New England, February 2016

The Empire State Building seen from the Highline, rising above the Chelsea skyline and bathed in the evening sun in February 2016.Although I’ve been a regular visitor to New England for over 20 years, and have been writing about coffee shops in the area since 2013, this is the first time that I wrote up the trip as a Travel Spot. I flew from Manchester to Newark (via Heathrow) and returned to Manchester from Boston (again via Heathrow). As usual, I flew with British Airways, although in those days, I wasn’t travelling for work, so was in the back of the plane in World Traveller (aka economy).

I was in the USA for almost three weeks, starting in New York City before travelling by train down to Philadelphia and Washington DC, then back up to New York City, Providence and Boston. All this was done in an unusually harsh New England winter: even Washington DC had a major snowfall while I was there!

The trip itself is covered in the Travel Spots below. This was just my second set of Travel Spots, before I’d really settled into my current style of just writing about the journeys, so you’ll find much more verbose reports on what I got up to. Re-reading them, I found I quite enjoyed the style, but I remember that they took forever to write!

You can also read about the Coffee Spots I visited in New York CityPhiladelphia, Washington DC, Providence and Boston.


Header Image: the Amtrak service to Harrisburg, standing at the platform at Newark’s Penn Station. This is the train I took to Philadelphia towards the start of my trip.


Travel Spots

You can read about the trip in the following Travel Spot posts.

Brian’s Travel Spot: New York & Philadelphia, 2016

My coffee travel kit on my BA flight to Newark: mini Porlex grinder, Aeropress, plus funnel, metal jug and Upper CupWelcome to the second of my occasional Brian's Travel Spot series (or the fourth, depending on how you count them!). The first Travel Spot recounted my adventures in the summer of 2015 as I flew to New England, travelled across America by train and then spent a week in the Pacific Northwest (the whole trip took three weeks, so I split the Travel Spot into three parts, hence this might be the fourth).

Semantics apart, the aim, as in the previous Travel Spots, is to provide a record of my travels, something a little different from posting the actual Coffee Spots I visit (which always takes place after the event). This trip took me to old stomping grounds: New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, back to New York and then on to Providence and, finally, Boston. As I did in 2015, I flew with British Airways, while all the internal travel in the US was on Amtrak, the US national rail network.

I say old stomping grounds since this was (and I think I’ve counted correctly) my 13th trip to the New England/New York/DC area (and the fourth with my Coffee Spot hat on). While it will only be my third visit to the likes of Philadelphia and Providence, it’s easily 10+ for New York and Boston. The first part of my trip consisted of:

Continue reading...

Brian’s Travel Spot: Philadelphia & Beyond, 2016

A cappuccino in a classic white cup, sitting on a tree-stump table in the window, half in shadow from the sunlight.Welcome to the second part of the 2016 instalment of my occasional Brian's Travel Spot series. I’m currently in America, doing a loop (of sorts) around the east coast. I started off last week, flying into Newark, spending a couple of day in New York then heading down to Philadelphia, all of which was covered in Part I. Part II covers Philadelphia, Washington DC and a brief return to New York, while Part III deals with my return to New England and flight home.

We start with this, my third visit to Philadelphia. I first went there in 2014, at the behest of my friend Greg, who writes Coffee Guru App. I met Greg in New York in 2013, over a brief coffee at the Ace Hotel, where he told me all about the Philadelphia coffee scene.

As a result of that conversation, Greg convinced me to visit Philadelphia the following year. Initially, I was a little sceptical, suspecting home-town bias, although, in fairness, Greg knows what he’s taking about when it comes to speciality coffee. Suffice to say that it didn’t take very long for me to be converted and I’ve been back each year since then. Philly has a great, and very underrated, coffee scene (as well as being a great, and very underrated, city). You can see what I got up to as follows:

Continue reading...

Brian’s Travel Spot: Back to New England, 2016

A cappuccino in a classic, earthenware, tulip cup, sitting on a wooden window sill, bathed in sunlight.Welcome to the third and final part of the 2016 instalment of my occasional Brian's Travel Spot series. Part I saw me flying out to Newark and sauntering around New York for a couple of days before heading down to Philadelphia. Part II covered my time in Philadelphia, Washington DC and my brief return to New York as I swung back north.

Part III sees me back in New England, where I started my coast-to-coast trip in June last year. I had a day in Providence, which I first visited last year and, like Philadelphia, has a great, unsung coffee scene. From there it was on to Boston for the end of my trip, before flying home. As I did last June, I flew with British Airways, while all internal travel was on Amtrak, a great way to travel in the US if you’re not in any particular hurry.

Highlights of this leg of the trip were discovering more of Providence, which, as well as having an excellent coffee scene, is a lovely, historic city, and seeing Boston’s speciality coffee scene finally starting to take off with three really excellent places opening in Downtown Boston in the last 12 months.

Continue reading...

Coffee Spots

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in New York City, PhiladelphiaWashington DC, Providence and Boston on this trip, all listed alphabetically by city, starting with New York City (which I visited twice).

New York City

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in New York City on this trip (listed alphabetically).

Blue Bottle Coffee, Chelsea

The Blue Bottle Coffee logo from the A-board outside the Chelsea coffee shop: the outline of a bottle painted in solid blue above the words "Blue Bottle Coffee".Near the southern end of New York City’s wonderful High Line and opposite Chelsea Market, this was famed Californian roasters, Blue Bottle Coffee’s first Manhattan coffee shop. However, despite its proximity to the High Line, this shouldn’t be confused with Blue Bottle’s High Line Café, which is just a block away on the High Line itself (it also has seasonal opening hours; being a partly outdoor location, it’s currently closed, reopening in April 2016).

Back to the Chelsea branch, which isn’t far from fellow-roasters Intelligentsia and its coffee shop in the High Line Hotel. However, while that’s a very upmarket setting, Blue Bottle, situated in what was the loading dock of the Milk Building, is much more down-to-earth. Split over two levels with minimal seating, it still manages an impressive range of filter coffee to go with the usual espresso-based menu.

You can sit downstairs at one of two window bars, or outside on the pavement on one of two matching benches. You can also sit upstairs, where there’s a second counter, unless it’s being used for training courses (usually Saturday afternoons). This also used to host the famous Blue Bottle syphon bar from 11 until 2 on the weekends, but sadly this is no more.

Continue reading...

Café Grumpy, Fashion District

A flat white from Café Grumpy, in an orange, six-ounce tulip cup.Regular readers will know that I have a soft-spot for Brooklyn-based, Aussie-influenced roaster/coffee-shop chain, Café Grumpy. I first came across its Chelsea branch in 2015, before discovering that its Lower East Side branch is just around the corner from my hotel on my return in 2016. On that trip, I also discovered one of Café Grumpy’s more recent branches, right in the heart of New York City in the Fashion District.

This has all the hallmarks of Café Grumpy, including its trademark no laptop policy. While you can argue with the merits or otherwise of this, Café Grumpy’s very upfront about this. The coffee offering’s the same across all branches: house-blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, five single-origins (including a decaf) on pour-over and two more on bulk-brew. It’s also worth remembering that while now it seems that everyone on the East Coast’s offering pour-over, Café Grumpy was doing it long before it was trendy.

In terms of layout, the Fashion District branch takes the no laptop philosophy to its logical conclusion. The seating consists of two large, communal tables, plus a bench at the back. While you can sit quietly by yourself, it really is designed to promote communication!

Continue reading...

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!

Continue reading...

Café Integral, American Two Shot

A single-serve Kalita Wave filter at Cafe Integral, New York City, seen from above.Café Integral is not somewhere that you easily stumble upon. I found it thanks to several recommendations, not least from my friends Heather & Tim, who I stay with in New Jersey (the recommendation was specifically from Tim, who is a semi-regular there). It’s actually across the street from one of my New York favourites, Gasoline Alley, so I must have walked past it many times before my visit. In defence of my usually infallible coffee radar, it’s tucked away inside a clothing store, American Two Shot, with only an A-board outside to let you know it’s there.

Other than its location, Café Integral’s main claim to fame is that it only serves Nicaraguan coffee, its owners, the Vega family, having close ties with several farms in the country. There are now two coffee shops in New York, and another in Chicago, which makes it a national chain. Sort of. All the coffee is sourced in Nicaragua and roasted in a facility over on Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn. There’s a blend on espresso plus two single-origins, a pour-over using the Kalita Wave, with the other available on bulk-brew. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s a selection of cakes and cookies.

May 2017: I've just learnt that Café Integral has shut its coffee bar in American Two Shot. Thanks to Nick for the heads-up. If you are in the area, then Café Integral now has its own coffee shop around the corner at 149 Elizabeth Street.

Continue reading...

Gimme! Coffee, Roebling Street

The Gimme! Coffee logo, taken from the awning above the shop on Roebling Street in Brooklyn.I discovered Gimme! Coffee on my first Coffee Spot visit to New York in 2013, when I visited the Mott Street branch in Manhattan. However, it took me another three years before I explored Gimme! Coffee’s Brooklyn heritage, when I visited Roebling Street in Williamsburg. Ironically, this is the newest of three New York City branches, having only opened in 2011, while the first (and other) Brooklyn branch has been around since 2003, the company itself starting in upstate New York in 2000.

Roebling Street has a simple, rectangular layout, with the door at the right, the counter at the back and a smattering of tables in the space between the two. Resisting the urge to cram too much in, it’s a quiet, friendly spot with a sense of space. There’s also some outdoor seating on the (relatively) quiet street.

Gimme! Coffee roasts all its own beans with a house-blend (Leftist), single-origin guest (Colombian) and decaf (another single-origin Colombian) on espresso. These are joined by two more single-origins on bulk-brew and third as a pour-over using the Kalita Wave. There’s also a range of teas from Metolius in Oregon and a selection of cakes and pastries if you are hungry.

January 2020: Roebling Street has closed, although I don't know when. Unfortunately, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the remaining two NYC locations (Mott Street and Lorimer Street) have also closed for good, leaving Gimme! Coffee with no NYC presence. It will be sadly missed.

Continue reading...

Northerly Coffee (Daily Press Update)

The word "COFFEE" i white on black, over a stylised outline of a takeaway coffee cup, again in white on black.This time last year, the Coffee Spot made its first tentative steps into Brooklyn and the first place I published was the then Daily Press on Havemeyer Street, an oasis of calm at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge. I was therefore rather distressed to discover later that year that it seemed to have disappeared, both from the map (well, Google Maps) and from social media. I asked around, but didn’t find out very much, so on my return last month, I was determined to track it down and see what had happened for myself.

It was with some trepidation that I walked along Havemeyer Street, but I needn’t have worried. There was what I knew as Daily Press, in the same old spot, looking remarkably similar to how it had a year before. The name had changed, to Northerly Coffee, but stepping inside, everything looked very familiarly, right down to the sleek La Marzocco Strada on the counter at the back. It was the same warm, welcoming oasis of calm that I remember. There have been changes, however, and I was fortunate enough to run into Matt, the owner, who, over coffee, filled me in on the full story.

Continue reading...

Parlor Coffee

A simple blackboard with "Parlor Coffee | Serving Daily | Back of Barber-shop" written in white block capitals.Walking along Brooklyn’s Havemeyer Street, on my way from Northerly Coffee to Gimme! Coffee, something caught my eye at the street’s northern end. It looked like an old-fashioned barbershop, but a sign in the window, plus an A-board outside, proclaimed it to be the home of Parlor Coffee. A little bell rang in the back of my mind. Hadn’t my friend, Greg, of CoffeeGuru App fame, told me about somewhere in the back of a barbershop? Intrigued, I headed inside.

Persons of Interest is the name of the barbershop in question and Parlor Coffee is indeed a lovely little coffee shop, tucked away at the back in what may have been an old storeroom. There’s room enough for a one-group Kees van der Westen Speedster espresso machine (plus a single grinder), serving single-origin coffee roasted in-house by Parlor. An unexpected bonus is that your coffee comes in a proper cup!

May 2017: I have just learned that Parlor Coffee has closed its location in Persons of Interest. With thanks to Nick for the heads up. However, the roastery is still going strong and you can visit it, when it operates as the Tasting Room, every Sunday.

Continue reading...

Stumptown, Ace Hotel (NYC)

An espresso, seen directly from above, the brown of the crema matching that of the saucer and contrasting with the white interior of the cup. The word "Stumptown" is written in script on the top rim of the cup.Stumptown, just off the lobby of Ace Hotel in New York City, is one of NYC’s most popular coffee venues, the queues frequently extending into (and around) the lobby. I first visited in 2013, meeting up with Greg of CoffeeGuru App, but it was another three years before I returned on a “quiet” day to do a write-up.

As a coffee shop, there’s not a lot to it, although, like most Stumptown places, it’s sumptuously-appointed. In this case, a single bar runs along the window at the front, the counter running parallel to it at the back, with just enough space between them for customers to queue/wait to collect their coffee. Alternatively, you can sit in the atmospheric lobby of the Ace Hotel itself (if you can find a seat, that is). Stumptown’s Hairbender blend is on espresso, and a single-origin on bulk-brew, with both cold-brew and nitro on draft.

Continue reading...

Sweetleaf, Jackson Avenue

A cortado, holding its latte art to the bottom of the glass, sparkling in the sun at Sweetleaf on Jackson Avenue.In true Coffee Spot fashion, I do most things backwards. So, naturally, my first experience of Sweetleaf was the wonderful Williamsburg branch which I visited this time last year. On my return to New York, I was determined to rectify this with a visit to the original over in Queens. So, hot off the bus from Wayne, New Jersey, I jumped on the metro, crossing under the East River to emerge, in sparkling sunshine, just a few blocks from my destination

The Williamsburg branch is a lovely spot, with an amazing interior. However, the original, housed in a 19th century building and furnished with antiques imported from Paris, goes one (or perhaps two) better. I particularly liked the tin ceiling, which dates from the 1800s. There are plenty of seating options, including a laptop room to the right, comfy chairs to the left, bar-stools at the counter and the Record Room right at back, past the counter.

The coffee’s just as good as the interior, Sweetleaf roasting everything in-house and offering the Slap Shot blend (50% Peru, 50% Colombian micro lots) and decaf on espresso, plus the obligatory bulk-brew (no individual hand-pour at the moment). There’s also cake, baked on site.

Continue reading...

Third Rail Coffee, Greenwich Village

The front of Third Rail Coffee on Sullivan Street, New York City.Third Rail Coffee has been part of the New York speciality coffee scene for some time now. A chain of precisely two, this branch, in Greenwich Village, is the original, having opened seven years ago. It’s a small spot, not much bigger than Café Grumpy’s Lower East Side branch where I had started the day, with space inside for maybe 12.

The coffee’s from North Carolina’s Counter Culture, the Los Rosales single-origin Colombian on espresso, joined by a guest roaster. This guest spot focuses on East Coast roasters, exemplified by the choice during my visit, Boston’s George Howell. There’s a single-origin (sometimes blend) on bulk-brew, with a choice of four single-origins through the Chemex. These change every couple of months and are chalked up on boards next to the menu. As is often the case in the US, the focus is firmly on the coffee, with cookies if you’re hungry.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

Philadelphia

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

La Colombe, Fishtown

A cup of filter coffee from La Colombe's new cafe in Fishtown, Philadelphia, served in one of La Colombe's distinctive cups.Continuing a theme of slightly larger places doing more than just coffee, the Coffee Spot celebrates its return to America with a standout from my previous trip in March. Regular readers will already be aware of my affection for La Colombe, with visits to branches in Philadelphia’s Dilworth Plaza and NYC’s Lafayette Street.

La Colombe is something of a home-grown Philly coffee hero, starting out in Fishtown, an old industrial area north of the centre, where La Colombe still roasts its coffee. Since my first visit in March 2014 and my return a year later, La Colombe has opened a flagship new store in Fishtown itself, converting an old warehouse into a go-to location for breakfast, brunch and, of course, coffee.

It’s a large, rambling, high-ceilinged space with multiple seating options and a rum distillery at the back. And why not? All the food is cooked in an open-plan kitchen behind the counter, reminiscent of Caravan, King's Cross and Paddington’s KuPP, although unlike those two establishments, La Colombe’s kitchen closes at four o’clock. All the bread’s baked here too!

The coffee is, of course, excellent, with espresso, bulk-brew and hand-pour filter, supplemented by beer and wine. And cake, naturally.

Continue reading...

Menagerie Coffee

A cappuccino in a classic white cup, sitting on a tree-stump table in the window, half in shadow from the sunlight.If I lived in/around Philadelphia, I could see the delightful Menagerie Coffee, just off Market Street down near Penn’s Landing in the Old City, becoming a regular haunt. Set up six months ago by April and Elysa, they’ve brought excellent coffee heritage (April worked at the long-established Elixr, another Philadelphia stand-out) and married it with a lovely space in an area that’s crying out for quality coffee.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a couple of blocks from the hotel I stayed in, which was a bonus! My host, Greg of Coffee Guru App fame, and I went there on Friday afternoon, not long after I’d arrived in Philadelphia. I popped back on my own on Sunday morning, preferring to start the day with a Menagerie cappuccino over the (adequate but unexciting) coffee served up by the hotel.

Menagerie uses Dogwood Coffee from Minneapolis for the house-blend (Neon espresso) and decaf (Sumatran mountain-water process), while four single-origins are available as pour-overs. These change on a regular basis and come from a variety of roasters (while I was there, two were from Dogwood, with one each from Ceremony of Annapolis and Boston’s George Howell).

February 2016: true to my word, on both my subsequent trips to Philadelphia, I have stayed near Menagerie and have started each day there with a cappuccino.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

Rival Bros Coffee Bar

Two bare-chested men, dressed as old-fashioned pugilists, but each holding a large coffee cup in their hands.On my first visit to Philadelphia in 2014, I missed Rival Bros who, back then, were a roastery with a growing reputation and a coffee truck that wasn’t open at weekends. Naturally, I was there for the weekend. Two months later, having waited until I was safely out of town, Rival Bros opened its first (and so far only) shop on the corner of 24th and Lombard Streets.

It’s a brick-built building in a residential part of south Philadelphia, on the end of a row of two-/three-storey terrace houses. In many ways the setting, on a sunny March afternoon, couldn’t be lovelier. The exterior brickwork is painted grey and white, while the interior has white-washed walls with dark grey woodwork and ceiling. Windows, glass doors and plenty of lights make it a wonderful, bright spot.

The focus is firmly on the coffee, allowing Rival Bros to showcase its output. There’s a blend (Whistle & Cuss), single-origin (Ethiopian) and decaf on espresso, the Revolver blend (which I’ve previously had as espresso) on bulk-brew and a choice of four single-origins through the Chemex. If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of bread-based goodies, including toast and toasted sandwiches, plus cake, of course.

Continue reading...

The Franklin Fountain

The Franklin Fountain sign, showing a man in a white uniform, mixing sodas.The Franklin Fountain is that most wonderful of things, an old-fashioned American ice cream parlour. Yes, I know this is the Coffee Spot, but every now and then I’m allowed a little indulgence and this is one such occasion. Besides, The Franklin Fountain serves coffee. Not that I’ve ever had any, mind you; I’ve always been too busy scoffing the ice cream.

Although it celebrates its 10th birthday this summer, The Franklin Fountain recreates an authentic turn-of-the-century ice cream parlour and soda fountain. It’s a lovely spot, with a mosaic, tiled floor, old tinned walls and ceilings and two belt-driven ceiling fans. It serves some truly gorgeous ice cream, with 20 different flavours, as well as sorbets and various sundaes.

It’s also extremely popular. Most of the times I passed by, there were queues out of the door (keeping in mind that this was back in March and the temperature had just gotten above freezing; I hate to think what it’s like in the summer!). It does a brisk trade, a lot of it takeaway, but there is limited seating inside and a couple of tables out front, not that there’s much chance of getting a seat in the evenings!

Continue reading...

Ultimo Coffee, Newbold

The sign, painted on an old window, on the back wall at Ultimo Coffee's Newbold coffee shop.The first ever speciality coffee shop I visited in Philadelphia was Ultimo Coffee’s Graduate Hospital branch on Catherine Street. It is therefore a little ironic that it’s taken me two years to visit the original, Newbold, on South 15th Street, where Ultimo started back in 2009. As is usual in these cases, the loss is all mine.

Ultimo, rather unusually, shares the space with Brew, a speciality bottle beer company, with Ultimo and the coffee taking the front of the store and Brew taking the back, the two sharing the seating. Ultimo, also unusually, has a strong focus on pour-over coffee, something which is slowly catching on in the US, but which Ultimo has championed from the start, using BeeHouse drippers to serve an interesting selection of single-origin filters to go with two more on espresso.

During my visit in February, Counter Culture was the house-roaster, with occasional guests on espresso and filter. However, since then Ultimo has started roasting its own coffee (with the roastery based at Newbold), which is now available on-line and in both stores. If you’re in a hurry, there’s bulk-brew until 11am, while for those with a sweet tooth, there’s a selection of cake.

Continue reading...

Washington DC

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in Washington DC on this trip (listed alphabetically).

Chinatown Coffee Co

The front of Chinatown Coffee Co on H Street in Washington DCIt’s a sign of how much I’m travelling and how many great coffee shops there are around the world that today’s bonus Coffee Spot is from one of last year’s trips, when I spent a day dashing around Washington DC in the rain. Chinatown Coffee Co is one of the capital’s stalwarts, having first opened its doors in 2009. Long and thin, it’s a cross between a corridor and a basement, a little reminiscent of the Dupont Circle branch of Filter Coffeehouse, which was my first ever speciality coffee experience in DC.

Chinatown’s stock-in-trade is the Black Cat espresso blend from Chicago-based, Intelligentsia. This is joined by a decaf espresso and four single-origins, available as V60, cafetiere or syphon, with two of them on the obligatory bulk-brew. Here Intelligentsia is joined by Portland’s Heart Coffee Roasters, with a new coffee appearing on the menu every two weeks. You can also buy a range of the beans to take home with you. Finally, there’s a selection of organic tea if you don’t fancy coffee.

If you’re hungry, there’s a range of pastries and cakes, plus a small selection of chocolate. On the savory side, there are sandwiches from Broodje & Bier.

Continue reading...

Compass Coffee

The words "REAL GOOD COFFEE" in orange on white-painted brick wall. At the bottom, in blue, is Compass Coffee's social media details.Compass Coffee was the final stop (of three) on my latest (very brief) visit to Washington DC back in February. Located on 7th Street in the north west quadrant, Compass is near the likes of La Colombe and just to the east of Peregrine Espresso and Slipstream over on 14th Street. It’s also a relative newcomer, having opened towards the end of 2014.

From the outside, the low, single-storey, brick-built building looks fairly small, but stepping inside, it’s surprisingly large, going a long way back and feeling much wider than it looked from the street. The interior is big enough to house a large counter, an even larger seating area and, right at the back, a spacious roastery, home to a 30 kg Loring roaster.

Compass is a curious mix of old and new, catering to a wide customer-base, including plenty of students. On the one hand, there are lots of blends, a wide variety of bulk-brew options and menu items such as gingerbread latte and peppermint mocha. On the other hand, there’s a fully-equipped Modbar and a choice of three single-origin pour-overs through Chemex or French Press. Naturally you can buy retail bags (or tins) of all Compass’ considerable output.

Continue reading...

La Colombe, Blagden Alley

My Ethiopian filter coffee in one of La Colombe's gorgeous cups in its Blagden Alley branch in Washington DC.La Colombe, the Philadelphia-based coffee shop/roaster chain, has branches in five US cities, ranging from Boston in the north to Washington DC in the south, as well as expanding west to Chicago. Blagden Alley is one of four branches in the nation’s capital, and has been here for three years, set in what was an old Department of Transportation bus depot/garage, an amazing setting for a coffee shop. Long and thin, Blagden Alley has incredibly high ceilings and multiple windows, allowing the sunlight to stream in, particularly in the middle of the day and during the afternoon, where it lights up the exposed brick and plain plaster.

All the usual La Colombe staples are here, with multiple options on espresso, bulk-brew (drip) and pour-over. There is also a small selection of cakes and savoury pastries. The coffee is split into Classic and Workshop brands; the Classic is a darker roast, more old-school and includes blends such as Corsica on drip and Nizza on espresso, where it’s joined by decaf. The Workshop is focused on single-origins and lighter roasts, with one each on drip and espresso, plus three on pour-over. The specific beans on offer change every two months or so.

Continue reading...

Providence

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in Providence on this trip (listed alphabetically).

Blue State Coffee, Thayer Street

The Blue State Coffee motto, "Beans to an End", from a framed drawing on the wall of the Theyer Street branch in Providence.Providence’s Blue State Coffee on Thayer Street is a curious mix of old-school second-wave coffee shop with third-wave sensibilities. In that respect it’s very similar to Washington DC’s Compass Coffee, with both serving similar markets. They also both roast their own coffee, although unlike Compass Coffee, Theyer Street doesn’t have a roaster in the back. Blue State has also been around a lot longer, having first opened its doors in 2004.

Theyer Street was the original store, although these days Blue State is based in South Windsor, Connecticut, where all the coffee is roasted, and there are eight stores across three states (two in Providence, two in Boston and four in Connecticut). Theyer Street is a bright, spacious, sunny spot, offering a traditional, espresso-based menu, bulk-brew filter and pour-over. This is supported by loose-leaf tea, a good cake selection and an extensive sandwich, salad and all-day breakfast offering.

Not to be confused with the Blue State Coffee in the Brown University Bookshop (also on Thayer Street), this branch has a community coffee shop feel. Scarily, even though I felt twice the age of the average customer, the staff described the bookshop branch as the one that draws the college-kid crowd!

Continue reading...

Bolt Coffee at the Dean Hotel

The words "Bolt Coffee Co" written in a circular wooden sign.Slowly but surely, hotel coffee is improving, particularly in the USA, where speciality coffee shops in hotel lobbies seems to be increasingly a thing. Now, joining the likes of Stumptown in the Ace Hotel and Intelligentsia in the High Line Hotel in New York City, we have Bolt Coffee in the lobby of Providence’s Dean Hotel. It was on my list during my first visit to Providence in the summer of 2015, but I ran out of time and it was only on my return earlier this year that I finally made it.

As coffee shops go, Bolt is fairly small, set back behind the lobby and with its own entrance direct from the car park. There’s a small counter at the back, a communal table in front of that, and then a square of seating consisting of a pair of sofas, a bench and a couple of armchairs, all arranged around a large coffee table.

What it lacks in size it more than makes up for in coffee, with Seattle’s Kuma Coffee providing the beans. There’s a blend on espresso, joined by a single-origin on bulk-brew and two more on pour-over, through either the Kalita Wave or Clever Dripper.

Continue reading...

New Harvest Coffee & Spirits

The soaring, vaulted glass ceiling of the central aisle of the Arcade Providence, home of New Harvest Coffee & Spirits.New Harvest Coffee & Spirits is that relatively rare combination in America: a coffee shop and bar, serving coffee by day and whisky and other spirits by night (although I believe you can order anything anytime). That it’s also a long-standing roaster (as New Harvest Coffee in Pawtucket, Rhode Island) and is housed in America’s old shopping mall, the Arcade Providence, makes it something very special indeed.

Although New Harvest Coffee has been roasting since 2001, the coffee shop only opened in 2014. There’s a seasonal house-blend and decaf on espresso, two options on bulk-brew and one on pour-over (Kalita Wave), backed up by a selection of cake and a wide range of spirits and cocktails.

New Harvest Coffee roasts 8-10 single-origins at any one time, giving it plenty of options in the coffee shop. There’s a light-roast on bulk-brew, which is usually a single-origin (which changes every day or so) and a dark roast (which changes less frequently). This tends to be a one of two filter-blends, but during my visit it was a single-origin from Papua New Guinea, while the light-roast was a Kenya from Kiangothe. Finally, the pour-over option is another single-origin (an Indonesian during my visit).

February 2016: Since I was in Providence the day I published my piece on New Harvest, I couldn't resist popping in for a lovely Costa Rican pour-over. It's so rare I get to re-visit places on the day I publish about them 🙂

Continue reading...

The Shop

The words "The Shop" painted in black on the window.I’ve saved potentially the best until last. To celebrate my return to Providence today, I present the last of the three Coffee Spots which I visited when I was last here in June 2015 (the other two being Coffee Exchange and Dave's Coffee). Once again, I must thank my friend Allison for inviting me down and for being my guide for the day.

The Shop, as well as being a favourite of mine, is also very well-regarded. Throughout this trip, whenever I mentioned going to Providence and asked for recommendations, The Shop was on everyone’s lips.

It has a simple layout, serving a simple menu, the ubiquitous Hair Bender blend (plus decaf) on espresso, along with a single-origin and house-blend on the obligatory bulk-brewer, all from Stumptown. These are backed up with a small, but very impressive range of bread, cakes and pastries (sweet and savoury) from local bakeries.

What makes The Shop stand out from the crowd is the staff and the atmosphere they create. Friendly, welcoming, caring, passionate about the coffee, about the shop itself and about the community it serves, The Shop is a gem. And your coffee’s brought to you, which is how it should be.

February 2016: I don't get the chance to do this very often, so I took it and visited The Shop on the day which I published its Coffee Spot. So, here I am, sitting in the window, melting in the early morning winter sun :-). For the record, I had some very crunchy and tasty toast for breakfast, plus an excellent cappuccino.

Continue reading...

Boston

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in Boston on this trip (listed alphabetically).

Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe

Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe sign hangs proudly over the sidewalk on Columbus AvenueCharlie’s Sandwich Shoppe is my go-to breakfast place in Boston. Although my first visit was in 2003, I’ve only been a regular since 2011 (if visiting at least once during my annual trip to Boston makes me a regular that is!), which is when I started staying in Boston's South End. Charlie's is the quintessential family-run American diner, although it's now in the hands of local chef, Evan Deluty. It’s so much a fixture of the neighbourhood that it’s even got its own Wikipedia page!

To the detriment of my waist-line, I’ve always been a fan of American breakfasts: fluffy, buttermilk griddle cakes, smothered in maple syrup; a plate full of eggs, fried potatoes with a couple of slices of toast; there are reasons why I put on half a stone whenever I go to America.

Charlie’s supplies these in abundance, along with bags of friendly atmosphere. It’s best experienced sitting on a bar-stool at the counter with a mug of coffee and enough food to last you for the day. There you can watch the regulars come and go, read the Boston Globe, or, increasingly these days, browse your smartphone or tablet. Not that Charlie’s has succumbed to the lure of wifi just yet...

Continue reading...

George Howell, Boston Public Market

"George Howell Coffee" written in white on a wooden board, next to a silhouette of a coffee bean with George Howell's signature beneath it.George Howell is a something of a legend in American speciality coffee. He made his name as a roaster, but recently George, as his staff refer to him, has started opening coffee shops under the George Howell brand, starting in Newtonville in 2012. This, the subject of today’s Saturday Short, is the first branch in Boston, in the high-profile, newly-opened Boston Public Market, while a second Boston branch in the Godfrey Hotel on Washington Street opened this summer.

Boston Public Market is home to a high-quality espresso/coffee bar, catering primarily to the takeaway market, but with proper cups for espresso and glasses for cortados. It’s an impressive operation, with house-blend, single-farm and decaf on espresso, plus further single-farm coffees for the iced-coffee, bulk-brew (coffee of the week) and individual pour-overs, courtesy of twin Marco Beverage Systems SP9s. You can buy retail bags of coffee, plus various merchandising and coffee-related kit.

Continue reading...

Gracenote, Boston

A drawing of a musical note, over a drawing of a coffee cup, over the words "gracenote | COFFEE ROASTERS", all in various shades of red.I’ve been a fan of roasters, Gracenote, for a while, having first had its coffee at Boston’s delightful Render Coffee. Based in Berlin, Massachusetts, where it’s been roasting since 2012, Gracenote took a first step into serving its own coffee with a lovely coffee bar in downtown Boston, which opened in October 2015. During my most recent visit in February 2016, it was the place that everyone in the area (including Providence, Rhode Island) said I had to visit, and they weren’t wrong!

The coffee bar’s standing-room only, catering primarily for office workers from the area around Boston’s South Station. A lovely Modbar installation provides espresso, offering house-blend, a single-origin or decaf. There’s bulk-brew filter, cold-brew on tap and a choice of speciality tea. Naturally you can buy all of Gracenote’s coffee in retail bags, whole bean or ground-on-demand. If you’re hungry, there’s even a limited selection of sweet treats.

Continue reading...

Ogawa Coffee Boston

The Ogawa Coffee logo from the sign outside the Boston branch on Milk Street.Ogawa Coffee is a large (40+ stores) speciality coffee shop chain from Kyoto. However, the branch on Milk Street, right in the heart of downtown Boston, is its first overseas venture, having opened in 2015. An interesting blend of Japanese and American coffee culture, I loved it, particularly the attention to detail shown by the baristas.

The shop itself is long and thin, with perhaps the highest ceilings I’ve seen in a coffee shop this year. About as wide as it is tall, Ogawa has a great sense of space. There’s a good choice of seating too, with tables at the front and what is called stadium seating at the back, opposite the counter. Best of all, you can sit at the counter itself and watch the filter coffee being made.

Talking of coffee, it’s all roasted in Kyoto and air-freighted to the shop on a regular basis. There is a house-blend and three single-origins, which can be had by any method (espresso or hand-pour filter). These are joined on espresso by decaf and guest single-origins which change every week or two. Perhaps best of all, Ogawa serves a tasting flight, where you get to sample all three single-origins side-by-side.

Continue reading...

Render Coffee

The Render Coffee logo, from the sign outside. The words RENDER COFFEE above a line-drawing of an anvil.I think I’ve found a new favourite in Boston. Head a few blocks along Columbus Avenue past my favourite breakfast spot, Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, and you’ll find Render Coffee, just before the junction with Massachusetts Avenue. Ironically, I found it from the other direction, walking south along Mass Ave from Pavement Coffeehouse on Boylston. Although only 10 minutes from Pavement, the contrast couldn’t have been sharper, going from the busy Pavement to the relatively laid-back calm of Render. Quiet, but not empty, it was a relaxed and relaxing place to spend the afternoon.

Like Pavement, Render serves Counter Culture as both espresso and pour-over, along with guest coffees (both from Gracenote Coffee during my visits). One of the things I really liked is there’s no bulk-brew filter coffee. Instead, Render only offers hand-pour. There’s also an excellent selection of food and cake.

Long and thin seems to be a theme for Boston coffee shops and Render is no different in this respect. Accessed by a short flight of steps up from Columbus Avenue, you can sit right at the front and watch the traffic go by, or better still, sit at the back where there’s an excellent fireplace and conservatory!

February 2016: Render now uses Portland’s Tandem Coffee Roasters and the local Gracenote Coffee rather than Counter Culture.

Continue reading...