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!

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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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Brian’s Travel Spot: New York & Philadelphia, 2016

My coffee travel kit on my BA flight to Newark: mini Porlex grinder, Aeropress, plus funnel, metal jug and Upper CupWelcome to the second of my occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series (or the fourth, depending on how you count them!). The first Travel Spot recounted my adventures in the summer of 2015 as I flew to New England, travelled across America by train and then spent a week in the Pacific Northwest (the whole trip took three weeks, so I split the Travel Spot into three parts, hence this might be the fourth).

Semantics apart, the aim, as in the previous Travel Spots, is to provide a record of my travels, something a little different from posting the actual Coffee Spots I visit (which always takes place after the event). This trip is taking me to old stomping grounds: New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, back to New York and then on to Providence and, finally, Boston. As before, I’m flying with British Airways and all the internal travel in on Amtrak, the US national rail network.

I say old stomping grounds since this is (and I think I’ve counted correctly) my 13th trip to the New England/New York/DC area (my fourth with my Coffee Spot hat on). While it will only be my third visit to the likes of Philadelphia and Providence, it’s easily 10+ for New York and Boston. The first part of my trip consisted of:

Check out Part II of Brian’s Travel Spot to see how I got on in Philadelphia and beyond, while Part III deals with my return to New England..

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Square One, South 13th Street

The words "SQUARE one COFFEE" one word per row, white on black inside a white square.In a desperate attempt to publish all the Coffee Spots from my last trip to Philadelphia in March 2015 before I return there next week, I present today’s Coffee Spot, Square One, which started life as a roaster in Lancaster, PA.  It still roasts all its coffee in Lancaster, in a purpose-built roastery and training space, having previously roasting on-site on its Duke Street café. I first came across Square One’s coffee in 2014 at Plenty in Rittenhouse and then, last year, I called into the first of its two Philadelphia branches which opened its doors on South 13th Street in 2013.

Square One is in good company, the area just south of City Hall turning into something of a go-to spot. Coffee-shop-cum-roaster Greenstreet Coffee Co is a few blocks away, as was Cafe Twelve until it closed on Monday. Just a few blocks more on the other side of Broad Street is another Philadelphia café/roaster, Elixr, while the aforementioned Plenty is nearby.

Square One occupies a fantastic spot, a large, open rectangle, with an island counter, and serves some excellent coffee. There’s a house-blend and single-origin on espresso and two more available through the Chemex, plus the obligatory bulk-brew.

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Anthony’s Italian Coffee House

A classic, Italian espresso in a classic white cup at Anthony's Italian Coffee House, PhiladelphiaAnthony’s Italian Coffee House, on 9th Street, is a slice of culture/history in Philadelphia’s Italian Market district. Recommended (once again) by my friend and guide, Greg Cohen (of Coffee Guru App fame), Greg comes to the Italian Market to do his shopping. After taking me around several old-fashioned grocers and delicatessens, themselves a delight to visit, particularly if you like Italian food, he abandoned me at Anthony’s (“left” would be a more accurate statement, but abandoned has a more dramatic quality to it, don’t you think?).

Anthony’s is an old-fashioned (in style; Wifi being just one of the concessions to the modern age) Italian-American espresso bar/café of the type that I love. Less grand than say Boston’s Caffé Vittoria or New York’s Caffe Reggio, it has more in common with Soho’s Bar Italia. This, I feel, is much more in keeping with Philadelphia’s working class, blue collar roots.

Don’t come here looking for the latest third wave coffee experience though. The espresso is good, but you won’t find any single-origins or fancy hand-crafted pour-overs (although there is the obligatory bulk-brew filter). Instead, come for a slice of character and history, plus to put your feet up after all that shopping!

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La Colombe, Fishtown

A cup of filter coffee from La Colombe's new cafe in Fishtown, Philadelphia, served in one of La Colombe's distinctive cups.Continuing a theme of slightly larger places doing more than just coffee, the Coffee Spot celebrates its return to America with a standout from my previous trip in March. Regular readers will already be aware of my affection for La Colombe Torrefaction, with visits to branches in Philadelphia’s Dilworth Plaza and NYC’s Lafayette Street.

La Colombe is something of a home-grown Philly coffee hero, starting out in Fishtown, an old industrial area north of the centre, where La Colombe still roasts its coffee. Since my first visit in March 2014 and my return a year later, La Colombe has opened a flagship new store in Fishtown itself, converting an old warehouse into a go-to location for breakfast, brunch and, of course, coffee.

It’s a large, rambling, high-ceilinged space with multiple seating options and a rum distillery at the back. And why not? All the food is cooked in an open-plan kitchen behind the counter, reminiscent of Caravan, King’s Cross and Paddington’s KuPP, although unlike those two establishments, La Colombe’s kitchen closes at four o’clock. All the bread’s baked here too!

The coffee is, of course, excellent, with espresso, bulk-brew and hand-pour filter, supplemented by beer and wine. And cake, naturally.

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Greenstreet Coffee Co

A decaf piccolo with amazing latte art from Greenstreet Coffee Co, PhiladelphiaGreenstreet Coffee Co is something of a fixture in the fledgling Philadelphia speciality coffee scene. It’s been around for five years as a roaster, supplying local cafés such as Cafe Twelve. Two years ago, it opened its first (and so far only) coffee shop on the corner of Spruce and S 11th Streets, just south of the centre where it joins a growing band of speciality coffee places.

Greenstreet itself is pretty small, with just enough room for a couple of small rows of tables along the windows and some more seating outside. Although the interior is lovely and the outdoor seating’s some of the most comfortable-looking that I’ve seen in a while, the real draw is the coffee, with a wide range of Greensmith’s considerable output available at any one time.

During my visit, there were two single-origins on espresso plus the house-blend, Lupara, and a decaf, Starlight, all on a pair of twin grinders. The two single-origins were also available as filter, where they were joined by another four single-origins, to be enjoyed through either Aeropress or Chemex. There’s also a Syphon option on the menu, plus cold brew and nitro cold brew. Even the tea selection’s decent!

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Ants Pants

The text "Ants Pants Cafe" over the date the cafe was established: 2004In the grand scheme of Philadelphia’s suddenly booming speciality coffee scene, Ant’s Pants is something of a wizened old establishment, having been around since 2004 (although even that pales into insignificance compared to the likes of Anthony’s Coffee House). It proudly states its Aussie inspiration, going as far as to use Toby’s Estate coffee (Aussie-owned, Brooklyn roasted).

The Aussie heritage also shines through in the emphasis on food; breakfast is served all day (well, until closing time, which is four o’clock) and there’s table service, a novelty in American coffee shops. This puts it more on a par with an American diner, particularly with the emphasis on the food, albeit with better coffee than your average diner.

If all this is too much for you, Ants Pants is conveniently split into two, the front part being much more traditional coffee shop, with a four-seat window bar and the counter down the right-hand side. The second part is at the back, down a short corridor past the kitchen, where you’ll find all the tables (notwithstanding the pair out on the sidewalk).

Except that by the time you read this, there’ll also be an outdoor greenhouse at the back with more seating…

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