The Good Coffee Cartel is a curious mixture: quirky coffee shop, roastery, ceramics workshop: it’s all these and more. The roastery is very clearly the backbone of the business, the vintage 15kg Probat sitting in the corner at the back. However, it’s also a spacious coffee shop, with a soon to be added back garden, somewhere you can sit all day and enjoy whatever excellent coffee Todd and Courtney have on that day, with different options on espresso and batch-brew, all served in cups that have been handmade on site. Even better is the pricing structure: all the coffee is £2, all the cakes are £2 and if you really want to push the boat out, you can have an espresso, espresso with milk and batch brew for £5.
Bluestone Lane is the Aussie-inspired chain which, having started in New York, made its way to Philadelphia in November 2015 and now boasts branches as far afield as San Francisco and Los Angeles. I first came across the Broad Street branch in Manhattan’s financial district. Small and cosy, this was very much a coffee shop, one of 17 that Bluestone Lane now boasts. At the other end of the scale, Rittenhouse Square is very much a café, currently one of eight such Bluestone Lane establishments, offering full table service and an Aussie-inspired all-day brunch menu, containing such Aussie standards as banana bread, avocado smash and various egg-based dishes, all backed-up by an interesting selection of cake. Large, bright and airy, it’s as far as you can get from my experience in Manhattan.
Turning to coffee, there’s a standard (for Australia/UK) espresso-based menu with a single-origin espresso, plus a blend (Maverick) that’s used in milk-based drinks, which include piccolos and flat whites alongside the more familiar (for America) cappuccinos and lattes. Pleasingly, all are served in suitably small-sized glasses/cups. There’s also bulk-brew for those who fancy filter. Having originally sourced its coffee from San Francisco’s Sightglass, it’s now all roasted in-house.
Coffee Island is, unusually for the Coffee Spot, a chain and an international one at that, which started on a Greek island in 1999 and now has over 300 shops throughout Greece, Cyprus and south-east Europe. However, its branch on St Martin’s Lane is (so far) the only UK one. Opening earlier this year with a considerable media push, I was away at the time and so missed all the fuss. I popped in later in the year and I liked what I saw…
A modest exterior hides a surprisingly-large coffee shop with plenty of seating and a mezzanine level at the back. I’d describe Coffee Island as coffee geeks meet the mainstream, so while there’s a house-blend, decaf and five single-origins, there’s also flavoured coffee, which is not something you normally associate with the speciality end of the market. There’s also a large retail section (beans and equipment), tea and food, the latter in the shape of salads, sandwiches and cake.
There’s an excellent range of options for the coffee including espresso, Greek coffee (Ibrik), bulk-brew or pour-over using the V60, Aeropress or Chemex (for one or two). If you want to compare coffee or methods side-by-side, it’s awesome!
Exmouth Market Grind, which opened earlier this year, is another recent addition to the Grind empire, which started with Shoreditch Grind. Since then, Grind has grown and evolved, morphing from its roots as an espresso bar by day, and cocktail bar by night, to include roasting its own coffee and adding substantial breakfast and all-day menus at the likes of London Grind.
Exmouth Market Grind falls into this latter category, as much a restaurant as it is a coffee shop. In this, it’s in good company, sitting diagonally across from that Exmouth Market institution, Caravan. The breakfast menu contains all the usual favourites, such as smashed avocado, various eggs on toast, pancakes, French Toast and more the traditional full English breakfast (plus a vegetarian version). The all-day menu takes over after noon, with small plates, a variety of interesting mains and a selection of salads. And, of course, there’s coffee, with a seasonal house-blend plus a single-origin on espresso.
This is the brightest, most open of all the Grinds that I’ve been to, and also the quietest. If there’s one thing I’ve struggled with when it comes to Grind over the years, they can sometimes be too loud for me.
The Workshop Coffee, right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon as was) was the one place that everyone said to visit. Tucked away on the top floor of an old building overlooking the main street of Đồng Khởi, it’s a glorious place, open to the roof, which soars high above and with windows on three of the four sides. Although the building’s old, inside it’s very modern, with a post-industrial look and feel, full of exposed brick, concrete floors, iron window-frames and with multiple lights hanging from the ceiling.
In this respect, it could be any coffee shop in any number of cities around the world, a warehouse loft in Brooklyn or Shoreditch for example, making it part of the global phenomenon of speciality coffee. This is followed through with the philosophy of its coffee, with direct trade at its heart, roasting high-quality single-origins in small batches on-site.
At the same time, it’s a very Vietnamese establishment, with an overwhelmingly local clientele and staff. The coffee too, is predominantly Vietnamese, the Workshop championing local Arabica growers, roasting them either as single-origins for filter, or blending them for espresso with other high quality beans from around the world.
Four Barrel Coffee, founded in 2008, is one of the big names of San Francisco speciality coffee. Now a chain of three shops (one of which is a bakery) as well as a roaster, this branch, in the Mission, is the original. It was also, for a while, the main roastery as well. These days, roasting takes place at a dedicated facility in Oakland, but the old roaster is still there at the back of the store. In fact, the space is neatly split in two, with the coffee shop in the front, and the old roastery, now used for storage, training and cuppings, at the back.
Four Barrel is unusual in that it has two counters. The main one is in the middle of the store, offering the Friendo Blendo seasonal house-blend on espresso, along with decaf, plus a rapidly-changing single-origin on bulk-brew. There is also a wide selection of cake on offer if you are hungry. Alternatively, to the left of the door, is the “slow bar”. This offers five single-origins on pour-over and another on espresso. The slow bar has limited hours, only opening from eight until three in the week and until six at the weekends.
The first thing to say about Sightglass (which practically everyone recommended that I visit) is that it’s huge! It might not be as big as say, Caravan, King’s Cross, but it’s getting there. This is Sightglass HQ, which is where it all started back in 2009. It houses the roastery, coffee bar and the company’s training room and offices. What’s amazing, from a UK perspective, is that other than the roastery and offices, which occupy less than half the space, all Sightglass does is serve coffee, backed up with a few pastries. There’s no food service here, something which I’d find unimaginable in a similar-sized (or indeed much smaller) operation in the UK.
This does mean that the focus is firmly on the coffee, however, which is all roasted on-site. There are two counters: the main one, downstairs, serves the Owl’s Howl espresso blend, with three single-origin filters, one on batch-brew and two on V60, all three changing daily. The smaller counter, which is upstairs at the back of the mezzanine, opens at 11 o’clock and serves two single-origin espressos, plus the Blueboon filter blend on V60. The two single-origins, a Kenyan & a Honduran, change on a seasonal basis.
Case Study Coffee Roasters is the first coffee shop I visited in Portland. Located in the heart of downtown, on the intersection of SW 10th Avenue/Yamhill Street, it is one three branches of this local chain, which roasts all its own coffee in a separate roastery.
The downtown branch is glorious. Rectangular in shape, there’s an amazing, copper-topped island counter and floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides, the natural light supplemented by multiple, interesting light-fittings for the odd gloomy day. The seating follows the windows, with the trees lining the streets providing plenty of shade, plus you can sit at the counter, or right at the back whether there are four more tables. The right-hand wall is taken up by a large set of retail shelves.
The focus, of course, is firmly on the coffee, all roasted in-house. There is a choice of the house-blend on espresso, joined by a single-origin and decaf. For filter, there’s the obligatory bulk brew, plus a choice of four single-origins through the Kalita Wave filter, which you can watch being made. Finally, Case Study has cold brew, made on the counter using some impressive kit that could have come straight out of a chemistry lab.
I visited Dwelltime in Cambridge (Massachusetts, not UK) on my coast-to-coast adventure in June last year and, since I’m now back in Boston, I thought it was high-time I published it! However, since my original visit, Dwelltime has renamed itself barismo 364 to better reflect its ownership (although I quite liked the name Dwelltime).
Dwell-barismo-364-time (henceforth barismo 364) opened in 2012 as the flagship coffee shop for local roaster barismo. It incorporates a full kitchen at the back of the store, where all the food is prepared and all the cakes, cookies, etc are baked. It also has a lovely island counter, which was all part of the fit-out when barismo took over the disused Hubley auction house on Broadway.
Barismo offers two options (during my visit, a blend and a single-origin) plus decaf on espresso, while there’s also a full filter-bar, offering a pair of single-origins through the V60. Unusually for an American coffee shop, there’s no bulk-brew filter (something it shares with Render Coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s an extensive lunch menu and a range of cakes, cookies and pastries. At weekends, there’s also a full brunch menu until 2.30 and a ban on laptops.
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.