Two weeks ago, I spent a weekend in New Orleans, part of my week-long journey from Austin, Texas, to Portland, Maine. This was my third time in New Orleans with my Coffee Spot hat on, and my first since 2019. That followed an initial visit the year before, when I was making a similar long-distance train journey. That time I was going the other way, though, from Providence, Rhode Island, to Tucson, Arizona, a journey included a weekend in New Orleans, which inspired this post.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit New Orleans particularly hard, which has had a knock-on effect on the city’s speciality coffee scene. I found a much-changed city, and many of the places which I’d visited during my first two trips in 2018 and 2019 had closed. I arrived late on Friday night, coming by train from San Antonio. I then spent Saturday revisiting old haunts which had survived the pandemic, before spending Sunday exploring some of the new places which had opened since my previous visit and one which had been on my list since 2019. Finally, I popped into Mammoth Espresso on Monday morning on my way to the station to catch the train to Manassas.
Going from Austin to Portland, I had the option of travelling via Chicago or taking the southerly route via New Orleans. The southern route won out in part due to the weather, so I was disappointed to wake up on Saturday morning to persistent rain, forecast to last all day. On the other hand, my disappointment was tempered by news reports of a metre of snow in upstate New York, somewhat vindicating my decision.
I set out after a free breakfast at my hotel in the Central Business District (having stayed in the French Quarter before, I find the Central Business District less eye-wateringly expensive and more relaxing). My first stop was Revelator on Tchoupitoulas Street, largely because it was a short walk from my hotel and the other potential option, Stumptown Coffee, had closed. Part of the Ace Hotel on Carondelet Street, Stumptown has been replaced by in-house operation, Lovage, which continues to serve Stumptown, so if you need your Northwest caffeine fix, you’re in luck.
At one point, Revelator, which started life in 2014 in Birmingham, Alabama, had locations across America’s southern states, as well as outposts in New England and Los Angeles. However, COVID-19 hit Revelator hard, and these days only three locations survive, two in Birmingham and this one, with all the coffee roasted in Atlanta.
At first sight not much has changed, although the Slayer espresso machine has been replaced by a rather fetching La Marzocco, and pour-over is no longer offered. The cute cups remain, however, and I started my day with a cortado, made with the Yabitu Corba from Ethiopia, which set me up nicely for the rest of the day.
From Revelator, I headed down to the river to take the Canal Street Ferry across the Mississippi to Algiers Point. It’s just $2 one way, or for $3, you can buy a 24-hour pass which covers all of New Orleans’ public transport: the ferry, buses and the famous streetcars.
Although the crossing is worth making for its own sake, my main reason was to visit Congregation Coffee Roasters, another survivor from my 2019 visit. Like Revelator, little seemed to have changed at Congregation, although I noticed that the roaster, a 12 kg Probat, was no longer in the back of the store, having moved to a dedicated roasting facility. The bar along the wall to the left of the counter has also been replaced by more tables, but otherwise that’s it. In many ways, it was like coming back to visit an old friend.
At the barista’s recommendation, I had the naturally-processed Ana Sora, my second Ethiopian coffee of the day, this time as an espresso, a really funky coffee, not at all like a typical espresso. By this time, breakfast was wearing off, so I had the West Coast, Maybe? Bagel. Overloaded with hummus, cucumber, chicories, salsa seca and “fancy olive oil”, it provided an interesting combination of flavours and textures.
Before leaving, I picked the staff’s brains about the changes to New Orlean’s speciality coffee scene since my last visit, setting me up nicely for Sunday’s day of exploration. I also offered them the pick of the coffee that I’d bought in Austin. They chose the Rwandan Kanzu Washed from Flat Track Coffee, gifting me a bag of the Ana Sora in return, which ended up in Portland, Maine, where I gave it to the staff at Little Woodfords.
My final stop saw me retracing my step across the Mississippi before catching the streetcar out to Uptown and Cherry Espresso Bar, one of my finds from 2018. Again, little had changed, the main difference being that Cherry now roasts all of its own coffee. I had a Chemex of a single-origin Kenyan, making it an all African coffee day. I bought a bag of Cherry’s Rodrigo Pelaez, a naturally-processed Colombian, which made its way as far as The Proper Cup in Portland, Maine. In return, I dropped off a bag of the Nara Beta that I bought from Merit Coffee in Austin when I stopped for coffee on my way to the station.
With that, I was back on the streetcar to my hotel, where I had an excellent seafood dinner (I particularly enjoyed the crawfish pie) before heading to bed. You can see what I got up to during my Sunday in New Orleans after the gallery.
Whereas Saturday had been spent re-visiting places, Sunday was all about new places. When I’d first come to New Orleans in 2018, my second stop had been Sólo Espresso, east of the centre, on the border of Bywater and St. Claude. Sadly it closed in 2020, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the staff at Congregation Coffee Roasters had told me the good news that there was a successor, Lowpoint. Opening in late 2021, Lowpoint is in the same space on Poland Avenue, and I made it my first stop on Sunday morning.
From my hotel, Lowpoint’s about an hour’s walk along the north bank of the Mississippi River. It’s a pleasant stroll, but aware that I had several places to visit and with my 24-hour travel pass still valid from the day before, I decided to catch the bus, the No. 8 getting me almost to the door. I did, however, take a brief stroll through the French Quarter for old times’ sake, checking out the location of Spitfire Coffee, where I had my first speciality coffee in New Orleans back in 2018. Sadly, Spitfire is currently closed, a temporary measure, I’m told, while it moves to bigger premises.
Lowpoint was founded by the trio of Alex, Mik and Potter, Mik and Potter having previously worked at Sólo Espresso. Although a separate business, it’s very much Sólo’s spiritual successor, occupying the same lovely basement-like space and feeling very familiar. I had a lovely cortado, made with the guest espresso, a Guatemalan single-origin roasted by old friends, Panther Coffee from Miami.
While I was chatting with Alex, he recommended Pond Coffee (which was on the list given to me by the staff at Congregation), so I decided to make this my next stop. Co-located with Small Mart Café on the corner of Port and Chartres Streets, it’s midway between Lowpoint and the French Quarter, making it an ideal place to stop for lunch. I grabbed a vegan po-boy from Small Mart and a very interesting Colombian Gesha, roasted by Pretty Coffee, a New Orleans based roaster, which Josh and Kyle, the owners of Pond, prepared as an espresso.
From Pond, I made my way almost due west to my third and final stop of the day, Coffee Science. This had been on my list since my last visit in 2019, when I’d wanted to go, but hadn’t had the time. Coffee Science is a little way out of the centre, just off Tulane Avenue on Broad Street. It’s easily the biggest of the coffee shops I visited over the weekend, with an equally large garden at the back, overlooked by a delightful porch.
Coffee Science started roasting its own coffee last year, using a Bellwether Electric Roaster which is tucked away in the back of the shop. In a neat symmetry with the day before, where I’d also had a cortado, espresso and pour-over, I finished my day with a V60 of the Ethiopian Mother Station. From there it was a 40-minute stroll back to the Central Business District and my hotel, where I prepared for my departure the following morning.
I had one more stop to make, and that was on my way to the station, where I called into Mammoth Espresso for a pre-departure flat white, made with the Koke Honey, a honey-processed coffee from Ethiopia. This was my third visit to Mammoth, having also called in both in 2019 and on my way to the station in 2018, the last time I left New Orleans by train. Since then, Mammoth has started roasting its own coffee, so I felt it would be rude not to buy a bag of the Koke Honey, which ended up as a gift for a coffee shop in Portland.
Suitably fortified, I said goodbye to New Orleans and headed off to the station to catch the Crescent to Manassas, my next stop on the way to Maine.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my weekend in New Orleans. I’ve deliberately not said too much about Lowpoint, Pond Coffee and Coffee Science since they all feature/will be featured on the Coffee Spot in the next few months. I’ll add the links into this article as and when they go up.
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