Tandem Coffee Roasters

A light bulb in the shape of a tandem bicycle from the wall of the Tandem Coffee Roasters RoasteryTypical. You wait ages for one Meet the Roaster, then two come along at once. Not only that, but they’re both American! Hot on the heels of last Saturday’s feature on the Brooklyn Roasting Company, comes the subject of today’s Meet the Roaster, Portland’s Tandem Coffee Roasters.

I first came across Tandem when I was in Boston, where I enjoyed a cappuccino at Boston’s Render Coffee made using Tandem’s seasonal Time and Temp espresso-blend. I also met with Larry, owner of Boston’s Pavement Coffeehouse chain, who sang the praises of Tandem’s co-founder and chief roaster, Will (an ex-Pavement employee). That pretty much sealed it for me, and when, a few days later, I popped up the New England coast to Portland to start my coast-to-coast, Portland-to-Portland train trip, I naturally sought out Tandem’s roastery.

What I found wasn’t just a thriving coffee roaster, but a cracking, friendly coffee bar too. Coffee bar aside, which has already featured as a Coffee Spot in its own right, today’s Saturday Supplement is focusing on the roastery side of the business, which centres around Tandem’s 12kg Probat roaster, housed in a separate wing of Tandem’s single-storey, L-shaped building  on Anderson Street.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Tandem Coffee Roasters on Anderson Street in Portland. Although it doesn't look like much...
  • ... the modest exterior of the 1930s single-storey brick building hides a busy operation.
  • Let's go in, shall we?
  • This is what greets you when you step through the door: the Tandem Coffee Roastery!
  • Although this, the coffee bar, to the left as you come in, is, I suspect, what draws most people here. It's a lovely spot, so lovely, in fact, that it features in a Coffee Spot all of its own.
  • However, today we're looking at the roasting side of things (just in case you'd forgotten).
  • It all starts here, with the sacks of green beans, which look much the same the world over.
  • There's a cupping table in the corner as you come in...
  • ... but pride of place goes to the 12kg Probat that's clearly visible from the door.
  • And here's Will, proud co-owner and head roaster.
  • I arrived just as a load of freshly-roasted beans have finished cooling in the pan.
  • Will, like any good roaster, is always keeping an eye on his beans, checking on the quality.
  • But wait! What's he doing now? Adding beans? Actually, he's using the pan to blend them...
  • ... which is something I first came across at the Brooklyn Coffee Company. Clever idea.
  • If you want to try the finished product, the coffee bar has bags for sale...
  • ... or you can always sit in the bar itself and have some experly made for you!
Tandem Coffee Roasters on Anderson Street in Portland. Although it doesn't look like much...1 ... the modest exterior of the 1930s single-storey brick building hides a busy operation.2 Let's go in, shall we?3 This is what greets you when you step through the door: the Tandem Coffee Roastery!4 Although this, the coffee bar, to the left as you come in, is, I suspect, what draws most people here. It's a lovely spot, so lovely, in fact, that it features in a Coffee Spot all of its own.5 However, today we're looking at the roasting side of things (just in case you'd forgotten).6 It all starts here, with the sacks of green beans, which look much the same the world over.7 There's a cupping table in the corner as you come in...8 ... but pride of place goes to the 12kg Probat that's clearly visible from the door.9 And here's Will, proud co-owner and head roaster.10 I arrived just as a load of freshly-roasted beans have finished cooling in the pan.11 Will, like any good roaster, is always keeping an eye on his beans, checking on the quality.12 But wait! What's he doing now? Adding beans? Actually, he's using the pan to blend them...13 ... which is something I first came across at the Brooklyn Coffee Company. Clever idea.14 If you want to try the finished product, the coffee bar has bags for sale...15 ... or you can always sit in the bar itself and have some experly made for you!16
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I’ve always found the café/roaster model to be much more prevalent in America than in the UK, although I suspect that there are more of them over here than I give them credit for (particularly since I’ve failed to visit some of the more notable examples in London such as Nude, Ozone and Allpress!). However, in the US, it seems to be a pretty dominant model, with one third of the 50+ US Coffee Spots I’ve covered falling into the café/roaster category.

I particularly like those café/roasters where the roasting is done on-site. This is a frequent occurrence, especially in small operations, and, for me, it’s a bonus when the roaster itself is openly in view. I understand that this isn’t always possible, especially in a busy coffee shop, where there are good operational reasons for separating the coffee drinker from the coffee roaster. For a start, the whole roasting process can be noisy, as well as generating a lot of heat, neither of which is usually conducive to enjoying a nice cup of coffee. On the flip side, for a roaster, being able to work in a controlled environment without the interruptions of a busy coffee shop (particularly customers asking questions), is quite important.

That’s why I understand when the roasting, even when it’s done on-site, is often tucked out of the way, allowing the roaster to work in peace (London’s TAP, 193 Wardour Street and Paris’ Café Lomi are good examples). There are, of course, plenty of coffee shops where the roasting takes place in plain view of the customers: last week’s Meet the Roaster, Brooklyn Roasting Company, is a prime example, although it’s planning on relocating the roasting to a dedicated facility in the near future. This seems to be a common route for successful roasters as they expand, Paris’ Coutume nicely illustrating the point.

However, I do believe that Tandem have found the perfect solution with its combined roastery and coffee bar. While the roaster is clearly on display, being the first thing you see when you walk in, it has its own well-delineated space and is obviously separate from the coffee bar (London’s Caravan at King’s Cross is another good example of this). This means that both coffee drinker and coffee roaster can get on with their business in peace, but at the same time the roaster remains the focal point of the establishment. It’s also a good opening gambit to get people involved in/engaged with the roasting process. I offer, as an example, the young man who walked in to order an iced something-or-other and, pointing back towards the roaster, asked “what’s that?”. Cue some coffee-themed education.

Tandem roasts three times a week, the output consisting of the seasonal Time and Temp espresso blend and, typically, four single-origin beans, some of which are roasted with espresso in mind, others for filter. Although a roaster/café, Tandem is also a very successful wholesaler/supplier, with just 5% of its output being used in the coffee bar and its second establishment, the Tandem Coffee + Bakery. The remaining 95% goes to supply a wide range of cafés in New England and beyond. Indeed, Tandem, which coincidentally celebrated its third birthday the day I published this piece (Happy Birthday!), is already so successful that a 15kg Loring roaster is on order to replace the faithful Probat.

122 ANDERSON STREET • PORTLAND • ME 04101 • USA
www.tandemcoffee.com +1 207 899 0235
Monday 07:00 – 14:00 Roaster Tandem (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 14:00 Seating Bar, Counter, Table (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 14:00 Food Cookies
Thursday 07:00 – 14:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 14:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 08:00 – 15:00 Wifi No
Sunday CLOSED Power No
Chain Local Visits 4th June 2015

For a different perspective on Tandem, from a very different angle, try this article from Paste Magazine.


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10 thoughts on “Tandem Coffee Roasters

  1. Pingback: Tandem Coffee Roastery | Brian's Coffee Spot

  2. Agreed that the roaster/coffee bar concept is a good one. It works for us and I suspect that many more will follow suit in due course. By demystifying the process we have introduced many people to the world of speciality coffee and great coffee at great prices is the mantra here at Edgcumbes! Despite being in the middle of nowhere we are finding lots of people calling by… Looking forward to seeing you too one of these days!

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