Nottingham Coffee Guide28 Jul 2016
Although we are very much focussed on London, we thought it would be fun to share our explorations of the coffee scenes of other UK cities. Nottingham is only an hour so from London so we sent Aaron Towlson (a native of that city) to check out the Nottingham coffee scene...
By the time I turned 18, Nottingham was a city I was desperate to leave. The city has always gently encouraged a counter-culture but in the past may have lacked the necessary spaces and scenes to keep a hold on the alternative talent it nurtured. The seeming explosion of a strong coffee scene is perhaps as deeply surprising as it is welcome to a city on the rise. Here are a few of the players letting the world know that when it comes to the UK scene, it’s not all about London.
The level of coffee knowledge here is staggering, and I witnessed some kit in action that I’ve never even seen in London. Baristas are moving to Nottingham so that they can afford to live in a decent flat while working in coffee. Service levels were excellent, with sincerely friendly service producing regulars in each shop. Overall, it made me realise how jaded the London coffee community has become.
Following the new tramlines from the train station takes you to the Nottingham Contemporary art gallery, a flagship of intent for the city’s new cultural identity. After contemplating internationally renowned art for free, head down to Low Pavement to find a new entrant to the city centre coffee scene. Cartwheel cafe and roastery sits in a grade II listed building, which, while making for a less than expedient fit out according to owners Alex and Becky, does make for a grand building front. The interior feels clean and relaxed, tiled white walls with a grey and warmly yellow colour scheme are comfortable, with plenty of wooden ornamental shelving reminding me a little of Curators Coffee in London. The coffee kit is exceptional - an EK43 serves all espresso-based drinks, with the added feature of an on-demand double dosing chamber sat atop. The staff cater well to the exploratory customers who wander in for a sit down and are more than primed to chat coffee minutiae at the slightest prompting to those in search of knowledge as well as respite. Drinks-wise, all bases are covered, from a choice of beans through V60, syphon and espresso to a range of specialty Postcard teas, smoothies and juices. Coffee is roasted very much in-house, with the roaster out in the open next to the bar. Alex sources whatever beans take his fancy from a variety of green bean buyers and clearly has the experience to nose out the quality offerings - the ribena-esque flavours I tasted from the Kenyan AA V60 sang with clarity. A downstairs kitchen harbours an array of tasty offerings to keep the diet-conscious, vegans and those in want of a ham sambo equally satisfied. My superfood salad of quinoa and kale with its subtly simmering dressing was filling and full of good feels. The level of enthusiasm from baristas Josh and Frank was great to witness, leaving me with no doubt Nottingham will soon produce a competition winner.
16 Low Pavement, NG1 7DL
Long before the Contemporary opened, Hockley was the precipitator of the city’s eager counter culture, featuring the Broadway arthouse cinema and some decent thrift stores. Opposite the site of the once feared Old Angel boozer (now a microbrewery), Outpost coffee is the smallest shop on this list, with an ambition that stretches well beyond the close-quartered interior. The smallness is no bad thing, forcing an engaging atmosphere of intra-customer conversation, which is how I learned that the shop used to house a much-loved independent record store. I visited on their fifth day of trading, and, pushed by the Outpost app that all the customers had already downloaded, foot traffic didn’t cease. With switched on baristas pushing their coffee knowledge unto the eager customers, it was clear that specialty coffee would be a welcome feature in the area. The app features lunch offers for a coffee plus the varied savoury options, featuring health conscious salads, samosas and less healthy but delicious-looking cakes. Serving their own beans (from The Democratic Republic of Congo) on both espresso and batch brew (a complex coffee that I preferred on batch brew for a milder, sweeter cup), as well as offering house-made cold brew and manual filters, the menu also contains plenty to keep customers pointing and asking, such as locally sourced raw milk and a ‘T60’ looseleaf offering.
4 Stoney Street, NG1 1LG
The Specialty Coffee Shop
It’s worth walking up to the castle, dangling up on that promontory, for a panorama of this old midlands city and to take a picture with the statue of our Robin Hood. The Specialty Coffee Shop is found nearby, on the corner of busy Maid Marian Way and Friar Lane (look, Robin Hood means a lot to Nottingham), and offers a different feel than the other shops on the list. The space is bright but comfortable, with large windows and some plant-themed wallpaper giving an outdoor vibe. Staffed by owners Michelangelo and Lucy, the hospitality is decidedly open in its Italian-ness. Conversation never ceases. While enjoying getting to know their customers, there’s a gentle but determined agenda underway - the couple used to operate a coffee consultancy business in London, an experience which now shapes their passion to ease the locals’ transition to speciality coffee. Their inexpensive (£5) masterclasses and free monthly cupping sessions are proving to be popular. Stoking that enthusiasm clearly has customers returning to explore the rotating coffee menu (currently an El Salvador by Alchemy on house espresso), which they can enjoy alongside a strong range of toasties, a solid breakfast menu and homemade cakes and pastries, all prepped in the downstairs kitchen. On limited kit, Michelangelo is capable of extracting coffee to equal the more affluent competition - the Workshop Guatemala he made me on aeropress was juicy with a creamy mouthfeel and lingering melon acidity. Alternatively, some coveted Crusio teas are also available, alongside smoothies and juices. You could end up chatting for hours about anything and everything with these guys. And afterwards, take the edge off with a few bitters down in the Old Trip to Jerusalem, England’s oldest pub that’s carved out of the cave beneath the castle.
50 Friar Lane, NG1 6DQ
Step back on that tram and ride it 25 minutes from the train station to visit my old hometown of Beeston and the cafe I’m going to laud as the strongest of the lot. Greenhood is the passion project of Rory, who, like a few others I spoke to, earned his barista stripes at local coffee stop The Bean (after a stint in a Costa…) With a small staff consisting only of himself, partner Lauma and his mum, the in-house baker, Greenhood is a bold addition to the High Road of this Nottingham suburb. Another enviable kit selection comprises three (three!) Mythos Ones, one of which is reserved exclusively for decaf(!). Supremely dialled in espresso drips out of the beautiful, avionic Kees van der Westen Spirit that Rory can't stop polishing, gazing down on it like a prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino.
The coffee menu is mostly Has Bean based - a house blend featuring Tanzania and a rare natural Guatemalan was grapey, sweet and well balanced, and an unusual, earthy Indian single origin. Kenyan cold brew made in-house is served alongside pourover single origins, which could, if you ask, be made with beans ranging from La Cabra to Modern Standard. The large, light downstairs and airy upstairs seats the mix of regulars, from office-types to students looking for a place to read, with the interior featuring a combination of white minimalism and bamboo furnishings Rory has dubbed oriental-scandi. Featuring an extensive bagel menu and those awesome cakes, there’s plenty of opportunity to get the blood sugar high enough to tolerate all the coffee you’ll want to try.
38 High Rd, Beeston, Nottingham NG9 2JP
Just off Old Market Square, 200 Degrees is housed in an old Tudor building in the shadows of the monumental Council House. Customers having a sit down after an afternoon shop in town can enjoy some well-prepared sandwiches, salads and soups, while the expansive interior lends itself to students working towards caffeine fuelled deadlines as the resounding bells from the Council House count off the hours. While the coffee won’t be to the taste of those embracing lighter roasts, the espresso I had was well crafted on the Mythos One and Black Eagle setup. Featuring a barista school and with an arsenal of retail kit available, 200 Degrees has definitely been busy educating locals about the beans they covet. With a new site near the train station and branches opening up in Birmingham and elsewhere, 200 Degrees are big players in the developing Northern coffee powerhouse.
16 Flying Horse Walk, NG1 2HN
Wired, serving Allpress on espresso and chemex. And you can order a sausage butty! 42 Pelham Street.
The Pudding Pantry, serving Outpost and an array of awesome cakes and indulgent savoury options. 27 Trinity Square
The Bean, serving Cartwheel. A Beeston stalwart since 1998, run by Alex of Cartwheel’s mum and a notch on many of the city’s baristas career paths.1 Stoney Street, Beeston