In hot water

Three siblings bringing a Budapest-style teahouse to Newcastle and twins round the corner running the city’s only independent coffee roastery… Rosie McGlade takes a break with Newcastle’s hottest brothers.

What’s the difference between a teashop, a tearooms, and a teahouse? 

It’s an example of one of many questions I rarely get to ask and enjoy throwing at young Patrick Quilliam. Like, when did your brother join the travelling circus? And, I’m getting a vision of an opium den – is that the kind of thing you mean?

I think we all know what a teashop is, while a tearoom, Patrick says, is more like Betty’s in York or Harrogate; refined. A teahouse, on the other hand, is a different thing altogether; Eastern European in origin, relaxed, late opening, darkly lit, full of little cubbyhole spaces to gather and talk or read, with art and live music and some, but not much, beer. Hence the opium den question. “Think Sherlock Holmes!” Patrick says helpfully.

His eldest brother Tom joined the circus as a saxophonist as a teenager, playing in the ringmaster for each performance, and travelled Denmark in the circus (which had elephants and everything) caravan, never knowing where he’d wake up next.  He then decided to train in woodwind restoration and moved to Budapest, where he also set up a hostel.

Tom, just to be clear, is still only 27.
In the course of looking after his guests, he would take them round the city’s celebrated tea houses and was regularly joined by brothers Patrick, now 25, and Sam to help out, and the teahouses left a profound impression.

Sadly, I’m not able to meet the other brothers. Tom is on the overnight bus to Heathrow Airport for a flight to China. He’s getting some teacups made, attending a large tea expo and visiting several estates. Meanwhile, Sam, 23, is traveling to Brighton, where he has a gig with his band Vinyl Jacket (who’ve been played several times on
Radios 1 and 6).

The brothers grew up in and continue to live in Wylam in the Tyne Valley, and attended Prudhoe High School. “Then we all went on to study things that are hard to make a living from,” says Patrick. “I did painting and the other two did music. We’ve always got on well and the idea of going into business together was fairly easy. We looked at what we loved and what we thought Newcastle needed, and decided on a tea house.”

In contrast to teashops or tearooms, teahouses are hangouts of the young as well as the not-so young. They stay open till the wee hours and serve, though don’t push, alcohol. They have a convivial atmosphere and are home to art and music as well as tea. So all the things the Quilliams love.

“Typically, they’ll have a café-style seating area, and something like a revolving bookcase or little ladders leading to booths on different mezzanine levels, or a beanbag and sofa area. Some are really wacky.

“We wanted to replicate that in Newcastle, mainly because it has some cracking musicians and artists. We’ve all performed or exhibited in small and medium venues and we care about the calibre of those spaces, so we thought Newcastle needed more.”

The Quilliam Brothers Tea House will open later this year, with a bit of luck, in a beautiful Newcastle Uni-owned building next to the Hancock Museum. Dating from 1894, Patrick thinks it was once a department store, but it’s been vacant for years. Their target market is shoppers and workers, students and people who’ve been out drinking and want a hearty stew and a cuppa before bed.

“We’re also looking into the idea of ‘antifogmatics’ (hangover cocktails), to serve at breakfast time with bacon sandwiches, waffles and smoothies,” adds Patrick.

Cakes will all be home-made and as much food as possible will be sourced nearby. They’re putting bee hives on a plot in Wylam for honey and they’re growing herbs for tea infusions and so forth. And their chef will be smoking and curing salmon and bacon using their teas.

There’ll be a cinema room, a stage room and a cosy sofa room. “It’s a good for Newcastle,” Patrick enthuses. “It’s starting to get an independent thing going on with great little cafes like Flat Cap Joe’s near Haymarket; lots of nice little places that aren’t Starbucks.”

Selling tea is now a well-established business as the wait for the premises has lengthened. “It’s been a good thing really, because we’ve learned so much and now have 85 teas for sale from different origins,” Patrick says.

It’s all loose leaf; black, white and green. They select only estates that treat and pay their workers appropriately. “Funnily enough, those are the estates that seem to have the best tea, too,” says Patrick, which sounds just like Newcastle’s cup of tea.

Quilliam Brothers tea is available online at and at Olive & Bean, Clayton St, Newcastle, Heaton Perk and Teasy Does It, both on Heaton Park Rd. Twitter: @quilliambros



Ouseburn Coffee Company resides in a black concrete box of a building, across a bridge from The Cluny near the mouth of the Ouseburn in Newcastle, where I move aside for a small herd of long-eared goats straight from biblical times.

Inside the box is a sensational smell of coffee and a surprise: the pleasant and rather dapper Simon Bonnin has a twin brother, Peter; not identical, but not far off.

Two cups of coffee later I turn the page in my notebook and it comes clean away in my hand.

“It’s the caffeine,” Simon remarks, chivalrously sticking it back in with Sellotape. The coffee is making me giddy. At least, I think it’s the coffee.

What actually is funny, as in curious, is how much there is to say about coffee, bearing in mind that here at Newcastle’s new and only independent roastery, they only have three different kinds.

Simon, Peter, and business partner Ali Hammond import green beans from around the world and plan to substantially grow their range. So far, there’s the Sumatra Pure Lintong from the high volcanic mountainsides of Indonesia and Yellow Bourbon from the high volcanic mountainsides of Brazil; high volcanic mountainsides being good for coffee.

Then there’s the first of what they’re calling their Heritage Blends, which they’ve produced for the 150th anniversary of the Blaydon Races, taking the name from the infamous character Coffee Johnny (immortalised in the sixth verse of the song – a 6ft 7’’ blacksmith and bare-knuckle fighter). “We’re thinking about creating one for the Jubilee as well,” Simon says.

The guys are taking their time selecting the next region for their business and they take great pride in introducing what they call the ‘Third Wave’ of coffee to Newcastle.

“People travel more now and are discovering independent producers and coffee shops that are a world away from the generic lattes that they’re used to,” explains Ali, friend of the twins since his teens (they’re all now in their early 40s). “We’re all more into the idea of craft beer and good wine and it’s a similar with coffee.” That’s the Third Wave: the First Wave was the instant coffee which arrived in the1960s. The Second Wave was the arrival of Starbucks and the like with ‘to go’ cappuccinos and skinny lattes in cardboard beakers.

At the back of the boxy premises is a gleaming machine; the roaster. It reminds me of something. “Noo Noo?” Simon suggests, eyeing it with love. Yes. The vacuum cleaner in Teletubbies, all grown up. Simon travelled all the way to Turkey, where he also studied the art of roasting, to buy it and bring it home.

Its presence is almost magical. The raw, scentless, split pea-like beans go in through one shoot to be roasted and just 10 minutes later tumble out into a bucket, now all dark brown and impossible not to pick up and smell. We stand for a moment in respectful silence.

“The best possible way is to drink it freshly ground,” Simon explains. “It oxidizes quickly. And use it within two to four weeks of grinding. Ideally, two weeks.”

They sell it ground or unground (you can very good grinders these days, apparently) and we sample the Yellow Bourbon, which Simon describes as smooth, caramelly, with a hint of hazelnut. “When beans get to a certain temperature, the oil turns partly to sugar. We try to get that process during the roast to make the coffee as palatable as possible.”

With hot milk, it’s gentle and flavoursome at the same time; chocolatey and lovely. Without milk, in espresso form, which we have a few minutes later, it’s entirely different; more tangy. “If you look it has a lovely yellow colour,” Simon says, “and the flavours develop as it cools. It should leave a pleasant aftertaste. And if you aerate it slightly (slurp), you get some more citrusy flavours coming through. That acidity is highly sought-after.”

This is considerably more caffeine than I’m used to. At tastings, Peter says, you’re supposed to swill and spit. “Although better quality products with no preservatives leave you feeling better,” says Peter.
I’m high, rather than jittery. It’s a nice feeling.

“Some say you shouldn’t have milk after 10am, but I’m not one of your purists,” adds Peter, who, unlike his brother, is also partial to a little sugar. “There’s a natural sweetness in heated milk that’s not as apparent as when it’s cold, but I’m a philistine.

“They say Yellow Bourbon is a coffee for tea drinkers; a good place to start. I used to work in pubs in the Ouseburn Valley and if you give a lager drinker hard-core real ale they’ll struggle with it, but if they try an IPA they might like it. Coffee’s a bit like that. Once you get used to it, you start to notice the subtleties and it becomes more pleasurable. That’s what the Third Wave of coffee is really about.”

This month sees the opening of the nearby Espresso Bar in the Ouse Street Arts Club; a social space open to the public to view art and drink coffee. Like a cafe? “A social space,” Ali repeats. Peter’s vision for the black box sounds more accessible; a few tables outside for anyone to stop off and grab a specialty coffee and a biscotti.

Getting home, eating supper, watching telly and so on later, I can’t sit still. I pack an ironing board and a mountain of clean washing into the boot and drive to my friend’s, where we have our first-ever ironing party (to be recommended – it makes light of the king of monotonous tasks).

There is clearly more to a cup of coffee than twisting open a jar of Nescafe. And I thoroughly recommend the Bonnin brothers’ blends.
Ouseburn Coffee Company, Foundry Lane, Newcastle. Buy online at, at Foundry Lane, or at Simon’s stall at Newcastle’s Sunday Quayside Market. The company supplies Fisherman’s Lodge in Jesmond Dene, The Cluny and other Head of Steam pubs, Flat Caps Coffee in Haymarket, and Deli Express on Salters Rd, Gosforth, Newcastle

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