Urban Coffee doesn't sound like the best place for fresh, steaming coffee which gives you a gentle slap whilst a smooth silkiness lingers on your tongue, ensuring you're 'awake' just before 9am, does it? Nor does it sound like the kind of place whose coffee is hand-picked by the owner, who has strong ties with each supplier and considers them 'friends' instead of coffee suppliers, acquaintances, just like he sees the regular customers who pop in, not just on weekdays.
I'd heard about it, but brushed it off as one of those places where they try too hard. It's the name I had a problem with. 'Urban' is far too 90's for my liking. But in fact they're the original artisan coffee purveyors in Birmingham, and way back when, 'urban' was the best description of what they do.
Original artisan coffee is on offer amongst the other food stuffs and drinks - teapigs tea, cakes, sandwiches, and bagels. Like a true independent, they don't just sell coffee. Cult followers know about their events and cinema evenings, but since Facebook and Twitter came into being Urban Coffee's following has grown. No longer do people flock to the cafe for a damn good brew, their events are a hoot! I attended their monthly Urban Cycles Bike Kitchen on the last Sunday of July.
There was free admission, and free advice, it was a cyclists' haven. The folk at Urban Cycles (no personal connection with the cafe) pop in and talk all things bike with fellow enthusiasts over a coffee, or spot of lunch. Even if you're not a cyclist (like me), Urban Cycles offer superb advice about different types of terrain, wheel grip, and which bike might 'fit' your body. I turned up bike-free, but they brought bikes along with them so you can take part in the post-meal hour-long bike ride. I loved it.
It's grand to be part of a group, and when others share the same passion as you, talking about it becomes an insightful discussion. I overhead an excited chat about London coffee importers who are using a blend of four beans to create a shot-like hit of caffeine, but the beans are used in a mocha. Interesting stuff I guess. Mostly however, when I've attended an event, I've never felt alone. I decided to drop into their Poetry Jam night (first Thursday of every month), alone - just the once - and I wasn't the lonely stranger. Everyone just talked to me as though I was also part of the cool club. I only stayed half an hour, but you get my point.
Like many achingly-cool cafés which offer that bit more, the prices aren't low, but middle of the range for the quality you receive. A latte and pastry will set you back £4.85.
To enjoy that urban coffee taste at home you can purchase 500g packets of the coffee, for £3.75 (Urban Espresso), £4.95 (Indian Monsoon Malabar), and £5.40 (Rwanda Maraba,Ethiopia Yirgacheffe). It's a bargain really considering two cups can cost £5.00. They also sell hot chocolate sets for £16.95, and coffee preparation kits, which also start from £16.95. Ideal as Christmas presents, or an indulgent treat for yourself, unlike many 'make it at home' gifts, their drinks sets are the real deal, and taste just like the stuff you buy in the café.
They've kept the customer in mind with their opening times. I have been known to dash in at the horribly early hour of 7am, where they served me in a flash. If they can see you're in a rush, don't worry, they're a kind bunch.
As mentioned, their events are endless. From bike groups to religious meet-ups, Urban Coffee host the weird and wonderful. See their events page for more details, but the Bike Urban Cycle is brilliant.
They have another coffee shop in the Jewellery Quarter (10 minutes' walk), and they're in the process of building their third coffee shop in Harborne, due to open in October. But the Church Street café is my favourite. On a side street in the centre of town, the branched off location makes it seem like an exclusive spot in the middle of nowhere.
Urban Coffee is more than a café, but I find my feet take me there when I just want a hot drink. With the autumnal weather trying my resolve I can't help but succumb to the lure of their free wifi and hippy-and-we-know-it vibe. The scent of warm bread, baked goods, and obviously fresh coffee helps too.
If you're cycling, the staff are cool with you bringing your bike in, and you can even take it upstairs if you like. To save energy, however, I'd opt for a window seat downstairs, a slice of their indulgent vanilla blondies, and an adulterous mug of coffee - soy hold the cream - with plenty of serve-yourself cane sugar.