System Addict: Why the North West loves the black stuff

Kate Feld

We’re in the caffeine-hyped grips of a nationwide coffee craze – and the North West boasts some of the best cafes, coffee shops and roasteries.

When I first moved to England’s North West a decade ago, the best a coffee drinker could hope for in cafes and restaurants was a watery Americano. You had to specify “filter coffee” when ordering or you’d end up with a cup full of those weird-tasting granules. Sadly – and I know this is hard to believe – that was coffee to most people. But praise be, Britain has woken up to the power and the glory of the bean. There have always been those who preferred the jittery dark stuff to tea, but now it seems like everyone’s drinking it: walking down the street sucking on sugared-up, cream-topped iced coffee beverages that may not, actually, contain much coffee; cupping their hands around milky lattes churned out in industrial size vats at chain coffee shops; or queuing at the bar for their morning skinny decaf cap (the drink known among baristas as a “why bother”). And they’re drinking it at home, too. Roast and ground coffee was the fastest-growing single area for British supermarkets in 2013, worth a toasty £220 million. We are becoming a nation of coffee consumers.

“People are more interested in the traceability of the coffee, its background and history,” says Stuart Bromley, who set up artisan roastery ManCoCo in the railway arches off Deansgate in Manchester a few months ago, and is selling his beans at places like Eighth Day and the Castlefield Artisan Market. And their tastes are changing, he says. “People who may be used to the very dark roasted coffee you get in chain coffee houses, where you really just taste the roast, are always surprised at the unique flavours of single origin coffees.” At his roastery you can sample several varieties of single origin coffees at tasting sessions, something that would have been practically unheard of even ten years ago.

Praise be! Britain has woken up to the power and the glory of the bean

The cafes, roasteries and coffee shops that have sprung up to cater to these caffeinated connoisseurs know their beans. In Manchester, recent arrival Caffeine and Co. serves coffee from much-loved artisan roasters Square Mile in London. Northern Quarter mainstay North Tea Power’s name may suggest an allegiance to the leafy stuff, but they make what is arguably the best flat white in town. There you’ll find a hand-picked, changing selection of beans from artisan roasters like Has Bean and Square Mile, and are one of the few places in the country you can try six-hour cold brewed coffee, a specialist preparation method that’s all the rage in the States. Just down the road at new coffee house/design shop Fig and Sparrow, proprietors Jan Dixon and Emily Dixon say getting the coffee right was one of the most important parts of setting up their business; they use beans from Ringtons and continue to experiment. One freezer is lined with glass jars pre-filled with reusable ice, in which espresso shots are shaken to rapidly cool the beverage for iced coffees; the resulting made-to-order drink maintains quality and flavour without diluting the freshly-extracted espresso.

In Liverpool, the folks behind funky independent Bold Street Coffee have an undiluted passion for coffee and a love for espresso verging on mania; their artisan café and espresso bar is consistently named the best place to grab a cup of joe in the city. Coffee is clearly a big selling point in the catering industry of 2013; Liverpool newcomer Moose Coffee serves java made from its own bespoke blend of beans and also sell bags to take home (it’s also about to open a new outlet in Manchester, near the Town Hall). Even out in the ‘burbs you’re likely to find good coffee these days, as Coffee Fix in Gatley and Roma in Whitefield capably demonstrate.

And the freshness of those coffee beans is paramount; beans that are roasted and then sit around for a while lose much of their mojo. For the most freshly roasted beans, buy direct from Northwest roasteries. In addition to the aforementioned ManCoCo there’s Lancaster coffee powerhouse J. Atkinson & Co (which also runs the marvellous Music Room café there), Leigh Roastery Tank Coffee, and Roberts & Co., a roaster and café in Mawdesley that has been in the coffee trade since 1891;  all have devoted followings. Really, surrounded by so much good coffee, there’s no excuse to settle for a less-than-amazing cup. But with all these caffeinated delights washing around the north, how does one get a decent night’s sleep? Well, that’s your problem.

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