Brian’s Travel Spot: New York & Philadelphia, 2016


My coffee travel kit on my BA flight to Newark: mini Porlex grinder, Aeropress, plus funnel, metal jug and Upper CupWelcome to the second of my occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series (or the fourth, depending on how you count them!). The first Travel Spot recounted my adventures in the summer of 2015 as I flew to New England, travelled across America by train and then spent a week in the Pacific Northwest (the whole trip took three weeks, so I split the Travel Spot into three parts, hence this might be the fourth).

Semantics apart, the aim, as in the previous Travel Spots, is to provide a record of my travels, something a little different from posting the actual Coffee Spots I visit (which always takes place after the event). This trip is taking me to old stomping grounds: New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, back to New York and then on to Providence and, finally, Boston. As before, I’m flying with British Airways and all the internal travel in on Amtrak, the US national rail network.

I say old stomping grounds since this is (and I think I’ve counted correctly) my 13th trip to the New England/New York/DC area (my fourth with my Coffee Spot hat on). While it will only be my third visit to the likes of Philadelphia and Providence, it’s easily 10+ for New York and Boston.

As before, I’ll post as I go, splitting the trip into a number of posts and splitting each post into a number of sections, the navigation growing as the trip goes on. However, for now, settle back and enjoy the ride.

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Yorks Bakery Café, Stephenson Street

Detail of the Yorks sign from above the door at Yorks Bakery Cafe, Stephenson Street.Yorks is a chain of two Birmingham cafés, Yorks Bakery Café, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, and Yorks Espresso Bar on Colmore Row. Originally though, there was just Yorks Bakery Café, which started life on Newhall Street. However, Newhall Street had to close at the end of last year, the building undergoing a major refurbishment. Stephenson Street, which opened last December, has taken over the mantle of Yorks Bakery Café.

In contrast to Newhall Street, which sprawled over three separate spaces, Stephenson Street is a compact, single, wedge-shaped room (what is it with Birmingham and wedge-shaped coffee shops?) seating just under 30 people. Despite this, it’s inherited much of Newhall Street’s menu, including cooked breakfasts/brunches, all prepared in the kitchen at the back, along with sandwiches, soup and cake.

The coffee is, as it always has been, from London’s Caravan, with (usually) one single-origin on espresso, another on filter (V60 or Aeropress) and decaf. However, everything’s changing in the near future, with Yorks expanding into the adjacent building. This should at least double the seating capacity and there are plans to start roasting. The extension should be complete in the next month or two, so stay tuned for updates!

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New Row Coffee

The New Row Coffee logo, taken from the sign hanging outside the shopNew Row Coffee has been around for several years, pleasingly occupying a spot on New Row, just off St Martin’s Lane, midway between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. I’ve walked past on several occasions, but never had reason to stop, always being put off by its size (or lack thereof). However, on a recent visit to Freed’s on St Martin’s Lane to buy some new dance shoes, I decided it was time to pay a visit. I was so impressed that I came back the following week with my camera, and exactly one week later, here it is on the Coffee Spot!

New Row’s one of those small coffee shops that thinks it’s actually much bigger. For somewhere with just two tables and a pair of seats at the counter, it serves a range of coffee that would put many larger rivals to shame. Joining the obligatory espresso menu, built around Caravan’s ubiquitous Market Blend, there’s a regularly-rotating filter coffee (also Caravan) through Aeropress, V60 or Syphon. Add to that a decent range of cakes and, a recent addition, a small sandwich and savoury tart selection, and you have a place for all occasions. If you can find a seat!

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Brooklyn Roasting Company, Flushing Avenue

One of two lovely Faema E61 espresso machines on the end of the counter at the Brooklyn Roasting Company's Flushing Avenue branch.I visited the Brooklyn Roasting Company on my first trip to Brooklyn in March 2015, calling in on the roastery/headquarters, under the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge on Jay Street. I hadn’t intended to visit another Brooklyn Roasting Company branch that day, but as I walked to Williamsburg, I went past the Flushing Avenue branch: it looked so amazing, I just had to go inside.

Occupying a spot on the corner of Washington and Flushing Avenues since 2012, it’s essentially a large rectangle, with the long side on Flushing Avenue. Even though it’s north-facing, floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows on both sides, punctuated by glass doors, flood the interior with sunlight and present a visually-appealing vista from the outside. Rarely have I been so struck by a coffee shop’s external appearance.

Inside it lives up to its promise, with an espresso-based menu served by twin Faema E61s, one at either end of the large counter, which takes up the middle half of the back wall. There are two options on espresso, plus decaf, and, of course, the obligatory bulk-brew. Having got your coffee, retire to one of the window-bars or, if, you can, grab a booth and watch the world go by.

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Square One, South 13th Street

The words "SQUARE one COFFEE" one word per row, white on black inside a white square.In a desperate attempt to publish all the Coffee Spots from my last trip to Philadelphia in March 2015 before I return there next week, I present today’s Coffee Spot, Square One, which started life as a roaster in Lancaster, PA.  It still roasts all its coffee in Lancaster, in a purpose-built roastery and training space, having previously roasting on-site on its Duke Street café. I first came across Square One’s coffee in 2014 at Plenty in Rittenhouse and then, last year, I called into the first of its two Philadelphia branches which opened its doors on South 13th Street in 2013.

Square One is in good company, the area just south of City Hall turning into something of a go-to spot. Coffee-shop-cum-roaster Greenstreet Coffee Co is a few blocks away, as was Cafe Twelve until it closed on Monday. Just a few blocks more on the other side of Broad Street is another Philadelphia café/roaster, Elixr, while the aforementioned Plenty is nearby.

Square One occupies a fantastic spot, a large, open rectangle, with an island counter, and serves some excellent coffee. There’s a house-blend and single-origin on espresso and two more available through the Chemex, plus the obligatory bulk-brew.

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Kalm Kitchen Café (Glutton & Glee Update)

The Kalm Kitchen logo, the words "Kalm Kitchen" written five times around the circumference of a circle, with the letters "K.K" in the centre, all in white on grey.Glutton & Glee was one of the first places that I wrote about when I started the Coffee Spot in 2012. It’s also in my home-town of Guildford. Back then, with the exception of Bar des Arts, it was a lonely beacon of speciality coffee in a town full of chains. These days, despite the loss of Bar des Arts, it’s slightly less lonely, particularly with recent developments on Chapel Street and elsewhere [coming soon to the Coffee Spot]. It’s also changed its name.

After four years as Glutton & Glee, it became the Kalm Kitchen Café in February 2015. At first, the change was almost imperceptible, but as the year went on, it became more noticeable, although some things, such as Allpress’ Redchurch blend on the espresso machine, remained the same. The sign above the door still said “Glutton & Glee” too, and each time I visited, the staff told me that the rebranding/redecorating would be happening soon.

Then, one day, I went by and it said “Kalm Kitchen” above the door, so I made a note to come back with my camera. And so, yesterday, I did, finally having the perfect combination of a sunny day, my camera and a spare hour or two…

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Café Grumpy Chelsea

The somewhat unwelcoming Cafe Grumpy sign: an elongated oval, stylised as a face, with frowning eyebrows and a downturned mouth.I was introduced to Café Grumpy by Bluestone Lane, who told me about their fellow Aussies when I visited the Bluestone’s Broad Street branch. Two days later I was looking for somewhere for lunch, so I sought out Café Grumpy’s Chelsea branch on New York’s W 20th Street.

The first Café Grumpy opened in Brooklyn in 2005, while this is the second (of six) branches of the bizarrely-named chain (I say this because, generally speaking, I find Aussies to be one of the most consistently upbeat of peoples, so to call your coffee shop chain “Café Grumpy” takes a certain sense of irony). Café Grumpy roasts all its own coffee in a dedicated roastery and has made its name with its pour-over coffee, which, in the land of the obligatory flask of bulk-brew, is still something of a novelty.

If you like your espresso-based drinks, you’re also well-catered for, with the Heartbreaker blend being joined on the Synesso espresso machine by a single-origin (a Kenya Peaberry during my visit) and decaf (from Costa Rica). There are also four single-origins on the pour-over menu (a Guatemalan, a Mexican and two Kenyans), one of which is also available through the aforementioned bulk-brewer.

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Ancoats Coffee Update

Freshly-roasted coffee beans cooling in the pan of Ancoats' Giesen roaster.I never done this before, updating a Meet the Roaster… Technically, this means it’s a Saturday Update, but also a Meet the Roaster… Fortunately, I suspect that I’m the only one who actually cares about these things…

I first visited Ancoats in August 2014, when it occupied the corner of a small unit in the corner of an industrial estate in Manchester’s Ancoats district. Fast forward 18 months, and Ancoats, after only two years, was doing so well that it could move not only into bigger premises, but into an amazing café/roastery in Manchester’s Royal Mills development.

The Coffee Spot covered the café-side of things back in November last year, so today I’m focusing on the roastery. Ancoats has long been a favourite of mine, roasting some fine coffee, including some of my favourite decafs. This is joined by its ubiquitous Warehouse espresso blend and anything up to nine single-origins. You can get the Warehouse blend, decaf and a different single-origin every week on espresso at the café, while three single-origins are on filter at any one time. These change on a daily basis and, if you ask nicely, chances are that you can have any single-origin that’s in stock.

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Federal Café & Bar

Detail from the A-board at Federal Cafe & Bar, proudly proclaiming the serving of "Brinner" of Friday evenings.I swear that the good people of Manchester were waiting for me to leave…  I’d been visiting for the inaugural Cup North back in 2014 and no sooner had I left, than it seemed a slew of new coffee shops opened, led by Federal Café & Bar, which, by the way, does what it says on the tin. By day, it’s a café, while by night, it morphs into a bar, although, as I discovered, the staff will happily serve you coffee long into the night (and, I suspect, alcohol during the day).

The coffee side of the equation is handled by Kiwi transplants, Ozone, supplying the Hodson blend and decaf on espresso, with a couple of single-origins on pour-over, impressive when you consider the (lack of) available space. There’s a small selection of wine (five) and beer (four), plus loose-leaf tea, hot chocolate and soft drinks.

Federal’s other main strength is food. This is prepared on-site in an impressively compact kitchen which takes up half of the (not very much) space behind the counter. There are decent breakfast (until noon), lunch (from noon) and brunch (all day) menus, plus, on Friday/Saturday nights, one of the greatest inventions ever, Brinner!

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Sweetleaf Williamsburg

A mug of black filter coffee in a classic black American diner mug, adorned with Sweatleaf's logo.I’m off to America again next month, so I thought it was about time I finished publishing all the places from my trip this time last year! I therefore present Sweetleaf in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which I popped into in March, so at least the snow in the pictures is still topical!

The second of Sweetleaf’s three locations (the other two being in Long Island City, Queens), the Williamsburg branch opened in 2012, sharing the building with the Modern Spaces estate agents (realtors for American readers). It’s a long, thin space, decked out in reclaimed wood and exposed brick, with a gorgeous, partly-tiled floor, quite a contrast to the modern, open office at the other end of the building. In look and feel, it has more in common with a British pub than with a coffee shop, right down to the table football! It is, by the way, amazing.

Like many American coffee shops, Sweetleaf roasts its own coffee, the Williamsburg branch offering the house-blend, decaf and a single-origin on espresso, plus three more, one on the obligatory bulk-brew filter, the second as an iced filter, with the third on pour-over (V60). There’s also a small range of cakes and pastries.

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