03 August 2016

The Manchester Caffeine Chronicles

To my embarrassment, I can count the number of times I've visited the north of England on one hand — my recent visit to Manchester for a conference made took my tally up to five, and the other four trips took place in the 1990s. I have always blamed the exorbitant UK train fares — for £70, I could take a train to Manchester or fly to Copenhagen, and the exotic (or, at least, international) option has always won out. I was only in Manchester for two days, most of which was spent in a conference centre, but the city soon won me over, so much so that I'm already stalking the Virgin Trains website waiting for their next sale. And, of course, I found a little time to hunt out some speciality coffee.

In fact, I had less than an hour of free time in total but I used it wisely and managed to visit two coffee shops. I had hoped to go to a third, but Pavé closed earlier than I was expecting and when I checked my train ticket and realised that I was on the 17:15 and not the 17:55, I knew I wouldn't have time to go to one of the cafés I'd earmarked in the vicinity of Manchester Piccadilly station.

I was pleased to discover that one of the nicest-looking coffee shops in the city was also the closest to the conference centre. Grindsmith is a cool and beautifully designed coffee shop on the busy and bustling Deansgate. The café itself has lovely red-brick walls with plenty of comfortable seating (there's also a co-working space in the back).

Grindsmith serves a range of hand-brewed filter coffee options, and I really fancied a siphon brew, but I was in a rush, so I opted for a piccolo instead. My coffee tasted great: it was smooth, rich and strong. I had hoped to sneak away from the conference to try one of the filter options later on but I was doomed to the mediocre coffee of the press room, instead.

As well as great attention to detail to the coffee-making process, the Grindsmith team have put a lot of thought into design. The white saucer with its gold Grindsmith logo coordinated perfectly with the accompanying teaspoon (some of the prettiest barware I've seen in a coffee shop) and with the bags of the house espresso blend that are for sale. Even the espresso machine coordinates! The staff were also incredibly nice and friendly and I only wish I could have spent more time at Grindsmith.

Grindsmith is located at 231-233 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 4EN. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Pot Kettle Black
After I left the conference, I needed more coffee for the long train journey back to London and I headed straight to Pot Kettle Black, drawn, in part, by its great name. The café occupies a large, bright space in a Victorian shopping arcade.

There are several large, wooden-topped tables in the centre of the café, long benches by the floor-to-ceiling windows and stools upholstered with old coffee sacks. The centrepiece, though, is the gorgeous white-tiled coffee bar, which houses the espresso machine, brew bar and a coffee menu so complex it requires three boards.

As I knew it might be my last coffee shop of the trip, I ordered both a piccolo (£2.50) and an Aeropress (£3.50). I asked for the guest espresso for my piccolo, which was a Kenyan Ndimaini Peaberry from local roaster Heart and Graft. The guest filters were all from Workshop and I asked the barista for a recommendation for the Aeropress and she suggested I try the Kenyan Gachatha. Just like at Grindsmith, the baristas were really lovely and helpful.

I took a seat at one of the high tables and awaited my coffee. The piccolo arrived first: it came served on tiny metal tray with a glass of water and, to my delight, a chocolate wafer straw. The piccolo was really excellent with some of the subtler notes of the coffee coming through very clearly. I had just finished when along came my Aeropress in a red Acme cup and an accompanying wafer. Unfortunately, this was the moment when I realised my train error and I had to drink the coffee while it was still rather hot, but it still tasted great. If I'd known, I might have ordered a cold brew or one of the other cold coffee drinks they serve — the Wilson (espresso over coconut water) sounded like an interesting variant on the espresso tonic theme.

I just had time to snap a few photos of the rather grand arcade before heading sharpish to the station. PKB is such a lovely place that I could quite happily have spent an afternoon there working my way through the menu. Something else to add to my list of things to do in Manchester when I have more free time!

Pot Kettle Black is located at Unit 14, Barton Arcade, Deansgate, Manchester, M3 2BW. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

If you are looking for suggestions of other good places to get coffee in Manchester, Brian of Brian's Coffee spot has an excellent and comprehensive guide. You can also pick up a copy of the Northern Independent Coffee Guide, which I flicked through at Grindsmith and which highlights 140 coffee shops in the north of England.


  1. Hi Bex,

    Glad you finally discovered Manchester ;-). Shame you couldn't make it to Pave, it's a lovely spot. I see PKB has extensively remodelled its counter since I was last there. Obviously I need to go back :-)

    Will we see you at Cup North in November (5th/6th)? It's great fun and another excuse to explore Manchester...

    One more thing. If you book fare enough in advance, the train fares aren't too bad. Alternatively, if you don't mind spending longer on the train, you can break your journey in Birmingham (lots of coffee, but slower) or Crewe (no coffee, but quicker) and do the return trip for about £30 (you have to buy advanced singles for each leg of the journey).

    Have fun!

    1. Thanks, Brian, and yes, I really didn't have a very good excuse for not visiting before. Thanks too for the train hacks! I am tempted by Cup North, although the timing is always problematic as my parents, two good friends and I all have birthdays in the first half of November so I'm likely to be otherwise engaged.