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)

Travels with my Coffee: Arizona & New Mexico, 2019

My Therma Cup and Travel Press look across Apache Lake, one of several reservoirs on the Salt River as it flows through the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix.Regular readers know that having good coffee on my travels, particularly when there are no speciality coffee shops, is important to me. I’ve written about my travelling coffee kit, and also documented making coffee on planes and at airports, making long journeys bearable. At the start of last year, I wrote Travels with my Coffee: Part I, which documented, from the perspective of all the places I took my coffee, my trip around Florida and Phoenix.

The title, with its “Part I”, implied that there would be a Part II (possibly more), but the year went by and although I took plenty of photos, time got the better of me, and I never did write up Part II. However, this year started off with a flurry of travel, with three month-long trips, first to the US, then to China, and now back in the US, so I thought it high time that I continued Travels with my Coffee, beginning with this post. This covers the first of this year’s trips, an extensive road trip around southern Arizona and New Mexico. As you’ll see, with good coffee shops in short supply, my Travel Press and Therma Cup saw plenty of use.

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Chromatic Coffee, Santa Clara

A 1&1 (espresso + macchiato) made with the Papua New Guinea single-origin at Chromatic Coffee in Santa Clara.On my first visit to San Jose in 2017, Chromatic Coffee was already an established name in the area. Unfortunately, I was too early for the branch in downtown San Jose, which opened in June that year, so my only other option was the original, flagship branch on Stevens Creek Boulevard. Located 6 miles west of San Jose in neighbouring Santa Clara, I never had the opportunity to visit on that trip. However, when my friend Richard, who I was staying with on this trip, said he would drop me off on his way to work, I jumped at the chance.

Chromatic Coffee is part of a small outdoor mall, with a large, outdoor seating area and plenty of seating inside. The coffee, roasted in-house at the San Jose roastery (ironically five minutes’ walk from Richard’s house), is available in retail bags. There’s a blend (which switches between Gamut and Heart’s Desire) and single-origin on espresso, with multiple seasonal choices on batch-brew (blend plus two single-origins) and pour-over (decaf plus two more single-origins). As well as coffee, there’s craft beer, while if you’re hungry, Chromatic has a toast-based brunch menu, grab-and-go salads and a large selection of cakes and pastries.

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B2 Coffee

"B2 PROUDLY serving KICK BACK", taken from the board outside B2 in San Pedro Square Market.I’ve spent the last week in San Jose/Santa Clara where, naturally, I’ve been exploring the small but excellent speciality coffee scene. I visited today’s Coffee Spot, B2 Coffee, on my first trip here in January 2017, but I never had time to write it up. Located in the San Pedro Square Market, it’s one of the area’s speciality coffee pioneers and, until it was joined by Chromatic Coffee (a couple of streets over), was pretty much the only speciality coffee outpost in downtown San Jose.

Regular readers are aware of my love of Coffee Spots in Markets, so it’s no surprise that I really liked B2 Coffee, located on one side of a large, communal seating area at the market’s northern end. You can take your coffee at what is effectively an island counter (more brownie points), find a seat (or sofa) in the communal area, or head outside. Talking of the coffee, it’s all roasted by sister company, Kickback, with seasonal offerings on espresso (single option plus decaf), pour-over (usually two options), batch-brew and nitro-cold brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes, plus the food hall in the market is at your disposal. And there’s a bar.

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Verve Coffee Roasters, Spring Street

A Honduran single-origin pour-over served at Verve Coffee Roasters on Spring Street, Los Angeles, The coffee comes in a carafe, cup on the side, presented on a wooden tray with a card giving details of the beans.I have a soft spot for Verve Coffee Roasters, the California-based coffee shop/roaster chain, although its three Japanese outposts earn it the tag “international”. Starting in Santa Cruz, where it has four outlets, including its flagship Pacific Avenue store, it’s spread both north to San Francisco (Market Street) and south to Los Angeles, where I visited the Spring Street store in downtown LA. Opening in 2015, it’s one of three Verve outlets in the city (soon to be four with opening of a roastery/ coffee shop in the Arts District in summer 2019).

The coffee options, which change monthly, are familiar to anyone who has visited Verve. There’s the Streetlevel seasonal espresso blend, joined by a featured espresso (also a blend, Sermon, during my visit), all the shots being pulled on a custom four-group Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine. For filter, there’s a batch-brew option, with three single-origins available as pour-over through Kalita Wave filters on the Modbar modular system. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of salads, wraps and bowls, with cake and pastries for those with a sweet tooth, while all the coffee is available in retail bags, along with a selection of merchandising and coffee equipment.

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Surrey Hills Coffee Update

Details from the A-board outside the new home of Surrey Hills Coffee on Jeffries Passage in Guildford.Surrey Hills had a legitimate claim to be first speciality coffee shop in my home town of Guildford when it opened on Chapel Street in 2016. That shop is no more, Surrey Hills moving in the summer of 2018 to a much larger space a few streets over on Jeffries Passage. Since then, Surrey Hills has gone from strength to strength, including opening a second outlet in London Square.

When Surrey Hills moved into Jeffries Passage, it initially only occupied the downstairs, although even this was far bigger than the Chapel Street original. However, there is a bonus upstairs area which close to doubles the available space and which has been open for some time now. I popped in at the start of April to check it out before leaving on my latest trip. I also caught up with the latest developments in Surrey Hills’ on-going desire to reduce waste.

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Woodcat Coffee Bar

The Woodcat (it's a hare, by the way) logo from the wall behind the counter in Echo Park, Los Angeles.Woodcat Coffee Bar was a chance find that both made my day and reminded me of why I started the Coffee Spot in the first place. That I found it is entirely down to Kyle, the manager at Stumptown Coffee in New Orleans, and his wonderful team, who made it one of their top Los Angeles picks. A pick that, serendipitously, was a ten-minute walk from my hotel, which I’d booked over a month before. Naturally, I had to start my solitary day in Los Angeles with coffee at Woodcat.

A friendly, neighbourhood place, Woodcat is a labour of love from owners, married couple Janine & Saadat, who, having failed to find any good coffee on moving into the Echo Park neighbourhood, decided to open their own shop in September 2014. Starting on a shoestring, they had plenty of support from the local community, while Saadat built pretty much everything using reclaimed materials, giving Woodcat a wonderful, homely feel. Woodcat serves Flat Track Coffee from Austin, Texas on espresso and filter, where it’s joined by the occasional guest roaster. There are several signature drinks and a selection of teas, plus a range of savoury and sweet goodies if you’re hungry.

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London Coffee Festival 2019: The Kit

An upgraded aergrind (left) and the new Feld47 handgrinders, both from Knock, at the 2019 London Coffee Festival.Welcome to the second of my detailed write-ups of the 2019 London Coffee Festival, which took place three weeks ago at the Old Truman Brewery. Last week I wrote about the coffee, while this week my focus turns to the kit, those various bits and pieces of coffee-related equipment which you always find at the London Coffee Festival. You can find details about the festival itself in my Festival Round-up, published two weeks ago, while future write-ups include coffee experiences and reusable cups.

The London Coffee Festival has always seen more than its fair share of coffee-related equipment, with many manufacturers choosing to launch their latest products at the festival. This includes a lot of professional equipment, including the latest espresso machines, which, although interesting, are, sadly out of my price range. I’d also need a bigger kitchen!

Since I had limited time this year, only attending for two days, I focused on the home user, further narrowing my focus to some familiar names who were launching new versions of their products, along with some interesting new products from a company I’d not heard of before. This covered a wide range, from the simplicity of a manual grinder all the way up to an (almost fully) automated espresso machine.

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Stumptown Coffee, Ace Hotel (New Orleans)

A beautiful, colourful bag of coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters which I swapped for a copy of my book, The Philosophy of Coffee, at Stumptown's New Orleans branch in the Ace Hotel.On one level, Stumptown, the US coffee shop/roaster chain that was founded in Portland, Oregon, needs no introduction. In particular, its partnership with Ace Hotels is well known, with Stumptown’s coffee shops gracing four of Ace’s US hotels. It’s therefore surprising that, prior to today’s Coffee Spot, I’ve only written about two Stumptown branches, both in New York City, one its flagship West 8th Street branch and the other inside the Ace Hotel.

Stumptown’s sole New Orleans coffee shop is one of the four co-located with Ace Hotels. In this case, it’s in the heart of New Orleans’ Central Business District, the coffee shop, a beautifully-appointed, elegant space to the right of the hotel lobby. There’s minimal seating, the hotel lobby providing ample overspill seating.

There’s plenty of choice when it comes to coffee, with the ubiquitous Hair Bender blend on espresso, joined by a guest espresso, which changes every few days. There’s also a batch-brew option, which can change several times a day, while in the morning, the staff will often have two options on at a time, giving you contrasting options. Finally, all four single-origins are available as pour-over using the Modbar system and Kalita Wave filters.

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G & B Coffee

The G & B Coffee sign, hanging high above the rear of Los Angeles Central Market.G & B Coffee, short for Glanville and Babinski Coffee, after founders Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski, a pair of United States Barista Champions, opened in 2013. Located in the Grand Central Market, it brings top quality coffee right into the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The market, crammed full of food stalls, bars and several fruit and veg stalls, is worth a visit in its own right (I ate there twice), but for me, G & B Coffee is the highlight.

A large, standalone island counter at the top end of the market, you can sit where you like (or stand at the bar at the back) and one of the baristas will come to take your order. There are two choices on espresso and two more on filter, backed-up with a selection of signature drinks and a range of teas. If you are hungry, you have a wide range of food to choose from in the market, while G & B has waffles, granola and a range of cakes and pastries.

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Congregation Coffee Roasters

A mug of the Gelana Abaya Ethiopian single-origin batch-brew in an alligator mug at Congregation Coffee Roasters in Algiers Point, New Orleans.I spent last week exploring New Orleans’ small but vibrant speciality coffee scene. Most of the places were known to me from my previous trip, but there was one standout that came as a pleasant surprise. When I was last in New Orleans in early 2018, I noted that there was very little speciality coffee being roasted locally. Back then, Cherry Espresso Bar had just got going and was on the verge of opening Cherry Coffee Roasters, but that was about it. Or so I thought.

What I hadn’t realised was that just across the Mississippi in Algiers Point, Congregation Coffee Roasters was cooking up something special and just about to celebrate its first birthday, having opened in March 2017. On this trip, Congregation was recommended to me by both Mammoth Espresso and Revelator Coffee, so I took the short ferry ride across the river one Sunday afternoon to see what I could find.

My reward was a lovely coffee shop, serving some fantastic coffee on both espresso and batch-brew, all roasted on the 12 kg Probat at the back of the store. There’s a great selection of cakes, plus, at weekends, a concise brunch menu available until three o’clock.

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