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 Northeast Corridor

One of Amtrak's locomotives on the Northeast Corridor, waiting on the platform at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.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.

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ReAnimator Coffee Roastery

Detail from the door of ReAnimator Coffee Roasters on Master Street on Philadelphia's north side.We round off the week of all things Philadelphia with the ReAnimator Coffee Roastery in Kensington, a district of northern Philadelphia. I first came across ReAnimator back in 2014, when I visited what was then its only coffee shop on my first trip to the city. That’s a little further north in Fishtown, where you’ll also find the likes of One Shot and the La Colombe flagship.

Back then, ReAnimator was roasting, but from a small facility that wasn’t open to the public. Fast forward two years to my return in 2016, and I learnt that ReAnimator had opened a new coffee shop and roastery, so naturally I had to go. Occupying the ground floor of a large, brick-built standalone warehouse-like building, ReAnimator has plenty of room to grow. The coffee shop part is in the front, with the roastery at the back, both having plenty of space.

As you would expect, there’s a wide range of coffee, with the Telemetry blend and decaf on espresso, joined by up to five single-origins which can also be had as pour-overs through V60 or Chemex. There’s the obligatory bulk-brew, tea and a small range of cakes and other snacks if you’re hungry.

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Ox Coffee is Roasting!

A beautiful Gibraltar (Cortado) from Ox Coffee.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…

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Peddler Coffee

Espresso in a glass at Peddlar Coffee, a single-origin Brazilian Materia.I was last in Philadelphia two years ago when I visited a bunch of places, took photos and wrote them up, but, for a variety of reasons, failed to publish them. This week, therefore, is going to be Philadelphia week, which kicked off yesterday with the original Plenty Café, on Passyunk Avenue, and continues today with Peddler Coffee, another in a long line of Philadelphia coffee shop/roasters.

When I first visited Peddler, following a tip-off from my friend Greg, it had been going for just under a year, serving a range of single-origin coffees on espresso and on pour-over, exclusively through the Chemex. Fast-forward two years and Peddler will be celebrating its third birthday next week. It’s still going strong, still roasting great single-origin coffee and still essentially doing the same things, with a few tweaks here and there for good measure. As well as coffee, there’s tea, and, if you’re hungry, a range of cakes and pastries.

In a city full of physically beautiful coffee shops, Peddler is up there with the best of them. Indeed, I had forgotten how beautiful it is. Kitted out in dark wood and exposed brick, it’s a glorious place to drink your coffee.

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Plenty Café, East Passyunk

The sign hanging outside Plenty on East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia.When I first visited Philadelphia, Plenty Café, in Rittenhouse, was one of the first coffee shops that my friend Greg introduced me to. Back then, Plenty was a chain of precisely two, the Rittenhouse branch having recently joined the original on East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia. Having really liked the Rittenhouse branch, I was determined to try out the original on my return to Philadelphia in 2016. Sadly, for various reasons, I never actually got around to completing my write-up, so when I finally returned to Philadelphia two years later, I decided to rectify matters…

The original Plenty Café is quite a different beast from Rittenhouse. Here the emphasis is more on food, with full (and excellent) breakfast, lunch and evening menus, backed up by a generous selection of cake. There’s also beer, wine and a fully-stocked bar. And then there’s coffee, for, despite the focus on food, Plenty has the sort of coffee-offering that you’d find in any decent speciality coffee shop. There are bespoke blends on espresso (Gallivant) and bulk-brew (Wayfarer), roasted by Lancaster’s Square One. The Gallivant blend is joined on espresso by a bespoke decaf (Voyager) and by a rotating single-origin, also from Square One.

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Ultimo Coffee, Newbold

The sign, painted on an old window, on the back wall at Ultimo Coffee's Newbold coffee shop.The first ever speciality coffee shop I visited in Philadelphia was Ultimo Coffee’s Graduate Hospital branch on Catherine Street. It is therefore a little ironic that it’s taken me two years to visit the original, Newbold, on South 15th Street, where Ultimo started back in 2009. As is usual in these cases, the loss is all mine.

Ultimo, rather unusually, shares the space with Brew, a speciality bottle beer company, with Ultimo and the coffee taking the front of the store and Brew taking the back, the two sharing the seating. Ultimo, also unusually, has a strong focus on pour-over coffee, something which is slowly catching on in the US, but which Ultimo has championed from the start, using Bee House drippers to serve an interesting selection of single-origin filters to go with two more on espresso.

During my visit in February, Counter Culture was the house-roaster, with occasional guests on espresso and filter. However, since then Ultimo has started roasting its own coffee (with the roastery based at Newbold), which is now available on-line and in both stores. If you’re in a hurry, there’s bulk-brew until 11am, while for those with a sweet tooth, there’s a selection of cake.

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Double Knot

The words "Double Knot" written with the picture of a piece of rope tied into a Double Knot in the middle.Philadelphia’s Double Knot is a collaboration between local restaurateur, Michael Schulson, and Evan Inatone, the man behind Elixr, which roasts all the coffee. From the outside, Double Knot seems a very modest place, but step inside and you’ll soon realise that no expense has been spared! The sumptuous interior is gorgeous, while Double Knot boasts a full Modbar installation.

It doesn’t stop there. Double Knot also has a full service restaurant downstairs in the basement (which is bigger than the coffee bar upstairs!) which, from 5 o’clock onwards, serves Sushi & izakaya. If you get a chance, do pop down, since it’s as sumptuously-appointed as the upstairs.

Talking of which, upstairs starts the day as a coffee bar, with cakes and breakfast on offer, while at lunchtime, there’s a small (but excellent) menu from the kitchen downstairs. Then, mid-afternoon, it starts its transformation, becoming a cosy bar in the evening, although the coffee and food are available all day.

The coffee just as impressive, with a house-blend and single-origin joined by a decaf on espresso, plus four single-origins on filter which change every month or so. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a fully stocked bar and, naturally enough, coffee cocktails!

March 2018: Popped back to visit Double Knot on my return to Philadelphia, partly to admire the Modbar… Not a lot has changed, although these days Double Knot only does the house-blend & decaf on espresso, reserving the single-origins for pour-over. It’s still as beautiful as ever though.

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Ox Coffee Update

A beautiful Gibraltar (Cortado) from Ox Coffee.I was very taken with Ox Coffee on my first trip to Philadelphia in 2014. Back then it hadn’t long since celebrated its first birthday, but I was struck by its clean, simple looks and its dedication to serving excellent coffee with no frills: Stumptown’s ubiquitous Hair Bender blend on espresso, with two single-origins on bulk-brew filter. The major drawback was Ox’s size: if you wanted to sit in, there was the bench on the street outside, a simple L-shaped bench in the window inside and a narrow bar against the wall opposite the counter, with three bar-stools.

I was, however, given a sneak preview of the back room, which was large enough for another L-shaped bench and a table, but which had yet to open. I was also told of plans to open the garden at the back of the shop, which was enough to entice me back on my first day in Philadelphia on my return in 2016 to see if the plans had come to fruition.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Philadelphia & Beyond, 2016

A cappuccino in a classic white cup, sitting on a tree-stump table in the window, half in shadow from the sunlight.Welcome to the second part of the 2016 instalment of my occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. I’m currently in America, doing a loop (of sorts) around the east coast. I started off last week, flying into Newark, spending a couple of day in New York then heading down to Philadelphia, all of which was covered in Part I. Part II covers Philadelphia, Washington DC and a brief return to New York, while Part III will deal with my return to New England.

We start with this, my third visit to Philadelphia. I first went there in 2014, at the behest of my friend Greg, who writes Coffee Guru App. I met Greg in New York in 2013, over a brief coffee at the Ace Hotel, where he told me all about the Philadelphia coffee scene.

As a result of that conversation, Greg convinced me to visit Philadelphia the following year. Initially, I was a little sceptical, suspecting home-town bias, although, in fairness, Greg knows what he’s taking about when it comes to speciality coffee. Suffice to say that it didn’t take very long for me to be converted and I’ve been back each year since then. Philly has a great, and very underrated, coffee scene (as well as being a great, and very underrated, city). You can see what I got up to as follows:

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