Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak Northeast Regional 65

Amtrak Locomotive 629, a Siemens Sprinter ACS-64, which was at the front of Northeast Regional 65 at Washington DC's Union Station.I had expected to spend most of my month-long trip to the USA at the end of last year in Maine with Amanda. However, the death of a close friend necessitated a weekend there-and-back trip to Washington DC for the funeral. The obvious choice was to fly, but a combination of factors, including my dislike of flying internally in the US, plus a lack of (reasonably priced) direct flights, led to me taking the train, by far my preferred option anyway.

Initially, I looked at travelling down on Saturday (the funeral was on Sunday morning) but that would have involved spending all day on the train (from Boston, the quickest service, the Acela, takes seven hours, while the regular Northeast Regional takes eight hours). While exploring my options, I noticed the Northeast Regional 65, a train which leaves Boston at 21:30 on Saturday night, arriving in Washington DC’s Union Station at 06:30 on Sunday morning. That would give me plenty of time to get to the funeral, as well as avoiding an overnight stay in the DC area. And, as a final bonus, it meant I could spend Saturday with Amanda. So, the Amtrak Northeast Regional 65 it was.

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Peregrine Espresso, Eastern Market (COVID-19)

A lovely cappuccino from Peregrine Espresso, Easterm Market, served in my HuskeeCup.Although I’ve been through Washington DC a few times on the train, I rarely visit the city itself. So, when I took the sleeper down from Boston during last month’s USA trip, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity. I didn’t have long, so made a beeline for Peregrine Espresso’s Eastern Market location on Pennsylvania Avenue, a half-an-hour stroll from Washington Union Station past the US Capitol.

Peregrine Espresso occupies a small unit with a wide, glass front and a generous outdoor seating area which is actually on 7th Street, just around the corner from Pennsylvania Avenue. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s currently takeaway service only (so don’t forget to bring your own cup), although you’re welcome to sit outside with your coffee. In more normal times, there’s more seating inside, but this has been cleared away to provide plenty of space for customers who are queuing to order/waiting to collect their coffee.

Talking of which, Peregrine Espresso serves a concise espresso-based menu with a batch brew option, all the coffee roasted by Small Planes Coffee, owned by founders, Ryan and Jill Jensen. There’s also a selection of tea, plus a range of cakes and pastries.

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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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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 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, home to a 30 kg 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 deals with my return to New England and flight home.

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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The A-board outside Slipstream in Washington DC, which poses the question: "How do we take our Coffee?". The answer, of course: "seriously, very seriously".I went to Washington DC with no great coffee expectations, but then found the amazing Peregrine Espresso, a lovely little coffee shop that would grace any city. That, honestly, would have sent me home happy, but just six blocks further along 14th Street is the amazing Slipstream.

It’s not just that the coffee here, from Michigan’s Madcap, is excellent (which it is). Slipstream is also, by speciality coffee shop standards, huge. With a good range of loose-leaf tea. And with decent breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, all the food being prepared on-site in the kitchen behind the counter. And, as befits a place that’s open well into the night, there are cocktails from a fully-stocked bar.

However, I’d been drawn by the coffee, which Slipstream amusingly (and accurately) splits into “Quick Coffee” (espresso and bulk brew) and “Worth the Wait”, hand-filtered single-origins using the Modbar. There’s a choice of four of these, plus decaf, and they change on a weekly basis. They’re also all available as espresso, where they’re joined by the house-blend, Madcap’s Third Coast. If that wasn’t enough, there’s another blend, Six-One-Six, on bulk-brew filter, plus a rotating seasonal coffee.

And the service was exceptional: coffee-heaven in an amazing setting.

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Peregrine Espresso, 14th Street

A large, mirror-image, lower-case e in green over the word "(perergrine)", with the brackets and middle 'e' (which is also a mirror-image) in blue. Finally, the word "espresso" is in blue in the bottom-right corner.I visited Washington DC in March this year with no great expectations about the coffee. I’d heard of some good places, but I really wasn’t expecting them to be THIS good! Peregrine Espresso, on 14th Street in the northwest quarter, was my second stop of a day which started at Filter Coffeehouse & Espresso Bar and was to end at Slipstream. A tiny place from the outside, like any good TARDIS, Peregrine’s bigger on the inside, but still pretty small, with seating limited to a window bench and some small tables and bar stools along the left-hand wall.

The coffee, however, is awesome, Peregrine serving me perhaps the best espresso and filter I’d had on my entire trip. Since this had included New York and Philadelphia, as well as DC, there was some pretty serious competition! I also had a cinnamon bun with a hat on, which pretty much made my day. Does it get any better than this?

The coffee, by the way, is from Counter Culture, with Peregrine offering a number of single-origins on pour-over, one of which is also available as batch brew from 8 to 11 each morning. Another, along with the decaf, is also available as espresso.

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Filter Coffeehouse & Espresso Bar, Dupont Circle

A vintage, brass coffee pot from Filter Coffeehouse and Espresso Bar, Dupont CircleMy first stop in Washington DC was the original branch of the Filter Coffeehouse and Espresso Bar, currently a chain of two coffee shops (the second is in Foggy Bottom, while there was a third which has since closed). The original is tucked away in a basement on 20th Street, just north of Dupont Circle, in a predominantly residential part of DC. In a fit of completely bad timing, I arrived precisely one day before Filter celebrated its fifth birthday. Go me…

To look at, with its steps down to a basement in a terrace of brick-built buildings, it instantly reminded me of Boston’s Wired Puppy. Filter has a small courtyard at the bottom of the steps while the door gives access to a long, thin basement space which, rather disconcertingly, runs off at about 30 degrees to the door! All the coffee is from nearby Ceremony Coffee Roasters, while there is also tea and, if you’re hungry, a small selection of cake.

This being the FILTER Coffeehouse and Espresso Bar, there’s an emphasis on filter coffee, with five single-origin beans available through the V60. If that doesn’t appeal, there’s the usual espresso range available as well.

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