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Grindsmith discovered

Lauren Murphy finds coffee syphoning is addictive especially when it comes with some art

Published on March 3rd 2010.

Grindsmith discovered

Grindsmith is a peculiar meeting of art gallery and coffee bar in the Northern Quarter.

Grindsmith's intention is not to convert coffee lovers to the art of syphoning from traditional espresso methods, after all, they freely admit that “we really love espresso based coffees, we just don't do them”. Instead, it appears to be about providing their customers with an alternative experience they might not have tried before.

The tiny venue is the baby of Neil Greenhalgh and Ben Young and can be found nestled on Hilton Street. The easiest way to locate it is by looking for the quaint banner hanging delicately between the wall and the lamp-post which a friend has made for them in an attempt to attract custom.

The menu is candidly stencilled on the wall. The battered old school chairs were acquired from a French café.

Apart from a lick of grey paint, the rough cement floor has been left exactly as it was so as not to lose texture. There is a concoction of exposed brick, steelwork, cement and wood – all very urban.

On the Confidential visit there were four large canvases adorning the walls from an artist who likes to work big, Sean Penlington. These are for sale between £500 and a grand or so.

The unique selling point of Grindsmith for a Mancunian audience is summed up by the odd looking apparatus lined up along the pale blue bar (which also happens to house some classic books, free for perusal if they take your fancy). These are syphon coffee makers and look like a science experiment waiting to happen.

Coffee syphoning was a technique invented in Germany in the 1830s. Grindsmith are proud to be the only people in Britain (as far as they know) syphoning their coffee and serving it directly from the syphon coffee maker. The two gentlemen, Neil and Ben, who run the place claim that syphoning is the best way to taste and retain the complexity of single origin coffee, in other words a process by which to procure “a really good clean, full-bodied cup of coffee”.

The coffee variety presently used is La Linda from Columbia and comes via award-winning coffee company Square Mile in London. It's an arabica bean variety, the most sophisticated type. The Square Mile company describes La Linda as having 'a subtle, pleasant floral note along with a toasted almond aroma. In the cup there is a rich sweetness combining cocoa and cherry, turning to sweet melon as it cools.'

Fair enough. It's certainly clean to taste, with the caffeine up front, then subtle flavours behind and none of that bitter burnt chocolate aftertaste of say the Starbucks or Caffe Nero blends. It's a very refined coffee made more refined by the gentle process of syphoning. For some people who want a big caffeine whack across the head, the blend may be a little too subtle. Ben, the coffee expert amongst the owners, says, "We will be changing coffee varieties frequently, so we'll probably have a stronger Sumatran coffee next time. We'll also be doing coffee tasting sessions every two or three weeks. Still we end up wired every day from drinking La Linda."

Grindsmith's intention is not to convert coffee lovers to the art of syphoning from traditional espresso methods, after all, they freely admit that “we really love espresso based coffees, we just don't do them”. Instead, it appears to be about providing their customers with an alternative experience they might not have tried before.

There is also something very appealing about having your coffee expertly brewed before your eyes in an art that takes precision (the stopwatch is a crucial piece of kit, don't you know).

The boys are keen to have Grindsmith taken seriously as an art venue as well.

They currently have artists whose work they are displaying on a rota; the exhibitions will be changed on a monthly basis, consistently providing fresh inspiration. Neil and Ben want Grindsmith to be a space where art and coffee can be simultaneously enjoyed; you go to Grindsmith not to have a quick coffee or to look at a painting, but to take your time appreciating and contemplating both. The art is there to challenge the thoughts of the coffee drinker, not just to complement the wall space.

This is a sort of highbrow, sort of Left Bank, notion but you can't help love it.

Grindsmith is currently open from 8am-8pm. As for events, aside from the coffee tastings, it's hosting a knitting circle and organising art viewings; but for the future, they are toying with ideas such as poetry readings, artist seminars and even scrabble evenings.

Grindsmith has a website, Facebook and twitter page, so you can keep yourself informed as to any goings on; in the meantime, however, why not go down there and treat yourself to a syphon coffee, a slice of peanut butter toast or two, and, if you're in the market for it, a fine piece of original art.

6 Hilton Street, Manchester, M4 1NB
twitter @grindsmith
for arty stuff email neil@grindsmith.com
for coffee talk email ben@grindsmith.com

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13 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AgricolaMarch 4th 2010.

Is this an April Fools? Crazy notion. I'll be trying it out.

AnonymousMarch 5th 2010.

Typo? http://www.grindsmith.com

Also, "the art of syphoning from traditional espresso methods..", I had thought the history of espresso (machine) was younger than the syphoning?

EditorialMarch 5th 2010.

Thanks, changed.

Neil McCabeMarch 5th 2010.

Chanced upon this place one day last week. The coffee's very nice and the service is fine. I do worry about their chances of survival though. Would guess they need to start doing a lot more food if they're going to turn over a profit. Best of luck though and I'll certainly be back. Nice coffee mugs as well.

AnonymousMarch 5th 2010.

Dear Editor, I think you might have corrected only the text, but not the actual link?

Ian13143June 18th 2010.

NFMC you were exactly right about their chances of survival. It appeared to be derelict when I passed yesterday. Shame it only lasted 3 months.

I worry for that new tea shop next to simple as well.

Shaun HutchinsonJune 20th 2010.

Yes this place has gone. Too niche. When it opened I went in and asked for a cappuccino the guy looked at me like his mother had just crawled out of my mouth.
Not to sell cappuccino is ridicules the coffee tasted too harsh out of those Frankenstein contraptions, I'd rather have Gold Blend!
Anyway the new cupcake place opened nearby on Oldham Street you can get a nice cappuccino in their for £1.90 and a Jimmy Saville.

Scott NeilJune 20th 2010.

had the coffee once, was really good, fruity, subtle, which sounds like any old cup, but the aroma was lovely, a really nice taste. big shame but everyone fingering the lack of menu choice must be on to something?

round the cornerJune 21st 2010.

The rent on that unit is pretty high - I enquired once when I was thinking of setting up a business. Combined with ridiculous MCC business rates, you have to sell an awful lot of coffee to pay the bills let alone make a living.

It's a real shame that quirky businesses that make our city more interesting struggle to survive simply because they are not big earners. Compared to somewhere like Berlin, where rents are cheap and little niche shops/cafes/galleries are everywhere - we are missing out.

Scott NeilJune 21st 2010.

thanks Round The Corner, interesting insight there.
Mcr, city of the Free Trade Hall, and unfair trade.

NortherngeezerJune 21st 2010.

Hats off to anyone who even attempts to open up a retail business, the overheads must be horrendous before you can even consider taking out a wage!!!!

Scott NeilJune 21st 2010.

are Mcr business rates particularly expensive then? would anyone know? (i am no businessperson!) Round The Corner mentioned Berlin, i know that has a comparatively cheap rep, and has for years now (i hear it's getting more expensive of course, but still).

do the council just subsidise in Berlin? is it just our (very) free trade city is *that* red in tooth and claw?

Scott NeilJune 21st 2010.

also i suppose Berlin, coming off the back of re-unification etc, a very special case there, cheap land was to be expected tbf.

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