On my first trip to Portland, in June 2015, Speckled Ax was one of three coffee shop/roasters that I visited (the others being Tandem Coffee and Bard). Back then, Speckled Ax just had a single coffee shop on Congress Street, but in early 2020, two new locations opened, a coffee bar on Walton Street (attached to a new roastery) and a large café on the waterfront at Thames Street.
I’d planned to visit Portland in March 2020, but sadly the COVID-19 pandemic ruled that out, preventing me from returning for another 18 months. However, the travel restrictions were eased in November 2021, and I was finally able to return to America and to Portland, where I paid a long overdue visit to the new Thames location.
Speckled Ax occupies a spacious ground floor unit with views across Thames Street to the harbour. At the time of writing, the space is effectively split into two, with a takeaway section to the right, while the seating is at the front on the left. There’s a limited coffee menu (which still manages to offer two espresso options and two on batch brew filter), while the kitchen provides a concise breakfast and lunch menu.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Speckled Ax is downtown Portland, northeast of the Old Port Historic District on Thames Street, close to the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad. Occupying a spacious, high-ceilinged corner unit in a modern building, it has large windows along the front and right-hand sides, making for a very bright interior. The front faces Thames Street, the main door towards the right, while there’s a second door towards the back of the right-hand side. For now, a one-way system is in is operation as a COVID-19 precaution, entering at the front and leaving by the side door.
Inside, the counter is at the back on the left-hand side, an enclosed kitchen behind it, leaving an L-shaped space to the front and right. When Amanda and I visited in early November, Speckled Ax was in just its second week of sit-in operation, with several temporary COVID-19 precautions in place, including limited seating capacity, both to maintain social distancing and separate seated customers from those waiting for takeaway orders. To this end, the right-hand area is ordering/waiting, while the seating is to the left, occupying the space between the counter and front windows, separated from the ordering/waiting area by a long table. This is effectively an extension of the counter and displays retail bags of coffee, stocking the roastery’s significant range of single-origins and blends.
The main door leads into the ordering/waiting area which extends to the back of Specked Ax, down the right-hand side of the counter/kitchen. Various signs explain the current procedures and guide you to the till and cake selection at side of the counter, with the current coffee options on a menu to the right. Order and pay here, then, if you’re not staying, you have plenty of space to wait for your coffee. Alternatively, there’s a large table to the right of the door, while the grab-and-go fridge is beside the door on the right.
If you’re sitting in, double back on yourself, go around the retail table, then head along the front of the counter. To your left, next to the main door, is a four-person window-bar, with a seven-person window-bar beyond a wide pillar. Past these, in a nook which extends to the left of the counter, are two benches, one against the left-hand wall, with a four-person table, the other against the back wall with a two-person table. Finally, where the two benches meet, is a three-person corner table. However, the best of the seating is between the counter and the windows, where two sofas and four armchairs are arranged in two pairs, each with a sofa and two armchairs facing each other across two small, round coffee tables.
Speckled Ax is currently offering a “reduced” coffee menu. I say “reduced” because it still manages to offer two single-origins on espresso (the Honduras El Cedro and a Costa Rican coffee, both honey processed), plus a blend (Sock Saunders) and single-origin (El Cedro) on filter, although there’s no pour-over. There’s a commendably concise espresso menu with a few special options. Speckled Ax has a similarly concise hot food menu from the kitchen plus the grab-and-go fridge and a selection of cakes. There are plans to serve alcohol, but for now you’re limited to buying (and taking home) bottles of wine.
Amanda and I had cappuccinos. made by default with the El Cedro (the Costa Rican is used for espresso). They were very smooth and sweet, coffee and milk in perfect harmony, producing classic chocolate notes (Amanda’s verdict: “yummy”). We paired this with an apple and maple (American) scone which was moist and sweet (American scones are often too dry for me). Finally, I was so impressed with the El Cedro that I bought a bag to take home.
December 2021: the two other Speckled Ax locations, the original on Congress Street and the new roastery coffee bar on Walton Street (which I’ve yet to visit), are both currently takeaway only, although both have small outdoor seating areas.
December 2021: Speckled Ax, Thames has won the 2021 Best Flat White Award.
|18 THAMES STREET • PORTLAND • ME 04101 • USA|
|Monday||07:00 – 15:00||Roaster||Speckled Ax (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||07:00 – 15:00||Seating||Tables, Sofas, Window Bar; Benches (outside)|
|Wednesday||07:00 – 15:00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Cakes|
|Thursday||07:00 – 15:00||Service||Counter|
|Friday||07:00 – 15:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||07:00 – 15:00||Wifi||No|
|Sunday||07:00 – 15:00||Power||No|
|Chain||Local||Visits||26th November 2021|
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