Shot Tower Coffee

Shot Tower Coffee, on the corner of Christian & South 6th Streets.My friend Greg, of Coffee Guru App fame, and my number one source of all things coffee-related in Philadelphia, described Shot Tower Coffee as “one of the best” in Philly. No pressure then. Fortunately I loved it from the moment we drove past along Christian Street on our way to the 9th Street Italian Market. Greg had to do his shopping then head home, leaving me free to wander back to Shot Tower at my leisure, which I did.

Sitting on the corner of Christian and South 6th Streets, Shot Tower is perhaps twice as long as it is deep, and ever so slightly wedge-shaped. Windows run the length of both sides, which, coupled with a high ceiling, give it a bright and airy feel. Well-spaced seating adds to the sense of space.

The coffee is from Counter Culture, with a fairly standard espresso-based menu, the obligatory bulk-brew drip coffee and hand-brew pour-over, with a choice (while I was there) of a Rosales from Columbia, a Kinyara from Kenya or decaf. There’s also decaf available for the espresso and a wide selection of loose-leaf tea and iced drinks. Pastries and oatmeal provide food options if you’re hungry.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Shot Tower Coffee, on the corner of Christian and South 6th Streets...
  • ...and here, in more detail. It extends some way to the right, which isn't clear from this shot.
  • I think the outside table was a little optimistic...
  • A panoramic view from just inside the door. See how Shot Tower tapers slightly to the right.
  • Another panorama from the back...
  • ... and one more from the opposite corner at the back.
  • The seating in more detail, starting with the window bar on South 6th Street.
  • I do like a good window bar!
  • There were five tables along the windows on the Christian Street side.
  • The tables in more detail.
  • The remaining seating was provided by this beauty in the centre of the room.
  • A view of the counter from the back...
  • ... and from the front.
  • The counter in more detail...
  • ... with the all important espresso machine right in the centre.
  • The takeaway lids are to the right, past the collection point...
  • ... where you'll also find the water fountain.
  • Shot Tower has some lovely lighting.
  • I particularly liked this one by the counter...
  • ... and this one by the door.
  • The lighting about the counter/espresso machine...
  • ... seen here in more detail.
  • The menu is to the left of the counter...
  • ... next to a shelf of retail goodies.
  • There is cake if you are hungry...
  • ... and more cake...
  • ... and oatmeal.
  • Plus chocolate. I, however, had come for coffee.
  • The manager was keen on the pour-over...
  • ... which had the beans all pre-weighed in jars behind the counter.
  • However, we settled on something from the espresso machine.
  • But what? Decaf, or the Underdog blend?
  • We decided on the Underdog blend...
  • ... and here it is, in a lovely shot glass.
  • I also had a lemon olive cake...
  • ... and followed it up with a decaf cortado.
  • The milk was superbly done, the pattern holding right to the bottom of the glass.
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Shot Tower’s door in the corner, 45 degrees to the walls, so you’re facing the opposite corner in entering. The seating is arrayed left and right: a bench along the short (Christian Street) side, a window-bar along the long (6th Street) side. The bench has five two-person tables which can be pushed together if required, while the window-bar has 10 high-backed bar chairs.

The counter occupies the far wall, running from the opposite corner about three quarters of the way to the window. Between it and the window bar is a long, 12-person communal table, with swivel-out stools. I sat here, directly opposite the La Marzocco Strada espresso machine, and can report that the seats are very comfortable, although it took me a little while to figure out how to actually sit down…

The counter’s a simple affair, built of reclaimed wood. First comes the till, next to the cake, then two grinders and espresso machine. It ends with the collection point, next to which are the lids for takeaway customers, with a water-fountain in the corner. This results in a natural flow, from ordering through collection (mirrored by the barista who, having taken your order, moves down in similar fashion to make your drink). Bulk-brew filters are behind the counter, against the far wall, while pour-over is made in full view, to the left of the till, so you can stand and watch if it takes your fancy.

Although well designed, the layout and décor of Shot Tower are simple with wooden floors, white-washed walls, bare-brick pillars, and, behind the counter, bare plaster and tiles, all of which puts the focus firmly on the coffee. Here the emphasis is on quality, not quantity. There are two filters, one espresso and decaf, with the espresso changing when the manager decides, usually every few weeks. During my visit, it was Counter Culture’s limited-edition Underdog blend, mixing coffee from Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Burundi; next will be a single-origin Ethiopian.

I chatted through the options with the manager, who was keen on the pour-over, but having described it as “quite caffeinated” and established that this was my fourth coffee that day, we decided that maybe espresso would be a better option.

Given its constituent parts, it was always going to be something special. As it turned out, it was a bright, zesty drink, with a rich, complex flavour, very much front of the mouth. If I’m honest, I was already probably a little over-caffeinated to fully savour it and, with hindsight, perhaps I should have started with a decaf, then moved onto the espresso.

As it was, I went the other way round, following the espresso with a decaf cortado (even though cortado wasn’t on the menu). The cortado was a gem, allowing the coffee to shine through and belying the old-fashioned idea that decaf is boring or tasteless. This one packed a punch, with quite a sweet flavour, maturing as it cooled. It left me wishing that I’d had the time to try it as a pour-over as well…

I also had an olive lemon cake, just because it sounded interesting, which, indeed, it was. A rich cake with great texture and a clear lemon flavour, it reminded me of a moist lemon Madeira cake.

542 CHRISTIAN STREET • PHILADELPHIA • PA 19147 • USA +1 267 886 8049
Monday 07:00 – 18:00 Roaster Counter Culture (Espresso + Filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Window Bar
Wednesday 07:00 – 18:00 Food Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 18:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 18:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa ($5 minimum)
Saturday 08:00 – 18:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 08:00 – 18:00 Power Yes
Chain No Visits 10th March 2015

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

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3 thoughts on “Shot Tower Coffee

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