It is not an unpopular notion that Manchester has an immense coffee scene. I was lucky enough to spend two months in Manchester this year, and discover that actually, Manchester has an incredible coffee, wine, food, cocktail, whisky, bakery, just-about-anything-and-everything scene. Good for you, Manchester.
As an avid consumer of great coffee, food and cocktails, I challenged myself to visit a new cafe every single day during four weeks in Manchester. How else could I spend my time between opening a new bar – Oldham Streets’ mighty Mean Eyed Cat – and checking out the endless array of cocktail bars. I’ve never been a barista myself, but coffee is near and dear to me. A hyperfixation, even. Coffee in some variety finds its way into almost every cocktail I craft. A cup sits by me through every hard time and work of art I create. Coffee is my life.
A quick note on ranking: As I am neither a professional critic nor am I in the business of putting down small businesses, these spots are not ranked out of ten; I will not detail negatives I came across. I would much prefer to use this platform to shout about all the wonderful coffee and fantastic service I came across. Hopefully that isn’t too disappointing in a negativity-riddled online world.
Bars are typically judged on three things, which I’ve applied to Manchesters’ coffee shops for this guide:
The drinks – A good variety? Well brewed? Interesting? Good cake to go alongside? (Very
Atmosphere – Music, lighting, comfy chairs… Manchester Coffee shops have some seriously
Service – Honestly I’m pretty easily won over by even the smallest bit of conversation.
Onto the good stuff, an in-depth review of my personal top five, and a brief overview of some other favorites. No negativity. Just coffee and good vibes.
Just Between Friends – 56 Tib Street The order: Batch Brew. Avocado & Chilli Bagel.
Just Between Friends is the full coffee shop package, with a constantly revolving door of batch brew coffees from all over the world. This tiny six seater gem invites you in for unique roasts, wonderful sandwiches and the mightiest croissants you’re likely to come across between here and Paris. A coffee shop that understands that rainy days should be accompanied by mood lighting, slow jazz and great coffee. While I went somewhere new for lunch every day, Just Between Friends had my morning coffee sorted almost every single day of my trip The incredibly knowledgeable baristas were excited to go through their daily brews with me and give tasters. Truly, a coffee lovers’ paradise and a hidden gem by all accounts. This list is not a ranked top five, but if it was, I’d have a hard time arguing Just Between Friends anywhere but first place.
Fig + Sparrow – 20 Oldham Street The order: Chemex brewed black coffee. Turkish Eggs. Nothing excites a coffee nerd quite like walking into a shop quite literally decorated with V60s, chemexes and aeropresses. Even better, the baristas know how to use them. Fig + Sparrow is the ultimate modern coffee shop, with an open kitchen and aroma for days. My particular brew was dense with notes of grapefruit and spices. Memorable coffee with efficient service. Maybe not the comfiest place to sit with a laptop, but the perfect place to put your phone down, people watch and sip a perfectly crafted brew.
Foundation – 37 Lever Street The order: Vietnamese Coffee. Roasted Veggie Sourdough. Out of the gate Foundation wins the “most comfortable” award, not that that’s saying anything. Seriously, why are Manchester coffee shops intent on having their guests sit on quirky, mishaped wood and steel? Foundation gifted my troubled back with real seats, a huge open space and truly felt like a space that encouraged me to stick around a while. Beyond being snug as a bug, Foundation offered the widest array of coffee that I’d ever seen. Variety is the spice of life and Foundation shines with regional coffee styles that will both inform and delight. There’s something new here for even the most enlightened coffee junkie. Great food to boot.
Federal – 9 Nicholas Croft The order: Batch Brew. Acai Bowl. Federal has achieved a cult status in Manchester, and is rarely seen without a queue. They even have their own cute (and slightly comical) umbrellas for those willing to wait in the rain for their morning brew. I was lucky enough to miss the queue entirely and I’ll admit, I do see what the fuss is about. Federal is a warm, comforting spot with the ultimate Instagram worthy coffee and breakfasts. Far beyond a feast for the eyes, Federal came through with well rounded coffee and fast service despite being at full tables. Unmissable.
Sugar Junction – 60 Tib Street The order: Biscoff Latte. Halloumi and Hollandaise.
I’m not sure where Sugar Junction falls in the greater landscape of Manchester coffee. I asked a lot of people for a lot of recommendations, and nobody even mentioned the place. However, this slightly odd,, quirky venue is host to truly fantastic service, comfy chairs (I’m sorry for going on about comfy chairs) and some surprisingly good coffee. My final day in Manchester brought me here purely by chance. With it being my final stop, I decided upon a slightly more indulgent coffee than my usual. Usually I find myself deeply disappointed by concept lattes. They always sit firmly in the realm of far too sweet or simply underwhelming. Sugar Junction delivered a well rounded, coffee-forward latte with the perfect texture, temperature and sweetness. Purists may slate this choice, but to them I say… Write your own list.
Other Favourite spots
Pot Kettle Black – Barton Arcade The order: Batch Brew. Scrambled Tofu on Toast. Another legendary spot in the scene, highly recommended and lives up to the hype. Table service. I was served a classic, delightfully brewed coffee – bitter and dark chocolate. Reminded me of cafes in Sweden – Strong coffee, friendly baristas.
Nibbles – 36 Oldham Street The order: Americano. Cheese Toastie.
Fiercely independent. DIY. Female led. The signs and decor in the coffee shop sure lets you know it. This spot walks the walk and provides a comfortable, quaint cafe that is bound to trigger nostalgia for that local, small town independent coffee shop you grew up with. You know the one.
Koffee Pot – 84-86 Oldham Street The order: Black filter coffee. Veggie Breakfast.
By far the cheapest coffee on this list, and for the price? Unbeatable. Little bit studenty, but that’s okay, students deserve great coffee too! A favourite among the Mean Eyed team for their great portions and cheap coffee with flavour to back it up.
Siop – 53 Tib Street The order: Americano. Whipped Tofu Foccacia.
In my experience, donut spots have the worlds’ most lackluster coffee. Siop defies this with it’s specialty roasts and signature serves alongside some of the best sandwiches and donuts in Manchester. Strange, almost 90’s play area decoration.
Gooey – 103 High Street The order: Cortado. Egg sandwich.
Best. Egg sammie. Ever. Great coffee too. I may be a child at heart, but gooey sure brought me a lot of joy. The seats were like sitting on jagged metal grates though. Worth it for the spot-on coffee andfood? Sure.
A final note from me… Manchester is home to some of the best coffee in the United Kingdom. Manchester is home to some of the worst chairs in the United Kingdom. This is not a comprehensive guide, I’m an expert only in the sense that food and drink is my work, craft, and hobbies. I’ve travelled the world with cocktail competitions and even won a few. At what point does one become an expert? Support your local independent! Go check out Mean Eyed Cat on Oldham Street! Thanks for reading!