When it comes to railways, I have a romantic streak a mile wide. However, railway coffee and station coffee shops, with the notable exception of the likes of Coffee Affair, can sometimes be disappointing. Step forward Porter, a relatively new addition to Madison’s speciality coffee scene, located in the city’s old railway station. The (passenger) trains may have long gone, but Porter has recreated the atmosphere quite nicely, especially outside, where you can sit on the old platform.
Serving Counter Culture from North Carolina, Porter has the Hologram espresso blend, plus different single-origins on guest espresso, pour-over, bulk-brew (drip) and on tap (cold brew). The coffee menu comes in two parts, a more mass-market-based left-hand side with lattes and drip coffee offered in sizes of 8/12/16oz, and a more speciality-orientated right-hand side with cortados and flat whites.
Porter also offers a range of made-to-order and pre-made sandwiches, plus other breakfast and lunch options. There’s the usual selection of beans and coffee equipment for sale, but, unusually, they’re joined by items you’re more like to find in a delicatessen or grocers: tinned tomatoes, sardines, cured meats, cheese and a select range of spirits were just some of the things I noticed.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
If you approach Porter from the city centre along Washington Avenue, you’ll arrive at the front of the old station building, now rebranded as Washington Market. It’s worth crossing the railway tracks (which still carry the occasional freight train) to observe the old diesel locomotive and its four passenger cars which stand at the platform, testament to a bygone era that’s unlikely to revisit Madison any time soon.
To get to Porter itself, return over the tracks and head through the parking lot that runs down the side of the old station building, the bulk of which is occupied by a cycle shop, Motorless Motion (you can also get to Porter through Motorless Motion, a useful shortcut if it’s raining). Go past the station’s main entrance to the back where you’ll find an A-board pointing to the platforms. Head down here, avoiding the obvious desire to linger on the platform, and you’ll find Porter on your left, where there’s a cluster of small, round metal tables outside, sheltered from the elements by the platform roof. Porter itself is at the end of the main building, accessed via a door from the platform.
Porter is a small space, effectively square, with a large counter running full width at the back, occupying about 40% of the room. The front of the counter has the till to the left, where you order, then a display case for cakes and sandwiches, a pour-over station, cold-brew taps and the La Marzocco espresso machine. At the far end, where you wait to collect your coffee, is also a cheese cabinet. Because this is Porter.
The space behind the counter is occupied by a free-standing worktop, which houses the EK-43 grinder for the single-origins as well as providing food-preparation space. There’s another counter against the back wall which houses the boiler and bulk-brew, plus there’s a kitchen area against the right-hand wall. All-in-all, it’s very busy back here!
The seating is equally simple, dominated by a large, square communal table with bar stools, three on each side, right in the centre of the space. A narrow, four-person bar runs down the right-hand wall, with three two-person tables lining the front wall, immediately to the right of the door. Finally, against the left-hand wall, there’s a single two-person table between two large chiller cabinets.
Generous windows pierce the brick walls at regular intervals on three sides, making for a bright, airy space, while off to the right (the only wall without a window) there’s a passage way at the front that leads to Motorless Motion, where you’ll find three more round, four-person tables in a neat alcove between the main part of the cycle shop and Porter.
I started off with a flat white, made using the Hologram house-blend. I fancied the single-origin, but the barista said that the Hologram went better in milk, and she was right, producing a very rich, traditional, chocolatey flat white, the perfect start to the day. I paired this with breakfast, selecting the mozzarella bocadillos (sandwiches on a demi-baguette, which Porter offers pre-made). This was excellent, with crunchy bread, while the mozzarella had plenty of flavour, as did the balsamic vinegar.
I followed this with a V60 of the Ethiopian Idido. This grew on me as it cooled in the mug, becoming more delicate and fruity. I’d have loved for it to have been served in a carafe so that I could have played with the temperature more. I paired this with an awesome cupcake, which had a great cake base, topped with rich, creamy icing, but which avoided being sickly sweet.
|640 WEST WASHINGTON AVENUE • MADISON • WI 53703 • USA|
|www.portermsn.co||+1 (608) 720-1110|
|Monday||07:00 – 19:00||Roaster||Counter Culture (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||07:00 – 19:00||Seating||Tables, Tables (outside)|
|Wednesday||07:00 – 19:00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Sandwiches, Cake|
|Thursday||07:00 – 19:00||Service||Counter|
|Friday||07:00 – 19:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||07:00 – 19:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||07:00 – 19:00||Power||Yes|
|Chain||No||Visits||8th September 2017|
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