Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Chicago, Part II

A British Airways Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet on the stand at Chicago's O'Hare airport, waiting to take me back to the UK. I always forget how big they are until I get up close to them.Welcome to the second part of this instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, which chronicles my various flights to/from Chicago this year. My crazy travel schedule, which has seen me flying over all the world in 2017, has also resulted in my taking three trips to Chicago. The first was at the end of June, the second (September), I’ve just returned from, while the third one is at the end of October. Since I’m flying with a different airline each time and, despite always starting out at Manchester, I’m also flying three different routes, I thought that it would be interesting to compare and contrast my experiences.

June saw me fly with United from Manchester to Chicago (via Newark), returning direct to London. Meanwhile, in October I’ll be flying direct to and Manchester with American Airlines. Today, however, is all about my recent trip in September, when I flew from Manchester to London with British Airways, then on to Chicago with American Airlines, before returning on a direct flight, this time with British Airways, to London. Even better, I flew back business class, just the second time I’ve flown long-haul in business, having done it earlier this year when returning from Vietnam.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Chicago, Part I

A United Boeing 757 at the stand at Manchester Airport, waiting to fly me to Newark.My schedule’s seen me flying to Chicago three times this year: at the end of June, the start of September and, for the final time, at the end of October. Due to various circumstances, I’ve flown a different airline each time and, although I’ve always started out at Manchester, I’ve also flown three different routes. I thought that it would be interesting to compare and contrast each of the three sets of flights over a series of three Travel Spots, if for no other reason than my own decision-making purposes: I’ll be flying this route a fair few times in 2018 as well.

June saw me flying with United out of Manchester far too early in the morning, changing planes at Newark, and arriving late afternoon in Chicago. In contrast, in September, I flew from Manchester to London with British Airways, and on to Chicago with American Airlines, catching the last flight of the day. Finally, in October, I’ll be flying direct from Manchester to Chicago with American Airlines on the only direct flight of the day. Fortunately, all three return flights were direct: back to Heathrow in July (with United) and September (with British Airways), while in November I’m heading back to Manchester on American Airlines.

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Porter

A chalk outline of an old fashioned porter, case in hand, from the sign of Porter, in Madison.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.

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Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar, River North Point

A lovely Verve espresso in a classic white cup, pulled at Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar in River North Point, Chicago.Good coffee in offices is something of a rarity, the odd exception such as Store Street Espresso in Sheldon Square notwithstanding. Therefore imagine my surprise on turning up at my office for the week and discovering, in the lobby, not a run-off-the-mill coffee bar, but a genuine multi-roaster in the shape of the Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar. Best of all? The building’s open to the public, so anyone can walk in for some great coffee.

Infuse has a blend and decaf on espresso, plus two options on bulk-brew, all from different roasters from all over the country. Cold brew and iced tea are on tap, plus there’s normal tea, matcha and chai lattes and a range of food from local suppliers. Even better, if you are planning on staying for a bit, Infuse will serve your coffee in a proper cup, while the lobby has seating plus free Wifi.

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Wormhole Coffee

A model of the Millenium Falcon hanging in Wormhole Coffee in Chicago.Wormhole Coffee is something of a Chicago institution, certainly in the Wicker Park neighbourhood which has been its home for six years, where it is joined by the likes of the (recently departed) Buzz Killer Espresso and relatively newcomer, La Colombe and Ipsento 606. Wormhole stands out because of its 1980s sci-fi décor, which includes plenty of Star Wars memorabilia (which I guess extends it back to the 1970s) as well as the pièce de résistance, a full-size “Back to the Future” DeLorean on a shelf at the back.

However, while some might be happy with this particular claim to fame, Wormhole does not rest on its laurels. Not just an iconic location, it also serves damn good coffee, roasted in-house by its roasting arm, Halfwit Coffee, which has been around for five years. There’s a pretty good range too, with a house-blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, joined by a selection of single-origin filters. This includes bulk-brew, Aeropress, V60, and Chemex, plus a guest roaster, also available through the V60. The single-origins on offer change every few days, while the guest roaster changes every month or so. There’s also a range of teas, plus cake if you are hungry.

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Johnson Public House

The front of Johnson Public House on East Johnson Street in Madison.Having recently celebrated its sixth birthday, Johnson Public House is something of a stalwart of Madison’s small, but growing, speciality coffee scene. Located just north-east of the Square, the spiritual and literal centre of Madison, it’s definitely worth the short stroll along the isthmus required to reach it.

Set on the ground floor of a three-storey, brick-built building dating from 1923, Johnson Public House (which, despite sounding like a pub to British ears, is definitely a coffee house) is a large, open space, with plenty of seating and a generous counter at the back. You can also sit outside by the (relatively) busy road at one of three large picnic tables.

Johnson Public House is a family-run business which started life a multi-roaster, with the likes of Intelligentsia as a mainstay. However, about a year ago, Johnson Public House set up a roasting arm, Kin-Kin, which now supplies the bulk of the coffee, although you will also find one or two guests in there as well. There are two options on espresso and four single-origins on pour-over, using V60, Chemex and cafetiere. If you are hungry, there’s a select breakfast and lunch menu, featuring sandwiches and the like, plus cake.

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Bradbury’s Coffee

The glass side of Bradbury's on Madison's North Hamilton Street on a sunny day in July.When arriving in a new city, one of the first things I do, on finding a good coffee shop, is ask where else is good. When I tried this in Madison in July, one place got consistent recommendations, particularly from 5th Element Coffee. That was Bradbury’s Coffee, which, for the last five years, has been serving coffee from a variety of roasters from its home, a block from Madison’s Capitol Building in the heart of the city.

It’s an interesting space, at the tip of an interesting building. Triangular, with the counter at the back and the seating in the centre as well as around the edges, Bradbury’s has windows all around, with the exception of the back wall. These reach all the way to the unfeasibly high ceiling, the coffee shop effectively occupying a double-height space.

Although there’s a bespoke house-blend from Kickapoo Coffee, Bradbury’s employs a rotating array of guest roasters through espresso, pour-over (Kalita Wave) and bulk-brew. There’s also a cafetiere option. All the coffee, along with other offerings from the featured roasters, is for sale. Finally, there’s a range of sweet and savoury crepes, freshly made to order on a pair of griddles behind the counter.

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Panther Coffee, Wynwood

The label on Panther Coffee's West Coast Espresso Blend.My one and only (so far) visit to Miami was in February, when I called in on the wonderful Panther Coffee. Back then, I wrote about the roasting side of the business, the Wynwood branch doubling (for now) as the roastery. Today it’s the turn of the Wynwood branch to feature as a Coffee Spot in its own right.

Set back from the busy 2nd Avenue, Wynwood occupies a free-standing, single-storey building, with a large outdoor seating area, perhaps three times the size of the interior. Much of this is centred on a lovely, old tree, which, I imagine, provides much-needed shade in the summer.

Inside, the counter shares the space with the roaster, although Panther has plans to move to a new roasting facility, so it may not be there for much longer. There’s seating opposite the counter and in an annex to the right of the door, but I suspect that most people choose to sit outside.

Panther serves its East Coast and West Coast espresso blends from a concise menu thankfully lacking the buckets-of-milk sizes. There are seven single-origins available through a variety of (filter) brew-methods, plus bulk-brew and cold brew, along with a selection of cakes/cookies.

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Cartel Coffee Lab, Downtown Phoenix

The Cartel Coffee Lab logo from the wooden A-board outside the store in downtown Phoenix.The contrast between Cartel Coffee Lab’s downtown location and its flagship roastery/coffee shop in Tempe, which I visited the day before, couldn’t be starker. While the former’s a large, sprawling set of interconnected spaces, downtown is in an alcove off the lobby of 1 North 1st Street. It’s a very pleasant alcove, and, as alcoves go, it’s spacious enough, but it’s an alcove nonetheless. You can sit at the window-bar, out in the (echo-chamber like) lobby, or on the street at another window-bar.

Despite any perceived shortcomings in size, Cartel doesn’t compromise on the coffee, with the same full offering that’s out in Tempe. There are six single-origins, including decaf, all are available through Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper or Chemex. Meanwhile, one (plus decaf) is available as espresso. There’s also bulk-brew filter and cold brew, a small tea selection, plus cakes and prepared salads in the fridge opposite the counter.

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Saint Frank Coffee

A beautiful espresso with milk, part of a split shot of a single-origin Guatemalan coffee in Saint Frank Coffee, San Francisco.Once again, I find myself following in the footsteps of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato. Saint Frank Coffee, in San Francisco’s Russian Hill area, was the very last stop of my final day-trip to San Francisco, part of my epic four-corners trip around America at the start of the year. It had been a good day, starting with a visit to Four Barrel in the Mission and ending at Saint Frank, both recommendations from Bex.

Founded in 2013, Saint Frank’s a relative newcomer to the scene. This is its flagship store, with two other outlets, one on the Facebook campus (sadly, employees only) and a new venture, called St Clare Coffee, in the Mission. Saint Frank roasts all its own coffee (sadly off-site), working directly with a small number of coffee farmers around the world.

There are three options on espresso (house-blend, a single-origin and a decaf) through a bespoke, under-the-counter espresso machine. There are three more options on pour-over (all single-origins, one of which is a decaf) using the Marco Beverage Systems SP9. Finally, there are two further single-origins, one on bulk-brew and one available as an iced coffee. If you’re hungry, there’s a small but tasty cake range.

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