I had an extra day toward the end of my week in the UK and my friend Row suggested I check out York. York in many ways is the quintessential (or perhaps stereotypical) English city: there’s a huge Medieval cathedral, quaint cottages on small winding streets, and a Roman era wall that surrounds the old city. Basically, it’s an American tourist’s dream. Thankfully, there’s also some really good coffee there too.
Row was the first to mention Harlequin to me, and his suggestion was collaborated by almost the entire coffee Twitterverse (okay actually just 3 people, but they all responded within 10 minutes which made it seem all the more legitimate.)
Harlequin, just a short walk from the gorgeous York Minster, is a very unassuming space. When I walked in the cafe was empty save for a couple tables of silver haired ladies enjoying some afternoon tea and scones. The decor, while charming and properly British, was certainly not the atmosphere I normally associate with specialty coffee. I began to wonder whether I walked into the wrong cafe before I saw the bright red bags of Hasbean Coffee behind the counter. In this case the old cliche about books and cover proved to be true as my coffee experience at Harlequin was exceptional.
I started off by ordering a single espresso, a custom blend from Hasbean they call Bespoke. It’s a combination of the 2011 WBC winning coffee El Salvador La Ilusion, El Salvador San Jose, and Nicaragua La Escondida. It was a really sweet espresso with a nice body and a strong but pleasant acidity.
Before I could order a second drink Gordon, the proprietor of Harlequin, offered to give me a tour of the cafe, including the new upstairs addition The Attic. The Attic is something like Harlequin’s prodigal child. It has an edgier atmosphere, a gallery featuring local art, and -most importantly- a host of great coffee equipment. I was excited to see a Kalita Wave brew bar along with several Aeropresses for filter coffee. The Attic also features an assortment of different espressos including their own custom blend from Hasbean. For the imbibing coffee aficionado the Attic also has an impressive selection of craft beers, both local and American. Unfortunately the Attic is only open Thursday-Sunday so we had to head back downstairs to make some more drinks.
Back at Harlequin Gordon invited me behind the counter to show me their beautiful Nueva Simonelli Aurelia Competizione espresso machine. True coffee nerds will recognize this model as the one used in the WBC, but this specific espresso machine is the actual one Michael Philips used when he won the 2010 championship. Even better than seeing a piece of specialty coffee history was drinking the espresso and cappuccino that Gordon made with it. In milk the espresso tasted delicate and unbelievably sweet- a very refined and palatable cup. It fact, it was my favorite milk beverage I had in the UK. The hospitality at Harlequin even extended beyond the beverages, as they had plenty of great suggestions with what to do with the rest of my time in York.