(Almost) Across the USA by Train, February/March 2018

One of Amtrak's locomotives on the Northeast Corridor, waiting on the platform at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.When I began posting the Travel Spots for this trip, I used the title “Another Grand Adventure”, but as time went on I decided that “(Almost) Across the USA by Train” was a better and more descriptive title. It covers my second trip of 2018, which came just nine days after I returned from my first, which saw me travelling first to Florida before flying to Arizona. In all, I spent two weeks in each state, one for work and a second week for travel.

For this trip, I was back in the States, but this time I began in Boston, arriving on Thursday, 22nd February for a social engagement. As before, my trip ended in Arizona, where I had another week-long meeting. My dilemma, if you can call it that, was that there was a three week gap between the two. Rather than fly home (again), then fly back to the US (again), picking up another two rounds of jet lag in the process, I decided to stay in the US, slowly making my way from northeast to southwest by train, taking in some sights as I went.

Ultimately I went from Boston to Phoenix, although I drove from Boston to Providence, Rhode Island, where I picked up the train to make my way down the eastern seaboard to Manassas (just south of Washington DC), with short stops in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. From there, I took two overnight trains, one to New Orleans and the other, after a weekend in New Orleans, to Tucson, Arizona.

I ended the (US portion) of my journey as I had begun, hiring a car to drive from Tucson to Phoenix. Normally, I would have allowed some time after my meeting to explore, but since I had only been there six weeks before, I flew home instead, leaving on the evening of Friday, 23rd March but, in a final twist, not arriving home until Sunday, 25th March, over 36 hours later.

The flights and my various train journeys are covered in the Travel Spots below, while you can read about the Coffee Spots I visited during my time in New York City, PhiladelphiaNew Orleans, Tucson and Phoenix after that.


Header Image: a map of the Amtrak rail network with my journeys marked out in yellow (Northeast Corridor), blue (Manassas to New Orleans) and black (New Orleans to Tucson).


Travel Spots

You can read about the trip in the following Travel Spot posts. One instalment, that covering my journey from New Orleans to Tucson, is missing and will follow shortly.

Brian’s Travel Spot: Another Grand Adventure

The nose of the British Airways Boeing 777 that flew me to Boston, on the stand at London Heathrow Terminal 5.No sooner had I returned from my previous trip to Florida/Phoenix than, it seemed to me, I was off again, back to the USA for another grand adventure as I like to call my ridiculously long trips. In reality, I had nine days between flights, which included three days at home, four days away in the UK, squeezing in visits to Foundry Coffee and Grasshopper Café, then two days at my Dad’s. And then I was off again. In case you’re wondering, no, it was not nearly long enough.

This time I flew from Manchester, via Heathrow, to Boston for a long-standing social engagement. I was then faced with a dilemma. I had to be in Phoenix (again!) an annoyingly-inconvenient three weeks later. I could have returned to the UK (again), had another 9 or so days in the country, then flown back to Phoenix (again), picking up another two rounds of jet lag in the process (and no, they do not cancel each other out).

Or… I could stay and use the three weeks to slowly make my way from north-east to south-west, taking in some sights as I went. No prizes for guessing which option I went for.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor

One of Amtrak's locomotives on the Northeast Corridor, waiting on the platform at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.Welcome to the second instalment of this edition of Brian’s Travel Spot, covering my latest Grand Adventure. In the first instalment, we saw how that no sooner had I returned from my previous trip to Florida/Phoenix than I was off again, flying out to Boston. My dilemma, if you can call it that, was that I had to be in Phoenix (again!) three weeks later. Rather than fly home (again), then fly back to the US (again), I decided to stay in the US, slowly making my way from northeast to southwest, taking in some sights as I went.

Given my dislike of flying in the USA, and my past record of taking ludicrously long train journeys, it should come as no surprise that I decided to do the whole trip by train. Or, at least, as much of it as I could, a route that took me from Providence, Rhode Island, down the eastern seaboard to Washington DC, with stops in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. From there, I took two overnight trains, one to New Orleans and the other from New Orleans to Tucson, Arizona, where I hired a car to drive to Phoenix, my final destination, from where I flew home.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Crescent to New Orleans

A portion of Amtrak's national route map, showing my route on the Crescent service from Washington DC to New Orleans highlighted in blue.Welcome to this instalment of what I have somewhat ambitiously called Another Grand Adventure, part of my occasional Brian's Travel Spot series. It follows my second long-distance American train trip, which saw me travelling from Boston, in New England, to Phoenix, in the south west, by train. Well, almost.

I actually went from Providence to Tucson by train, driving the first and last legs. If I’d had the courage of my convictions, I’d have carried on from Tucson to Los Angeles so that I could have completed my second coast-to-coast train journey. However, given that I actually had to be in Phoenix for work, this would have required me to turn around and come straight back again once I got to LA. That would have been rather extreme, even for me.

The trip started with my flight to Boston, while the second instalment covers the series of short journeys I took along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor from Providence to Manassas, south of Washington DC. This instalment takes us from Manassas to New Orleans, travelling on Amtrak’s Crescent Service, while the remaining instalments cover my weekend in New Orleans, the Sunset Limited, which took me from New Orleans to Tucson, my flight back from Phoenix and my final return home.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: A Weekend in New Orleans

Traditional wrought iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans.The first time I visited New Orleans was in 2010, when I took travelled on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, an overnight service from Chicago. This covers the 1,500 km route, which roughly follows the Mississippi all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, in around 20 hours. It was therefore fitting that my return to New Orleans, in March 2018, was also by train. This time I travelled on the Crescent, another overnight service which starts in New York City, although I picked it up at Manassas, just south of Washington DC.

This was part of a much longer journey which had seen me start in Boston, before taking a series of trains down Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor from Providence. Swapping a New England winter for the spring-like weather of the Gulf Coast (it was 25°C!), I spent a weekend in New Orleans before catching another train, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, to Tucson, which marked the end of my train travel for the trip. Ideally, I’d have taken the train to Phoenix, my final destination, but sadly it lost its passenger service long ago, so instead I drove the last leg. From there, I flew back to the UK, making my final way home.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Sunset Limited to Tucson, Day 1

The track disappearing behind Amtrak's Sunset Limited just after departing Beaumont, Texas, on its way to Los Angeles.Welcome to another Travel Spot post and what is in effect the final two-part instalment of a trip I took in 2018, which back then went under the provisional title of Another Grand Adventure. There are actually two more posts in the series, about my adventures on my flight home, but these are the last two posts to be written, hence the “final instalment” tag.

They detail the journey that I took in March 2018 on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Tucson, Arizona, itself the final leg of a much larger train journey. I'd started in Providence, Rhode Island, in the teeth of a New England winter, and travelled down via Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to Manassas just south of Washington DC, then carried on to New Orleans on Amtrak’s Crescent service.

After a weekend in New Orleans, I was on my way again, departing at nine o’clock on Monday morning. The train took roughly a day and a half to cover the 2,400 km through Louisiana, all the way across Texas (which took almost a day!) and then along the Mexican border through New Mexico and Arizona, arriving in Tucson just after sunset on Tuesday evening.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Sunset Limited to Tucson, Day 2

The driver climbing up in the evening sun to get into the cab of the lead locomotive of the Sunset Limit at Houston, TexasWelcome the second part of this Travel Spot post detailing the journey that I took in March 2018 on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Tucson, Arizona. This was itself the final leg of a larger train journey which had seen me start in Providence, Rhode Island, in the teeth of a New England winter, and travel down via Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to Manassas just south of Washington DC, then carry on to New Orleans on Amtrak’s Crescent service.

I left New Orleans at nine o’clock on Monday morning, the whole journey taking roughly a day and a half to cover the 2,400 km through Louisiana, all the way across Texas (which took almost a day!) and then along the Mexican border through New Mexico and Arizona, arriving in Tucson just after sunset on Tuesday evening. I was in coach class for the first day, which is covered in Part I, travelling from New Orleans to San Antonio, where we arrived just before midnight. There I transferred to a sleeper compartment for the rest of the journey, which is covered in this post.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: On a Boeing 747 from Phoenix

The British Airways 747 which flew me back from Phoenix in January 2018, on the stand at Heathrow Terminal 3 at the end of the flight.As regular readers of Brian’s Travel Spot will know, while I was travelling extensively for work, I stopped trying to write up my Travel Spots as I went, leaving me with various unfinished journeys, so to speak. Today’s post is one of those, a throwback to 2018 and the very end of my five-week long trip across America, which started in Boston at the end of February. I took the train from Providence, Rhode Island, down the northeast corridor to Manassas, catching the Crescent to New Orleans before taking the Sunset Limited all the way across to Tucson, Arizona. From there, I drove to Phoenix for work, before catching my flight home, which is the subject of today’ post.

This post was prompted by last week’s news of the final flights of British Airways’ remaining two Boeing 747s. Although my return from Phoenix wasn’t the last time I flew on a 747 (that was in January 2019, when I was unexpectedly upgraded to First Class on my way out to Phoenix of all places!), it’s the last of my 747 flights that remained without a write-up, so it seemed a fitting way to mark the retirement of British Airways 747 fleet.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Things Go Wrong When Flying

The nose of the British Airways Airbus A319 standing on the tarmac at Heathrow, waiting to take me to Manchester in March 2018.This is the second and final part of the Travel Spot which I started last week with my flight from Phoenix to London, itself the final instalment of a five-week long trip I took in 2018. Last week's post was all about the Boeing 747, prompted by the news of the final flights of British Airways’ remaining two Boeing 747s.  However, getting to Heathrow wasn’t the end of my journey: I still had to make the comparatively short hop to Manchester and from there, get to my Dad’s, something I’ve done numerous times.

As I left things at the end of Part One, I’d made it safely to Heathrow Terminal 3, but I was 1¼ hours behind schedule. At that point it was 14:40 and my connecting flight for Manchester was due to leave from Terminal 5 at 15:10, which meant I had to get from between the terminals, clear passport control, go back through security and board my flight, all in less than 30 minutes…

Did I make it? No, of course not. For the very first time in my life, I missed a flight. This is post is all about what happened next, what airlines do when you miss your flight and the lessons that I learned from the experience.

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Coffee Spots

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited on this trip in New York City, PhiladelphiaNew Orleans, Tucson and Phoenix (listed alphabetically for each city).

New York City

I only had time to visit a handful of Coffee Spots during my two days in New York City, all of which were either places I’d been before or new locations of old favourites.

Brooklyn Roasting Company, Jay Street

A double espresso shot from the Brooklyn Roasting Company, freshly pulled, in a thermally-insulated shot glass. The fully developed crema will soon dissipate.At the bottom of Jay Street, which runs alongside the Manhattan Bridge (my usual gateway into Brooklyn) the Brooklyn Roasting Company makes a great first stop when exploring the area (it’s also convenient for the York Street metro stop on the F line). Occupying the ground floor of a sprawling five-storey building, the Brooklyn Roasting Company is an amazing spot. Some coffee shops go to great lengths to achieve that stripped-back, industrial look; the Brooklyn Roasting Company simply moved into a 19th century stables down by the East River and, voila, there you have it.

There’s a wide range of coffee on offer, with a standard espresso bar at one end of the building and a more experimental, speciality lab at the other, so all tastes should be catered for. As well as being a wonderful space to drink coffee, Jay Street is also headquarters of the Brooklyn Roasting Company, which means all the roasting gets done here. So, if that’s your sort of thing, you can sit in the far corner, by the lab, watching the green beans being hoovered into the 35kg Loring roaster and enjoying the spectacle of the freshly-roasted beans pouring out some 12 minutes later.

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Café Grumpy, Lower East Side

Cafe Grumpy's grumpy face logo, hanging on the wall of the Lower East Side branch.Café Grumpy, a small, local coffee shop chain, roasts all its own beans in Brooklyn. With its no compromise attitude, it’s fast becoming one of my NYC favourites. The Lower East Side branch, on Essex Street, is the smallest and is perhaps my favourite (of those I’ve visited so far).

My go-to place for morning coffee used to be the original Pushcart Coffee on East Broadway. Just a few blocks east of my usual hotel in Chinatown, it was perfect. Then it closed and, for the last two years, I’ve been coffee-less first thing in the morning: not the ideal situation!

Embarrassingly, I only discovered Café Grumpy on my most recent trip, not realising that the Lower East Side branch had been open since 2012, some while before Pushcart closed. Just around the corner from my hotel, it’s every bit as convenient as Pushcart, so I needn’t have gone coffee-less all those mornings. What an oversight!

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Café Grumpy, Nolita

The Cafe Grumpy logo from the bottom of the menu on the wall of the Nolita branch.Café Grumpy has become my favourite New York City coffee shop/roastery chain, particularly since I discovered the Lower East Side branch a few minutes’ walk from my usual hotel. So I was delighted when I met up with Simon and Gemma, fellow coffee aficionados who I know from Instagram, and they told me about a new branch of Café Grumpy, conveniently located just around the corner from their hotel in Little Italy.

Located on Mott Street, Café Grumpy opened in the early summer, 2016, several months after my last visit to New York, so I didn’t feel too bad about not having known about it. It’s in an area already rich with coffee, just a couple of blocks down from another favourite, Gimme! Coffee, around the corner from old friends, Caffé Roma, and one street from the lovely Café Integral.

In keeping with the Café Grumpy philosophy, all the branches, no matter how large or small, carry the same full coffee offering, with the house-blend, Heartbreaker, joined by a single-origin and decaf on espresso, while on pour-over, there are multiple single-origins, plus decaf, supplemented by bulk-brew for those in a hurry. There’s also a range of tea, plus a selection of cakes and pastries if you’re hungry.

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Café Integral, Elizabeth Street

Part of the menu board from Cafe Integral on Elizabeth Street in NYC, showing the filter options.I first came across Café Integral when I was last in New York two years ago. Back then, Café Integral was a small, but delightful coffee bar inside the American Two Shot clothing store. Not long after my visit, in August 2016, Café Integral opened its own coffee shop a couple of blocks away on Elizabeth Street, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot. This was part of an expansion that has also seen Café Integral open in Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles, all in collaboration with Freehand Hotels.

Cafe Integral’s main claim to fame is that it only serves coffee from Nicaragua, all of which is roasted in-house in Williamsburg, the coffee sourced from several farms in the country which have close ties to the Vega family, which owns Café Integral.  There’s always an espresso blend (Dulcinea), plus a different single-origin on espresso, bulk-brew and pour-over. There’s also cold brew, nitro cold brew and a house tonic, plus tea for those who are so inclined. The coffee is all seasonal, changing every month or two, with the number of different options depending on the season.  Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s an extensive, and very tempting, array of cakes and pastries.

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Parlor Coffee – Tasting Room

A single-origin Guatemalan coffee extracting through a bottomless portafilter on the Kees van den Westen espresso machine at Parlor Coffee in Brooklyn.I first discovered Parlor Coffee in 2016 via a combination of serendipity, a tip-off and keeping my eyes open. Back then, as well as being a roaster, Parlor Coffee ran a small coffee bar in the back room of the Persons of Interest barbershop in Brooklyn, which I spotted as I walked past one day. It was a lovely place, pulling some awesome espresso on a single-group Kees van der Westen, so I was rather upset to learn that it had closed last year.

However, I recalled the barista, Vanessa, telling me that the roastery, also in Brooklyn, was open at the weekends, so when I found myself in New York on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I made a beeline for Vanderbilt Avenue. You’ll find the roastery here (which will have its own Meet the Roaster feature in due course) along with the subject of today’s Saturday Short, the Tasting Room.

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Underline Coffee

The Underline Coffee sign hanging outside the front of the street under the High Line on W20th Street in New York.I recommend walking New York’s High Line to every visitor: that there’s so much excellent coffee along the way, starting with Blue Bottle Coffee at the southern end and continuing with the likes of Intelligentsia in the High Line Hotel, is an added bonus. Into that mix comes today’s Coffee Spot, Underline Coffee, which has been gracing its spot almost directly under the High Line on W20th Street (and across the road from the High Line Hotel) since 2014.

I first visited it in 2016, but failed to write it up for a variety of reasons, not least because shortly after my visit, Underline started roasting its own coffee under the Apes & Peacocks brand, thus rendering me out of date before I’d even put finger to keyboard. So when I finally got back to New York after a two-year absence, I made a return to Underline a top priority.

It’s an awesome spot, serving a house-blend on espresso and bulk-brew, with a range of single-origins available as either espresso or pour-over. This is backed up with tea, cakes and a small selection of things on toast, all served in a space that’s a cross between corridor and basement.

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Philadelphia

I spent a long weekend in Philadelphia, where I continued my exploration of its excellent speciality coffee scene, revisiting some old favourites while also finding a few new ones.

Bluestone Lane, Rittenhouse Square

The Bluestone Lane logo (a five-pointed star in a blue circle) from the window of the cafe on Locust Street in Philadelphia.Bluestone Lane is the Aussie-inspired chain which, having started in New York, made its way to Philadelphia in November 2015 and now boasts branches as far afield as San Francisco and Los Angeles. I first came across the Broad Street branch in Manhattan’s financial district. Small and cosy, this was very much a coffee shop, one of 17 that Bluestone Lane now boasts. At the other end of the scale, Rittenhouse Square is very much a café, currently one of eight such Bluestone Lane establishments, offering full table service and an Aussie-inspired all-day brunch menu, containing such Aussie standards as banana bread, avocado smash and various egg-based dishes, all backed-up by an interesting selection of cake. Large, bright and airy, it’s as far as you can get from my experience in Manhattan.

Turning to coffee, there’s a standard (for Australia/UK) espresso-based menu with a single-origin espresso, plus a blend (Maverick) that’s used in milk-based drinks, which include piccolos and flat whites alongside the more familiar (for America) cappuccinos and lattes. Pleasingly, all are served in suitably small-sized glasses/cups. There’s also bulk-brew for those who fancy filter. Having originally sourced its coffee from San Francisco’s Sightglass, it’s now all roasted in-house.

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Double Knot

The words "Double Knot" written with the picture of a piece of rope tied into a Double Knot in the middle.Philadelphia’s Double Knot is a collaboration between local restaurateur, Michael Schulson, and Evan Inatone, the man behind Elixr, which roasts all the coffee. From the outside, Double Knot seems a very modest place, but step inside and you’ll soon realise that no expense has been spared! The sumptuous interior is gorgeous, while Double Knot boasts a full Modbar installation.

It doesn’t stop there. Double Knot also has a full service restaurant downstairs in the basement (which is bigger than the coffee bar upstairs!) which, from 5 o’clock onwards, serves Sushi & izakaya. If you get a chance, do pop down, since it’s as sumptuously-appointed as the upstairs.

Talking of which, upstairs starts the day as a coffee bar, with cakes and breakfast on offer, while at lunchtime, there’s a small (but excellent) menu from the kitchen downstairs. Then, mid-afternoon, it starts its transformation, becoming a cosy bar in the evening, although the coffee and food are available all day.

The coffee just as impressive, with a house-blend and single-origin joined by a decaf on espresso, plus four single-origins on filter which change every month or so. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a fully stocked bar and, naturally enough, coffee cocktails!

March 2018: Popped back to visit Double Knot on my return to Philadelphia, partly to admire the Modbar... Not a lot has changed, although these days Double Knot only does the house-blend & decaf on espresso, reserving the single-origins for pour-over. It's still as beautiful as ever though.

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Ox Coffee

A beautiful Gibraltar (Cortado) from Ox Coffee.Ox Coffee is a lovely spot, which I visited on my first-ever trip to Philadelphia, becoming a firm favourite of mine. I try my best to pop in whenever I visit the city, calling in back in February 2016 to see the "new" back room/garden, and again in March 2018 to sample Ox's coffee after it had started roasting.

With its stripped-back, clean looks, Ox wouldn’t be out of place in either New York or London. It brings to mind New York spots such as Gimme! Coffee or the Bluebird Coffee Shop, as well as London’s White Mulberries. This, by the away, is more of a commentary on the rents: most places in (central) London or New York just can’t afford the sort of floor space I regularly see in Philadelphia outside of the city centre!

Ox has a similarly clean, stripped-back menu, with just a selection of cake to accompany the coffee, which these days is roasted in-house. There's a blend, Ox Coffee #1, on espresso, and another (Ox Coffee #2; you can see where this is going) on bulk-brew, which is joined by one of two single-origins (a Guatemalan while I was there). Finally, there's a decaf, from Stumptown.

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Peddler Coffee

Espresso in a glass at Peddlar Coffee, a single-origin Brazilian Materia.I was last in Philadelphia two years ago when I visited a bunch of places, took photos and wrote them up, but, for a variety of reasons, failed to publish them. This week, therefore, is going to be Philadelphia week, which kicked off yesterday with the original Plenty Café, on Passyunk Avenue, and continues today with Peddler Coffee, another in a long line of Philadelphia coffee shop/roasters.

When I first visited Peddler, following a tip-off from my friend Greg, it had been going for just under a year, serving a range of single-origin coffees on espresso and on pour-over, exclusively through the Chemex. Fast-forward two years and Peddler will be celebrating its third birthday next week. It’s still going strong, still roasting great single-origin coffee and still essentially doing the same things, with a few tweaks here and there for good measure. As well as coffee, there’s tea, and, if you’re hungry, a range of cakes and pastries.

In a city full of physically beautiful coffee shops, Peddler is up there with the best of them. Indeed, I had forgotten how beautiful it is. Kitted out in dark wood and exposed brick, it’s a glorious place to drink your coffee.

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Plenty Café, East Passyunk

The sign hanging outside Plenty on East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia.When I first visited Philadelphia, Plenty Café, in Rittenhouse, was one of the first coffee shops that my friend Greg introduced me to. Back then, Plenty was a chain of precisely two, the Rittenhouse branch having recently joined the original on East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia. Having really liked the Rittenhouse branch, I was determined to try out the original on my return to Philadelphia in 2016. Sadly, for various reasons, I never actually got around to completing my write-up, so when I finally returned to Philadelphia two years later, I decided to rectify matters…

The original Plenty Café is quite a different beast from Rittenhouse. Here the emphasis is more on food, with full (and excellent) breakfast, lunch and evening menus, backed up by a generous selection of cake. There’s also beer, wine and a fully-stocked bar. And then there’s coffee, for, despite the focus on food, Plenty has the sort of coffee-offering that you’d find in any decent speciality coffee shop. There are bespoke blends on espresso (Gallivant) and bulk-brew (Wayfarer), roasted by Lancaster’s Square One. The Gallivant blend is joined on espresso by a bespoke decaf (Voyager) and by a rotating single-origin, also from Square One.

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Rally

The interesting sign hanging outside Rally in Philadelphia.Philadelphia’s speciality coffee scene is dominated by roaster/coffee shops, with the occasional exception such as Menagerie Coffee. Into this mix comes Rally, a coffee shop which not only isn’t a roaster, but is also a creative marketing agency, as well as doubling as an events and co-working space. However, don’t let that put you off, since it’s still an excellent coffee shop in its own right.

Rally is in Bella Vista, just south of the centre, having opened in early 2016, not long after I visited the city, so I just missed out. However, on my return in 2018, I was alerted to its presence by the lovely folks at Ox Coffee, so naturally I had to check it out.

Using local suppliers wherever possible, Rally originally used Passenger Coffee Roasting from nearby Lancaster. However, it has recently switched to Philadelphia-based roaster Blind Tiger Coffee (which I’ve yet to try), set up last year by Charlie, one of the baristas at Rally. There’s a concise espresso-based menu, plus batch-brew and pour-over through the Clever Dripper. If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s tea, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cake from local bakers, plus ice-cream from Weckerlys in Fishtown.

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ReAnimator Coffee Roastery

Detail from the door of ReAnimator Coffee Roasters on Master Street on Philadelphia's north side.We round off the week of all things Philadelphia with the ReAnimator Coffee Roastery in Kensington, a district of northern Philadelphia. I first came across ReAnimator back in 2014, when I visited what was then its only coffee shop on my first trip to the city. That’s a little further north in Fishtown, where you’ll also find the likes of One Shot and the La Colombe flagship.

Back then, ReAnimator was roasting, but from a small facility that wasn’t open to the public. Fast forward two years to my return in 2016, and I learnt that ReAnimator had opened a new coffee shop and roastery, so naturally I had to go. Occupying the ground floor of a large, brick-built standalone warehouse-like building, ReAnimator has plenty of room to grow. The coffee shop part is in the front, with the roastery at the back, both having plenty of space.

As you would expect, there’s a wide range of coffee, with the Telemetry blend and decaf on espresso, joined by up to five single-origins which can also be had as pour-overs through V60 or Chemex. There’s the obligatory bulk-brew, tea and a small range of cakes and other snacks if you’re hungry.

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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.

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Ultimo Coffee, Rittenhouse

The Ultimo Coffee eagle, painted in white on the side of the Rittenhouse branch in Philadelphia.Ultimo Coffee provided my first Philadelphia  speciality coffee experience when I visited its Graduate Hospital branch on Catherine Street in 2014. Back then, there were just two locations, that one and the original, Newbold, on South 15th Street, but in 2017, Ultimo opened a third, more central, location just west of Rittenhouse Square which I visited on my way to the station during my trip last year.

Easily the smallest of the three locations, its comparative lack of size doesn’t limit its ambitions when it comes to coffee. On my previous visits to the two other Ultimo locations, it was using Counter Culture, but in 2016, Ultimo started roasting its own coffee in the Newbold location (sadly after I visited). I was therefore excited, since this was my first chance to taste Ultimo’s coffee.

There are several seasonal single-origins available at any time (there were five during my visit), all available as pour-over, with three of them on espresso, two iced and one through the Aeropress. If you’re in a hurry and it’s before 11 o’clock, there’s also one on batch-brew. Add to that 12 different teas, plus a selection of cakes and bagels, and Ultimo has you covered.

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New Orleans

This was my first time in New Orleans with my Coffee Spot hat on. In my weekend there, I found a small but vibrant speciality coffee scene.

Cherry Espresso Bar, Uptown

A lovely Burundi single-orign espresso from Ruby Coffee Roasters, served as the guest espresso at the Cherry Espresso Bar in New Orleans.Cherry Espresso Bar opened towards the end of 2016, although it’s been going since 2013, operating inside Stein’s Deli on Magazine Street. This branch, in the Uptown district, west of the Lower Garden District, is a bit of a trek, but well worth the effort. Occupying the ground floor of a lovely, sunny, south-facing building near the river, it’s very much a neighbourhood spot, but with multiple options on espresso and pour-over, plus full breakfast and lunch menus, served until three o’clock.

In many ways, I picked a poor time to visit. I arrived shortly before Cherry Espresso opened another location in the Lower Garden District, midway between Uptown and the French Quarter, at the same time closing its original location. Cherry Espresso has also started roasting (as Cherry Coffee Roasters), with plans to move to its own coffee on espresso, but retaining a guest roaster on the second grinder.

For now, however, Portland’s Roseline provides the house espresso, while there is a rotating weekly guest single-origin on the second grinder, which was from Wisconsin’s Ruby Coffee Roasters during my visit. There are also two single-origins from Roseline available through the Chemex while Cherry’s own coffee is on the bulk-brewer.

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Mammoth Espresso

The Mammoth Espresso logo from the sign hanging outside the shop in New Orleans.Mammoth Espresso is a small coffee shop in New Orleans, serving the Midwest’s finest, Madcap, on espresso, with filter provided by the automated Seraphim pour-over system. There’s a bespoke espresso blend and a daily single-origin option. This, plus two or three more single-origins, are available on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes/pastries, prepared in-house, plus breakfast burritos.

A seven-minute walk from the station and towards the southern edge the Central Business District, Mammoth is a little off the beaten (tourist) track, but well worth seeking out. I first popped in during my visit to New Orleans this time last year, when it was my final stop before catching my train to Tucson, providing me with a fitting send off to New Orleans.

On my return this year, I made it a priority to revisit Mammoth since I didn’t have time to write it up the first time around. It was therefore fitting that my first action on my first morning after flying in the night before was to take the short walk along Baronne Street from my hotel to Mammoth for my first coffee of the trip. Such symmetry pleases me.

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Pax Treme

A single-origin Colombian espresso, roasted by Onyx, from Arkansas, and served, in a classic blue cup, by Pax Treme in New Orleans.Following hot on the heels of yesterday’s Coffee Spot, Spitfire Coffee, comes Spitfire’s new big sister, Pax Treme, which I visited last Sunday. I’d not heard anything of Pax before I arrived in New Orleans, but that’s probably because it only opened the Monday before my visit. Talk about good timing!

I’m indebted to Marissa, the barista at Spitfire, who gave me the heads-up about Pax. It has perhaps the most (initially) unpromising location for a coffee shop, almost directly under an elevated section of the I-10 freeway which thunders through the heart of New Orleans Tremé neighbourhood, north of the French Quarter. About 10 times the size of Spitfire, and that’s not counting the balcony, it’s a handy getaway from the hustle of the French Quarter and just a short walk away across Louis Armstrong Park.

Like Spitfire, Pax is a multi-roaster, with a single-origin on espresso and three more available either as espresso (ground using the Mahlkönig EK-43) or pour-over through V60 or Chemex (with plans to add Kalita Wave and maybe Aeropress, plus bulk-brew) There’s also a kitchen at the back, so Pax has a small (for now) breakfast/lunch menu, plus cakes, all baked on-site.

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Sólo Espresso

The recessed wooden double doors of Sólo Espresso in New Orleans.Doing my research before my short trip to New Orleans, not many names came up when I asked about speciality coffee. However, of those that did, the most prevalent was Sólo Espresso, which was also highly recommended on the ground. The first thing to say is that if you stick to the usual tourist areas, you’re not going to come across Sólo. It’s east of the French Quarter, on the border between Bywater and St. Claude, and across the canal from the Lower Ninth Ward.

However, as I always say, good coffee’s worth travelling for. In this case, you have several options, including a fairly pleasant 50-minute stroll through Crescent Park on the north bank of the Mississippi. There’s also a couple of buses or a 10-minute taxi ride, depending on traffic.

Whichever route you take, you won’t be disappointed. Occupying the ground floor of a long, low building, there’s something of the basement about Sólo. The coffee, meanwhile, comes from old friends, Miami’s Panther Coffee, with the East Coast blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a guest single-origin, plus decaf. There’s also bulk-brew, cold-brew or pour-over using the Chemex. If you’re hungry, there’s a breakfast/lunch menu, plus cake.

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Spitfire Coffee

Watching espresso extract from my seat by the counter at Spitfire Coffee in New Orleans.My first speciality coffee in New Orleans came courtesy of Spitfire Coffee. A tiny spot in the heart of the French Quarter, it’s the number one option when you need decent coffee during a hard day’s sight-seeing. Given its size/location, Spitfire could be forgiven for serving a middle-of-the-road espresso blend and a big flask of drip coffee to go. But no, Spitfire is cut from a different cloth.

The coffee comes from a cast of five roasters, with a different option on espresso every day, coupled with multiple options on pour-over using V60 or Chemex. There’s also cold-brew, a decent selection of tea and some signature drinks (Las Tres Flores and a Cuban Cortado). You can also have an iced espresso or latte should that take your fancy and, refreshingly, there’s no batch-brew on offer. If you’re hungry, there’s a choice of two cakes, baked at Spitfire’s sister location, Pax.

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Tucson

Here’s the one Coffee Spot I visited in Tucson.

Exo Roast Co.

The Exo logo, and a little bit of an explanation, from the wall at the back on Tucson's 7th Street.Exo Roast Co. has, since 2013, been roasting and serving some excellent coffee in the centre of Tucson, Arizona. I first visited in March last year, after a tip-off from Coffee Ken, who I met at Matador Coffee in Flagstaff on my first of visit to Arizona in 2018. I also called in again on Saturday, when I was back in Tucson.

Occupying a sunny corner, Exo is split in two. From the outside, I’d have bet that the back was the roastery, with the coffee shop up front. While I was right about the coffee shop part, the roaster is here too. The back, meanwhile, provides overspill seating, a part-time bar and occasional events space.

Exo Roast Co has a concise espresso-based menu, pleasingly lacking the buckets-of-milk style drinks, with a single-origin plus decaf on espresso, another on batch-brew and two more as pour-overs through the V60. Breakfast is served until noon during the week, while at weekends, it shifts by an hour, not starting until 8:00 but continuing until one o’clock. There’s a short, but inventive seasonal menu chalked up on a blackboard on the wall next to the coffee menu. There’s also a small selection of cakes/pastries.

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Phoenix

I didn’t have long in Phoenix, but managed to visit a few coffee shops, a couple when I arrived, then a few more in Scottsdale on my last day, before I flew back to London in the evening.

Berdena’s

A lovely espresso, served on a wooden tray, with a glass of sparkling water on the side.Berdena’s is a relatively recent addition to Scottdale’s growing speciality coffee scene, having opened in April 2017. Part of a new wave that includes Fourtillfour and Regroup Coffee + Bicycles, plus, just across the Arizona Canal, Press Coffee Roasters, it’s just a couple of blocks away along East 5th Avenue from the pioneering Cartel Coffee Lab. Unlike the majority of the area’s coffee shops, which focus solely on coffee, Berdena’s is known as much for its food, although in a fit of bad timing, I missed out on lunch on my first two visits! Berdena's serves a concise breakfast menu until 2pm every day, while there's a selection of cake all day long.

Turning to coffee, Berdena’s started with Madcap from Grand Rapids in Michigan, but has now evolved into a multi-roaster, changing roaster every six weeks or so, with a single-origin on espresso and another one batch-brew. You can also buy retail bags, although Berdena’s had sold out during my latest visit, the coffee from Morgon Coffee Roasters in Gothenburg proving extremely popular!

You can either sit outside at one of the tables sheltering under the passage to the left of the shop, or find a spot in the spacious interior, where there’s a selection of tables and a window-bar.

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Cartel Coffee Lab, Phoenix Sky Harbor

A decat cortado at Cartel Coffee Lab at Terminal 4, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.I’ve already sung the praises of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, which is one of the best (large) airports I’ve had the pleasure of flying into/out of in recent years. Unsurprisingly, a big part of its charm (for me, at least) is that it has a branch of Cartel Coffee Lab past security in Terminal 4. The first two times I flew to/from Phoenix (late 2016, early 2017), it was closed by the time I got to the airport, but since then Cartel has extended its hours, so on my first of two 2018 visits to Phoenix, I was able to call in both when I arrived on a Monday morning and left, almost two weeks later, on a Sunday night.

Since it’s at an airport, Cartel would be forgiven for running a cut-down operation, but no, not Cartel. Instead, you are treated to the full Cartel range, which includes six single-origins (one decaf), one of which is available on espresso, while all six are available as pour-over via a combination of Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper and Chemex. There’s also the obligatory bulk-brew, while you can buy bags of the beans (and even a Chemex!) to take home (or on your flight) with you.

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Cartel Coffee Lab, Scottsdale

A mug of a Colombian single-origin, served through the Aeropress at Cartel Coffee Lab in Scottsdale.It’s fitting that I celebrate my return to Phoenix with a long overdue write up of Cartel Coffee Lab in Scottsdale. Cartel, a small roaster/coffee shop chain with its flagship roastery/coffee shop in Tempe, has been going for almost 11 years. It now has seven branches, including downtown Phoenix and at Sky Harbor airport, as well as two branches in Tucson, and another in Palm Springs over the border in California. The Scottsdale branch has been going since 2011 and I visited three times last year, never managing to write it up for a variety of reasons (usually a lack of decent photo opportunities, since it’s perpetually busy).

Scottsdale is similar to all the other branches when it comes to coffee, serving six seasonal single-origins, all roasted in-house, one of which is decaf. Naturally, all the beans are available to buy. One (the top of the list) is always available as espresso, while there’s also a daily bulk-brew, with all the beans available as pour-over through the Chemex (8oz or 16oz), Cartel having stopped offering Aeropress/V60 at the end of 2018. There’s a range of cakes if you’re hungry and, in this branch, craft beer and Arizona wine on tap.

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Fourtillfour

Fourtillfour in Scottsdale, operating out of this neat little space at the back of a patio.Scottsdale, to the east of Phoenix, is a lovely area of shops, hotels, houses, quiet streets and, right in the centre, a cluster of four speciality coffee shops, forming a rough diamond. At the southern tip is Fourtillfour, the creation of Nico and Mia, who moved here from San Francisco. Fourtillfour satisfies their twin passions: great coffee and vintage cars, the couple often organising rallies and other events.

I can’t speak to the cars, but when it comes to the coffee, it’s a small but lovely place. There’s an award-winning outdoor patio, which has the bulk of the seating, something you could only get away with in a climate such as Arizona, while inside there are a pair of small rooms. The first, accessible from the patio, has the counter, while the other houses a large Probat roaster, where Fourtillfour roasts all its own direct-trade coffee under the brand Four Coffee. This is served via a simple espresso-based menu, along with batch-brew, while if you're hungry, you there's a small breakfast menu and a selection of doughnuts. Naturally, the coffee is available to buy either in-store or on-line.

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FUTURO

An awesome cortado in a glass, using a single-orign Kenyan from Heart Coffee Roasters, served in FUTURO in Phoenix.FUTURO is a relatively new name in speciality coffee, right in the heart of Phoenix. It’s been going for two years, so I’m rather annoyed that while visiting in January last year, I managed to get within half a block of FUTURO, as I strolled along Roosevelt Street searching for (and failing to find) good coffee. FUTURO is housed within PALABRA, a sort of mothership which contains FUTURO (the coffee bar), a gallery, a hairdressers and PASADO, which is a new venture, serving small plates from the kitchen at the back (but not on Sunday, which, of course, is when I visited).

FUTURO is not quite like any coffee shop I’ve visited before, which is a refreshing change from some of the common design elements I see time and time again. There’s minimal seating off to the left and right, as well as sheltered backyard behind the building by the parking lot. The coffee is also very atypical for Phoenix, with a wide selection of single-origins being provided by Heart Coffee Roasters in Portland. There’s a different one on each day, with one option on espresso and another on bulk-brew from a Fetco brewer discreetly tucked away under the counter.

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Kream | Coffee

My espresso at Kream Coffee in Phoenix, from my visit in 2018. It was served in a gorgeous, earthenware cup with little plugs for handles on the sides.Kream Coffee is part of the small, but growing, speciality coffee scene in and around Phoenix. It’s another of those places which I came across during my second visit to Phoenix last year, prompting me to make an excursion outside of my usual Scottsdale haunts. In this case I went just north of downtown Phoenix, where Kream is somewhat incongruously located inside a design shop on North Central Avenue.

However, don’t let that put you off. If anything, it’s a bonus, since it makes for some very pleasant surroundings, while when it comes to the coffee, Kream is top-notch. A multi-roaster, it draws on a cast of five roasters, some of the best in the US, to bring you awesome espresso and batch-brew, where there’s a different single-origin every day. The espresso, meanwhile, changes once or twice a week. You can also buy retail bags to take home with you.

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