Guest coffee blog: What Makes a Good Café?

coffee, Coffee

I am delighted to welcome Farooq from Ihya Magazine who goes back in time to discuss the history and characteristics behind what makes a great cafe.


The growth of independent coffee houses in Birmingham is a good sign that the city is developing as a cultural social hub. Creativity and cafes are synonymous with each other ever since coffee was first discovered both for its delicious taste and ability to keep one awake back in Yemen around the 15th Century, to the impact of coffeehouses upon the Enlightenment; something Steven Johnson explores in his book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation’. Since then coffee houses have evolved as a social lubricant and developed into the vibrant café culture we experience today. However it has taken some time for café culture to really take root in Birmingham as experienced in cities and countries who have centuries of café culture to speak of. Cities like Venice, Paris, Cairo, Istanbul and London have developed their own café culture identity over centuries, and in recent times countries like the US and Australia have also come to develop their own distinct café culture.

What distinguishes each of these places is their history of café culture and how they’ve come to influence the coffee experience, whether it is in the types of coffee made to the whole aesthetic and social experience. However we are now living in a time when we increasingly see cultural boundaries blur as people adopt from different cultures to either make it their own and create something new, or abandon their own café culture and adopt the dominant culture, thereby leaving their café culture indistinguishable.

This is a danger that faces many independent cafes in Birmingham. Style and the aesthetic experience is an important part of the coffee experience, however if the coffee is of a poor standard then it defeats the whole purpose of the café. Style over substance seems to be the scourge of our times and quality of product is often trumped by style. However when the aesthetic style and social experience of a café is built around the coffee then we have the foundations upon which to build a strong coffee culture.

Knowledge of coffee, as in everything, is essential to being the best. This is one reason why I find Java Lounge in Moseley, Birmingham so refreshing because the owner and its star barista really know coffee. What is particularly exciting is how they are actually coming to define a café culture that could not only come to define Birmingham but could also potentially come to define British café culture as a whole. As they draw upon their Yemeni roots from where coffee originated, they are aiming to fuse East and West café cultures together to create something quite unique. Consequently if you want to know what makes a good café, a good starting point is to speak with the owners of coffee independents, and if they exhibit the depth of knowledge and passion that can only be matched by delicious coffee then know you have found something truly special.

Farooq is a scientist, and writes a science blog on Scilogs and is editor of a blogzine called ihya that curates the cultural trends of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.





Birmingham Networks Big Christmas Party – Tonight at Glee Club (10/12/13 7pm)

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We are delighted to join the guys at Droplet Pay who had the bright idea of inviting all the city’s networks to one big Christmas party!

  • When? Tuesday, 10th December 7pm
  • Where? Glee Club
  • Who’s going? Check out all these networks!
  • Cost? FREE! Plus Special £5 curry deal …
  • Twitter: @hello_glue
  • Sign up here
Amongst those going …. 
Coffee Brum (Tim Wilson),
Birmingham Social Media Cafe (Karen Strunks),
Birmingham Young Institute of Directors (James Villarreal),
West Midlands Producers Forum (Pip Piper),
Film Forum West Midlands / Shooting People West Midlands,
Silicon Canal (Simon Jenner and the tech community in Birmingham),
TEDxBrum (Ian Harrison and Immy Kaur),
Entrepreneurs for the Future (Michelle Rayner),
WM Open Data Forum (Andrew Mackenzie and Chris Price),
BPS BhamFuture and BPS Bham Leaders (Alex Bishop/Suzie Branch/Nicola Fleet-Milne),
LINK (Richard Griffiths/Paul Varley/Jamie Partington),
Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) West Midlands
Colmore Curry Club (Rebecca Simkiss and Richard Guy)
Creative Alliance (Noel Dunne)
Mappa Mercia (OpenStreetMap community in the West Midlands) (Brian Prangle)

… and more!


The networks will support a small tab behind the bar (when it has gone its gone) and subsidising Balti in a Bowl should you want to eat. Now £5, down from £7.50, to help – it is Droplet’s way of saying thank you to Birmingham and everyone that have supported them.

We look forward to welcoming as many of you as possible to celebrate the year, and meet some new people that live, work and belong to other networks in Birmingham that you might not be aware of.

Thanks to David Roberts for the opportunity.




Guest Blog: A Parting Shot by Hayley Campbell-Gibbons

We are delighted to welcome Hayley Campbell-Gibbons, editor of Our Daily Cup, to guest blog for Coffee Birmingham and offer her insights and recommendations on the state of play of coffee in restaurants.


A Parting Shot by Hayley Campbell Gibbons

As a Brummie lass, born and bred, this great city will always hold a special place in my heart, but – as is true for most of those we hold dear – sometimes a bit of tough love is needed. So, it is with Birmingham’s best interests in mind that I have made the difficult decision to call in the caffeine police, because there are some serious coffee crimes going down.

Last month three of Birmingham’s restaurants featured in The Times’ top 100 eateries in Britain – something that a city once famed only for its balti should be proud of! But, what happens after the starters have been cleared, the mains are away and the dessert plates licked clean? We order a coffee of course. And that’s where it all falls down.

Chefs scour the country to unearth the finest ingredients known to man or beast, and sommeliers leave no stone unturned in their quest to seek out new world wines to tantalise the taste-buds. But, when it comes to the coffee – the culinary climax, if you like – there isn’t a barista to be found for love, nor money.

Instead you’re more likely to find a harassed waitress or browbeaten barman being let loose on a top grade espresso machine doing the best job they can, with little or no knowledge (save what they can recall from the machine engineer who came to plumb the thing in over a year ago). I’ll go out on a limb here and say that – in my experience – restaurant coffee is a load of tosh. If you look carefully, you may even see a little tear forming at the end of the steam wand as the machine quietly grieves for the life it should have had.

I want to make a plea – in fact, I’ll go the whole hog and start a campaign – for better restaurant coffee. My message to any eating establishment worth its salt is this: Coffee is part of the meal, so give it the same love and respect you would show to anything else on the menu. You have two choices:

1.     Ditch the espresso machine and focus on serving one type of coffee and serving it well.  Either perfect the art of French press (another method of brewing that is often done a disservice, but we’ll leave that for another time) or get to grips with Aeropress. This style of coffee will provide a fool proof and elegant end to any meal.


2.     If you’re reluctant to abandon espresso, pay a visit to one of the city’s inspiring independent coffee houses (Yorks, Saints, 6/8, Urban – take your pick!) and see how it’s done. Observe the skill, knowledge and attention to detail required to make good coffee, and then ask if they’d be willing to run a barista course for you and your staff. It will be an investment that your customers will thank you for.

So, restaurants of Birmingham, here’s a chance to make your parting shot one that leaves a lasting impression for all the right reasons, rather than a bitter taste in the mouth.

For more on Our Daily Cup, follow them on twitter.

What do you think? Tell us about your restaurant coffee experience – good and bad using the hashtag #restaurantcoffee. We’d love to hear more from you.