Vice City Bean

Detail from the side of the Vice City Bean cold brew tricycle in Miami, Florida :seriously good coffee!The casual visitor could be forgiven for thinking that Panther Coffee is all there is when it comes to speciality coffee in Miami. However, the  coffee scene is slowly taking off, particularly over the last couple of years. It was a barista at Panther’s Wynwood branch who first put me onto one of these newcomers, Vice City Bean, which opened in April 2016, a few blocks south of Wynwood, just north of the downtown area.

It’s a lovely spot, with large, north-facing windows, high ceilings and lots of space. The coffee is all the way from Madcap in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while there’s a guest espresso, which was from Onyx Coffee Lab in Arkansas while I was there. These are available through a cut-down espresso menu with a range of alternative milks. If you prefer filter, there are two options on bulk-brew and three more on pour-over through the Kalita Wave, with offerings from Madcap and the guest roaster. Meanwhile, there’s cold brew and loose-leaf tea.

If you’re feeling hungry, there’s a range of cake and pastries, including savoury pastries. Add to that a small selection of empanadas and assorted toast-based snacks, so you are covered for breakfast and lunch.

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Brian’s Coffee Spot: Flying in the USA

My Therma Cup, Travel Press and Aergrind at Miami Airport to provide me with much needed coffee before for a pre-dawn flight to Phoenix.Welcome to another of my Brian’s Travel Spot series which these days seems to involve documenting my various flights around the world. Normally these are long-haul international flights, but today I’m turning my attention to one of my least favourite activities: flying internally in America. It’s not something I do very often and certainly not something I do if I can help it.

This time last year, as I picked my way across America from San Francisco to Chicago to Miami to Boston, I took a series of three flights. One day I hope to write them up as part of the wider trip, but for now, the only other experience I’ve had of flying within America is on a couple of connecting flights, once on my way out to Phoenix in 2016 and the other when flying to Chicago via Newark last year.

This year began with a trip to Miami and Phoenix, involving a connecting flight between the two. Faced with the prospect of over five hours on a plane (and a small one at that), I looked at the options, and, with work’s travel budget picking up the tab, I decided that I’d better fly first class.

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Panther Coffee, Coconut Grove

A bare light bulb in a wire cage, seen from below at Panther Coffee, Coconut Grove.When I first came to Miami this time last year, one name was on everyone’s lips when it came to speciality coffee: Panther Coffee. From its home in Wynwood, where all the coffee’s roasted on-site, it had grown to a chain of three shops, all in Miami (although since my visit, another three branches have opened, including two in the last month!). Sadly I wasn’t in Miami for long last time, so only had the chance to visit the original in Wynwood.

However, on my return, I was determine to explore, so as I drove into Miami from the Everglades last night, I made a detour to visit the Coconut Grove branch. Very different in look and feel to Wynwood, it’s long and thin, with the counter on the right.

You’ll find all the usual Panther Coffee goodies here, with a choice between the East and West Coast espresso blends, plus multiple single-origins on filter, with Chemex or Clever Dripper if you’re prepared to wait, or bulk-brew if you’re not. There’s also cold brew and a collection of soft drinks as well as some craft beer. This is all rounded off with a limited selection of ready-made sandwiches and cakes/cookies.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying To Miami

A screen shot of the travel map during my flight from London to Miami with British Airways. Here the plane is over the Atlantic, about 3/4 of the way to Miami.Welcome to the first Brian’s Travel Spot of the New Year. This (not so) occasional series documents my ever-increasing travel experiences, which this year shows no signs of letting up. I’m currently in Florida, where I’ll be for another week, attending a meeting in Miami, then I’m flying to Phoenix for two weeks, returning home for nine days, then I’m heading back to the States. After that, things calm down a just a little bit, but I still have trips scheduled to Thailand, Chicago and Japan later this year. And that’s just for work.

I briefly visited Miami this time last year on another mad trip, which saw me fly to Phoenix, drive to San Francisco, fly to Chicago, then fly to Boston, via Miami, for a work meeting, before returning home. Flying from (freezing) Chicago to the warmth of Miami, staying for five days, then flying to (freezing) Boston was an interesting experience…

This time I flew to Miami from Manchester via Heathrow with British Airways, arriving a week ahead of my meeting for some sight-seeing. The choice of Manchester, not my favourite airport, was dictated by needing to see my Dad before I went. Thus the scene was set.

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Panther Coffee, Wynwood

The label on Panther Coffee's West Coast Espresso Blend.My first-ever visit to Miami was in February 2017, when I called in on the wonderful Panther Coffee. Back then, I wrote about the roasting side of the business, the Wynwood branch doubling (for now) as the roastery. Today it’s the turn of the Wynwood branch to feature as a Coffee Spot in its own right.

Set back from the busy 2nd Avenue, Wynwood occupies a free-standing, single-storey building, with a large outdoor seating area, perhaps three times the size of the interior. Much of this is centred on a lovely, old tree, which, I imagine, provides much-needed shade in the summer.

Inside, the counter shares the space with the roaster, although Panther has plans to move to a new roasting facility, so it may not be there for much longer. There’s seating opposite the counter and in an annex to the right of the door, but I suspect that most people choose to sit outside.

Panther serves its East Coast and West Coast espresso blends from a concise menu thankfully lacking the buckets-of-milk sizes. There are seven single-origins available through a variety of (filter) brew-methods, plus bulk-brew and cold brew, along with a selection of cakes/cookies.

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Chinatown Coffee Co

The front of Chinatown Coffee Co on H Street in Washington DCIt’s a sign of how much I’m travelling and how many great coffee shops there are around the world that today’s bonus Coffee Spot is from one of last year’s trips, when I spent a day dashing around Washington DC in the rain. Chinatown Coffee Co is one of the capital’s stalwarts, having first opened its doors in 2009. Long and thin, it’s a cross between a corridor and a basement, a little reminiscent of the Dupont Circle branch of Filter Coffeehouse, which was my first ever speciality coffee experience in DC.

Chinatown’s stock-in-trade is the Black Cat espresso blend from Chicago-based, Intelligentsia. This is joined by a decaf espresso and four single-origins, available as V60, cafetiere or syphon, with two of them on the obligatory bulk-brew. Here Intelligentsia is joined by Portland’s Heart Coffee Roasters, with a new coffee appearing on the menu every two weeks. You can also buy a range of the beans to take home with you. Finally, there’s a selection of organic tea if you don’t fancy coffee.

If you’re hungry, there’s a range of pastries and cakes, plus a small selection of chocolate. On the savory side, there are sandwiches from Broodje & Bier.

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Panther Coffee

The label on Panther Coffee's West Coast Espresso Blend.Long before I ever visited Florida/Miami (or, indeed, had plans to), one name in speciality coffee stood out: the subject of today’s Meet the Roaster, Panther Coffee. When I found myself on a business trip to Miami, with next-to-no-time to explore, it was the one place that I decided I had to visit. As luck would have it, our team dinner, on my last night in Miami, was at the Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, just two blocks north of Panther on NW 2nd Avenue. I took this as a sign, and, getting out of the meeting slightly early, I jumped in a cab and made a beeline for the Wynwood District.

Panther was established five years ago and while it now has three branches, this one (Wynwood) is the original. As well as being a rather nice coffee shop (which now features as a Coffee Spot in its own right), Panther roasts all its coffee here, on a vintage, 1927 Perfekt roaster. However, change is afoot since the roaster is nearing capacity and Panther has plans to move to a new roasting facility, where it will install a 22kg version of the same machine. So, come down while you can if you want to watch the coffee being roasted in-store.

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La Colombe, Blagden Alley

My Ethiopian filter coffee in one of La Colombe's gorgeous cups in its Blagden Alley branch in Washington DC.La Colombe, the Philadelphia-based coffee shop/roaster chain, has branches in five US cities, ranging from Boston in the north to Washington DC in the south, as well as expanding west to Chicago. Blagden Alley is one of four branches in the nation’s capital, and has been here for three years, set in what was an old Department of Transportation bus depot/garage, an amazing setting for a coffee shop. Long and thin, Blagden Alley has incredibly high ceilings and multiple windows, allowing the sunlight to stream in, particularly in the middle of the day and during the afternoon, where it lights up the exposed brick and plain plaster.

All the usual La Colombe staples are here, with multiple options on espresso, bulk-brew (drip) and pour-over. There is also a small selection of cakes and savoury pastries. The coffee is split into Classic and Workshop brands; the Classic is a darker roast, more old-school and includes blends such as Corsica on drip and Nizza on espresso, where it’s joined by decaf. The Workshop is focused on single-origins and lighter roasts, with one each on drip and espresso, plus three on pour-over. The specific beans on offer change every two months or so.

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Compass Coffee

The words "REAL GOOD COFFEE" in orange on white-painted brick wall. At the bottom, in blue, is Compass Coffee's social media details.Compass Coffee was the final stop (of three) on my latest (very brief) visit to Washington DC back in February. Located on 7th Street in the north west quadrant, Compass is near the likes of La Colombe [coming soon to the Coffee Spot] and just to the east of Peregrine Espresso and Slipstream over on 14th Street. It’s also a relative newcomer, having opened towards the end of 2014.

From the outside, the low, single-storey, brick-built building looks fairly small, but stepping inside, it’s surprisingly large, going a long way back and feeling much wider than it looked from the street. The interior is big enough to house a large counter, an even larger seating area and, right at the back, a spacious roastery [coming soon to the Coffee Spot], home to a 30kg Loring roaster.

Compass is a curious mix of old and new, catering to a wide customer-base, including plenty of students. On the one hand, there are lots of blends, a wide variety of bulk-brew options and menu items such as gingerbread latte and peppermint mocha. On the other hand, there’s a fully-equipped Modbar and a choice of three single-origin pour-overs through Chemex or French Press. Naturally you can buy retail bags (or tins) of all Compass’ considerable output.

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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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