Adventures in Birmingham: Live music at Six Eight Kafé

Those of you who know me on Twitter will have noticed I’ve been to every single Live Music Friday evening at Urban Coffee Co but now I’m delighted there’s a second coffee house to embrace one of life’s pleasures.

I’ve loved live music in coffee shops ever since I first saw a man and a guitar at a late night coffee shop in NYC in 2000 and have been trying to recapture the experience ever since. Whilst popular in America, I used to go to listen to music every Sunday in New York, the first I’d seen in the UK (I’m sure there have been others) was at Urban‘s first location. It’s not just about having someone play but the right type of ‘coffee shop’ music.

Country, folk and jazz all lend themselves to the acoustic vibe that works best. Many of us loved the gypsy/jazz band (I don’t know the name, the band didn’t carry any cards!) we saw at Six Eight Kafe on their first birthday so we begged the management to run more candle-lit nights in their gorgeously dark basement.

Last Wednesday was the first of those nights when we were treated to more live music. The first band had an excellent acoustic set up and performed a mix of original material with covers and harmonious vocals. There is something special about going to events in a dimly lit room. Perhaps because it smacks of the illicitism of the prohibition era and so feels like we’ve been invited to an exclusive underground event.

This and the amazing coffee that the Six Eight coffee gods seem to produce every time makes it an essential addition to the Birmingham calendar.

Coffee & music, two of my favourite things; more please.

Kopi Coffee – because life’s too short for bad coffee

I first came across the Kopi guys when we attended the Tea & Coffee Festival in London last year. Having tried some of their coffee, we bought some home but what impresses even more than the lovely coffee is the Kopi attitude.

Gourmet coffee every month. Delivered.

For one they maintained excellent customer service on the day and had an offer to try the coffee. These guys offer a subscription coffee service (rather than sell via a coffee shop), Their packaging has clearly had some money spent (it smells of an investor) but it has the goods to back it up. The coffee inside the delightful packets is sublime and we’ve tried 3 different packets now. What’s more, it comes with background info and tasting notes so you can make the best of your coffee, whether you prefer beans or ground.

In our house now, rather than which coffee shall we make, we say which Kopi shall we have?

Kopi are currently trialling the ‘Weekender bag’ (small enough to fit through more letter boxes) or have a monthly subscription from just £7 per month. I’m guessing that’s less than what you spend every week in the coffee shop.

I’m looking forward to watching Kopi progress and besides, anyone that signs of their email from ‘the customer delight team’ is OK by me.

Kopi website

Urban – Too busy by far

More than a handful of times I’ve gone into Urban, my almost daily coffee shop and in the last few weeks, not been able to get a seat.

Two Saturdays in a row I’ve popped in, not seen a seat and walked out, which is such a pain when I’ve walked all the way with my little laptop which I then I have to carry around me while I a) run errands b) do my M&S shop and then try to find a seat somewhere else.

I thought with two Urban coffee shops now open this would not happen but it’s actually got busier in both!

Of course it’s all my own doing.

When I was a mere young thing, I’d get into the latest band, tell everyone how great they are and I’m thrilled when everyone else recognises their talent. Next thing I know, everyone else has discovered them, bought their records and I see Orange Juice on Top of the Pops. Then their records start selling out and I have to get to the shop first thing in the morning to be in with a chance of bagging one.

It’s a bit like that.

My Perfect Coffee Shop

I’ve been around the world, well around most of America and Canada, some of England and Scotland and all of northern Italy to be precise, always searching for the perfect coffee shop.

Coffee, Birmingham, Bean Scene, Urban Coffee Co, perfect coffee shop

Everyone knows that in Birmingham, my regular ‘home from home’ is Urban Coffee Company but if I can combine the ‘best bits’ from around the world, this is what my coffee shop will include;

Mugs

Small and large. Let’s save cups and saucers for tea and cappuccino. North America does this so right.

Decent coffee

Urban make it and it’s obvious really. An option to have it in take-out cups as it keeps my coffee warm and is less fiddly. I once got refused a takeout cup to have inside a coffee shop in Edinburgh as it’s ‘against policy’. I went back to that shop nil times.

Oh and eggnog offered as standard in coffee during December.

Desks

I love a comfortable chair and sofas too so a mix is great but sometimes a desk helps us workers focus. And a big table means we can fit a lot of solo workers’ chairs around it, working away without taking up the sofas.

Lots of seating

Sofas for the socialites, desks for the workers.

Bagels

Just with cream cheese is fantastic. Scrambled eggs or salmon is a huge bonus. Again, standard in North America.

Cake

(Kissme) Cupcakes absolutely! Also a small assortment of other cakes and pastries each day. Love the mix at Peter’s Yard in Edinburgh.

Music

I love live music in coffee shops. It’s simply the most civilised way to listen to music. Probably not AC/DC, they are better in an outdoors stadium setting but music of the singer/songwriter type is just gorgeous in coffee shops.

At other times, soft music in the background or radio 2 is perfect. If it was my coffee shop everyone would have to stop at 10.30 to do #popmaster  BeanScene in Scotland are passionate about their music.

Real Hot Food

Panini’s are great but I love soup, slices of pizza work and my absolute favourite is a bowl of hot chilli. And bagels! What’s a coffee shop without toasted bagels?

Bean Scene in Glasgow always have a warming chilli bowl ready for me.

Friendly staff

“Where everybody knows your name”.

No matter how good the coffee is I will go back only if there is a warm welcome and great service. It’s sooooo easy, ask Urban.

A view

Now I’m getting into the luxury territory but a room with a view is wonderful.

Warmth

It’s very hard to work in the cold.

Posters

If the coffee shop is the hub of a community, it’s good to know what’s happening in said community with posters, flyers, cards etc. Let’s spread the word and help each out. Bean Scene are great at this which is good for me, the out of towner.

Late Opening

8pm is fantastic (Urban), 10pm is divine (thanks Bean Scene!) 24 hours is a little crazy but handy (New York)

Goodies to take away

Not for me but if a coffee shop is all this then I love it if the out of towners can take a little piece of it back home with them. Just like this bag that I picked up from the heavenly place that is Peter’s Yard in Edinburgh.

Peters Yard coffee shop coffee cake Birmingham Edinburgh New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italy Well in Italy I’m guaranteed a perfect cup of coffee EVERY time, EVERYwhere. The only thing is I can’t linger; I can’t work or read but balanced with the many pavement cafes, the view is always superb. In any case, I’m very grateful that they have escaped the terrible chains that the rest of the world has embraced, except for the rather handy, cheap and tasty McCafes. I guess they must have made it government policy not to let them in. Thank heavens.

Latte = milk

Latte is not ‘Italian coffee’, it is just Italian for milk. Italian coffee is cappuccino for the mornings and espresso for any time you like.

I just want to clear that up.

Yes you can have coffee with latte but is this not an American invention, like all the other Americanisms that are trending in the UK?
Don’t get me started on cupcakes (fairy cakes) and apartments (flats).

My belief is that the latte was invented by an Italian in America as the espresso is too strong for the American palate and for most of us probably. So we can call it American but not pass it off as Italian. If you ask for a latte in Italy you’ll get exactly that; milk.

Just like in France we have cafe au lait but we don’t go around asking for that in the UK, we just say ‘coffee with milk’ please.

Rant over.

Adventures in Birmingham: the Birthday

Happy Birthday to me

Before the birthday trip to Milan came two celebrations with friends:

Sunday afternoon tea

I invited my local friends to join me at Urban Coffee Co for coffee & cake, drinks & snacks and fun & frolics to kick start my birthday celebrations.  What I didn’t expect was for Urban to go beyond the call of duty; decorating my reserved table with confetti and balloons and getting in Guinness cake although they just managed to save me a slice as it was snapped up before we got there! (my traditional birthday drink is Black Velvet; Guinness and champagne).

There was the birthday cupcake personalised with my name (Courtesy of Kiss Me Cupcakes) and best surprise of all there was Rich the pianist, my favourite (so far) of all the Urban entertainers. He was meant to be away and I was told there was no way he would make it. Now that’s the type of surprise that puts a smile on a birthday girl’s face.

Kiss Me Cupcakes pulled out the stops too by providing me with canapé size cupcakes decorated with my requested dolly mixtures and love hearts.

We had the most perfect, completely chilled afternoon.

How lucky am to know Kiss Me Cupcakes and to have the honour of Rich playing for my birthday. Big thanks to the ever wonderful host, Becks and Alan and all at Urban. “Where everybody knows your name” ♫♪

One Michelin star ♥♥♥♥♥

Two days later a select group of us head into Purnells for a birthday dinner. We have the private room so feel more like royalty than perhaps we normally would, although I wouldn’t know as I’ve saved my first visit to Purnells for a special occasion.

We make the effort to dress for the occasion, the occasion being my birthday rather than a Tuesday evening at Purnells.

The staff for their part give the 100% perfect service we have come to expect. Truly amazing

Two days later, I’m on a flight to Milan.

Now, what shall I do next year……….any ideas?

Adventures in Milan – last day

Milan Italy fashion clothes travel holiday Gucci Versace coffee D&G

Duomo

­­Adventures in Milan – Day 4Sunday Best

Today has always had rain forecast so ‘they’ did not disappoint us. However, I’m one step ahead as I keep the Cathedral, the main tourist attraction (apart from the sport that is Versace shop spotting) for today.

We get to the part where the lift takes us up to the roof. This part costs €8 to see and there are no lines so we are easily outside and on the roof to see the magnificent detail of the Duomo in seconds. After our descent, by stairs – I’m feeling energetic – it’s still raining but my plan for us to spend an hour or two inside the dry cathedral is thwarted. There isn’t the line of people as there was yesterday because they are not letting anyone in. We decide to try again towards the end of the afternoon rather than try to get a translation as to why.

 In the meantime I’ve come to realise that unlike any other city in the world that relies partly on the billions €€€ spent by tourists every year to survive and flourish, Milan doesn’t.  There is barely a sign to point out places of interest for us to spend our hard earned pounds in. It does feel like there are Milanese secrets and us the tourists are not invited in.

The shrine to Versace is still not evident and whilst I know there will be at least one Versace store in Milan, just like in every other major shopping city in the world, my point is that they don’t make the most of their fashion heritage.  I’m gobsmacked that D&G, Armani and especially Versace are not more prominent. By now surely we have walked nearly every street around the ‘fashion district’ and I’d have expected to see a handful of each spread around the city.

And no, I don’t see the point of searching on my rubbish internet connection to find out where they are; I don’t need to shop there, the point is I expect all these designers to have a high profile here.

Back at the cathedral there is a line waiting formed with a multitude of umbrellas but we still get inside within a few minutes. It’s worth the effort to see inside what has now become a magical place, one that I seem to be able to spot from whatever neighbourhood I’m in.

Whilst thinking on where to eat on the last night (we never did find anywhere ‘dressy’ to eat) I recall the two recommendations I’d received from a fashion editor via Twitter. With the lack of reliable internet access, we only found the street name for one and duly set out for Sunday evening dinner.

The last supper

As we turn into Via Montenapoleone, I realise this is where I’d noticed the sign pointing to the Four Seasons this morning but we’d decided to turn on the next one. Of course it’s where all the fashionistas would come, its where are all the designer show rooms and offices are. Sure enough there is the predicted Versace (we’d seen most of the others by now) but just a little Versace ‘blue’, not a big shrine in ‘gold’. Disappointing.

In the dark rain, we don’t find the restaurant – it must have been on a side street- so we carry on to two more. Both times, we step inside; put our wet umbrellas down only to be told they are closing. It’s not yet 8pm. On the second one we even check the closing time first, 10pm. They still tell us they are closed, after we have shaken brollies, stepped right inside the place and started taking hats and coats off. The shops are closed now so I guess the market is not there but it’s still odd.

We find something to eat in what looks like a family chain, Brek and go back to the hotel.  Later in the evening, it’s just a small crema ice cream for me on the last night in Milan.

Final part to follow.