Speckled Ax, Congress

A square with the motif of an axe buried head-first in a tree-trunk above the word COFFEESpeckled Ax joins fellow roasters-cum-coffee shops, Bard Coffee and Tandem Coffee Roasters, to form a small and vibrant specialty coffee scene in Portland (Maine). Speckled Ax started life as a roaster in 2007 (under the name “Matt’s Wood Roasted Organic Coffee”), with the coffee shop following five years later in 2012, prompting the name-change to “Speckled Ax”.

Situated on Congress Street, just west of the centre of Portland, Speckled Ax is long and thin, with the counter at the back and tables along either side. There’s a neat seating area in the window at the front, with benches clustered around a tree stump. This acts as a coffee table, instantly reminding me of the window-seating in Menagerie Coffee in Philadelphia.

Speckled Ax’s particular claim to fame is that it is one of just a handful of wood-fired coffee roasters in the USA (reminiscent of Witney’s Ue Coffee Roasters in the UK). Speckled Ax offers one or two single-origin espressos, plus decaf, in the shop through its Synesso espresso machine. There are usually three more single-origins available as filter, through the syphon, V60, Chemex or Aeropress, depending on your particular requirements. There’s also batch-brew until 11am if you’re in a hurry.

November 2021: Speckled Ax has been busy during the COVID-19 pandemic and now has three locations, this, the original on Congress Street (which is currently takeaway only with limited outdoor seating), Thames Street (currently offering sit-in service) and a brand new roastery/takeout coffee bar (Walton Street)!

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Portland's Speckled Ax on Congress Street, as seen from the other side of the road...
  • ... and as seen approaching from the north-east along Congress Street.
  • As it explains in the window, Speckled Ax is all about wood-roasted coffee.
  • Even the sign hanging above the door gets in on the act.
  • Stepping inside, there's this neat little seating area in the window to the left of the door.
  • The rest of Speckled Ax is long and thin, tables along either wall, counter at the back.
  • The view from the counter, looking back towards the door/window.
  • On the left ( as you come in) are four tables...
  • ... while opposite them on the right are three smaller, round tables.
  • There's also a three-person table right in front of the counter.
  • Speckled Ax has an amazing tin ceiling.
  • The ceiling in more detail.
  • Of course, such a ceiling demands equally wonderful lights...
  • ... which are in plentfiul supply in the Speckled Ax.
  • I particularly liked this cluster towards the front...
  • ... while these spots were found towards the back.
  • The tree trunk pressed into use as a table reminded me of Philadelphia's Menagerie.
  • The Speckled Ax has a genuine axe on the wall.
  • The coffee beans on offer are at the back, next to the concise drinks menu.
  • There's a good range of tea too...
  • ... as well as retail shelves selling beans, coffee kit and merchandising.
  • The two-group Synesso, with its grinders, plus the cold-brew apparatus, face the front...
  • ... while down the side comes the various filter methods.
  • There's a pair of syphons and a chemex...
  • ... and V60s with their neat stands. There's also an aeropress or two around somewhere.
  • I started off with a decaf espresso, made with the Chickadee blend...
  • ... which was followed up by a V60 of the Sumatran single-origin, on the house.
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Leaving aside the obvious attraction of wood-roasted coffee for the moment, Speckled Ax stands on its own as a coffee shop. On the north side of Congress Street, roughly equidistant between Bard Coffee to the east and Tandem Coffee + Bakery to the west, Speckled Ax catches the sun throughout most of the day. From the street, it looks as if the door is in the centre, with windows to either side. However, the right-hand window is for display only, so the door actually opens on the right-hand side, while Speckled Ax, long and thin, stretches out ahead of you.

Immediately to your left is a small seating area, separate from the rest of the coffee shop, with benches along two walls and the window, surrounding a solitary coffee table made from an old tree trunk. Beyond this comes the remaining seating. On the left, there’s a row of four rectangular tables, with a bench against the wall. The first is a four-seater, while the others all seat two. On the right, where space is at a premium, three round tables, each with a pair of chairs, form a long line. Finally, there’s the counter, at the back on the left, in front of which is a three-seater table, perhaps the best seats in the house (although the window-benches have their attractions, particularly on a sunny day).

The counter’s a two-part affair. The front, with espresso machine, three grinders and the cold-brew apparatus, faces the window, so if you’re sitting at the table, you can’t actually see what’s going on. The second part, which runs parallel to the walls, houses an impressive array of brewing kit. You can take your pick from syphon, V60, Chemex or Aeropress, although the Chemex is only for large volumes, the Aeropress is for coffee over ice, while the syphon has a large price-premium attached to it. So, for every day pour-over, the V60 is the main option. Opposite the filter kit is a set of retail shelves on the right-hand wall.

Mention must go to Speckled Ax’s gorgeous tin ceiling, a particularly fine example of its ilk. This goes well with the wooden floor, wooden furniture and simple, plain décor. Although long and thin, multiple lights prevent Speckled Ax from getting too dark at the back.

When it comes to coffee, Speckled Ax has an admirably concise (and dare I say European) coffee menu. Names are dispensed with and coffee is offered by size, the options for espresso with milk being 3oz, 6oz, 10oz and “too many oz”. I wholeheartedly approve!

The single-origins on offer change every 7-10 days or so. When I arrived, I was feeling rather over-caffeinated, so tried the Chickadee, Speckled Ax’s decaf blend. At the recommendation of the manager, Megan, I had it as an espresso. This was served with a glass of sparkling water and proved to be a sweet, smooth coffee, which developed (pleasing) hints of sourness after the second sip. At this point, we were joined by Matt, the owner, who explained the history behind “Matt’s Wood Roasted Organic Coffee” and its evolution into “Speckled Ax”. He also insisted that I try a V60 of the Sumatra Ulos Batak single-origin, which turned out to be a glorious, full-bodied coffee that I took with me when I left.

December 2021: you can see what I made of the new (to me) Speckled Ax on Thames Street which I visited for the first time while I was in Portland in November.

February 2022: I finally made it to the other side of the tracks and visited the new roastery/coffee bar on Walton Street.

https://speckledax.com +1 207-660-3333
Monday 06:30 – 19:00 Roaster Speckled Ax (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 06:30 – 19:00 Seating Tables, Benches
Wednesday 06:30 – 19:00 Food Cake
Thursday 06:30 – 19:00 Service Counter
Friday 06:30 – 20:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 08:00 – 20:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 08:00 – 19:00 Power Yes
Chain Local Visits 4th June 2015, 10th August 2019
25th February, 3rd March 2020
14th November 2021, 9th February 2022

You can see what my friend and fellow coffee-blogger, Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato made of Speckled Ax when she visited in the summer of 2017.

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