Over the past few years, coffee has transformed from a need into an art form. Baristas go through complicated rituals to brew the perfect mug, and can spend hours comparing “tulips” (those flower shapes you’ll find complicating the frothy top of the coffee).
So next time you see an especially elaborate one, note the look of pride on the barista’s face – it sometimes makes me wonder whether watching someone knock one back is actually painful.
In the end, however, the very best coffee shops are those that balance attention (or obsession) with a laid-back, welcoming atmosphere. Stop here, they say. We got all the time – and plug sockets – in the world.
These are our top ten to try in Manchester.
This great haven for a cup of the good stuff seems to have stayed firmly under the radar – despite having been open since August 2014. Hidden away on the top floor of Paperchase, Tinderbox is sweetly kitted out with a mishmash of chairs spread around an open-sided Wendy House. It serves sandwiches, soft drinks and smoothies, a lengthy list of coffees (including iced) and a wonderful array of Italian sweets, all laid out in a cake counter. Insider’s tip: there are loos, but behind an unmarked door – just ask.
This is one of your more unusual spots for coffee: after a successful fundraising campaign, a little wooden eco pod was knocked up in Greengate Square, within five minutes walk from Manchester Cathedral. Grindsmith may be small (seating a maximum of eight people), but it is mighty, serving bespoke coffees made from locally and regionally sourced beans. Look out for the new unit in the Great Northern Warehouse, too.
Greengate Square, Victoria Bridge Street, M3 5AS – grindsmith.com
North Tea Power
Now to a semi-legendary name on Manchester’s coffee scene: North Tea Power in the Northern Quarter has long been hailed as crafting the best coffee in the land, and with good reason. Each cup is made with extreme care, and you’ll often find the staff going the extra mile in other ways, too (like offering to dust cinnamon on the apple you bought as a snack). It’s warm and buzzing inside, with tables out front for when the weather manages to be civil. A Manchester classic.
G22 Smithfield, 36 Tib Street, M4 1LA – northteapower.co.uk
If you’re looking for somewhere to hole up for a few hours, this Icelandic coffee bar is perfect. There’s an abundance of plug sockets in between the school room-style desk-tables, a super serene atmosphere, and low-key music, too. There’s a good food menu for when you get peckish and, if you forget to bring a book, there’s even a small library at the back.
6 Tariff Street, Northern Quarter, M1 2FF – twitter.com/takk
Fig & Sparrow
There’s something special about Fig & Sparrow, a small but glowing homeware shop with a café at the back. Browse elegantly stocked shelves before you have your caffeine hit, or take a perch along the front window and settle in for some people-watching on Oldham Street. There’s a small menu on offer alongside coffee supplied by London’s Climpson & Sons, plus a rotating brew bar menu of single origin coffee from a variety of roasters, including Denmark’s The Coffee Collective, Glasgow’s Dear Green and Manchester’s own Ancoats Coffee. This place is all things refined – without seeming at all snobbish.
20 Oldham Street, Northern Quarter, M1 1JN, 0161 228 1843 – facebook.com/FigSparrow
Not the most polished of places, Eastern Bloc has gained its reputation for things other than its décor: things like tables in a sunny spot outside, and a highly respected record store. The seats inside might be eclectic, but the coffee is good – it’s a favourite with the folks who run the Incognito gift shop, next door.
5A Stevenson Square, M1 1DN, 0161 228 6555 – easternblocrecords.com
Caffeine & Co
About the size of a macchiato, Caffeine & Co isn’t the place for sustained sitting – or even standing. This is a grab ‘n’ go kinda place (though there is more seating outside for the summer), where you can pick up what they call a “third wave” coffee, where sweetness is extracted from each shot. Caffeine & Co is supplied by award-winning roasters and has its own bakery and kitchen to take care of the food. Small, but perfectly formed.
11 Saint James’s Square, M2 6WE, 07787 118578 – caffeineandco.com
Another café-gift shop combo, Oklahoma’s recent refit has it brightly bursting with products, while the café bit is equally jazzy – it’s a bit like being inside a kaleidoscope. Best thing about this place is that you can pick up a Tunnock’s teacake – or a lamp in the shape of a pineapple – with your artisan Cubano, Cortado or Americano. Ace.
74-76 High Street, M4 1ES, 0161 834 1136 – oklahomacafe.co.uk/cafe-menu
We had to include a cycling café on the list: Pop-up Bikes combines a bicycle repair workshop with a rough and ready coffee shop, all housed under a railway arch that seems to extend backwards… forever. Yes it smells just a bit of rubber, and yes the staff probably have oil as well as coffee in their blood, but they’re also beyond friendly, as well as being talented with an espresso machine. Better still, Pop-up Bikes is close to Angel Meadow, an highly historic patch of green space (rare, in Manchester).
Arch 5, Corporation Street, M4 4DG – popupbikes.co.uk/coffee-shop
Pot Kettle Black
Last but by no means least, Pot Kettle Black is a relatively recent addition to the Manchester coffee scene. The beautifully glass-ceilinged Barton’s Arcade is its home and red mugs are its trademark – filled with coffee made from carefully light to medium roasted beans. The talk here is of grind consistencies, extraction times and competing machinery. What we like, though, is that they serve a glass of water and those tube-wafer thingys on a little silver tray with every cup. It’s the little things.
Unit 14, Barton Arcade, Deansgate, M3 2BW – potkettleblackltd.co.uk
Do you have your own favourite Manchester coffee shop that’s not listed here? Tell us on Twitter @wow247manc
Main photo: North Tea Power
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