Brian’s Travel Spot: Texas Eagle – Austin to San Antonio

The departures board at Austin Station, where there are a total of two trains a day, the northbound Texas Eagle in the morning and its southbound counterpart in the evening.Welcome to another instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot. You join me in Austin, Texas, at the start of a week-long train trip across America (although the last leg is by coach) that will see me reach Portland, Maine, just in time for Thanksgiving. My journey is spread over four days, going via New Orleans (where I’m spending the weekend) and Washington DC (where I’ll spend a day).

This Travel Spot covers the first leg of the journey, travelling on Amtrak Train No. 21, Texas Eagle, which runs daily between Chicago and San Antonio. However, I was only onboard from the second to last stop, Austin, my coach class ticket (booked six weeks in advance) costing me the princely sum of $6.

I’d been in Austin for the previous six days, having flown out from London for work. As soon as my meeting ended on Thursday afternoon, I headed to the station, stopping only for a pour-over at Merit Coffee on W 3rd Street, a convenient 10-minute stroll from the station (or so I thought). Then I carried on to the station, arriving in plenty of time for my 18:30 departure. Except, as you will see, my train was somewhat late.

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Monarch Coffee

A cappuccino is a classic white tulip cup, served at Monarch Coffee in Kansas City.Today’s Coffee Spot continues the retelling of last month’s American road trip through the medium of coffee shops. We’ve reached Kansas City, our final overnight stop before Madison, South Dakota, where we called into Monarch Coffee, a recommendation from Sump Coffee in St Louis.

Monarch is a roaster which used to have two bricks-and-mortar stores in Kansas City, one of which was the lovely store on Broadway which we visited. Sadly, Monarch took the difficult decision to close both stores at the end of October, although it’s still going strong as a roaster, making this the first time that I’ve written about a coffee shop knowing it was closed. I did consider not posting, but decided that this would be a fitting tribute to Monarch Coffee.

Monarch Coffee was on the ground floor of the Ambassador apartment building, occupying a large corner unit on the right. With limited tables outside on the pavement, there was plenty more seating in the spacious interior, arrayed on either side of the island counter offset to the left. When it came to coffee, there was a commendably concise espresso-based menu with a single-origin option on batch brew filter, plus iced and nitro options.

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The Barn – Café Kanzler

Two rolled into one, the minimalist logo of The Barn overlaid on the red and white stripped awning of Café Kanzler.To make a change from my American road trip, today’s Coffee Spot takes us all the way back to early May and my trip to Berlin, when I visited a rather unique establishment, Café Kranzler. This Berlin institution can trace its roots back to 1825 and is easily recognisable in its current incarnation, in a rotunda on top of the Kranzler-Eck shopping complex on Kurfürstendamm. In 2016, The Barn took over the running of the iconic coffee shop, thus keeping the Café Kranzler name alive.

Access is via a lift, with a choice of seating inside the rotunda itself, outside on the 360° wrap-around balcony or on a rooftop terrace (accessed via a flight of stairs from the balcony). Although the setting is quite different from The Barn’s usual third-wave style coffee shops (or, indeed, the ultra-modern Sony Center coffee shop), the offering is very familiar, with the standard seasonal menu which you’ll find across all The Barn’s Berlin locations. This includes a concise espresso-based menu, two options on pour-over through the V60, plus cold brew, tea, hot chocolate and a range of cakes. The specific beans (all single-origins) vary by location, chosen by the baristas every few days.

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Blueprint Coffee, Delmar

Details from the door of Blueprint Coffee, which has the Blueprint Coffee logo with the words "Blueprint Coffee STL | MO" and "Available Here" underneath.Continuing the retelling of our road trip from Atlanta to South Dakota last month, our next stop after Nashville was St Louis, home of today’s Coffee Spot, Blueprint Coffee on Delmar Boulevard. We actually visited Blueprint on our way back to Atlanta, having calling into Sump Coffee on the way out. However, since I wrote about Sump Coffee’s Nashville store on Monday, I wanted to spread the love.

Like Sump, Blueprint Coffee is both roaster and coffee shop, with three shops in St Louis. We visited the original which is, for the moment, also home to the roastery, located at the back of the building.

Occupying a long, thin shop in the Delmar Loop neighbourhood, Blueprint is close to the St Louis Metro as well as having free on-street parking nearby (which was handy for us). There are a handful of tables outside on the busy pavement, with several more in the spacious interior. All the coffee is roasted on-site, with a blend and regularly-rotating single-origin on espresso, plus another on batch-brew and a selection of eight blends/single-origins on pour-over using the SP9 and Kalita Wave filter. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a concise all-day brunch menu and various cakes.

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Sump Coffee, Nashville

The Sump Coffee logo, a line drawing of a bald, bearded skull with a branch and portafilter crossed behind it.Continuing the retelling of my American road trip through the medium of coffee shops, we started our second day in Nashville, Tennessee, where I sought out Sump Coffee. Our first stop, Niedlov’s Cafe & Bakery in Chattanooga, was a chance discovery, but Sump Coffee was a planned stop, one of several places that I wanted to visit along the way. The Nashville coffee shop is the second of two Sump Coffees, which started life in Saint Louis, where the original coffee shop/roastery is still going strong.

Part of the modern OneC1ty development, Sump Coffee was one of the first tenants when it opened in 2017. It occupies a spacious, high-ceilinged unit with lots of inside seating and plenty more outside. When it comes to coffee, which is all roasted on the 10 kg Diedrich roaster in the back of the Saint Louis store, you really are spoilt for choice, with three single-origins on espresso, six/seven more on pour-over and, if you’re there before 11 o’clock, you can have batch brew too. All the beans are for sale in retail bags, along with a selection of coffee-making equipment and merchandising. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a selection cakes and pastries.

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Devoción, Flatiron District

A flat white in my HuskeeCup, made with the Honey blend at Devoción in the Flat Iron District.Welcome to a new, occasional feature for the Coffee Spot, the Saturday Snapshot, Coffee Spots that, for one reason or another, I’m unable to do a full write-up on. The inaugural Saturday Snapshot features Devoción, one of many places from my recent trip to New York City. Devoción is a coffee shop/roaster chain that works directly with farmers in Colombia, where it owns a coffee mill. There are four coffee shops, three in Brooklyn and the subject of today’s Saturday Snapshot, on E 20th Street in the Flat Iron District.

Devoción has two options on espresso, plus decaf, batch brew filter and, from memory, two options on pour-over through the Kalita Wave filter. A beautiful space, with plenty of seating, it was consistently full and busy the three times that I visited, which is why I wasn’t able to do a full write up or get very many pictures.

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For the Good of the People, Euston Station

For the Good of the People's logo, taken from the menu board at the stall at London Euston Station.For the Good of the People is part of the Real Food Market on Euston Station forecourt, directly opposite the station’s main entrance, an excellent spot for a pre-/post-train coffee (except for Mondays, when it’s closed). The set up is pretty simple, just a stall at the left-hand end of the Real Food Market stalls, serving espresso-based drinks along with a selection of retail bags of coffee. Unsurprisingly, it’s disposable cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.

For the Good of the People uses its bespoke Canopy blend, its standard espresso-based menu having a commendably simple pricing policy (one price for with milk, another for black). There’s also tea, a range of iced coffees (all at one price) and, for a small supplement, alternative milks. Although there’s no seating at the stall, you can take a seat at any of the approximately 20 picnic-style tables on the forecourt.

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Niedlov’s Cafe & Bakery

A lovely espresso, served in a classic black cup at Niedlov's Cafe & Bakery and made with the Monarch, from Onyx Coffee Lab.As explained in Monday’s Coffee Spot, Bellwood Coffee, at the start of October I’d taken the train from New York to Atlanta, where Amanda picked me up to begin a four-day road trip to Madison, South Dakota. Our first stop was Chattanooga, where we came across Niedlov’s Cafe & Bakery on Main Street, chosen largely because it was open after 5 o’clock and had a large garden where we could sit with Fergie, Amanda’s dog.

I knew nothing about Niedlov’s but was sold the moment I saw the Slayer espresso machine on the counter, along with boxes from Onyx Coffee Lab on the shelves. It may have been a chance discovery, but I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to Chattanooga, or indeed to Tennessee, since it was my first time in the state.

Niedlov’s is a bakery/cafe which takes its coffee as seriously as its bread (and it takes its bread very seriously indeed). A standard espresso-based menu features Onyx’s Monarch, along with its Southern Weather on batch brew filter. There are separate breakfast and lunch menus, plus cake and, of course, bread, all of which can be enjoyed in the spacious cafe or outside in the garden.

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Bellwood Coffee – Peachtree

A lovely Gilbraltar, made with The Reservoir signature espresso at Bellwood Coffee - Peachtree.I came across Bellwood Coffee, a West Atlanta roaster, at Tuesday Coffee + Shoppe in Marietta over the summer. That led me to discover that Bellwood also had a coffee shop inside a plant shop in East Atlanta Village. Even better, from my point of view, Bellwood had opened a second shop in June 2021, inside the lobby of the 1776 Peachtree office building just a few blocks from Atlanta’s Peachtree Station, where I would be arriving by train from New York City on Monday morning.

1776 Peachtree is a large, modern office building, towering over its neighbours on the west side of Peachtree Road NW. It’s hard to miss, although at first sight it’s not obvious that it houses a speciality coffee shop. I knew where I was going, but had to go up to the main doors before spotting a small sign for Bellwood Coffee. You could easily walk past without ever knowing it was there, which would be a shame, since you would be missing a gem. Bellwood serves its signature espresso, The Reservoir, from a standard menu with its seasonal decaf as an alternative, while there’s also batch brew and cold brew, plus cakes and sandwiches for breakfast/lunch.

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CSONS Shrewsbury

The CSONS logo, the letters "CSONS" written in blue (with the C in yellow) inside two concentric blue circles.CSONS has been a fixture of Shrewsbury’s coffee scene since 2015, when it opened as a coffee shop, serving primarily coffee and cakes. Since then, it’s evolved into a full-service restaurant and has opened a second location down the A49 in Ludlow. CSONS came to my attention through Hundred House Coffee, which provides CSONS’ bespoke house blend, available through a standard, espresso-based menu along with Hundred House’s regular decaf. There’s also tea from Hereford’s Trumpers Tea and a fully-stocked bar with local beers, cider and cocktails.

When it comes to food, CSONS has separate menus for breakfast (to 11:30), lunch (12:00 – 15:00) and dinner (15:00 onwards on Friday/Saturday only). The food is innovative, ranging from breakfast standards through to small plates for lunch/dinner so that you can mix-and-match your way through the menu (large plates are also available if you just want a regular meal!). You’re also welcome to pop in for coffee and cake (available all day).

All of this is served in a lovely space which occupies the ground floor of an old building on Milk Street. The seating is spread across multiple rooms, including a large, sheltered courtyard at the back if you want to sit outside.

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