the connection, the name “Mother Espresso” not exactly screaming “North Tea Power” at me.
Like its parent, Mother Espresso does many things, excelling at them all, from coffee through tea, craft beer, wine and cocktails to an impressive food menu. The coffee is from Has Bean, with a pair of single-origins on espresso (for milk and black drinks respectively), while there’s also pour-over and batch-brew.
Normally, I’m reluctant to feature a pop-up on the Coffee Spot. However, when that pop-up is by renowned roasters, Has Bean, and it’s the first Has Bean coffee shop in 14 years, I’ll make an exception. I also wouldn’t normally visit a shop two days after it had opened, but when it’s only open for 72 days, time is of the essence.
So it was that on Monday, I popped down to Oxford Street to visit Made by Hand Coffee ([H]AND for short). Located on the third floor of the UniQlo clothing store, [H]AND is tucked away at the back, but easy enough to find. There’s a simple coffee bar, grinders at either end, a row of four Kalita Wave filters between them. Personally, in that sort of setting, I prefer standing up at the bar to drink my coffee, but if you want to sit down, there’s a cluster of four sumptuous armchairs around a coffee table (with USB power sockets).
However, the coffee’s the star, with a choice of four single-origin pour-overs. You can pick one or have a tasting flight of three. Similarly there are four teas, with the same offer on the table. And that’s it.
June 2017: [H]AND has now closed. Hopefully it will reappear somewhere at some point in the future, so watch this space!
To mark my return to the UK, Monday’s Coffee Spot is somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for all most as long as I’ve been doing the Coffee Spot. Expresso Base is in the courtyard of St George’s Church, near the British Museum and just across the way from the original site of Wild & Wood. It’s easy enough to miss and is closed over the weekend, which might go some way to explaining how I’ve managed to not go there for almost four years (which, incidentally, is how long Expresso Base has been going, having opened a few months before I started the Coffee Spot).
Essentially an outdoor café, Expresso Base occupies the right-hand side of the churchyard, with plenty of seating and a gazebo at the back which houses the two-group La Marzocco. If it’s raining, additional umbrellas, etc, can be put up to provide shelter, but on a sunny day, there’s nothing better than sitting on one of the wooden benches and enjoying your coffee in the sun. The coffee, from Has Bean, is always a single-origin and changes on a regular basis, while there’s a small selection of cake if you are hungry. There’s also a guest roaster which changes every week.
Lemana, in Lymington, just outside the New Forest, has been a favourite of mine since my first visit in November 2013. A friendly, family-run, community-based café in a small town, it had excellent food and outstanding cakes, plus one of the warmest welcomes you’ll find. The only thing I didn’t rave about was the coffee.
However, when I heard on twitter that Lemana had started serving coffee from Staffordshire legends, Has Bean, my ears perked up. A return visit was quickly pencilled in as part of my annual trip to Naish, just along the coast from Lymington (which, contrary to my initial belief, is in Hampshire, not Dorset).
The switch to Has Bean is the most obvious of the changes, which have included taking a range of loose-leaf tea from Dorchester’s Gilded Teapot. Fortunately the warm welcome, excellent food and outstanding cakes remain, while other changes have been more subtle.
The original 6/8 Kafé (now sadly closed), one of Birmingham’s first specialty coffee shops, was a cosy, compact spot on Temple Row, right in the centre. The new 6/8 Kafé is about as far away from that as you can get in almost every respect except that both serve excellent coffee. Located in Birmingham’s new Millennium Point development, the new 6/8 is filling a valuable niche: serving speciality coffee in a mass-market setting.
Millennium Point is a science centre extraordinaire, housing Birmingham’s Thinktank science museum and faculties from both Birmingham City University and Birmingham Metropolitan College. And 6/8 Kafé. Frankly, I take my hat off to Devinder, 6/8’s owner, both for getting such a high-profile spot and for having the bravery to go for it. It’s exactly the sort of spot you’d expect to see a run-of-the-mill chain, so it’s refreshing to see somewhere serving excellent coffee.
And make no mistake, although Millennium Point lacks the original 6/8 Kafé’s cosy atmosphere, the quality’s every bit as good. The only compromise is dispensing with hand-pour filters, sticking instead to a single Has Bean blend on espresso. That said, it’s a pleasant place to sit and drink your coffee or quickly refuel before/after visiting Thinktank.
Almost a year after featuring Fernandez & Wells for the first time, with the delightful Exhibition Road branch, I thought it about time that I got around to writing up the Somerset House branch, where I’ve been a semi-regular visitor through the year. Set within Somerset House itself, with stunning views of the courtyard and, in the summer, copious outside seating, it’s one of the most physically appealing Coffee Spots that I’ve been to. Inside, high ceilings and large windows give it an immense sense of light and space, while multiple rooms, on a par with Paris’ La Caféothèque, means that there’s something for everyone.
A cross between wine-bar, deli and coffee shop, F&W’s food and coffee are as outstanding as the setting. Somerset House has a similar offering to Exhibition Road, with perhaps a slightly more extensive menu, which never fails to amaze and delight me. The coffee’s from Has Bean, with a bespoke house-blend on espresso. Open late into the evenings, it’s the perfect spot for an after-hours coffee or a bite to eat and while I haven’t tried it, the wine selection looks excellent. In the summer, it’s one of the best outdoor cafés in London.
On the pedestrianised Central Road, located, appropriately enough, right in the centre of Leeds, is the delightful Mrs Atha’s, perhaps one of the most complete coffee shops I’ve been to in ages. With a lovely interior, cosy little basement and small outside seating area, there’s plenty of seating options.
The coffee is provided by stalwarts Has Bean, with a house-blend, the charmingly-named “Mrs Atha’s Little Tipple”, on espresso and a single-origin on filter. There’s also a selection of single-origin filters from regularly-rotating guest roasters, quite often from Europe. Typically, I arrived the day before Mrs Atha’s new espresso machine, a Slayer no less, was due to be installed! Tea drinkers are also well catered for, with a wide selection of loose-leaf tea from Postcard Teas.
As good as the coffee (and tea) is, Mrs Atha’s is just as much about food, with a comprehensive all-day breakfast menu complimenting lunch and a selection of (very) specials, all of which are prepared in the basement kitchen. Add to that a wide range of extremely tempting cakes and you can’t really go wrong.
There is, by the way, a Mrs Atha: she’s the grandmother of the three brothers who own Mrs Atha’s.
Continuing from last week’s update on Wild & Wood Coffee, I present another of my Coffee Spot Updates, this time from my recent trip to Edinburgh. I first visited Brew Lab during my Coffee Spot tour of Edinburgh in December 2012. Back then, Brew Lab had just opened and it had a real impact on me. With its emphasis on filter coffee and various brew methods, each chosen for a specific bean, I felt the sort of sense of confusion when looking at the menu that someone who wants a “white coffee” must experience in a modern coffee shop…
When I returned at the end of April, a mere 16 months later, I was keen to see what had, and hadn’t, changed at Brew Lab. Well, the answer, much as it had been with Wild & Wood, was “very little”. The Slayer was still there, looking very sexy on the counter (although it’s since been replaced by a Black Eagle), Brew Lab was as busy as ever, and the interior still looked as if the decorators had downed tools and walked off mid-job…
However, there have been a couple of significant changes and one of them is quite important…
Fernandez & Wells is a small London-based chain with six (so far) branches, the original two in Soho, one in Somerset House, this one on South Kensington’s Exhibition Road and, since 2014, two more in London. A cross between wine-bar, deli and coffee shop, F&W offers a similar experience to Notes, albeit in (slightly) less grand surroundings.
The Exhibition Road branch opened in late 2012. On a pleasant, (almost) pedestrianised street, packed with cafes and restaurants, F&W fits right in, serving excellent coffee (roasted by Has Bean), an extensive wine list and an interesting array of dishes, with a strong focus on cured meats and cheeses, both of which you can buy to takeaway. The cakes are also pretty impressive and there was even a Slayer! (Although that’s now long gone.)
F&W has been on my radar for a while, although I’ve never actually managed to track one down until just before Christmas. However, with several hours to kill one Wednesday evening, the appeal of a coffee shop that does food and is open until 10 o’clock in the evening (shades of Notes again) was obvious. I was sufficiently impressed to come back again in the New Year for lunch…