Rival Bros, Tasker Street

The single-origin Costa Rican espresso extracting into a glass from a bottomless portafilter on a Synesso espresso machine at Rival Bros Tasker Street location in Philadelphia.Rival Bros was brought to my attention by my friend Greg of Coffee Guru App fame. On my first visit to Philadelphia, in 2014, Rival Bros was a roastery with a growing reputation and a coffee truck near the station. Sadly, I missed out visiting that time, but when I returned the following year, Rival Bros had opened its first bricks-and-mortar coffee shop on the corner of 24th and Lombard Streets.

Fast-forward anther three years (to this time last year) and I was once again in Philadelphia, part of another of my Grand Adventures. By now, Rival Bros was up to three coffee shops, including the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, its most recent venture on Tasker Street, firmly on Philadelphia’s south side, where it joins the likes of Ultimo Coffee and Plenty Café.

The ubiquitous Revolver blend is on espresso, where it’s joined by a decaf option and a single-origin, with more single-origins (four during my visit) available on pour-over through the Chemex. There’s also batch-brew if you’re in a hurry, plus cold-brew, nitro cold-brew and various iced coffees. If you’re hungry, Rival Bros has a small menu featuring two toast options and two sandwiches, plus a selection of cakes.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • On the corner of 11th and Tasker Streets stands a neat, three storey block...
  • ... which houses, on the ground floor, the third branch of Philadelphia roaster, Rival Bros.
  • This is the view if approaching along Tasker Street.
  • In case you were wondering where you were.
  • Rival Bros has two doors. The left-hand one brings you in here, at the end of the counter.
  • Meanwhile, the other is on the right, by the far end of the counter.
  • If you've only come for takeaway, that might be all you see of Rival Bros.
  • However, if you're staying, there's more. To the counter's right, a broad set of steps...
  • ... leads up to the back room, roughly the same size as the front. Off to the right...
  • .. this windowless alcove has a three-person bar against the walll.
  • Meanwhile, dead ahead,  there's this fireplace with  a pair of chairs.
  • The main seating, however, is off to the left, a U shaped lne of benches against the wall.
  • Each has a pair of fixed, round tables, plus an additional chair per table.
  • Those two were on the back wall, wihle these two are against the front wall.
  • There are fewer windows back here, but clever use of mirrors enchances the light/space.
  • Since Rival Bros is a roaster, there's a decent retail selection to be had.
  • It also, to my surprise, sells bread!
  • If you enter on the left, you'll find yourself pitched up by the till, where you order.
  • The cakes are also down here...
  • ... while the filter coffee is on the back wall...
  • ... with the drinks menu above.
  • Meanwhile, there are separate cards for the pour-over and espresso choices...
  • ... and the sandwiches/toast.
  • The espresso mahcine, flanked by a pair of grinders, is at the far end...
  • ... which is also where you wait for your coffee. And, as I discovered, standing...
  • ... just around the corner offers the perfect view of the Synesso in action.
  • Step one: detach and clean out the portafilter.
  • Step two, grind your coffee. The Mahlkönig EK-30 is used for the Revolver house-blend.
  • Step three, tamp the coffee...
  • ... then simply attach the portafilter to the grouphead and off we go!
  • In this case, someone's latte to go is being prepared.
  • While the espresso extracts, another is being prepared, plus the milk is being steamed.
  • After a first few drops, the coffee starts to come through...
  • ... coalescing into a single stream.
  • I love watching espresso extract!
  • At the end of all that, I had a cappuccino, made with the Revolver blend.
  • Lovely latte art.
  • I went back to try the single-origin espresso, ground in the Mahlkönig EK-43.
  • Compared to a typical extraction time of 32 seconds, the single-origin runs more quickly.
  • Here's one being extracted into a glass.
  • Seven seconds in and the coffee starts to come through.
  • 12 seconds in, and there are now two streams...
  • ... which coalesce into one.
  • Look at that crema develop! I love watching espresso extract into glass.
  • 27 seconds in, and we're done.
  • And this was my single-origin espresso, served with a glass of water on the side.
  • Doesn't it look absolutely amazing?
  • A sign of the crema's thickness: it's coated the sides of the cup all the way to the bottom!
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Rival Bros third location opened in November 2017 on the corner of 11th and Tasker Streets, the front along Tasker Street. Inside, it’s split into two, the front containing the counter, while the back room, accessed via a flight of four broad steps behind the counter on the right, has the seating.

Like the original Rival Bros Coffee Bar, Tasker Street has two doors, handy for maintaining the flow for takeaway customers. The counter runs pretty much the full width of the coffee shop, with the door on the left leading to the till, where you order. Meanwhile, the door on the right is at the far end of the counter, next to the Synesso espresso machine, where you wait for your coffee.

There are three tall, thin windows punctuating the front wall, while the left-hand wall has four windows, all side-by-side. Along with the two glass doors, it makes for a bright, airy space. The back room is roughly the same size and shape, perhaps twice as wide as it is deep, with grey walls and exposed floorboards. There are only two narrow windows in the left-hand wall back here, although clever use of mirrors on the front and back walls, plus borrowed light from the front, along with plenty of electric lights, make it a very bright space.

You’ll find a pair of metal mesh chairs directly ahead, flanking a neat coffee table that’s in front of a disused fireplace in the back wall. Off to the right, there’s a small, wide alcove with a three-person bar facing the front wall. While not offering much in the way of views, it does provide privacy.

The bulk of the seating, meanwhile, is arranged around the front, left and back walls in a U-shape. Starting immediately to the left of the steps, there’s a two/three-person (if you know each other very well) bench seat against the front wall, followed by pair of corner units, front and back. Finally, there’s another two/three person-seat against the back wall. Each of these has a pair of fixed, round tables, one at either end. The corner units also have tables at either end, with a bonus table in the middle. Finally, each of the tables also has its own black, metal chair.

Since I was having my first coffee of the day, I played it safe with the Revolver blend in a cappuccino, although I was sorely tempted by all four single-origin pour-overs. However, I wasn’t disappointed by my choice, the Revolver’s bold taste cutting through the milk on the first sip before mellowing slightly thereafter, allowing the rich, creamy milk to take centre stage. Pretty much the perfect start to my day.

Afterwards I spoke with Joe, the manager, who told me how Rival Bros were getting more into direct trade, looking to improve the quality of the green beans that they sourced, with an emphasis on sweet, fruity coffees. While I was there, the single-origin espresso was from a farm in Costa Rica, Hacienda Sonora, which processes half of the coffee using the natural method and half using the honey process. These are then recombined as green beans.

Naturally I had to have a shot and it was awesome. While pulled relatively quickly, it was a longer shot by volume, which, Joe explained, was due to a large crema. The result was a really creamy coffee, with a syrupy mouthfeel and a rich, fruity flavour, with a hint of acidity. One of the most interesting espressos I’ve had in a long time, it’s an early front-runner for this year’s Best Espresso Award.

December 2019: Rival Bros, Tasker Street was a runner-up for the 2019 Best Espresso Award.

Monday 07:00 – 19:00 Roaster Rival Bros (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 19:00 Seating Tables
Wednesday 07:00 – 19:00 Food Cake, Sandwiches
Thursday 07:00 – 19:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 20:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 07:00 – 20:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 07:00 – 18:00 Power Yes
Chain Local Visits 3rd March 2018

Liked this? Then take a look at the rest of Philadelphia’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Philadelphia.

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