About Brian Williams

Author of Brian's Coffee Spot, you can read all about me in the "About Me" section of the blog (www.brian-coffee-spot)

Brian’s Travel Spot: Return from Boston (Again)

My British Airways Boeing 777-300 waiting on the stand at Boston Logan's Terminal E, waiting to take me back to Heathrow.Welcome to the second and final Travel Spot covering this year’s second trip to Portland (Maine). I flew from London Heathrow to Boston at the start of April (the subject of the previous instalment of this Travel Spot), while this post covers my return to London at the start of May. Both flights were with British Airways and, as I’ve done the last two times I’ve returned from Boston, I took an overnight flight in World Traveller Plus (aka premium economy), leaving Boston in the late evening.

Since I returned from Iceland in July 2021, the rules have been different each time I’ve flown back to the UK, although in this case, the rules were non-existent. After my last flight to the UK in mid-February, the UK Government removed all requirements for testing and withdrew the passenger locator form, so there was nothing to do ahead of the flight. It was very similar to flying in the pre-pandemic era (other than the high prevalence of a highly contagious and potentially fatal airborne virus that is). Naturally, except when I was eating, I wore a mask the entire time I was on public transport, in the airport and on the plane.

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The Barn Schönhauser Allee

A V60 of the Radiophare, a naturally-processed coffee from Indonesia, served in a carafe with a cup on the side, all presented on a wooden tray.When talking of speciality coffee in Berlin, you can’t avoid The Barn, which now boasts 10 Berlin coffee shops, two more overseas (Mallorca, Dubia) and an international reputation for roasting excellent coffee. It’s all the more impressive considering that The Barn only started 12 years ago with the original Mitte coffee shop. Sadly, I couldn’t make it there, going instead for the next best thing, the original roastery/coffee shop on nearby Schönhauser Allee. The Barn’s second location when it opened in 2012, all the coffee was roasted here until the new roastery/coffee shop opened on Voltastraße in late 2020.

These days, Schönhauser Allee is “just” a coffee shop, a large, welcoming space with a massive counter and plenty of seating inside and out. Unusually, there’s no printed menu, either on the counter or displayed on the walls. Instead, a QR Code invites you online for the latest menu, where you’ll find a standard seasonal offering across all The Barn’s Berlin locations. This includes a concise espresso-based menu, two options on pour-over through the V60, plus cold brew, tea, hot chocolate and a range of cakes. The specific beans (all single-origins) vary by location, chosen by the baristas every few days.

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Meier’s – Vietnamese Specialty Coffee

Doing what it says on the window: Meier’s – Vietnamese Specialty CoffeeBerlin’s has a vibrant and varied speciality coffee scene, with some world-famous roasters, such as Five Elephant (who I wrote about last week), The Barn and Bonanza Coffee (both of which will be featuring on the Coffee Spot). At the other end of the scale are the likes of Meier’s – Vietnamese Specialty Coffee, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot.

Meier’s opened in March 2021 in a modest spot on Gormannstraße in Mitte, an area, along with Kreuzberg, which is synonymous with speciality coffee in Berlin. In contrast to Berlin’s many other speciality coffee roaster/coffee shops, as the name suggests, Meier’s – Vietnamese Specialty Coffee deals exclusively in Vietnamese-grown Arabica coffee, roasted for Meier’s by Là Việt, a coffee shop/roaster in the Dalat coffee-growing region of Vietnam, who then air-freights it to Berlin.

Meier’s has a standard espresso menu, using the E1 blend, plus a V60 pour-over offering with a choice of two single-origins, the honey-processed Datanla and the naturally-processed D’Ran during my visit. However, if you’re feeling more adventurous, both single-origins are also available through the cà phê phin, the traditional Vietnamese cup-top filter. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes, joined on the weekend by Bao buns.

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Improving the Coffee Gator Espresso Machine, Part II

Pulling a shot on Amanda's Coffee Gator espresso machine using her Hario V60 scales (to weigh and time the shot) and with a Tupperwear lid so that I can position the Cafe Grumpy cup right under the portafilter.Last month I wrote about Amanda’s new Coffee Gator espresso machine, which she’d bought for under $150. Although it far exceeded my expectations and consistently makes good espresso, I found almost everything else about the Coffee Gator to be intensely annoying, particularly after spending the last five years using my Sage Barista Express. As a result, as soon as I began using the Coffee Gator, I started to think of ways that I could improve the experience, which in turn has led to this series of posts.

In Part I, I wrote about a couple of cheap accessories (a dosing funnel and a proper tamper), which improve the workflow during preparation. Today’s post is focussed on improving the experience of pulling shots and is all about how you can weigh shots with the Coffee Gator. Depending on what equipment you already have, this can be a no-cost option. That said, even if you don’t have any scales, these days, high-quality coffee scales are easily affordable, and I strongly recommend that you get some.

The third and final post in the series will look at the pros and cons of upgrading the Coffee Gator’s pressurised basket, which you might want to consider.

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Five Elephant Kreuzberg

A lovely espresso, served in a classic white cup, at Five Elephant Kreuzberg, sitting outside in the early evening sunshine.Continuing my exploration of Berlin’s excellent speciality coffee scene, Five Elephant is just a short stroll across Görlitzer Park in Kreuzberg from Monday’s Coffee Spot, 19grams. Another of Berlin’s well-known roasters, this is where it all started for Five Elephant, when it opened the first of its (currently four) coffee shops 10 years ago on the leafy Reichenberger Straße. It’s still the heart of the operation, with all the cakes being baked just along the street and the roastery (sadly not open to the public) just around the corner on Glogauer Straße.

Five Elephant Kreuzberg styles itself as a coffee and cake shop and that’s exactly what it is. Occupying two rooms on the ground floor of a lovely old Kreuzberg tenement, there’s as much seating inside are there outside on the broad pavement, where you enjoy the shade of some magnificent, mature trees. When it comes to coffee, there’s a single-origin on espresso with another batch brew filter, both changing daily from a seasonal selection of beans, typically five espresso roasts and five filter roasts, all of which are available to buy in retail bags. And then there are the cakes. Such gorgeous cakes…

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19grams Schlesi

The bottom of my coffee cup at 19grams Schlesi in Berlin, having finished a double espresso to reveal the slogan "Bloody Good Coffee".Returning to Berlin for the first time with my Coffee Spot hat on, I was spoilt for choice. In truth, any of the wonderful places I visited could have graced my first Berlin Coffee Spot, but it really pleases me to feature 19grams, which began life as Tres Cabezas in 2002. I wanted to visit the original Tres Cabezas on Boxhagener Straße in Friedrichshain, but when I popped by on Sunday, it was being renovated. Instead, I walked across the Spree on the wonderful Oberbaum Bridge to Kreuzberg and 19grams Schlesi, around the corner on Schlesische Straße.

This is a lovely spot, with a bright, airy front room, where you’ll find the counter, and a cool, airy back room, which shares the space with the open kitchen. Alternatively, you can sit outside at one of five tables on the pavement next to the noisy street. The draw, of course, is the coffee, with 19grams offering two options on espresso (one for black drinks, the other to go with milk), plus batch brew filter, the coffee, all roasted in-house, changing on a regular basis. However, the food is just as good, the small brunch menu and sharing plates cooked to order.

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Gracenote Coffee and Wine Bar

A lovely espresso, made with the Alpha blend, seen from directly above in a handleless ceramic cup and matching saucer, served at Gracenote Coffee and Wine Bar in High Street Place, Boston.Today’s Saturday Short is another new addition to Boston’s growing speciality coffee scene. Just one block along Boston High Street from Monday’s Coffee Spot, Phin Coffee House, it’s even newer, having only opened at the start of March. I’m talking about Gracenote Coffee and Wine Bar, part of High Street Place, a new food hall which occupies the atrium between two downtown skyscrapers.

The coffee and wine bar is the second outlet for renowned roasters, Gracenote, joining its original Boston coffee shop, itself a few blocks away on Lincoln Street. The coffee offering in High Street Place is more modest, with the reliable Alpha blend on espresso, joined by a rotating cast of single-origins on batch brew filter. What makes Gracenote stand out is the selection of wine and cocktails that are offered alongside the coffee and available well into the evening.

Although there’s no seating at the Gracenote itself, which occupies a simple counter, you’re welcome to take your coffee (or wine/cocktails) and sit anywhere within High Street Place (or outside if you wish).

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Meet the Roaster: Time & Tide Coffee

Details of the San Franciscan SF25 roaster at Time & Tide, done out in the company colours.On Monday last week, I caught Amtrak’s Downeaster from Portland to Saco to visit Time & Tide Coffee, a lovely coffee shop just across the river in Biddeford. While there, I met Jon, who, together with his wife Briana, founded Time & Tide in November 2018 when they relocated from Brooklyn to Biddeford. Jon was kind enough to invite me to Time & Tide’s roasting facility, just across the road in one of Biddeford’s many old mill buildings, which is the subject of today’s Meet the Roaster. The coffee shop, meanwhile, features in its own Coffee Spot.

Time & Tide produces three blends, The Commodore, designed for espresso, Year One Anniversary Blend, which is roasted for batch brew filter, and Clambake, which is intended for cold brew. All of these are served in the coffee shop, along with Time & Tide’s Twilight Decaf. In addition, there are typically three to five seasonal single-origins, which are offered for sale in retail bags, online and wholesale. This is all backed up by Steeped Coffee for those who want speciality coffee in a more convenient form, with Time & Tide offering bags of either The Commodore or Twilight Decaf pre-ground for immersion brewing.

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Phin Coffee House

The Ca Phe Phin from Phin Coffee House in Boston: traditional Vietnamese Robusta coffee mixed with condensed milk and lots and lots of ice, served in a double-walled glass.I’d noticed Phin Coffee House on my last visit to Boston in February, but with an already-full itinerary, Phin went on my potentials list instead. When I returned to Boston for a one-day downtown tour on Monday, Phin was still a potential destination, but after my first stop of a packed day at Intelligentsia Coffee, where the barista recommended it, Phin moved to the top of the list. A recent addition to Boston’s speciality coffee scene, Phin only opened a year ago, occupying a spot at the western end of the High Street, conveniently just across the Rose Kennedy Greenway from South Station.

Phin is a Vietnamese coffee shop, owned by a lady originally from Ho Chi Minh City. There’s a fairly traditional third wave offering of espresso-based drinks, batch brew filter, pour-over and cold brew, all using a bespoke house blend and decaf from Barrington Coffee Roasting Company in western Massachusetts. This is joined by a number of house specials, including Ca Phe Phin, made with the Vietnamese cup-top filter of the same name. If you’re hungry, Phin has a range of sandwiches and more substantial plates and salads, mixing Western and Vietnamese classics, plus a selection of cakes.

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Improving the Coffee Gator Espresso Machine, Part I

The original Coffee Gator portaflter and pressurised basket, along with two accessories that Amanda bought to improve the Coffee Gator experience: a proper tamper and a dosing funnel.Last week I wrote about Amanda’s new Coffee Gator espresso machine, which she’d bought for under $150. I was fully expecting to be disappointed, but to my surprise, it made consistently good espresso, far surpassing my expectations. However, after years of being spoilt when it comes to home espresso, including spending the last five years using a Sage Barista Express, I found almost everything about the Coffee Gator, other than the quality of the espresso, to be intensely annoying.

As a machine to prep, use and clean up afterwards, it is incredibly frustrating. This is largely an inevitable consequence of making a machine that can sell for under $150, but as soon as I began using it, I started to think of ways I could improve the experience, which is the subject of this series of posts. I present some potential improvements, including simple accessories and some workarounds to allow you to weigh and time  shots in real time (depending on your scales).

This post, Part I, considers two simple and cheap accessories which can improve the workflow during preparation. I also talk about an alternative to the Coffee Gator’s pressurised basket, which I’ll cover in detail in Part III.

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