The Proper Cup, on Portland’s busy Forest Avenue, has been on my radar ever since it opened in 2018. Located on the west side of the street, it principally serves the local neighbourhood, but is on the route of the No. 2 bus and, if you’re walking around Back Cove along Baxter Boulevard, a small diversion along Dartmouth Street will bring you out opposite The Proper Cup. After being takeaway only for a long time during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Proper Cup had a complete makeover before reopening earlier this year to reveal a bright, uncluttered shop with the counter on the right, window seating at the front, plus tables and a sofa on the left.
The coffee is from New Hampshire’s Flight Coffee Co., with the Liftoff blend and Ground Control decaf on espresso, all the shots pulled on a lovely Slayer espresso machine at the end of the counter. Meanwhile there’s currently a Zanzibar Peaberry from Tanzania on batch brew filter, along with a range of teas, iced coffee and some seasonal house specials. If you’re hungry, a selection of sweet and savoury products from a pair of local bakeries are available in a display case on the counter.
Smalls, which opened in January, is the latest addition to Portland’s small but thriving speciality coffee scene, a chance discovery which I made on Google Maps when planning a trip downtown at the end of last week. Located on Brackett Street in Portland’s West End, it’s a stone’s throw from the Casco Bay Bridge and a 15-minute walk from the Old Port and the heart of downtown.
One of the things I really admire about Portland’s speciality coffee scene is its diversity. No two places are the same (even when they’re part of the same group) and Smalls only adds to that. The front of Smalls is part coffee shop, restaurant and bar, while at the back, it’s a lovely little store, selling groceries, gifts, candles and personal care products, with an emphasis on reuse and local produce.
I can only really speak to the coffee shop part of Smalls, which serves Variety Coffee Roasters from Brooklyn in New York City. The Lucky Shot seasonal blend is on espresso, while there’s also decaf and a batch brew filter option. If you want to try more of Variety’s range, Smalls has a selection of retail boxes offering a variety of single-origins.
Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for Portland’s coffee shop/roaster, Speckled Ax, which I first visited in June 2015. Back then, there was just the original coffee shop on Congress Street, with the roastery out in South Portland. However, Speckled Ax has been busy in recent years, opening its flagship Thames Street coffee shop in 2020, and then, a year later, moving the roastery to its new home on Walton Street, where it also opened a neat coffee bar.
On my return to Portland at the start of this year, I caught up with Matt, owner of Speckled Ax. I’ve already written about the coffee bar, so today’s Meet the Roaster is all about the roastery. Although an outstanding roastery in its own right, consistently turning out some excellent single-origins and blends year-on-year, Speckled Ax’s particular claim to fame is as one of a handful of wood-fired coffee roasters in the USA (reminiscent of Witney’s Ue Coffee Roasters in the UK). The magic happens in a large, industrial unit behind the coffee bar, where you’ll find the 20 kg Petroncini, a refurbished Italian roaster from the 1970s, its fire box filled with local kiln-dried wood.
So, what’s Part I all about? Well, the Downeaster doesn’t just connect Boston with Portland: there are two more stops north of Portland, Freeport and Brunswick, where the train terminates. Ahead of tomorrow’s journey, I decided to catch the train in the other direction, from Portland to Brunswick, just so that I could say that I’d travelled the full length of the line, albeit in two separate trips. Ideally, I’d have taken the train back to Portland, but Amtrak’s schedule is quirky to say the least. Returning by train would have required a 2½ hour wait, so I caught the Greater Portland Metro BREEZ bus instead.
If you’ve been paying attention for the last two weeks, you’ll know that I’m back in Portland, Maine, where, weather permitting, I’m catching up with the local coffee shops. Top of my list was Speckled Ax’s new roastery/coffee bar on Walton Street, which opened last year. It’s out beyond Back Cove, north of Portland’s compact city centre, just over the train tracks from Forest Avenue, the main north/south drag.
Home to Speckled Ax’s new roastery (which has its own Meet the Roaster feature), there’s a small takeout coffee bar attached. Unlike the other Speckled Ax locations (Congress and Thames), with their multiple options on espresso and filter, here it’s just the daily batch brew or espresso, although, of course, plenty of retail bags of coffee are available to buy. There’s no seating, although when COVID-19 allows, there will be a small standing bar at the front. For now, it’s takeaway only, so don’t forget to bring your own cup.
I’ve been a fan of Little Woodfords in Portland, Maine, ever since I first visited in the summer of 2019. I was therefore rather worried when I heard, in July 2020, that it was forced to move from its original location in Woodfords Corner to a much smaller spot on Congress Street in downtown Portland. Fortunately, while this has meant an inevitable change of character, the friendly, inclusive welcome of the original, plus the awesome coffee from Vermont’s Vivid Coffee Roasters, remains as Amanda and I discovered on our visit last month.
The offering is much as it was as before, with a single option on espresso, batch brew and flash brew (a pour-over over ice, akin to a Japanese iced coffee). The coffee changes on a seasonal basis, and there’s also tea, hot cocoa and several latte-based specials. If you’re hungry, there’s a small, vegetarian/vegan breakfast menu, with various toppings on bagels/biscuits. While Little Woodfords has a small indoor seating (standing?) area at the front, it’s currently takeout-only due to COVID-19, although you’re welcome to sit outside, where you’ll find a bench out front, with a couple of picnic tables down the side, which catch the afternoon sun.
Welcome the last leg of my trip to Atlanta (Georgia) and Portland (Maine), which included an unexpected weekend round-trip to Washington DC. Today’s Travel Spot covers my return to the UK last weekend, flying World Traveller Plus (aka Premium Economy) with British Airways. Having arrived in Atlanta almost four weeks earlier, I continued my USA tradition of (hardly ever) flying to/from the same airport by returning from Boston Logan.
This post starts with my pre-flight preparations (an essential part of travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic). Even though the rules changed mid-trip (due to the omicron variant), things were nowhere near as onerous as when I flew out, when the process was sufficiently complex that I dedicated an entire Travel Spot to the experience.
The remainder of the post is more traditional, covering the journey to the airport, the airport itself, and my flight. In the last few years, I’ve taken the early morning flight from Boston (either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic), but that disappeared from the schedules at the start of the pandemic. Instead, I flew back overnight in World Traveller Plus, my first overnight economy flight since 2017, when I flew from Chicago to Manchester with American Airlines.
I’d planned to visit Portland in March 2020, but sadly the COVID-19 pandemic ruled that out, preventing me from returning for another 18 months. However, the travel restrictions were eased in November 2021, and I was finally able to return to America and to Portland, where I paid a long overdue visit to the new Thames location.
Speckled Ax occupies a spacious ground floor unit with views across Thames Street to the harbour. At the time of writing, the space is effectively split into two, with a takeaway section to the right, while the seating is at the front on the left. There’s a limited coffee menu (which still manages to offer two espresso options and two on batch brew filter), while the kitchen provides a concise breakfast and lunch menu.
These posts are, in more ways than one, a first for the Travel Spot. They cover the first trip I made after starting the Coffee Spot (and long before I had the idea of the Travel Spot). Unsurprisingly, while I visited plenty of coffee shops, I didn’t make any notes about the trip itself, so they’re a combination of memories, sparked when I stumbled across my photos from the time.
This post, the first of three, covers the initial part of the trip, which began in late February 2013 when I flew to Boston. I spent a few days in the city before taking various day trips around New England with some friends. Finally, I caught the train down to New York City, where I also spent a few days.
Amanda and I had plenty of options to get from Portland (Maine) to Atlanta, the most obvious one being to fly. However, neither of us is a great fan of flying internally in the US, and, since we had time, we decided to look at other options. One alternative was driving, something Amanda’s done before, although it’s a one-way trip of 1,200 miles, which amounts to about 19 hours behind the wheel, so I ruled it out.
That left the train, a mode of transport which we both enjoy. It wasn’t the cheapest, nor was it the quickest, but it definitely sounded the most enjoyable, so we booked tickets on Amtrak’s Train 19, Crescent, from New York to Atlanta, building our trip around that.