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MCR's Indie Coffee Culture Rising

Clare Wiley on the city's 'third wave' bean nerds saving your brew

Published on October 30th 2014.

MCR's Indie Coffee Culture Rising

Ahead of this weekend's CUP NORTH coffee event (1-2 Nov), Clare Wiley takes a look at the rise of independent coffee culture.


MANCHESTER is home to 49 Costa coffee shops.

“Undercooked coffee has a sharp taste, and overcooked is very dark and bitter. In between there’s this amazing sweet spot, that’s what we’re aiming for."

That’s good news if you’re into stale muffins, beige furniture and decaf soya skinny caramel lattes. But if you’re after a better cuppa, Manchester is now punching well above its weight when it comes to artisan coffee.

Independent cafés peddling great-tasting coffee are springing up right across the city.

Grindsmith (main image), Takk, Caffeine & Co. and Fig & Sparrow are just a few of the new kids on the scene, while North Tea Power and Coffee Fix in Gatley are seasoned pros.

This new breed of coffee (what coffee geeks call ‘third wave’, not to be confused with feminism) took off in places like Melbourne and Scandinavia. It uses single-origin beans, and new roasting and brewing techniques to create a taste that’s completely different to what you get at the chains.


Philip Hannaway opened Takk in January 2013. He says the taste is so different because most speciality coffee is given a lighter roast so all sorts of flavours come out, like fruit or chocolate.

“The chains want the same taste if you go into a Starbucks in Glasgow and one in London,” he tells me over a cappucino. “The only way to really do that is over-roast the beans, almost burning them, so all you get is bitterness.

"The independent shops here are all using lighter roasts so you get more flavour. You don’t get that if you roast a bean to within an inch of its life.”

Making this kind of coffee means mastering high-tech kit, pour-over brewing methods, and even something called latte art (yes, really). And that requires serious skills. Takk initially struggled to find fully trained baristas in Manchester so they invested in a training programme to plug the skills gap.

“We’ve also taken staff from Costa, who wanted to do more with their talent," says Hannaway. "They knew the basics, but wanted to come to a place where they take pride in every cup that goes out. It’s easy to open a coffee shop and serve bad coffee. But it’s hard to serve great coffee, you need passionate people with a skill set.”

TakkTakk, Tariff Street, Northern Quarter

Sure, the prices are slightly higher at places like Takk but they’ve put a great deal of time and effort into a high-quality cuppa. They’re also part of an emerging economy that’s supporting local businesses like roasters.

Ryan Hayes of Passion Fruit Coffee is a Manchester roaster who supplies Takk, Soup Kitchen, Grindsmith and Tea Hive in Chorlton:

“Undercooked coffee has a sharp taste, and overcooked is very dark and bitter. In between there’s this amazing sweet spot, that’s what we’re aiming for.

"The skill of roasting is that every bean changes so you can’t apply the same approach to the whole stock, they all need to be profiled and adjusted, tasted and trialled.”

That’s putting it mildly. I visit roaster Jamie Boland of Ancoats Coffee Company in a warehouse in the 'former wild west' of Ancoats. It’s clear that roasting is a hugely complicated, scientific process (graphs and charts are involved). Boland uses a massive Dutch roasting machine, trying out methods and timings, aiming for particular flavours depending on the bean.

He even has to account for Manchester’s fickle weather – too cold and the taste will change. The company’s ‘Warehouse City’ coffee is a nod to our city’s heritage, and uses seasonal beans so the blend changes throughout the year.

Ancoats Coffee Company RoasterAncoats Coffee Company Roaster

Boland wants to get good coffee into the city’s restaurants. “They focus so much on seasonality and local produce but rarely do they carry that through to coffee, and that’s the parting shot for a lot of their customers.”

Manchester’s indie coffee scene has taken off to such an extent that this autumn there’ll be a dedicated coffee event, Cup North promises to be a 'two day northern coffee party' in the Artwork building on Greengate.

“There’s a vibrant coffee culture up here,” says founder Hannah Davies. “London’s coffee scene is very influenced by Australians and Kiwis, so they’re all similar. The nice thing about northern shops is they’re all individual. I wanted to celebrate that.”

Four local roasters: ManCoCo, Passion Fruit, Ancoats and Coffee Circle – are working together on a special blend for Cup North. “That’s not been done anywhere else,” says Davies. “It demonstrates the close-knit community we’ve got here.”

Cup North | Sat 1 to Sun 2 November | Artwork Building | Greensgate | M3 7NG


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

AnonymousSeptember 24th 2014.

its was a coffee that carried him off but a toffee that carried him offie

AnonymousSeptember 24th 2014.

I'd love to do a blind taste test with coffee shop coffee. Not saying chain do the best coffee, just a bit annoying with this 'indie' assumption that all non-chain places are just naturally superior. Why should people in a chain put less care in every cup they make than indie staff. Wh should a multi-million pound chain have worse resources or ingredients? Plus I've had stale as hell muffins at indie places. And crap sandwiches.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 24th 2014.

The problem with many indie coffee shops, including most of those mentioned above is the shocking service and attitude of the staff, it's always good in the chains.

AnonymousSeptember 24th 2014.

I think some of the cockiness and perceived superiority goes some way to explaining the attitude. It's like they're saving condemned men who had prayed for the opportunity to let their creative spirit flow free from Costa. They're making a cup of coffee for Christ sake.

Danny MahanSeptember 26th 2014.

Are you guys seriously saying you can't tell the difference between a coffee from starbucks or costa and a coffee from North Tea Power or Takk? You can't have taste buds! It's like comparing a carling with a craft beer. Same ingredients completely different product in the end - one designed for the mass market one prepared with passion and love for a lot less people. Not been snobbish but don't know why you guys getting angry because some people like a different product and pay more for it. Bring on the taste test I say! come on Takk, North Tea lets do this! Also your comment re: service.... I frequent independent coffee shops all the time and the service and knowledge is usually far superior to the chains. You must have been unlucky!

EmmerageNovember 15th 2014.

If there was no difference, Starbucks and other independents would be huge in Australia, NZ, not to mention Italy... Starbucks went broke in Australia because their coffee doesn't compare to independents. People in the UK are insanely loyal to what are effectively poor quality, mass produced and generally over sugared products. Which is fine if that's what you like, but, just as Macdonald's doesn't sell real hamburgers, Starbucks etc., don't sell real coffee...

AnonymousSeptember 25th 2014.

Good to see Manchester going this way slowly but surely. I was in Glasgow for a while this summer and they have tons of independent eateries and cafes in prime spots in the centre. Manchester has to stop keeping up with the Jones's ie London

AnonymousSeptember 25th 2014.

The thing that irritates me about the chain coffee shops is they ruin coffee by diluted with too much water or milk. Much prefer the European style which is a smaller richer drink. If anyone could suggest such a place, I would be grateful.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Karl WheatSeptember 26th 2014.

The coffees from Caffeine & Co are served less diluted.

EmmerageNovember 15th 2014.

Fig and Sparrow, only just barely in the NQ. New place, pot kettle place, near St Anne's. Sq, I think, is also nice.

AnonymousSeptember 25th 2014.

Odder on Oxford Road is being replaced by a coffee shop. Yay?

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2014.

At least in the chains you can actually get a cup of just coffee, without being given dirty looks by the hipsters behind the counter, for not wanting a pretentious thing.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Karl WheatSeptember 26th 2014.

Have you even been to the places in the articles or are you just writing what you think would happen? I've been to Takk, Caffeine & Co, Grindsmiths and Fig & Sparrow, mentioned in the article, and received nothing but friendly service from all of them.

EmmerageNovember 15th 2014.

What's pretentious about the drink that the working class in Italy, to the Pope himself, have enjoyed for centuries?! I'm so tired of people telling me that good bread - like my Mum made out of necessity in a wood oven, when she lived in a place with no electricity - and goof coffee, or good street food is Middle class and hipster. Why do they get to own everything? I appreciate skills which are being lost in mass culture, skills my own working class family have in the older generation (from craftsman skills to cooking skills). You are being elitist in your own way by privileging big business slop over the real stuff it is derived from, as if being just like everyone else is the best thing.

Tom RiddleOctober 4th 2014.

There is no comparison in taste between the Manchester indies and the chains. Places like Takk, Caffeine & Co and Grindsmiths are a million miles better than the likes of Starbucks or Costa. Coffee in Pret is actually decent, but Caffeine & co just blows it out of the water. I would agree about the service in some of the places though, I've had numerous experiences of aloof and uninterested service in independent coffee shops in Manchester, where staff have been too busy chatting to their mates or fiddling with the music to serve customers.

1 Response: Reply To This...
SAZKOctober 31st 2014.

Couldnt agree more. And agree that of the Chains that pret is probably the least worst option. Ive had great service in Grindsmith and Caffeine & Co but some of the other indies have been a bit hit and miss.

EmmerageNovember 15th 2014.

Finally! Moved here from Australia in 2012, and not having decent coffee and coffee shops was what made me most homesick, it's such a part of everyday (not pretentious!!) Aussie culture. Even the older gen, who used to see people drinking from coffee cups as idiots sucking on a bit of plastic, have been won over and see the benefit of avoiding the chains and owning a decent stovetop espresso maker (not expensive!). The culture here comes from au and nz, where Italian immigrants started serving amazing cappucinos, lattes and espressos in the 70s. Many older Australians grew up in suburbs with such shops, just like Manchester had the Italian gelato shops. This whole anti independents is mad when the rest of the time people want to support local people on the high street. No one thinks gelato or Thai food is pretentious - and sure, some places like North Tea Power can be a bit snooty, but Fig and Sparrow, Caffeine and Co., and the like are just nice places to have a treat and hang out. If it's so popular as part of mainstream Australia, an unsophisticated colonial outpost according to many, how can it be posh? The other way of looking at it is that this is standard cosmopolitan culture everywhere else. Students in Berlin, Melbourne, Helsinki, spend their time using quiet space and free wifi in coffee shops, and some big coffee houses mirror the saloons of Paris as places for idea creation and cultural production. The mind boggles.

MCR Cuture VultureDecember 8th 2014.

I don't really drink a lot of coffee as I never been a fan of coffee in costa etc as its too much milk on it and not a enough coffee (starbucks is a joke - where's the coffee?), and I refuse to pay for a extra shot just to have a decent cup of coffee. Plus some of these indies are too expensive just for a decent cup of coffee. Coffee is expensive enough as it is so why should we have to pay more than the chains for a decent cup of coffee - I refuse to. There is a nice small coffee shop on Princess Parkway fun by nice freindly jamaican guy who serves a decent nice coffee for £1.50. Is't it about time we had a decent coffee coffee shop in the northern quarter that did coffee at a decent price?

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