A cafe founded just 18 months ago has been voted the best of Brum.
The hammam is located on the site of a former florist in Harborne, where guests love the city’s new aroma.
After the new business began to bloom smelling of beans instead of roses, BirminghamLive readers voted Steam Room Cafe the best in town.
As part of our Brum Loves initiative, readers were asked to name their favorite coffees. A shortlist of ten was then drawn up – with readers voting for an overall favorite.
Others on the shortlist were Damascena, Quarter Horse Cafe, 200 Degrees, Coffee # 1, Coffee Tales, Java Lounge, Faculty, Wayland’s Yard and 3 Threes but The Steam Room received the most votes.
Owner Terry Donovan was thrilled by the news, as the former flower shop was a family-run business before it closed four years ago.
He had a brief period as a real estate agent and someone else was refused permission to open a chip shop there.
But when Terry met one of the Midlands’ leading baristas, he knew he had found the right person to move the site forward.
One of the hallmarks of the cafe is that it invites dog owners to bring their stuffed animals for a bowl of water – much like the new Head of Steam craft beer pub on Temple Street in Birmingham city center.
There must be something about the steam …
Trendy filament lamps hang from a bag-covered ceiling and the bar is covered in corrugated iron.
Some furniture almost looks like a den and you’ve probably never seen a tiled floor with more than 2,000 1p pieces.
Terry says: âBeing named the best of Brum is great news, especially since I’ve never had anything to do with the hospitality industry before.
âHaving great coffee was something that was lacking in this area and I think we made a big difference for this parade.
“There is a lot of parking here and people don’t have to go to the High Street for good coffee anymore.”
Who runs the hammam?
Terry is the owner who works with Head Barista Gary Dyke, Barista Luke O’Mara and Tea Sommelier Nathan Moore who was on leave at the time of our visit.
It’s a sign of the times that no one has a career anymore – Nathan is also a brilliantly distinctive artist and his works are on display in the cafe.
Likewise, after studying at Staffordshire University, Terry became a land surveyor working in glamorous places like the Caribbean and the Cayman Islands.
Terry’s life took on a whole new meaning in December 2015 when his Greek partner gave birth to twins Athina and Alethea.
A chance meeting with Gary led to the opening of the Steam Room in February 2017.
Gary had also changed careers: after 16 years working in an increasingly senior IT position at Vodaphone, he realized he didn’t want to spend his Friday evenings worrying about the next Monday morning.
His own girlfriend’s brother was a coffee geek who introduced Gary to the taste of Staffordshire Hasbean roasters and the technology involved in making great beers.
A new hobby was born and Gary fell in love with the idea of ââa career in coffee.
He then helped set up the coffee-making facilities at Tilt in the City Arcade on Union Street in Birmingham city center, then at Hampton Manor – in time for the restaurant’s Michelin Star award.
âI like to think I helped with that,â Gary smiles.
Taking time for an entire summer to relax and think about his next move coincided with meeting Terry by chance – and a new opportunity was born just two miles from Gary’s house.
Terry said, âDuring the installation, I took Gary’s advice while he was at Hasbean. Our coffee machine is therefore a Nouva Simonelli like the one used during the world barista championships.
What does The Steam Room sell?
Cakes, pastries, bread, etc. are supplied by the Custard Factory’s Jam Vs Custard Bakehouse and the milk also comes from the traditional Grove Wood dairy farm in Hopwood.
A 2-ounce espresso costs Â£ 2.40 or Â£ 2.50 for a double.
A 6oz Long Black (Double Espresso) costs Â£ 2.50 or you can add milk for 10p more.
A 6-ounce cappuccino costs Â£ 2.60, a flat white Â£ 2.80, or a final Â£ 2.90. Using oat milk costs 20p more.
Loose teas from Lalani & Co in London cost from Â£ 2.30 to Â£ 3.50 to take away, or Â£ 2.90 to Â£ 3.50 per jar.
An 8-ounce hot chocolate costs Â£ 3.
A round of sourdough bread costs Â£ 2.50.
The cafe also sells craft beers and ciders in bottles and cans, organic wine by the glass, and locally made Churchfields ice cream (Â£ 2.75 each).
There are plans to redo food – see below.
What is the philosophy of The Steam Room?
The cafe sells specialty single-origin coffees from countries like El Salvador.
The idea is that customers never know what their coffee will look like, unlike corporate giants like Costa and Starbucks who seek “consistency” rather than individuality.
Terry says, âWe use coffees from one source, so people who come here will not always taste the same every time.
“And that’s why they keep coming back to us.”
This week’s menu featured Finca Las Brumas from El Salvador on espresso, Pitalito from Colombia (decaffeinated) and Finca Las Alassitas or Geisha (+ 50p) from Bolivia, available in “washed” or “natural” versions.
The Hammam is at the end of a parade of shops which seems to be experiencing a revival today with modernization work continuing on several units and all of them being currently occupied.
What are the secrets of the hammam?
Head barista Gary has spent the last few years becoming obsessed with coffee and credits Yorks Bakery, Quarter Horse, 200 Degrees and Faculty in Birmingham with credit for helping to create a coffee culture in the city.
Gary says the lattice effect you see inside mugs from independent stores is created by the way the milk is frothed reacting to the low pH of a coffee.
âIt’s called lacing,â he smiles.
âOur coffee comes in bags that let out the C02 but keep the air out.
âIf the beans were roasted yesterday, it is too early to use them.
âWe start using the beans after a week and they can last for three weeks when you start to need to add more coffee.
“But the way we buy them and brew the coffee, most of our drinks are brewed in that window of the first week.”
While he can return to IT at any time, Gary says he doesn’t regret leaving the business world.
âAt some point in your life you just have to do what you love rather than the money being the driver,â he says.
âPeople come here because they want quality products and want a place to chat, even if it’s just to talk about what their kids are doing in school. We have very good regulars. “
After that ?
The hammam has a kitchen waiting for someone to cook.
The city council did not allow the site to prepare hot dishes requiring extractors, and the former chef had to leave for personal reasons.
So now Terry plans to give local culinary talents some pop-up opportunities, especially on weekends.
He also plans to develop similar cafes in other affluent areas of Birmingham if he can find the right venues to keep them individual.
In the meantime, The Steam Room’s neighboring newsagent and dentist have given him permission to take over their back gardens.
Work will begin soon to transform the land into a coffee garden.
The site backs onto the Ravenhurst playgrounds and is also close to Chad Brook.
Other nearby amenities include the Pereira Road developments.
And the popular Harborne Walkway, which runs along an elevated and disused railway line, is also nearby.
Where is the hammam?
It’s at 181 Knightlow Road, Harborne B17 8PY. Phone 0121 213 1145.
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