I first came across Tandem Coffee Roasters in Boston, where I enjoyed a cappuccino at Render Coffee, made using Tandem’s seasonal Time and Temperature espresso blend. I also met with Larry, owner of Boston’s Pavement Coffeehouse chain, who sang the praises of Tandem’s co-founder, Will (an ex-Pavement employee). That pretty much sealed it for me, and when, a few days later, I popped up the New England coast to Portland to start my coast-to-coast, Portland-to-Portland train trip, I naturally sought out Tandem’s roastery.
What I found wasn’t just a thriving roastery, but an excellent, friendly coffee bar too. The coffee bar aside, which features in its own Coffee Spot, this Meet the Roaster post focuses on the roastery side of the business. When I first visited in 2015, the roastery was in one half of a single-storey, L-shaped building, also home to the coffee bar. These days, it’s become so busy, it’s had to relocate to a separate building just behind the first, where a 35 kg Loring roaster takes pride of place, roasting all of Tandem’s coffee, for use in-house in the coffee bar and Tandem’s bakery/coffee shop on Congress Street as well as for Tandem’s growing wholesale business.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
I’ve always liked coffee shops where the roasting is done on-site. This is often the case in small operations, and, for me, it’s a bonus when the roaster itself is openly in view. I understand that this isn’t always possible, especially in a busy coffee shop, where there are good operational reasons for separating the coffee drinker from the coffee roaster. For a start, the whole roasting process can be noisy, as well as generating a lot of heat, neither of which is usually conducive to enjoying a nice cup of coffee. On the flip side, for a roaster, being able to work in a controlled environment without the interruptions of a busy coffee shop (particularly customers asking questions), is quite important. That’s why I understand when the roasting, even when it’s done on-site, is often tucked out of the way, allowing the roaster to work in peace (London’s Ozone Coffee Roasters and Tokyo’s Onibus Coffee are good examples of this).
When I first visited Tandem in 2015, it felt to me that it had hit upon the perfect solution with its combined roastery and coffee bar. While the roaster was clearly on display (it was the first thing you saw when walking in), it had its own well-delineated space, obviously distinct from the coffee bar, which is in a separate room off to the left. This means that both coffee drinker and coffee roaster can get on with their business in peace, but at the same time the roaster remains the focal point of the establishment. It’s also a good opening gambit to get people involved in/engaged with the roasting process. I offer, as an example, the young man who walked in to order an iced something-or-other and, pointing back towards the roaster, asked “what’s that?”. Cue some coffee-themed education.
However, in keeping with many coffee shop/roasters, as Tandem got busier, the two rooms, one building approach became impractical. When I first visited, roasting took place on a 12 kg Probat, although even then, a larger, 15 kg Loring roaster was on order. That, in turn, was replaced by a 35 kg Loring as demand grew, at which point, co-locating the roastery and coffee shop was no longer feasible. Tandem simply needed a bigger space for the new roaster and so followed a well-trodden route (Paris’ Coutume, for example), taking over the building immediately behind the coffee shop and turning that into a dedicated roastery.
These days the original building still houses the coffee bar, while the ex-roastery space is now a training room/lab, the only remaining holdout from the roastery days being the San Franciscan sample roaster which occupies exactly the same spot as it always did on the worktop against the wall. There’s also a small, cosy seating area here to the right of the door.
There have also been some personnel changes, with co-owner, Will, stepping aside from the day-to-day roasting to focus more on sourcing the green beans. In his place, Kevin, who used to work for Ultimo in Philadelphia, joined Tandem as head roaster in May 2019. If you want to learn more about Tandem, including finding out about the coffee that’s currently being roasted, then try attending one of the public cuppings which are held in the training lab at noon every Friday.
February 2020: this is an updated version of the original post which was published in August 2015. You can see what has changed in my Coffee Spot Update.
|122 ANDERSON STREET • PORTLAND • ME 04101 • USA|
|www.tandemcoffee.com||+1 207 899 0235|
|Monday||07:00 – 16:00||Roaster||Tandem (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||07:00 – 16:00||Seating||Bar, Counter, Table (outside)|
|Wednesday||07:00 – 16:00||Food||Cookies|
|Thursday||07:00 – 16:00||Service||Counter|
|Friday||07:00 – 16:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||08:00 – 16:00||Wifi||No|
|Chain||Local||Visits||Original. 4th June 2015
Update: 9th August 2019
For a different perspective on Tandem, from a very different angle, try this article from Paste Magazine.
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Agreed that the roaster/coffee bar concept is a good one. It works for us and I suspect that many more will follow suit in due course. By demystifying the process we have introduced many people to the world of speciality coffee and great coffee at great prices is the mantra here at Edgcumbes! Despite being in the middle of nowhere we are finding lots of people calling by… Looking forward to seeing you too one of these days!
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