Scottsdale, to the east of Phoenix, is a lovely area of shops, hotels, houses, quiet streets and, right in the centre, a cluster of four speciality coffee shops, forming a rough diamond. At the southern tip is Fourtillfour, the creation of Nico and Mia, who moved here from San Francisco. Fourtillfour satisfies their twin passions: great coffee and vintage cars, the couple often organising rallies and other events.
I can’t speak to the cars, but when it comes to the coffee, it’s a small but lovely place. There’s an outside patio, which has the bulk of the seating, something you could only get away with in a climate such as Arizona, while inside there are a pair of small rooms, one with the counter, the other with some seating. The coffee, which was from San Francisco’s Four Barrel during my visit, comes either via a simple espresso-based menu or there’s bulk-brew.
Welcome to the second instalment of this edition of Brian’s Travel Spot, covering my latest Grand Adventure. In the first instalment, we saw how that no sooner had I returned from my previous trip to Florida/Phoenix than I was off again, flying out to Boston. My dilemma, if you can call it that, was that I had to be in Phoenix (again!) three weeks later. Rather than fly home (again), then fly back to the US (again), I decided to stay in the US, slowly making my way from northeast to southwest, taking in some sights as I went.
Given my dislike of flying in the USA, and my past record of taking ludicrously long train journeys, it should come as no surprise that I decided to do the whole trip by train. Or, at least, as much of it as I could, a route that took me from Providence, Rhode Island, down the eastern seaboard to Washington DC, with stops in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. From there, I took two overnight trains, one to New Orleans and the other from New Orleans to Tucson, Arizona, where I hired a car to drive to Phoenix, my final destination.
My first speciality coffee in New Orleans came courtesy of Spitfire Coffee. A tiny spot in the heart of the French Quarter, it’s the number one option when you need decent coffee during a hard day’s sight-seeing. Given its size/location, Spitfire could be forgiven for serving a middle-of-the-road espresso blend and a big flask of drip coffee to go. But no, Spitfire is cut from a different cloth.
The coffee comes from a cast of five roasters, with a different option on espresso every day, coupled with multiple options on pour-over using V60 or Chemex. There’s also cold-brew, a decent selection of tea and some signature drinks (Las Tres Flores and a Cuban Cortado). You can also have an iced espresso or latte should that take your fancy and, refreshingly, there’s no batch-brew on offer. If you’re hungry, there’s a choice of two cakes, baked at Spitfire’s sister location, Pax.
No sooner had I returned from my previous trip to Florida/Phoenix than, it seemed to me, I was off again, back to the USA for another grand adventure as I like to call my ridiculously long trips. In reality, I had nine days between flights, which included three days at home, four days away in the UK, squeezing in visits to Foundry Coffee and Grasshopper Café, then two days at my Dad’s. And then I was off again. In case you’re wondering, no, it was not nearly long enough.
This time I flew from Manchester, via Heathrow, to Boston for a long-standing social engagement. I was then faced with a dilemma. I had to be in Phoenix (again!) an annoyingly-inconvenient three weeks later. I could have returned to the UK (again), had another 9 or so days in the country, then flown back to Phoenix (again), picking up another two rounds of jetlag in the process (and no, they do not cancel each other out).
Or… I could stay and use the three weeks to slowly make my way from north-east to south-west, taking in some sights as I went. No prizes for guessing which option I went for.
For a long time, Philadelphia has been one of my favourite coffee cities: understated (and underrated), easily walkable and with some really excellent coffee shops. Top of that list is Ox Coffee, which I visited on my first trip to the city in 2014. Back then it hadn’t long since celebrated its first birthday and was just finding its feet. I returned two years later, when the “new” back room and garden were open and, when I finally made it back to Philadelphia last week after another absence of two years, I made a point of calling in to see what Max and Will, the owners, had been up to…
I was on a bit of a coffee trek that day, having already called into the new Rival Bros as well as Plenty Café on Passyunk Avenue, so, with a couple more stops to go, I ordered a decaf Gibraltar. It was only then that I realised that since my last visit, Ox Coffee had started roasting. Naturally, I then had to try all the coffee…
I first discovered Parlor Coffee in 2016 via a combination of serendipity, a tip-off and keeping my eyes open. Back then, as well as being a roaster, Parlor Coffee ran a small coffee bar in the back room of the Persons of Interest barbershop in Brooklyn, which I spotted as I walked past one day. It was a lovely place, pulling some awesome espresso on a single-group Kees van der Westen, so I was rather upset to learn that it had closed last year.
However, I recalled the barista, Vanessa, telling me that the roastery, also in Brooklyn, was open at the weekends, so when I found myself in New York on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I made a beeline for Vanderbilt Avenue. You’ll find the roastery here (which will have its own Meet the Roaster feature in due course) along with the subject of today’s Saturday Short, the Tasting Room.
After a month in the US, it was time to come home. I’d flown to Miami (in the back of an A380), spent a week driving around Florida’s east coast (interesting, but very flat), attended back-to-back week-long meetings in Miami and Phoenix (including flying first class between the two), then had a final week driving around northern Arizona, largely basing myself in Flagstaff. This was easily the best part of the trip, with mountains, canyons, forests and deserts all within an hour or two’s drive of Flagstaff. There was even an unexpected find of some great coffee.
However, it was time to come home, so I drove back to Phoenix the night before, spent the day exploring the relatively young coffee scene in Scottsdale, then headed for the airport, Sky Harbor, one of my favourite airports in the USA, perhaps even in the world. I’d only flown out of Sky Harbor once before, in late 2016, when I flew there and back on British Airways on my first visit to Phoenix. Back then, before I had a travel budget, I’d flown both legs in economy. This time, although I’d flown out in economy, I was returning back in business class…
If you have been paying attention on social media (or indeed, reading my posts!) you’ll know that for the last four weeks, I’ve been travelling around the USA, first in Florida/Miami, then in Phoenix/Arizona. In the past, I’ve written about my travelling coffee kit and I’ve also written extensively about making coffee on planes and at airports, which makes the long journeys bearable.
On this trip, I’ve been doing a lot of touring, which means not that many visits to speciality coffee shops along the way. In the past, this has meant either not having coffee or having to put up with bad hotel coffee in the morning and bad diner coffee during the day. However, since getting my Travel Press, all that has changed.
The Travel Press has meant that I can make coffee in the morning and take it with me. Then I began to get a bit obsessed (me? no! surely not!) It started with a trip to the Grand Canyon where I took a photo of my Travel Press and Therma Cup overlooking the canyon, then last year I took a picture of them on the Great Wall of China. Then it got out of hand…
Welcome to another of my Brian’s Travel Spot series which these days seems to involve documenting my various flights around the world. Normally these are long-haul international flights, but today I’m turning my attention to one of my least favourite activities: flying internally in America. It’s not something I do very often and certainly not something I do if I can help it.
This time last year, as I picked my way across America from San Francisco to Chicago to Miami to Boston, I took a series of three flights. One day I hope to write them up as part of the wider trip, but for now, the only other experience I’ve had of flying within America is on a couple of connecting flights, once on my way out to Phoenix in 2016 and the other when flying to Chicago via Newark last year.
This year began with a trip to Miami and Phoenix, involving a connecting flight between the two. Faced with the prospect of over five hours on a plane (and a small one at that), I looked at the options, and, with work’s travel budget picking up the tab, I decided that I’d better fly first class.
Exeter’s growing speciality coffee scene is mostly concentrated in and around the centre, particularly since Darkhorse Espresso out on the Magdalen Road closed a couple of years ago. However, this is changing with the appropriately-named Magdalen Road Bakery, a bakery (the clue’s in the name) which doubles as a lovely café, serving breakfast, lunch and speciality coffee from Origin. There’s the ubiquitous Pathfinder blend, which is joined on espresso by decaf, while there’s also a single-origin batch-brew filter.
All the bread, as well as the cakes and pastries, are baked on-site, while all the food’s prepared at the back on an open counter-top kitchen. There’s not much seating, just two long benches, one at the front, where you get the smell of the coffee being ground, and one at the back, where you get the smell of baking in the morning and cooking throughout the day. Either way, you win.