Sipping My Way Through Manchester’s Coffee Hotspots
Grindsmith Espresso and Brew Bar
The green book should be more stained with coffee that it actually is, flicking through I came across a page with “Pod” scrawled across. Being convinced that my memory worsens on a daily basis, it took a few minutes to realise what this meant. The only place resembling a pod has its own stage lit up by the showering fountains. Grindsmith located on Greengate Square could be an easy one to miss, the sense of intrigue that the little wooden pod provides is an ample reward for curious coffee wanderers like myself. Walking in the feeling was that I had fallen into a trinket lover’s dream, with vintage grinders and brewing equipment glistening and twinkling at me from around the drinking space.
A small drinks menu is offered but rest assured, you’ll find something you like. Inside the air is laced with freshly ground coffee, almost resembling the expertise of the barista himself. The fact that you’re sitting on cushion crowned crates was something I felt that suited the eclectic decor, the expected stools or chairs wouldn’t suit the tree house hideaway kind tone that this place has. Being that my usual’s consist of dinky Flat Whites and equally dinky Cappuccinos I decided that a heaped spoonful of sugar wouldn’t cut it today, so went for a Mocha (£2.70). I wasn’t disappointed. It was rich enough to know that I was drinking a more sophisticated form of a childhood favourite but not so that the coffee itself was lost within the chocolaty depths. The care and skill of the barista meant that my Mocha also came with a delicately crafted milky badge, making it almost too pretty to drink. But as my caffeine levels were running on almost empty, it gained momentary appreciation until I swigged my first chocolaty gulp. My temptations were tested when it came to paying, with knobbly pencil like biscotti and fat bumpy flapjacks daring me to shove one of each of them into a bag and scoff in secret, but I resisted…until next time.
Whilst gazing out over the glistening fountains, taking time out in the coffee pod allowed me to learn two lessons. One being that the brains of Pigeons are too small to consider avoiding the spout of the fountain and that as the place is so small, the barista can definitely see my slavering at the sight of the cake, so next time bring sunglasses so my eyes can be seduced in secret. I felt the cocoa levels had successfully been satisfied. Needless to say, I did consider grabbing a Flat White to take out after my Mocha, but wondered if I would be passing the caffeine obsessive line with this one?
FEDERAL CAFÉ AND BAR
The majority of my trips to Manchester are based on Coffee drinking, my bank card wishes I was joking but my sweet tooth knows I’m not. So, news on a new place I haven’t visited means there is no time for chattering, I smell new coffee. Prospects of new coffee ventures cause my bones to tingle with anticipation, imagine the face of Macaulay Culkin on the Home Alone DVD? Yeah, that’s me.
The Northern Quarter conjures up mixed emotions. Some days wandering through, I enjoy gazing in childlike amazement at the skateboarders rumbling down the centre of the road, seemingly paying no regard to the pedestrians take the pavement rule. Would they technically be pedestrians with 4 tiny wheels? Probably not. Or making mental fashion notes on passers-by, on how to best wear your scruffy converse, but being entirely sure I will forget to make the note once I’m round the next corner. The thought is always there. But it never fails me whenever the coffee urge tightens, causing my pace to quicken and dash for a favourite coffee spot, the Northern Quarter always soothes the urge.
The newly established Federal Café and Bar, found at the back of the Blue Pig Restaurant on High Street is a sweet lover’s dream. Serving up trays of freshly baked Espresso Brownies and stick to your teeth crunchy Anzac Cookies. Both seem as retro as the décor, with suits what you would expect from the Northern Quarter. A thought did pass about ordering a Brownie and a Flat White but I felt like I needed more than an hours sleep. So the thought came and went, almost as swiftly as I entered. The décor closely resembles New York City style diners, with plush yellow seating framing most of the back wall, and vintage food cans being reinvented into nifty little cutlery holders. Who knew a tin can could look so pretty? With bare brick walls and rustic wooden tables, full of huddled city goers snatching away time to allow the Australian inspired Federal to work its magic. The atmosphere felt dulled and intimate, allowing the chance to indulge in some solitary coffee drinking if needed. As my intentions were to come for breakfast, although such noble thoughts were almost ruined once I had seen the brownies at the bar, but that much cocoa before noon didn’t seem excusable on a Sunday. I decided on the Toasted Muesli with Vanilla Yogurt, Poppy Seeds and Berry Compote (£4), and a Cappuccino (£2.70) I felt ordering the Muesli allowed me to have a brownie to take out, I just had to resist cramming 2 into the tiny brown box later. The Muesli came with a pixie sized pint of milk, which was quickly sloshed over the berries and yogurt. I probably shouldn’t admit that with every mouthful I ate, I knew I was closer to my brownie reward, but the yogurt and berries were plump and delicately sweetened with lemon and vanilla. The Cappuccino came under a blanket of dusted cocoa, and was perfect from the silky frothed milk to the punchy caffeine. Having become a frequent visitor, if like me, you’re looking for somewhere to pass time with your steaming cup of choice caffeine, this is your place. The window seating allows your thoughts to float away and gaze at the pedestrian dimpled streets, while your senses will be dancing under a blanket of caffeine.
There are days when the weather proves draining and the world puts you in a funk. The endless stretch of grey mottled skies showing no promise of improvement or when last piece of brownie you were daydreaming about has been polished off by the dog. Days like this are only soothed by one thing. Coffee. Perhaps some cake too?
Sometimes I exist within a state of limbo, do I want to browse the shops or indulge my seemingly constant cravings and give into good coffee? With Café Oklahoma I get both.
Situated on High Street in the Northern Quarter, as you pass a giant penguin at the door and enter inside, you find yourself in a vibrant hideout. Lovingly crammed with everything from trinkets and fortune-telling fish to Chinese tea sets and a giant Bourbon cushion. Its spit between one half shop and the other café, perfect for ending that state of limbo. The café is focused around an open kitchen, the wacky chairs and mismatched plates are reminiscent of a mad hatter’s tea party, (you could probably find a suitable hat nestled away in the shop if you really want to enter into the quirky spirt of the place).
It’s always busy, with people circling for any available seats. The crowd is young and creative, either reading with their choice of caffeine or browsing the shelves in search of that little something different. The dulled music and relaxed chatter makes this place constantly inviting where hours can be lost amongst colour and moist cake. They offer homemade soups and sandwiches that change daily, most of the food offered is vegetarian with the bean wraps being particularly good, (£4.00). The only downside being you’re usually left too full to consider cake, but thankfully you can takeaway anything you fancy, all hope is not lost.
They offer Fairtrade coffee and organic tea. This is one of the few places I’ve found in the Northern Quarter that offer pixie coffees as I call them, their Cortados are excellent (£2.00). Served in a glass that is initially thought to be far too small to top up the caffeine levels, the milk is delicately frothed as you can tell from the gently bubbling milky lily pad on top. The coffee itself has depth, just what you would expect such a drink. It should come with a warning ‘You will want other one after finishing…but please resist’, I have been there and learnt that being awake in the early hours of the next morning still pondering the significance of the penguin at the door is why I should have resisted greed and stuck to the 1.
I’m undecided on whether it’s the biscuit shaped cushions, the dangerously addictive cortados or the character of the café that keeps drawing me back, or even if it’s that welcoming penguin. Either way, this is one to add to your list.