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, which will be along in due course.
Since I was last in Sheffield, the city’s speciality coffee scene has undergone quite an expansion. Amanda and I were driving past a couple of weeks ago, so we decided to call in and see what was going on. Sadly, we only had time to visit a single shop, choosing Whaletown Coffee Co, which opened at the start of last year, one of several places I’ve found through Instagram (and in particular Coffee Girl Needs).
Whaletown is in Crookes, in the hills to the west of the city centre, which made it relatively easy to get to as we were driving through. A simple, minimalist, Scandi-inspired place, Whaletown is a multi-roaster with a different roaster each month on espresso (two options) and filter (two or three options) although sometimes (as it was during our visit, when Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters was in the house) the same roaster appears on both.
Whaletown offers the usual espresso-based options, batch brew and pour-over (V60 or Chemex for two) as well as several specials. This is backed up by a small but tasty food offering based around sourdough bagels, rye bread, sausage/vegan rolls, granola (for breakfast) and cakes (for those with a sweet tooth).
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.
When you’ve been away from Edinburgh for as long as I have (an embarrassing three years!), everything is new, even places that have been open for ages, like Lowdown Coffee. However, today’s Coffee Spot, Detour Espresso, is genuinely new, having only opened in August this year. Located on the south side of the Meadows, an area bereft of speciality coffee since the closure, long ago, of Freemans Coffee, it’s a welcome addition.
There’s not a lot to Detour Espresso, but it’s well worth making a detour to visit. Essentially a large, open cube (bless those high Edinburgh ceilings) you’ll find Birmingham’s Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters on espresso with its Dark Horse blend, along with a guest single-origin, plus a further single-origin on pour-over/batch-brew from a different guest roaster. These guest roasters change every month or so, depending on how quickly Detour goes through the stock.
If you’re hungry, there’s a simple all-day food menu with breakfast and lunch options. This includes my favourite option of toast, plus a range of toasted sandwiches and soup of the day, while, for a change, you can have a warm savoury tart with side salad. There’s also plenty of cakes from old friends Cakesmiths.
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!
Quarter Horse Coffee opened its Birminghamcafé/roastery in February 2015, having moved from its original home in Oxford (which is now Peleton Espresso). Located on Bristol Street, a few minutes’ walk south of the centre, it underwent a major remodelling during the summer of 2020, making the most of the enforced shut down due to COVID-19. This saw the roastery, which had been in an open area on the left, enclosed in its own room, while the café on the right expanded its seating, even though the actual space is slightly smaller. This post is all about the café, by the way, while the roastery has its own Meet The Roaster feature.
Bright and spacious, Quarter Horse has a simple, extremely effective décor, 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 is all roasted on-site, with the house-blend and a second option on espresso, plus a single-origin on pour-over through the Marco SP9 automated brewers. There’s an all-day light food menu and plenty of cakes, while from Wednesday to Sunday, a full brunch menu is available from 10:00 – 14:00.