Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to America (Again) During the COVID-19 Pandemic

My online boarding pass for my flight to Boston with British Airways, departing at 16:40 from London Heathrow. The bulding in the background is the Massachusetts State House.In what is likely to become a common refrain this year, I’m heading back to America, this time flying to Boston in World Traveller Plus (premium economy to you and me) with British Airways, returning the same way in mid-February. This isn’t quite a repeat of the trip I made at the end of the last year, since back then I flew to Atlanta (with British Airways, in World Traveller Plus), so that’s something. And for those who are keeping count, this is the first time I’ve flown to Boston in World Traveller Plus (albeit I’ve done the journey a few times the other way).

I’ll be spending three weeks in Maine with Amanda (as opposed to spending the same three weeks by myself in Guildford) and I’m actually flying today, so this is a pre-flight post (rather than the flight itself, which will be the subject of its own Travel Spot) detailing everything you have to do before flying during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not quite as involved as last time (when it also merited its own post), but it’s worth explaining the process, particularly for those who might be travelling for the first time in the near future.

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Tattam’s

Some fabulous latte art in the form of a swan in my flat white at Tattam's.Monday’s Coffee Spot is another success story for Guildford’s speciality coffee scene, although it’s been a long time in the telling. Tattam’s is on Tunsgate, occupying the premises vacated by Kalm Kitchen at end of 2019. It opened in October 2020, almost immediately moving to takeaway operation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tattam’s was looking forward to re-opening its outdoor seating in the spring of 2021 when a fire caused severe damage, forcing it to close for refurbishment. Many would have called it a day at that point, but the folks at Tattam’s are made of sterner stuff, pressing on to reopen in November last year.

Tattam’s describes itself as a European-style café offering coffee by day and cocktails in the evening, along with a selection of wine and, if you’re hungry, bar snacks, sharing platters and a range of cakes and pastries. Tattam’s uses local roasters Chimney Fire Coffee, currently offering its seasonal Brazilian espresso, served from a standard espresso-based menu. Tattam’s also has seasonal specials made with homemade syrups: the current offering being a Sticky Coffee Latte. Coffee is served throughout the evening, while there’s decaf available for those, like me, who like to get some sleep!

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Brian’s Travel Spot: From Boston to Portland by Bus

My Concord Coach Lines bus waiting at the gate at Boston's South Station Bus Terminal before taking me up to Portland, Maine.Welcome to the third and final instalment of this mini Travel Spot series about my impromptu trip to Washington DC back in November, itself part of my wider month-long trip to America. Part one covered my journey to Washington Union Station on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional 65 sleeper service, travelling overnight from Boston South Station. The second part, meanwhile, was all about my first time on the Acela service, travelling from New Haven back to Boston South Station. That just left the small matter of getting back to Portland from Boston, the subject of today’s post.

In an ideal world, I’d have completed the journey by train, taking Amtrak’s Downeaster from North Station. However, as much as I like travelling by train, the Downeaster is not very convenient compared to the bus. Although the same price (a very reasonable $24), the Downeaster runs once every three hours, compared to the bus’s hourly schedule. Plus, while the bus leaves from South Station, where I’d just arrived, to catch the train, I’d have to get myself over to North Station (admittedly a short tube ride or a 25-minute walk through the city centre, but an unnecessary additional step). So, the bus it was.

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Cocco Patisserie & Coffee

An espresso, made with the Red Brick blend from Square Mile, served in a classic white cup with "Cocco" on the side in red at Cocco Patisserie & Coffee.One of the success stories of the last two years is the growth of speciality coffee in my hometown of Guildford, with at least seven new openings since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. These range from farm-to-cup operation Ceylon House of Coffee to coffee-shop-in-a-telephone-box, Lily London, with the latest to throw its hat into the ring, Cocco Patisserie & Coffee, which opened its doors in November last year.

Located on Hayden Place, just down the road from Canopy Coffee, Cocco Patisserie & Coffee does what it says on the tin. Occupying a long, thin, light-filled space, you’re immediately assaulted (in a good way) by display cases packed with cakes as you approach the counter. These include a selection of made-to-order celebration cakes which face the door, along with a range of pastries and savoury sandwiches.

If you keep going, you’ll find an equally impressive coffee set-up at the back, where Guildford’s first Victoria Arduino Eagle One espresso machine and a top-of-the-line Mythos grinder speaks to a certain devotion to quality. The coffee, by the way, is from Square Mile, the ubiquitous Red Brick gracing the hopper, another sign from Cocco that it intends its coffee game to be top-notch.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: First Time on Amtrak’s Acela Service

Power car 2022 pulling my Amtrack Acela service into New Haven on the way to Washington DC.Last week I wrote about my impromptu trip to Washington DC for a friend’s funeral, and how I took Amtrak’s Northeast Regional 65 sleeper service overnight from Boston South Station to Washington Union Station. That got me into DC first thing on Sunday morning, in plenty of time for the funeral, which just left me the small matter of getting back. My options included flying, which would have got me back to Portland on Sunday evening, or taking the counterpart of the train I caught on the way down, the Northeast Regional 66, which would have got me into Boston early on Monday morning.

The Northeast Regional was my fallback option, but since a mutual friend was driving back to Connecticut after the funeral, I took the opportunity for a ride as far as New Haven. I spent the night there, before carrying on to Boston by train on Monday morning, completing my journey to Portland by bus that afternoon. To get to Boston, I had a choice of the Northeast Regional service, or Amtrak’s premium Acela service. Since I’d never taken the Acela before, it seemed like this would be the ideal time to see what I’d been missing.

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Making Coffee at Home: Manual vs Electric Grinders

Amanda's Baratza Encore electric burr grinder next to my Aergrind hand burr grinder (not to scale). But which one did I prefer?One of the first pieces I wrote for my Making Coffee at Home series in early 2020 was on the importance of grinding coffee at home. Every now and then people ask me for advice on what sort of coffee grinder they should buy and while the article has some general advice (always get a burr grinder), I stumble over the question of whether to recommend a manual or electric burr grinder.

Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for manual coffee grinders. After all, I own three of them: a pair of Feldgrinds and an Aergrind, all from Knock. I do have an electric burr grinder, but this is built into my Sage Barista Express. In theory, I could use it for grinding for filter coffee as well, but in practice, I use it exclusively for espresso, sticking to my Feldgrind for my daily cafetiere, pour-over and AeroPress.

However, when I was visiting Amanda last November, I had the chance to use her Baratza Encore for an extended period of time. This allowed me to make a direct comparison between electric (the Encore) and manual (my Aergrind) grinders as I made our morning cafetieres and daily pour-overs.

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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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Meet the Roaster: NewGround Coffee

The Loring S15 Falcon roaster at the back of NewGround Coffee in Oxford.Let’s get 2022 underway with a new Meet the Roaster, featuring Oxford’s NewGround Coffee, which has been around since 2018. I belated became aware of it last year through FLTR Coffee in Bicester and The Hideaway, one of that year’s many new openings in my home town of Guildford. Suitably impressed, I made visiting NewGround’s roastery/coffee shop in Oxford a priority, managing to call in at the end of October last year.

I wrote up the minimalist coffee shop at the end of last year, while today’s post is all about the roasting side of the business. This is based around the state-of-the-art Loring S15 Falcon roaster, which you’ll find at the back of the coffee shop, surrounded by tubs of coffee. However, there’s more to NewGround than just roasting and serving excellent coffee, NewGround also working to create job opportunities and provide training for ex-offenders, helping them back into employment.

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Coffee Spot Awards 2021: Winners

An espresso, made by my Rancilio Silvia espresso machine, in a classic white cup and saucer from Acme & Co., New Zealand, distributed in the UK by Caravan Roastery.Happy New Year to all my followers old and new! As we get 2022 underway, here are the winners of the tenth annual Brian’s Coffee Spot Awards. As before, there are 20 Awards, celebrating all the wonderful Coffee Spots I wrote about during 2021. The shortlists for all 20 Awards were announced between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve and now we have the winners!

Before we go on, I know I’ve said this before, but a big thank you to everyone who’s visited the Coffee Spot, followed me on Twitter, liked my Facebook page and looked at my pictures on Instagram. While I do this for the love of coffee, it means a lot to me that so many of you take the time to read and comment on my writing. Without you, it really would be pointless.

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2021 Awards – Most Popular Coffee Spot

My new Peak Water filter jug, fresh out of the box.So, here it is, the final Coffee Spot Awards Shortlist for 2021, the only one that you, my readers, decide. It’s the “Most Popular Coffee Spot” Award, which is based on the total number of views received by each Coffee Spot in 2021. Note that only Coffee Spots published in 2021 are eligible for this award, otherwise the top three would be from 2017, 2018 and 2020!

Last year the Most Popular Coffee Spot was Peak Water, which received over 1,000 views. This year’s shortlist features the 10 most viewed Coffee Spots, and, for the second year running, four of them are from my hometown of Guildford, with another four from around the country. The remaining two are Saturday Supplements, both about coffee equipement.

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