Welcome to the second instalment of my Brian’s Travel Spot covering my trip to/from Boston with Virgin Atlantic. In the first part, I wrote about my flight over from Heathrow, where I was unexpectedly upgraded to Upper Class. This post covers my flight back to Heathrow from Boston Logan, where I travelled in premium economy. I tend to fly either at the front of the plane (business class, when work is paying) or at the back of the plane (economy, when I’m paying), so this was a fairly unusual experience for me.
I also took the daytime flight from Boston to Heathrow, which leaves Boston in the morning and arrives in London in the evening, the perfect flight for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy sleeping on planes. When I first started flying transatlantic in the late 1990s, this used to be my favoured flight, but after 9/11, they largely disappeared from the schedule, only to reappear a few years ago. This was probably the first time I’ve caught this flight or its equivalent in nearly 20 years! With my flight leaving at 08:15, this meant an (unreasonably, for me) early start, although my first problem was getting to the airport…
Welcome to another instalment of my occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. These weren’t so occasional last year, when there I managed 16 in all, but in 2019, I’ve concentrated on writing up coffee festivals, such as this year’s London Coffee Festival and Birmingham Coffee Festival, which, between them, have generated 10 posts and counting! It seems to be a case of writing up festivals or writing Travel Spots: clearly, I don’t have the time to do both!
In a year packed with business travel, mostly flying with British Airways, today’s Travel Spot marks something of a departure from the ordinary, prompting me to write about it. Firstly, I’m not flying for work. Instead, I’m making the (for me) relatively short hop from London to Boston to see Amanda, which means that I’m paying for this one. Secondly, although I’d planned to fly with British Airways, I’ve ended up flying with Virgin Atlantic for the first time in three years, which made for an interesting change.
This Travel Spot covers my flight out, with a separate Travel Spot for the return flight a couple of week later. My first challenge, of course, was getting to the airport…
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, downtown Boston was a desert when it came to speciality coffee. However, in the last couple of years, that’s all changed. For example, local roasters, Gracenote, moved in with an espresso bar near South Station, while this year, another personal favourite, Render Coffee, opened its second branch, Render Coffee 121, on Devonshire Street, around the corner from Japanese import, Ogawa Coffee. And then there’s George Howell, the American speciality coffee legend from Acton, whose coffee bar in the Boston Public Market opened last year, joined in June by his latest venture, a coffee shop inside the Godfrey Hotel, on Washington Street in the heart of downtown Boston.
This is a busy, compact spot, at one level a typical, bustling mainstream coffee shop, but at the same time, a haven for the coffee geek, with a dedicated room, the Exploratorium, for retail sales and home to daily talks, events and masterclasses. The coffee stands up against the best, with the Alchemy Blend joined by a single-origin and decaf on espresso. There are a further four single-origins on pour-over (including one decaf), plus bulk-brew. Unusually for America, the usual cake is joined by a more substantial breakfast/lunch offering.
Not long after I left Boston on my previous trip in 2016, Render Coffee opened its second branch, continuing a recent theme of speciality coffee moving into the heart of downtown Boston. Just around the corner from downtown pioneers, Ogawa Coffee, you’ll find Render Coffee 121, appropriately enough, on 121 Devonshire Street.
The first thing to say is that this is a totally different space from the original Render on Columbus Avenue. It’s inside the CIC office building, serving as an in-house café as well as being open to the public. The space, in comparison to Columbus Avenue, is huge, with high ceilings and a broad frontage onto Devonshire Street. However, both are long and thin, although 121 is probably four to five times as wide as the Columbus Avenue branch, but goes just as far back.
Despite these differences, the coffee is just as good at 121. With offerings from Portland’s Tandem Coffee Roasters and the local Gracenote Coffee, you’ll often find the same coffee at both branches, but each manager has discretion to order what they like, so there may be differences. Unlike Columbus Avenue, there’s no breakfast/lunch menus, but you’ll find a similarly excellent selection of cake.
Ogawa Coffee is a large (40+ stores) speciality coffee shop chain from Kyoto. However, the branch on Milk Street, right in the heart of downtown Boston, is its first overseas venture, having opened in 2015. An interesting blend of Japanese and American coffee culture, I loved it, particularly the attention to detail shown by the baristas.
The shop itself is long and thin, with perhaps the highest ceilings I’ve seen in a coffee shop this year. About as wide as it is tall, Ogawa has a great sense of space. There’s a good choice of seating too, with tables at the front and what is called stadium seating at the back, opposite the counter. Best of all, you can sit at the counter itself and watch the filter coffee being made.
Talking of coffee, it’s all roasted in Kyoto and air-freighted to the shop on a regular basis. There is a house-blend and three single-origins, which can be had by any method (espresso or hand-pour filter). These are joined on espresso by decaf and guest single-origins which change every week or two. Perhaps best of all, Ogawa serves a tasting flight, where you get to sample all three single-origins side-by-side.
George Howell is a something of a legend in American speciality coffee. He made his name as a roaster, but recently George, as his staff refer to him, has started opening coffee shops under the George Howell brand, starting in Newtonville in 2012. This, the subject of today’s Saturday Short, is the first branch in Boston, in the high-profile, newly-opened Boston Public Market, while a second Boston branch in the Godfrey Hotel on Washington Street opened this summer.
Boston Public Market is home to a high-quality espresso/coffee bar, catering primarily to the takeaway market, but with proper cups for espresso and glasses for cortados. It’s an impressive operation, with house-blend, single-farm and decaf on espresso, plus further single-farm coffees for the iced-coffee, bulk-brew (coffee of the week) and individual pour-overs, courtesy of twin Marco Beverage Systems SP9s. You can buy retail bags of coffee, plus various merchandising and coffee-related kit.
I’ve been a fan of roasters, Gracenote, for a while, having first had its coffee at Boston’s delightful Render Coffee. Based in Berlin, Massachusetts, where it’s been roasting since 2012, Gracenote took a first step into serving its own coffee with a lovely coffee bar in downtown Boston, which opened in October 2015. During my most recent visit in February 2016, it was the place that everyone in the area (including Providence, Rhode Island) said I had to visit, and they weren’t wrong!
The coffee bar’s standing-room only, catering primarily for office workers from the area around Boston’s South Station. A lovely Modbar installation provides espresso, offering house-blend, a single-origin or decaf. There’s bulk-brew filter, cold-brew on tap and a choice of speciality tea. Naturally you can buy all of Gracenote’s coffee in retail bags, whole bean or ground-on-demand. If you’re hungry, there’s even a limited selection of sweet treats.
Welcome to the third and final part of the 2016 instalment of my occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. Part I saw me flying out to Newark and sauntering around New York for a couple of days before heading down to Philadelphia. Part II covered my time in Philadelphia, Washington DC and my brief return to New York as I swung back north.
Part III sees me back in New England, where I started my coast-to-coast trip in June last year. I had a day in Providence, which I first visited last year and, like Philadelphia, has a great, unsung coffee scene. From there it was on to Boston for the end of my trip, before flying home. As I did last June, I flew with British Airways, while all internal travel was on Amtrak, a great way to travel in the US if you’re not in any particular hurry.
Highlights of this leg of the trip were discovering more of Providence, which, as well as having an excellent coffee scene, is a lovely, historic city, and seeing Boston’s speciality coffee scene finally starting to take off with three really excellent places opening in Downtown Boston in the last 12 months.
I first discovered L.A. Burdick in my pre-Coffee Spot days, after a recommendation by some Boston friends. It sounded so awesome that I had to seek it out when I was looking around Harvard. I must confess, I was not disappointed… When it came to starting the Coffee Spot, L.A. Burdick was one of the places I wanted to write about, but, of course, in traditional Coffee Spot style, I first visited L.A. Burdick’s New York City branch, plus the branch in Boston’s Back Bay, before finally getting around to a return visit to Harvard at the start of my coast-to-coast trip last summer.
As well as being the hot chocolate equivalent of a coffee shop, L.A. Burdick sells chocolate (and chocolates), the retail space usually being of equal size to the café part. There’s also tea, coffee and a wide range of sumptuous-looking cakes. However, for me, the whole purpose of coming to L.A. Burdick is to indulge in the amazing, rich and, above all, chocolaty hot chocolate.
Be warned: Harvard is smaller than the other two branches. You’ll often struggle to get a seat, having to wait for a one to become free before putting in your order.