Verve Coffee Roasters, Pacific Avenue

A packet of Verve coffee, a Guatemala Pulcal Typica, taken from a public cupping at the store on Pacific Avenue in Santa CruzI visited Verve’s flagship store on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz at the start of last year, part of my road trip from Phoenix to San Francisco via Los Angeles and the Pacific coast. Santa Cruz, home of Verve Coffee Roasters, which still roasts in the town, was my final stop before the trip ended at San Francisco later that day and, to not visit at least one Verve branch would, have been very remiss of me.

Back then Verve had four branches in Santa Cruz, three in Los Angeles and one in Japan. Since then it’s opened its first San Francisco store (which I missed by a few weeks) and two more in Japan, where I’m headed in two days’ time. Hence my desire to get this published before I go.

The Pacific Avenue branch is lovely, a large, open, high-ceilinged space with twin Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machines, serving a house-blend, guest and decaf, while three Modbar pour-over systems serve multiple options through the Kalita Wave. Finally, if you’re in a hurry, there’s another option on bulk-brew. All the beans (and more) are available in retail bags, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cake.

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Matador Coffee Roasting Co.

The drive-through (and walk-by) kiosk of Matador Coffee Roasting Co of Flagstaff, Arizona.I often choose my accommodation during my travels based on where the good coffee is. However, in the case of February’s visit to Flagstaff, I wasn’t necessarily expecting to find anything, so the fact that I woke up on my first morning, drew back the curtains in my motel room and found Matador Coffee Roasting Co. literally across the road, was entirely down to good fortune.

Matador is a roaster, coffee shop and drive through, with a second, larger branch (without the roastery) on Highway 89, on the other side of Flagstaff. Occupying an old garage, it’s a handy spot to pick up coffee if you’re driving through, while if you have time to stop, there’s limited seating inside (where, if you’re lucky, you can watch the roaster in operation), or you can sit outside at one of the picnic tables set well back from the road.

Be aware that this is more of a traditional American coffee shop, with a darker roast espresso blend and large drink sizes (12oz to 20oz), plus the ubiquitous bulk-brew options. However, there are also several lighter roasts available as pour-over, while if you’re hungry there’s a small range of breakfast bagels and cakes.

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Café Integral, Elizabeth Street

Part of the menu board from Cafe Integral on Elizabeth Street in NYC, showing the filter options.I first came across Café Integral when I was last in New York two years ago. Back then, Café Integral was a small, but delightful coffee bar inside the American Two Shot clothing store. Not long after my visit, in August 2016, Café Integral opened its own coffee shop a couple of blocks away on Elizabeth Street, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot. This was part of an expansion that has also seen Café Integral open in Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles, all in collaboration with Freehand Hotels.

Cafe Integral’s main claim to fame is that it only serves coffee from Nicaragua, all of which is roasted in-house in Williamsburg, the coffee sourced from several farms in the country which have close ties to the Vega family, which owns Café Integral.  There’s always an espresso blend (Dulcinea), plus a different single-origin on espresso, bulk-brew and pour-over. There’s also cold brew, nitro cold brew and a house tonic, plus tea for those who are so inclined. The coffee is all seasonal, changing every month or two, with the number of different options depending on the season.  Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s an extensive, and very tempting, array of cakes and pastries.

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Cherry Espresso Bar, Uptown

A lovely Burundi single-orign espresso from Ruby Coffee Roasters, served as the guest espresso at the Cherry Espresso Bar in New Orleans.Cherry Espresso Bar opened towards the end of 2016, although it’s been going since 2013, operating inside Stein’s Deli on Magazine Street. This branch, in the Uptown district, west of the Lower Garden District, is a bit of a trek, but well worth the effort. Occupying the ground floor of a lovely, sunny, south-facing building near the river, it’s very much a neighbourhood spot, but with multiple options on espresso and pour-over, plus full breakfast and lunch menus, served until three o’clock.

In many ways, I picked a poor time to visit. I arrived shortly before Cherry Espresso opened another branch in the Lower Garden District, midway between Uptown and the French Quarter, at the same time closing its original location. Cherry Espresso has also started roasting (as Cherry Coffee Roasters), with plans to move to its own coffee on espresso, but retaining a guest roaster on the second grinder.

For now, however, Portland’s Roseline provides the house espresso, while there is a rotating weekly guest single-origin on the second grinder, which was from Wisconsin’s Ruby Coffee Roasters during my visit. There are also two single-origins from Roseline available through the Chemex while Cherry’s own coffee is on the bulk-brewer.

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Bluestone Lane, Rittenhouse Square

The Bluestone Lane logo (a five-pointed star in a blue circle) from the window of the cafe on Locust Street in Philadelphia.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.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Crescent to New Orleans

A portion of Amtrak's national route map, showing my route on the Crescent service from Washington DC to New Orleans highlighted in blue.Welcome to this instalment of what I have somewhat ambitiously called Another Grand Adventure, part of my occasional Travel Spot series. It follows my second long-distance American train trip, which saw me travelling from Boston, in New England, to Phoenix, in the south west, by train. Well, almost.

I actually went from Providence to Tucson by train, driving the first and last legs. If I’d had the courage of my convictions, I’d have carried on from Tucson to Los Angeles so that I could have completed my second coast-to-coast train journey. However, given that I actually had to be in Phoenix for work, this would have required me to turn around and come straight back again once I got to LA. That would have been rather extreme, even for me.

The trip started with my flight to Boston, while the second instalment covers the series of short journeys I took along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor from Providence to Manassas, south of Washington DC. This instalment takes us from Manassas to New Orleans, travelling on Amtrak’s Crescent Service, while the remaining two instalments will cover the leg from New Orleans to Tucson on the Sunset Limited and my flight back from Phoenix.

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Cartel Coffee Lab, Phoenix Sky Harbor

A decat cortado at Cartel Coffee Lab at Terminal 4, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.I’ve already sung the praises of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, which is one of the best (large) airports I’ve had the pleasure of flying into/out of in recent years. Unsurprisingly, a big part of its charm (for me, at least) is that it has a branch of Cartel Coffee Lab past security in Terminal 4. The first two times I flew to/from Phoenix (late 2016, early 2017), it was closed by the time I got to the airport, but since then Cartel has extended its hours, so on my first trip to Phoenix, I was able to call in both when I arrived on a Monday morning and left, almost two weeks later, on a Sunday night.

Since it’s at an airport, Cartel would be forgiven for running a cut-down operation, but no, not Cartel. Instead, you are treated to the full Cartel range, which includes six single-origins (one decaf), one of which is available on espresso, while all six are available as pour-over via a combination of Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper and Chemex. There’s also the obligatory bulk-brew, while you can buy bags of the beans (and even a Chemex!) to take home (or on your flight) with you.

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Regroup Coffee + Bicycles

The Regroup Coffee + Bicycles logo, along with its slogan #wheredoyouregroupThe pairing of coffee and bicycles is a fairly well-established in the UK, but not one I’ve seen very often in the US. To that end, Regroup Coffee + Bicycles, which does what it says in the name, is, dare I say it, much more European in feel than it is American. Forming the easternmost point of a diamond of speciality coffee shops in the heart of old Scottsdale that includes Cartel, Berdenas and Fourtillfour, it’s a relative newcomer, having only opened at the end of 2016. That said, Regroup has been very successful, so much so that it’s opening its own roastery/coffee shop, also in Scottsdale.

Occupying a low, single-storey building, Regroup’s layout is pretty simple, with the coffee shop in the front and bicycles at the back. The coffee menu is just as simple, with a blend on espresso (from Colorado’s Hotbox during my visit). I have to say, though, that my heart skipped a beat when I saw the sleek lines of the Slayer espressos machine on the counter. There’s also the obligatory bulk-brew available, while if you’re hungry, Regroup has a limited selection of things on toast, plus a range of cakes, pastries and fruit.

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Fourtillfour

Fourtillfour in Scottsdale, operating out of this neat little space at the back of a patio.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 is from San Cruz’s Verve Coffee Roasters, comes either via a simple espresso-based menu or there’s bulk-brew.

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FUTURO

An awesome cortado in a glass, using a single-orign Kenyan from Heart Coffee Roasters, served in FUTURO in Phoenix.FUTURO is a relatively new name in speciality coffee, right in the heart of Phoenix. It’s been going for two years, so I’m rather annoyed that while visiting in January last year, I managed to get within half a block of FUTURO, as I strolled along Roosevelt Street searching for (and failing to find) good coffee. FUTURO is housed within PALABRA, a sort of mothership which contains FUTURO (the coffee bar), a gallery, a hairdressers and PASADO, which is a new venture, serving small plates from the kitchen at the back (but not on Sunday, which, of course, is when I visited).

FUTURO is not quite like any coffee shop I’ve visited before, which is a refreshing change from some of the common design elements I see time and time again. There’s minimal seating off to the left and right, as well as sheltered backyard behind the building by the parking lot. The coffee is also very atypical for Phoenix, with a wide selection of single-origins being provided by Heart Coffee Roasters in Portland. There’s a different one on each day, with one option on espresso and another on bulk-brew from a Fetco brewer discreetly tucked away under the counter.

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