Giant Coffee, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

The sign on the wall at Giant Coffee in Terminal 3, Phoenix Sky Harbor.Good airport coffee is still, sadly, a rarity. It therefore seems unfair that, given its scarcity, Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport should have not one, but two speciality coffee shops. The first is Cartel Coffee Lab in Terminal 4., which is very handy for me, since I typically fly British Airways/American, both of whom use the terminal.

However, this time, I was flying Delta, which uses the new Terminal 3. I was just kicking myself for my choice of airline and hence terminal, rueing missing out on a decent pre-flight coffee, when I walked past Giant Coffee, a small coffee bar tucked in with a larger convenience store/newsagent.

Although there’s not much to Giant, it offers a concise espresso-based menu using the house-blend and decaf, plus there’s pour-over (V60 or cafetiere) and batch brew, each sporting a different single-origin. There’s also Rishi Tea and a range of cakes, sandwiches and salads.

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Verve Coffee Roasters, Palo Alto

Bringing a new meaning to the phrase "well-balanced", it's a one-and-one (split-shot espresso and macchiato) from Verve Coffee Roasters in Palo Alto, with the espresso cup precariously balanced on the edge of the saucer.Verve Coffee Roasters, which began in Santa Cruz, California, has spread out along the Pacific Coast, with locations in nearby San Francisco to the north and Los Angeles to the south. It’s also crossed the ocean to Japan, where it has coffee shops in Tokyo and Kamakura. Although I haven’t been to all the Verves, I decided that I would visit at least one coffee shop in each city, crossing off Kamakura, the last on my list, when visiting Japan last year. Which was where the staff told me about the new Palo Alto coffee shop. I swear they’re doing this deliberately! So, when I was in the Bay Area for work at the start of this month, I popped up to Palo Alto on the Caltrain to tick that one off my list.

Verve occupies a corner spot a block from the station, with a large outdoor seating area right on the corner, backed up by a bright, spacious interior with plenty more seating. The coffee offering will be familiar to anyone who has been to a Verve before, as will the twin Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machines. There’s also food until 2pm and cakes all day.

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Pair Specialty Coffee & Tea

My espresso, a Colombian Geisha, roasted and served at Pair Speciality Coffee & Tea in Mesa, and presented on a square, wooden tray with a glass of water on the side.After five previous visits to Phoenix, where I’ve visited coffee shops in the surrounding cities of Scottsdale, Tempe and Chandler, this trip has seen me add Gilbert, Peoria and now Mesa to the list. Mesa, which is east of Tempe and north of Gilbert, is somewhere I’ve only previously driven through on my way to the Superstition Mountains. What caused me to stop on this occasion was Pair Specialty Coffee & Tea, which I was urged to visit by several people, including Fionn of The Pourover and Eric, at Mythical Coffee.

Pair Specialty Coffee & Tea started as a pop-up inside the tap room at Cider Corps, although it’s now migrated to a more permanent set up at the back of the main bar with plans to expand the opening hours in the next month or two. Pair roasts all its own coffee, with five single-origins on pour-over, two of which are also on espresso. These are backed up by five loose-leaf teas pus matcha, with all the coffee/tea available to buy in retail bags.

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Driftwood Coffee Co.

My espresso, an Ethiopian Guji from Horizon Line Coffee, served in a glass at Driftwood Coffee Co. in Peoria.Although this is my sixth visit to Phoenix in under four years, I’ve always stayed in northeast Phoenix or Scottsdale, my speciality coffee focus generally turned towards the centre and the cities to the southeast, such as Tempe and Chandler. However, Peoria’s Driftwood Coffee Co. has been on my radar since it opened in 2017, so when work finished unexpectedly early one afternoon, I took my chance and drove over to pay it a visit.

Driftwood is on the edge of Old Town Peoria, just off Highway 60, which runs northwest out of central Phoenix. Occupying a compact space at the end of a warehouse-like building, Driftwood has a generous outside seating area and a simple, high-ceilinged interior. A true multi-roaster, Driftwood aims to offer at least one Arizona-based roaster and one from elsewhere in America. While I was there, there were two local options, Mythical Coffee (which I’d visited earlier in the week) and Tucson’s Yellow Brick Coffee (which I’d previously enjoyed at Maverick Coffee), while the national offering was from Horizon Line Coffee in Des Moines, Iowa. There’s a concise espresso-based menu, batch brew (for those in a hurry) or a slow bar, offering cafetiere, Chemex or V60.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying From San Francisco to Phoenix

Making airline coffee bearable: make your own! My Espro Travel Press and Knock Aergrind in the American Airlines lounge at San Francisco Airport before my flight to Phoenix.Welcome to the second instalment of the first Travel Spot of the new year, documenting my first trip of 2020. Part I saw me flying from London Heathrow to San Jose on 3rd January, where British Airways kindly upgraded me to Club World, thus ruining my plans for writing about my experiences in World Traveller Plus (premium economy to you and me). Not that I am complaining too much.

After a week in the Bay Area for work (plus visiting plenty of coffee shops and an unexpected Cat Café), Part II sees me on my way from San Francisco to Phoenix, flying with American Airlines. From there, I’ll have two weeks in Arizona (one for work, one travelling) before flying from Phoenix to Boston with Delta and making my way home from there with British Airways.

Flying internally in America is one of my least favourite activities, but I’m slowly learning to make the most of it, helped immensely by having a work travel budget that allows me to fly first class (not as grand as it sounds), plus having enough status with British Airways that I can use the lounge when flying with partner airlines such as American Airlines.

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Verve Coffee Roasters, Kamakura

The window at the side of Verve Coffee Roasters in Kamakura Japan, which proudly states Verve's roots in Santa Cruz, California.I spent last week in the Bay Area, not far from Santa Cruz, home of Verve Coffee Roasters, which I visited almost exactly three years ago, in 2017. The following year it was the turn of Verve in Omotesando, Tokyo and then, last year, I managed to visit Verve in both Los Angeles (Spring Street) and San Francisco (Market Street). I was happily congratulating myself on having visited Verve in every city where it has a presence when I realised that one of its Japanese coffee shops was in Kamakura rather than Tokyo. Damn! So, when I headed back to Japan in September that year, I took a day trip to Kamakura. Naturally, I popped into Verve for coffee.

If you’re familiar with Verve, then the coffee offering will come as no surprise. There’s the Streetlevel seasonal blend on espresso, joined by a single-origin and decaf, while on filter, there’s a blend on batch brew and five single-origins, plus decaf on pour-over. There’s also my favourite, the one-and-one, plus a coffee flight, where you can compare three of the pour-over options side-by-side. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of three savoury waffles, three sweet waffles and three toast-based dishes.

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Linea Caffe

The Linea Caffe sign, from my visit in April 2019, with the words "Linea Caffe S.F" written in white in a cursive script on a red, circular background.I’m indebted to my friend Karen for introducing me to Linea Caffe, which we paid a flying visit to on my previous visit to San Francisco in April 2019. Sadly I didn’t have time to do a write up, so on my equally brief return to San Francisco last week, I made a point of calling in for a more extended visit.

Located in the heart of The Mission, there’s not a lot to Linea Caffe, just a small, near cube-shaped, sunny, corner spot with windows on two sides and a massive L-shaped counter inside, which leaves space for a single, two-person wooden bench and not much else. Indeed, there’s far more seating outside, where a similar bench is joined by six small, round tables down the side of Linea Caffe.

Linea Caffe, which roasts all its own coffee, has a concise espresso-based menu using a seasonal blend plus decaf, backed up with a single-origin on batch brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cakes and pastries, including savoury options, from Neighbor Bakehouse.

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Mythical Coffee

A lovely one-and-one (espresso and macchiato) plus a glass of sparkling water, beautifully presented on a triangular tray at Mythical Coffee in Gilbert, Arizona.A permanent fixture of my now annual trips to Phoenix is meeting up with Meg and her husband Coffee Ken, Arizona’s leading coffee blogger. So, when I arrived in Phoenix on Saturday, other than picking up my hire car and checking into my hotel, my first act was to drive over to Gilbert, one the cities to the southeast of Phoenix, for our meet up. The venue was a new coffee shop, Mythical Coffee, on Gilbert Town Square.

What Ken hadn’t told me when he suggested Mythical Coffee as our venue, is just how new it is. Today it has been open for precisely two weeks. Mythical Coffee is a roaster and coffee shop, offering an ever-changing cast of single-origins, one each on espresso, batch brew and pour-over, with the coffee available to buy in retail bags. There’s also cold brew and, when the equipment has been tweaked, nitro cold brew will be available, along with several seasonal lattes and a small selection of matcha, chai and tea. There’s also a small brunch menu, featuring overnight oats, plus four different toast options, served until 2pm each day, along with a selection of cakes and pastries, available all day.

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Cat Town

The Cat Town logo, showing the silhouette of a cat climbing down the C of Cat Town.In 7½ years of writing the Coffee Spot, I’d never been to a cat café. However, all that changed last weekend when my friend Richard suggested visiting Cat Town in Oakland. It was America’s first cat café when it opened in 2014, adding the RAWR Coffee Bar, its own independent speciality coffee shop, in 2017. I wrote about RAWR earlier in the week, which you can visit in its own right, independent of Cat Town, while today’s Saturday Supplement focuses on Cat Town itself.

What makes Cat Town special in the world of cat cafés is that all the cats in residence are up for adoption, although you don’t have to be interested in adopting if all you want to do is visit and hang out with the cats. An hour with the cats will set you back $10, which goes towards covering Cat Town’s expenses. Although you can turn up on spec, booking ahead of time is recommended since Cat Town limits the number of people allowed in at any one time and it can get very busy. Note that while Cat Town is closed on Monday/Tuesday, RAWR is open, so you can still pop in for coffee.

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Ritual Coffee Roasters, Mission

The Ritual Coffee Roasters logo (a stylised cup tilted at 45 degrees with a star balanced on top).Ritual Coffee Roasters a veteran of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene, going strong since it opened its Mission location on Valencia in 2005. A roaster/coffee shop chain, I’ve had its coffee in various places across the USA, but until now, the only other location I’ve visited is Hayes Valley, when I was in San Francisco in April last year.

The Hayes Valley location is part of Proxy, occupying one of a handful of shipping containers, offering an impressively-full range of coffees despite its small size. In contrast, its original location in the Mission is a large, open space, with a distinctly minimalist vibe, a complete contrast to the stereotypical San Francisco exposed brick industrial spaces such as Sextant Coffee Roasters and Sightglass.

The focus is firmly on the coffee, with a blend (Emperor’s Cup), single-origin (Monte Álban, Mexico) and decaf (Los Gigantes, Colombia) on espresso, plus multiple single-origin filter options, including batch brew (La Folie, Guatemala) and three choices for the V60. Finally, there’s cold brew, nitro cold brew and a seasonal cascara drink. The coffee choices change seasonally, with all the beans (and more) available in retail bags. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes and pastries.

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