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The Coffee Spot Guide to Birmingham

Birmingham Cathedral, right in the heart of the city, between Colmore and Temple Rows.Birmingham is the UK’s second city, but when it comes to coffee, until very recently it would have struggled to make it into the top ten. Fortunately, things are rapidly improving, with new coffee shops and roasters opening across the city.

These are clustered around Birmingham’s compact, vibrant city centre, all within 10 minutes’ walk of each other, not withstanding a couple of outliers to the north and south. These days I’m a frequent visitor as I’m travelling through to and from my father’s home in North Wales, finding it convenient to break my journey at New Street station, where most of Birmingham’s finest coffee shops are within easy reach.

As a city, Birmingham is surprisingly beautiful. I have memories of it from the 1980s, when it was entering its post-industrial slump, and there are still pockets of what can best be described as urban desolation. However, the city centre itself is very green and a joy to walk around, while the shopping afforded by the refurbished Bull Ring will no doubt appeal to some. The towpaths of the canal network also provide an interesting way to get around the city.

As with all these guides, this is not, and does not claim to be, a comprehensive guide to Birmingham’s coffee scene, particularly not with the number of new places which are opening at the moment.

Header image: looking across Victoria Square to the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, with the Town Hall to the left.

Coffee Spots

200 Degrees, Birmingham

The number 200⁰ in a diamond outline over the word "COFFEE"200 Degrees, which started life as a roaster in Nottingham, before opening its first café two years ago, has now expanded into Birmingham, hot on the heels of its second Nottingham outlet. The Birmingham branch, which opened its doors in August, is very much in look and feel like the original in Flying Horse Walk in Nottingham. Both are long and thin, replete with wooden panelling and exposed brick, although the Birmingham branch has much higher ceilings and a simpler layout.

In keeping with the original, 200 Degrees is unashamedly aimed at the mass-market coffee drinker, with a plush, well-appointed interior that would put many coffee chains to shame. The house espresso, Brazilian Love Affair, has a touch of Robusta which might put some off, but it provides a strong, dark coffee that many in the mainstream will be familiar with. This is backed up by the interestingly-named Mellowship Slinky Decaf, while there’s always a single-origin guest espresso, plus another single-origin on filter which provide a path to speciality coffee for those who want to tread it. Finally, there’s cold-brew on tap, a good range of breakfast, lunch and sandwich options, plus cake, all enjoyed in very pleasant, relaxed surroundings.

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6/8 Kafé, Millennium Point

The 6/8 Kafé logo, the numbers "6/8" in black, with the words "six eight" in red beneath them.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.

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Another Pop Up in Digbeth

The words "Another Pop Up in Digbeth" written in orange inside an orange circle on a blue background. POP UP is in capitals, with the space in the O replaced by an upwards-pointing arrow.Despite the name, Another Pop Up in Digbeth (Pop Up Digbeth for short) isn’t a pop-up, although it is in Digbeth, so I suppose one out of two’s not bad. Digbeth, for those not in the know, is an old, industrial area, immediately southeast of Birmingham city centre, about a 20-minute walk from New Street Station. Both Digbeth’s history and regeneration can be neatly symbolised by the Custard Factory, where Bird’s once made its famous custard powder, and where Pop Up Digbeth now makes its home, along with a host of start-ups and other small businesses.

Having opened at the start of the year, Pop Digbeth is here to stay, serving healthy food to go at breakfast and lunch, backed up by a rotating offer on espresso from the local Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters. There’s also a selection of home-made cakes for those looking for a sweet-treat with their coffee. Seating is provided in a spacious adjacent unit, with more seating outside overlooking the pool in the Custard Factory’s central courtyard. Mostly serving the offices that call the Custard Factory home, Pop Up Digbeth’s opening hours reflect this with a closing time of 3.30 and very limited weekend opening.

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Boston Tea Party, Birmingham

The Boston Tea Party on the corner of Birmingham's Corporation Street.Here I am in Boston, Massachusetts, and so I thought to myself, what’s more appropriate than posting about The Boston Tea Party? Well, I’ll be the first to admit, it's probably not very appropriate at all, but it suits my sense of humour, so there you go.

Today’s Boston Tea Party is, to date, the most northerly Tea Party. Yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s the Birmingham branch, which has been going just over a year. As a chain, the Boston Tea Party has the commendable habit of taking iconic buildings and turning them into excellent cafés. In Birmingham, it’s done it again and, what’s more, I think it’s surpassed itself this time with its most handsome branch so far. It’s also got the largest single-floor area of all the branches I’ve visited.

Being a Boston Tea Party, there’s the usual Tea Party offering, including a full range of food (with the all-important all-day breakfast menu), extensive cake selection and coffee from Bristol roasters, Extract, with espresso-based drinks and single-origin on the bulk filter. It also pulls off the usual Tea Party trick of simultaneously being a Boston Tea Party and yet being very much its own place.

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A black circle, with a clear dining room chair in the centre. "Cafephilia" is written at the top of the circle and "Moseley" is written at the bottom.Back in 2013, while the likes of 6/8 Kafé and the original Yorks Bakery Cafe were ploughing a relatively lonely furrow in the centre of Birmingham, out in Moseley, a short bus ride south of the city centre, Cafephilia first opened its doors. Very much a neighbourhood place, Cafephilia is rooted in the local community, providing good coffee, tea and food well into the evening. It’s a cosy place, with a sun-drenched front, particularly in the afternoon, and a more restrained seating area at the back, with subdued lighting and a very comfortable sofa. Like Thursday’s Coffee Spot, Forloren Espresso, Cafephilia is another L-shaped café.

The coffee is from Staffordshire’s finest, Has Bean, while the tea comes Joe’s Tea in London. Cafephilia’s uses the ubiquitous Jailbreak blend, with a fairly standard, espresso-based menu. Those looking for piccolos and pour-overs will be disappointed. There’s bread, from the local No. Thirteen Craft Bakers, which is available to buy and which also forms the basis of Cafephilia’s food menu. This includes toast, toast with various toppings, croissants and an extensive range of sandwiches, available on a choice of bread: white, focaccia and panini, and which can be had as is or toasted.

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Espresso Station, Moor Street Station

A classic espresso, made with the Monsoon Estates' seasonal blend, and served in a classic cup at the Espresso Station in Moor Street Station, Birmingham.The Espresso Station has been around for a while, since I can remember it from the early days of the Coffee Spot. These days it’s grown to a sizeable operation, providing coffee around the West Midlands. There are to two outlets in stations (Dorridge and Moor Street), two in sports clubs (Aston Villa FC and Worcester Warriors Rugby) and two coffee shops (the Espresso Barn and Espresso Farm). Maybe one day we’ll see the Espresso Station at Edgbaston (hint, hint).

Today’s Coffee Spot is a two-for-the-price-of-one, with the Espresso Station at Birmingham’s Moor Street, where there’s a lovely station café on the main concourse and a smaller, mainly takeaway operation behind the ticket barriers by the platforms. Both serve a standard espresso-based menu using a seasonal espresso blend from nearby Monsoon Estates Coffee Company, along with limited breakfast and lunch menus, plus a selection of cakes, pastries and sandwiches.

Obviously, the café, with a small amount of indoor seating, plus some “outdoor” tables, sheltered under the soaring glass roof of the station concourse, is the more accessible of the two, since you don’t need to buy a train ticket to visit it, so that’s the focus of today’s Coffee Spot.

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Some lovely latte-art in a classic, light green cup at Birmingham's FacultyFaculty is an old hand in Birmingham’s booming speciality coffee scene. Set up in early 2014 by the previous owners of Saint Caffe (now Saint Kitchen), it's one of the city's pioneers. Located at the southern end of the beautiful Piccadilly Arcade, it’s right outside the New Street entrance of Birmingham’s New Street Station, literally just around the corner from Yorks Café & Coffee Roasters and a few minutes’ walk from the likes of Tilt and 200 Degrees.

It’s so close to the station that you can rush out, get a takeaway coffee and be back in time to make your connection if you’re changing trains. I should know: I've done it often enough! However, it would be a shame if you couldn't stay since it occupies a lovely space, sharing with Sixteen Kitchen, which serves breakfast, lunch and sandwiches on the left-hand side.

Faculty itself is a true multi-roaster, offering two options on espresso, two more on V60, plus a decaf option. If you don’t like the roaster/options, come back next week and the chances are they will have changed. There are cakes from Sixteen Kitchen, while you’re free to sit in either section and mix-and-match drinks and food.

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Java Lounge, Colmore Row

My flat white, served in a classic black cup at Java Lounge on Colmore Row, Birmingham.Java Lounge is a name with history when it comes to coffee in Birmingham, first opening in Moseley in 2005. For a long time, it was just a local institution, but in 2015, the second Java Lounge opened, right in the heart of the city on Colmore Row. Now there are four branches and a rebrand in the offing (with a name change to Java Roastery to reflect its new focus). I first became aware of Java Lounge when I met with Akram, the owner, at last year’s Birmingham Coffee Festival, catching up with Akram and the team at this year’s festival. It was, I thought, high time I paid Java Lounge a visit.

The Colmore Row branch occupies a beautiful, high-ceilinged space with a main room at the front with more seating in a smaller room at the back. Alternatively, you can sit outside where there’s a small row of tables on the relatively quiet street. The coffee is all roasted in-house with a pair of seasonal espresso blends and a single-origin on pour-over through the V60 (for one) and Chemex (for two). If you’re hungry, there are breakfast and lunch menus, plus a selection of sandwiches and cakes.

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A Kopi Tubruk, a traditional Indonesian coffee, where hot water is poured directly on ground coffee, stirred and then left to stand, made with a naturally-processed Kerinci Kayu Aro from Ngopi in Birmingham.I came across Ngopi, which opened on 9th July last year, at this year’s Birmingham Coffee Festival. Birmingham is already blessed with some outstanding coffee shops and roasters, but what makes Ngopi stand out from the crowd is that it deals exclusively in coffee from Indonesia. What’s more, all the coffee is roasted on-site in a small 1 kg roaster that sits proudly in the window. The shop itself is lovely, a simple, bright, uncluttered space which is the perfect place to showcase the coffee.

Talking of which, Ngopi, which only roasts single-origins, typically has six different beans in stock at any one time, all of which are available to buy in retail bags. One of these is on espresso, the specific bean changing roughly once a week, plus Ngopi has three different options on pour-over through the V60. This is all backed up by a range of traditional Indonesian coffee drinks, most of which involved condensed milk or ice (and often both) and use their own specific bean.

If you are hungry, there’s an all-day menu, featuring breakfast, lunch and sweet items from Indonesia. If you want something more western, there’s a selection of cakes from old friends, Cakesmiths.

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Quarter Horse Coffee, Birmingham

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 opened its Birmingham café/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.

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Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters

The Giesen roaster at Quarter Horse, Birmingham.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!

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Saint Kitchen

A beautiful piccolo from Saint Kitchen, using Extract Coffee, made in an espresso cup with an over-sized saucer.Birmingham’s city centre has a very compact coffee scene, with the likes of Yorks Cafe & Coffee Roasters, Yorks Espresso Bar, 200 Degrees, SHOTS Espresso Bar and Tilt all within a few minutes’ walk of each other. Saint Kitchen falls into this category, forming the cluster’s north-western outpost at St Paul’s Square.

Those with a long memory may recall Saint Kitchen as Saint Caffé, which it was until the start of 2014. That’s when new owner, Will, a chef, took over (the previous owners going on to found Faculty). His mission was to combine Saint Caffé’s already excellent coffee with equally great food. The good news is that, with the help of head-barista Liam, he has succeeded.

I visited twice, once in February, soon after the re-opening, and again in early August, to see how things had evolved. The coffee is from Bristol’s Extract, with the usual espresso-based range being supplemented on my return by pour-over (V60 or Aeropress). There’s also an extensive loose-leaf tea range and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate. The food was largely unchanged, with all-day breakfast, lunch and cake on the menu.

The biggest change was in the layout, with the seating reorganised to accommodate a new deli bar.

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The Steam Room

An espresso in a classic blue cup at The Steam Room in Harborne, Birmingham.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.

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The Tilt A-board, proudly displaying Tilt's credentials: craft beer, speciality coffee, loose-leaf tea and pinball. Naturally.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.

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Wayland's Yard, Birmingham

The A-board outside the Birmingham branch of Wayland's Yard promised proper coffee and proper food.In an industry where small, independent coffee shops seem to be the order of the day, Birmingham has always had (in my opinion, at least) more than its fair share of large shops, serving excellent food to go along with the coffee, with the likes of the original Yorks Bakery Cafe and the Boston Tea Party leading the way. The latest entrant to throw its hat into this particular ring is Wayland’s Yard, which opened in March 2018. Starting life last year in Worcester, the Birmingham branch on Bull Street is the second one, although I suspect there will be more in due course.

What you get for your money is a large, long, open space, the size of say, the Birmingham 200 Degrees. There’s a front section with limited seating, and a grab-and-go chiller cabinet, while at the back is an even large main seating area with plenty of tables. The coffee is from Herefordshire’s Method Roastery, with a bespoke house-blend and single-origin on espresso and two more on pour-over through the V60. Just as important is the food, with a full breakfast/brunch menu that gives the likes of Yorks Café and Coffee Roasters a run for its money.

July 2020: Wayland's Yard has reopened after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. You can see what I made of it when I visited at the end of August.

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Yorks Café & Coffee Roasters

Detail of the Yorks sign from above the door at Yorks Bakery Cafe, Stephenson Street.Yorks is a chain of three Birmingham cafés which started with Yorks Bakery Café on Newhall Street. This was joined by Yorks Espresso Bar on Colmore Row, while there's now a third at the Ikon Gallery. However, the original on Newhall Street closed when the building underwent a major refurbishment, the mantle of Yorks Bakery Café passing to the subject of today's Coffee Spot, Yorks’ Stephenson Street branch.

These days, Stephenson Street is Yorks’ flagship branch. Not long after it opened, Yorks expanded into the adjacent unit, adding additional seating at the back and more in a lovely basement, which effectively tripled the available space. Best of all, there was rooom at the back for a roaster, Yorks making the transition to Yorks Café & Coffee Roasters.

These days Yorks roasts all its own coffee, serving a seasonal single-origin espresso, plus a rotating single-origin filter on bulk-brew, with all the beans available to buy. Just as much of a draw is the food, with awesome breakfast, lunch and evening menus, plus a tasty selection of cake. You can sit in the original, wedge-shaped area at the front, in the new seating at the back, or downstairs in the spacious basement.

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Yorks Coffee Roasters

Detail from the front of the packaging of one of the bags of Yorks Coffee Roasters coffee.The subject of today’s Meet the Roaster has a long history. I visited the original Yorks Bakery Café on Newhall Street during my first trip to Birmingham exactly four years ago today, when I met a knowledgeable, engaging young barista called Richard. Since then Yorks has expanded, both in size and ambition. First came the new Yorks Espresso Bar at the Colmore Row end of the Great Western Arcade. Then, at the end of 2015, Newhall Street closed, the site undergoing a major redevelopment, with Yorks moving the Bakery Café to new premises on Stephenson Street, next to Birmingham New Street Station. Now there’s a third Yorks, with a new branch at the Ikon Gallery.

However, that’s not the half of it. Soon after moving into Stephenson Street, Yorks acquired the adjacent unit, effectively tripling its size. While it was still a building site, I was given a behind-the-scenes tour by a very excited Richard, who pointed out a small, awkward area at the back, cut-off from the rest of the space by stairs giving access to the basement. That, he told me, was where the new Probat was going. Yorks, it seemed, was going to become a coffee roaster…

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Sutton Coldfield

While technically not Birmingham, the Coffee Spots of Sutton Coldfield are too good to leave out of this list…

Under Pressure Espresso

A wizard is shown underneath a large coffee cup. This is surrounded by lightning and is being filled by a stream of coffee from above.Sutton Coldfield, to the northeast of Birmingham, on the way to Lichfield, is, like Beeston (west of Nottingham), not one of those places which immediately springs to mind when I think of speciality coffee. However, I’d been hearing consistently good things from my Birmingham friends about Under Pressure Espresso (although I keep getting it confused with Reading’s Coffee Under Pressure…) so I thought it was about time I visited…

Sandwiched between an insurance agent and a large, generic bar/lounge, Under Pressure Espresso is bigger than it looks, going a long way back from its small street-front. That said, it’s still quite small, with space for about 25 people if everyone squeezes up.

The coffee is usually from London’s Workshop, but sometimes the owner, Matt, rings the changes with other roasters getting a look-in. There’s a single choice on espresso and another on filter, Under Pressure Espresso taking the unusual route of using the Clever Dripper. Regardless of roaster, the coffee changes on a regular basis, usually when Matt tires of the current offerings. There’s a selection of loose-leaf teas and, if you want something with your coffee, there’s some excellent cake, either home-baked by Matt/Matt's wife or from Lil's Parlour.

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