Square One, South 13th Street

The words "SQUARE one COFFEE" one word per row, white on black inside a white square.In a desperate attempt to publish all the Coffee Spots from my last trip to Philadelphia in March 2015 before I return there next week, I present today’s Coffee Spot, Square One, which started life as a roaster in Lancaster, PA.  It still roasts all its coffee in Lancaster, in a purpose-built roastery and training space, having previously roasting on-site on its Duke Street café. I first came across Square One’s coffee in 2014 at Plenty in Rittenhouse and then, last year, I called into the first of its two Philadelphia branches which opened its doors on South 13th Street in 2013.

Square One is in good company, the area just south of City Hall turning into something of a go-to spot. Coffee-shop-cum-roaster Greenstreet Coffee Co is a few blocks away, as was Cafe Twelve until it closed on Monday. Just a few blocks more on the other side of Broad Street is another Philadelphia café/roaster, Elixr, while the aforementioned Plenty is nearby.

Square One occupies a fantastic spot, a large, open rectangle, with an island counter, and serves some excellent coffee. There’s a house-blend and single-origin on espresso and two more available through the Chemex, plus the obligatory bulk-brew.

September 2021: Square One in Philadelphia has closed, although the roastery and cafe in Lancester are still going strong.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • From the outside, Square One, on Philadelphia's S 13th St, is less than impressive...
  • ... and it doesn't look much better coming from the other direction.
  • The A-board is straight to the point...
  • ... as is the sign hanging by the door.
  • Step inside, however, and you're confronted by this glorious interior. What a contrast!
  • It's large, it's spacious and there's a wonderful array of seating, starting with this sofa.
  • On the other side of a large pillar is this lovely window-bench.
  • And here's the full ensemble, door on one side, bench on the other.
  • Square One resisted the temptation to cram it full of seats. There's this communal table...
  • ... while there are two tables by the counter. This is perfect if you like espresso machines...
  • ... while this one is at the other end of the counter.
  • There's a bench/tables along the right-hand wall, as seen here, looking back from the counter.
  • However, there's more. This is a true island-counter, with the ordering point on the left...
  • ... and with more seating at the back...
  • ... starting with this small table by some retail shelves.
  • Padded benches run along the back of the counter and along the back walll.
  • Another view from the corner right at the back...
  • ... and the whole ensemble from by the left-hand side of the counter.
  • There are lots of retails shelves either side of the counter. There's coffee, for example...
  • ... and coffee-making kit.
  • More kit...
  • ... and tea. Quite a lot of tea!
  • Obligatory light-fitting shot. But what a light-fitting!
  • Nice picture.
  • As an island counter, you get great views. The espresso machine, seen from the back-right...
  • ... and seen here from the back-left.
  • It's a well-equipped counter with seltzer (left) and water (right) on tap.
  • There's a decent selection of cake and pastries of course.
  • Pain au raisin ou pain au chocolat?
  • Or perhaps cupcakes are more your thing?
  • There are also breakfast and lunch offerings. And coffee.
  • The options are summarised on signs on the pillars around which the counter's constructed.
  • There's tea as well...
  • .... plus a selection of hand-poured filter coffee through the Chemex...
  • ... and the obligatory bulk-brew.
  • However, I've come for something from the espresso machine. Nice colour, by the way.
  • This is Linda, by the way, my barista.
  • Attach the portafilter to the group head and off we go.
  • Helps if the cup is there. This isn't for me, by the way. It's a takeaway order.
  • A couple of streams emerge from the bottomless portafilter...
  • ... and quickly merge into one. Almost done now.
  • And here's one Linda prepared earlier: my espresso.
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From the outside, Square One is visually the least impressive of the many Philadelphia Coffee Spots I have visited over the last two years. However, the plain exterior, at the bottom of a modern building, belies a lovely interior. Square One occupies a large, open, rectangular space, slightly deeper than it is wide. Rectangular, note, not square. Mind you, Rectangle One would be a silly name for a coffee shop…

It’s the sort of space that, without a lot of care, could be quite anonymous. Fortunately, Square One put a lot of care and thought into the layout, focused on an impressive island counter. Located towards the back, and built around two square pillars, it effectively splits one massive space into several smaller, more intimate ones.

The bulk of the seating is at the front, but even here it’s broken up into various clusters, with seating against both walls, separated by a long, communal table running down the centre. You enter through double, glass doors on the left, while on the right, beyond a pillar, the generous floor-to-ceiling windows have a lovely padded window-bench. Against the left-hand wall, as you come in, is a glorious sofa, with a couple of seats beyond it, while the right-hand wall has another padded bench, this time with a row of tables. Finally, there are two tables in front of the counter.

There are more tables dotted around to either side of the counter, but these spaces are largely kept free, acting as twin corridors leading to more seating at the back. Here padded benches run along the back of the counter (with two tables), and along the back wall (with three tables). You also order on the left-hand side of the counter, so you can wait here without towering over anyone.

The walls to either side of the counter are lined with shelves of retail stock, beans to the left, tea and coffee-making kit to the right. The rest of the walls are hung with wooden-framed art and what could otherwise be a large expanse of white is broken up with a clever wooden framework and strung with rows of light-bulbs. Although there’s plenty of light at the front, it could be dark at the back, except ample lights hang from the ceiling, giving it a bright, warm feeling.

As well as coffee and tea, there’s a good selection of cake and small breakfast, lunch and snack menus. However, the coffee shop mostly highlights Square One’s range of coffee, with a strong focus on single-origins. There’s a house-blend on espresso, which is joined by a regularly-rotating single-origin. There are two more choices available through the Chemex: these are usually, but not exclusively, single-origins as well. Finally, there’s the obligatory bulk-brew.

I had the single-origin, an Ethiopian, as an espresso, which was beautifully made by my barista, Linda, who described it as like chocolate-coated strawberry. However, that was lost on me: all I got was a real zing, it being a little too bright for me. I’d have liked to try it in milk (Linda, who preferred it as an espresso, said her colleagues like it as a cappuccino) but it was the end of a long day and I was already way too caffeinated, which also ruled out my trying the pour-over.

www.squareonecoffee.com +1 267 758 6352
Monday 07:00 – 19:00 Roaster Square One (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 19:00 Seating Tables, Sofas
Wednesday 07:00 – 19:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 19:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 19:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 08:00 – 19:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 08:00 – 19:00 Power Limited
Chain Local Visits 11th 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 “Square One, South 13th Street

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