Ultimo Coffee, Graduate Hospital

The Ultimo symbol, a Roman Eagle, here cut out of an iron plate.I’ve saved the first until last, so to speak. On my trip to Philadelphia back in March, Ultimo Coffee was my first port of call, fresh off the train from Boston, whisked there by my generous host for the weekend, Greg of Coffee Guru App fame. It seems appropriate that of the nine Coffee Spots I visited (11 if you count The Franklin Fountain and Jany’s), it’s the last to be written up.

The Graduate Hospital branch on Catharine Street is the second of Philadelphia’s two Ultimos, the westernmost Coffee Spot that I visited (the original, on S 15th Street, is a long way out of town and would easily have been the furthest south had I made it there; next time, maybe). After leaving the Amtrak Station and crossing the river, turn right and it’s a straight run down 22nd Street to Ultimo, making it a logical place to start my coffee tour.

Ultimo serves Counter Culture coffee (with occasional guest roasters) with an emphasis on filter. Chemex is available until 11 o’clock in the morning, with V60 on the go throughout the day. There’s a choice of three single-origins, with single-origin house and guest espressos, plus decaf. There’s a range of sandwiches and cakes too.

December 2016: Ultimo now roasts all its own coffee which it serves in both its stores.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Ultimo, on the corner of Catharine & 22nd, promises much if the A-board is any guide.
  • The windows along 22nd St let in plenty of light. There are tables here when it's warmer.
  • The other side of the A-board.
  • The bulk of the seating is down here at the Catharine St end, to your right as you come in...
  • ... while the counter and a row of tables is at the other end, to your left.
  • If you don't fancy tables, there's a neat little bar right next to the door.
  • Alternatively, if you do fancy tables, they are mostly two person ones like this.
  • Directly opposite the door is this shelf of coffee & coffee-kit. Look! I can see JOCO Cups!
  • Back to the seating, I can't help thinking this is a noisy option, right next to the grinders.
  • The barista's eye view of Ultimo.
  • The counter, by the way, is a thing of beauty, all wood and lights.
  • Talking of lights, despite the windows, Ultimo is generously lit.
  • Obligatory light-fitting shot.
  • First order of the day: food. There is a decent selection of cake and sandwiches.
  • This, by the way, is the closest I got to taking a picture of my sandwich before I ate it!
  • Right, to the coffee. It's a well-stocked counter: grinders, espresso machine, brew bar.
  • There are three grinders: decaf, guest & house (or is that mummy, daddy & baby grinder?)
  • The (very) shiny La Marzocco Strada espresso machine.
  • So, what's actually on offer? Let's consult the coffee menu...
  • ... and who, by the way, roasts the coffee? Oh, look! JOCO Cups!
  • Sorry, what was the question? Oh yes, that was it. Who roasts the coffee: Counter Culture.
  • Ultimo regularly rotates its beans. There's a handy menu to tell you what's on at the moment.
  • There are three filter options, all kept behind the counter, pre-weighed & ready for grinding.
  • Talking of which, Greg & I went for pour-over. I'd not seen the two-handed technique before.
  • It's a fairly efficient way of making coffee!
  • Once the pour is over, give each a good stir.
  • Almost done.
  • We followed those up with espresso.
  • Here we go...
  • I love watching espresso pouring out of the spouts...
  • Look at the crema on those two!
  • All done.
  • One advantage of glass is you really can see the crema developing as the espresso is made.
  • You can also see how quickly it dissipates too!
  • Those weren't ours, by the way. They were to go in this milky behemoth.
  • I also love watching good latte artists at work.
  • The finished article.
  • There was a lot of dialling-in of the guest espresso while I was there.
  • Finally, we were good to go. I love the up-turned cup method.
  • My espresso.
  • I leave you with my espresso's eye view of Ultimo.
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Like Monday’s Coffee Spot, One Shot, Ultimo is long and thin, although it’s considerably smaller and only on one floor. Set in a rather modern building running lengthwise along 22nd Street, punctuated with a generous provision of doors/windows, it’s bright and airy inside, helped by high ceilings and white-washed walls. These go well with the slate floor and wooden counter/furniture, giving the interior a modern, clean look.

Ultimo is effectively split into two, with the counter occupying the back wall on the left-hand side, opposite a narrow row of four two-person tables running along the doors/windows (some of these, by the way, can open in the warmer weather to give access to tables on the sidewalk). There’s also a table right next to the grinders at the left-hand end of the counter, which must be a fairly noisy spot!

You enter, via the first set of doors, into the other half of Ultimo, which is where you’ll find the majority of the seating. Ironically, although it’s narrower here, it feels wider because of the absence of the counter! There’s not a huge amount of seating back here, just a pair of two-person tables, one on either side of the store, then a four-person table against the back wall. There’s a window-bar immediately to the left of the door and another two-person table in the middle, next to a shelving unit with coffee and coffee-kit for sale. In all, you might get 22 comfortably seated inside.

A chiller cabinet with the cakes and sandwiches stands next to the shelving unit, then comes the counter, where you order and wait for your coffee.  As befits Ultimo’s focus on hand-poured filter (no bulk-brew here), pride of place goes to the brew-bar, with its row of V60s, behind which the pre-dosed coffee awaits grinding. After that comes a La Marzocco Strada and finally, at the far end, the (espresso) grinders.

Having come straight off the train, I was starving and started off with a chickpea and goats’ cheese sandwich, which was excellent, although I ate it long before I thought to photograph it!

Moving onto the coffee, I reacquainted myself with Counter Culture (which has its Philadelphia training centre upstairs!), a roaster I’d become used to in Boston and would also enjoy in New York at the likes of the Bluebird Coffee Shop. While I was there, Ultimo had Nueva Llusta (Bolivia) as its standard filter, with Tsheya (Democratic Republic of Congo) and a Buziraguhindwa natural (Burundi) as guests. Interestingly, the Nueva Llusta was the house espresso, with the Tsheya as the guest.

Having already tried the Nueva Llusta as a pour-over at Pavement Coffeehouse and the Buziraguhindwa (admittedly as espresso) at both Render Coffee and Pavement, I was keen to try the Tsheya. I started off with a pour-over, following it up as an espresso since I was curious to see how it fared through the different brewing methods.

As a V60 it was quite fruity, with the flavours coming through strongly as it cooled. On this basis, I approached the espresso with some trepidation, but was pleasantly surprised. It was nicer than I expected, a smooth, balanced coffee with the same essentially fruity taste that I had encountered in the V60. Somehow I was expecting it to be sharper and more citrus.

www.ultimocoffee.com +1 215 545 3565
Monday 07:00 – 19:00 Roaster Ultimo (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 19:00 Seating Tables, Bar, Tables (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 19:00 Food Sandwiches, Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 19:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 19:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 08:00 – 19:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 08:00 – 19:00 Power No
Chain Local Visits 7th March 2014

You can also see what I made of Newbold, the original branch of Ultimo Coffee, when I visited in February 2016 and of a new, third branch, Rittenhouse, which I caught in March 2018.

Liked this? Then take a look at the Coffee Spot Guide to Philadelphia for more great coffee Spots.

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6 thoughts on “Ultimo Coffee, Graduate Hospital

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