This was my third visit to America in 2019 and my third big trip of that year and it was only April! This time it was a five-week epic trip which started in New Orleans and concluded at the opposite end of the country in Chicago. In between, I flew from New Orleans to Los Angeles, took the train to San Jose, spent two weeks in the Bay Area, then took the train all the way to Chicago!
I flew out on Friday, 5th April, to attend a week-long work meeting in New Orleans, which started on Monday, leaving me the weekend free to explore. I then had another work meeting in Foster City in California’s Bay Area, starting on Monday the following week. Ideally, I’d have taken the train all the way from New Orleans via Los Angeles, but I simply didn’t have time (New Orleans to Los Angeles takes three days). Instead, I flew to Los Angeles on Friday night after my meeting ended, then on Sunday, took the train (the Coast Starlight) from Los Angeles to San Jose (the train continues on overnight to Seattle), arriving on Sunday evening.
I spent two weeks in the Bay Area, the first week at my meeting, followed by a long weekend in San Francisco. The second week was split between visiting friends in San Jose and being a tourist with Amanda, who flew out to join me. On Monday, 29th April, Amanda and I embarked on an epic, three-day train journey from Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) to Chicago on the California Zephyr. We then had a long weekend in Chicago before my third and final week-long meeting. Finally, on the evening of Friday, 10th May, I flew back to the UK.
The train journeys and internal flight are covered in the Travel Spots below (I’ve yet to write up the flights to/from the USA), where you can also find a piece I wrote about Amtrak’s full dining service. If you are interested in the Coffee Spots I visited during my five weeks in America, I’ve organised them by city, starting with New Orleans, before going on to Los Angeles, the Bay Area, San Francisco and finally, Chicago.
Header Image: looking south from Golden Gate Bridge View Vista Point across the mile-wide Golden Gate strait towards San Francisco, with the bridge to the right.
You can read about the trip in the following Travel Spot posts. So far I’ve only written up the train journeys and the internal flight. If I ever get around to writing up the flights to and from America at the start/end of the trip, then they wlll appear here as well.
Brian’s Travel Spot: New Orleans to Los Angeles With Delta
Welcome to another instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot. This is a throwback to 2019, almost exactly three years ago to the day, when I was in America on a five-week, multi-city trip, faced with having to get from New Orleans to Foster City (just outside San Francisco Airport). I’d begun my trip exactly a week before, flying into New Orleans to attend a week-long meeting which ended on Friday afternoon. I was then due in Foster City for another meeting, starting at lunchtime on the following Monday.
Sensible options including spending the weekend in New Orleans before flying to San Francisco on Monday morning, or flying to San Francisco on Friday night to spend the weekend in the Bay Area. However, I chose a third option, that of travelling via Los Angeles, which is how I came to be heading to New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Airport on Friday evening to catch a flight to the famous LAX (Los Angeles International Airport). I was flying with Delta, my favourite American airline, and, since work was paying, I was in first class (although, as you will see, this is a bit of misnomer when it comes to internal flights in the USA).Continue reading...
Brian’s Travel Spot: Coast Starlight, Los Angeles to San Jose
Welcome to this, today’s bonus Travel Spot, covering a journey I took exactly a year and one day ago, when I boarded Amtrak Train No. 14, the Coast Starlight, at Los Angeles’ Union Station. This was part of a much larger, five-week trip that began in New Orleans, then saw me travel to Los Angeles, San Jose/the Bay Area and Chicago (on the California Zephyr), from where I (eventually) returned home.
The Coast Starlight is a daily service between Los Angeles and Seattle, although I was only going as far as San Jose, an all-day journey that departed Los Angeles at 10:10 and arrived in San Jose at 20:11, ten hours and one minute later! It was also very cheap, a one-way advance fare in coach class costing just $60, although since I was going to be on the train for 10 hours, I’d decided to spend the extra $30 for a seat in business class. Along the way, I saw a lot of the Pacific Coast as well as some awesome mountain scenery, plus I had two excellent meals in the dining car!Continue reading...
Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 1
Welcome to today’s bonus Travel Spot. Exactly a year ago today, Amanda and I left Sunnyvale in the Bay Area, California, to catch Amtrak Train No. 6, the California Zephyr, at Emeryville Station. Roughly 60 hours and 4,000 km later, we reached our destination, Buffalo Grove, in the Chicago suburbs. This was part of a much larger, five-week trip that began in New Orleans, then saw me fly to Los Angeles so that I could take the Coast Starlight along the Pacific Coast to San Jose. From Chicago, I (eventually) flew home. One day I hope to write up the entire trip, but for now, I hope you enjoy the train ride!
The California Zephyr is a daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, a scheduled journey of 51½ hours that crosses the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains as well as both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers as it makes its way west-to-east across roughly two-thirds of North America. It’s the longest I’ve been on a train, beating the 47 hours I spent on the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland (Oregon) in 2015.Continue reading...
Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 2
Welcome to the second instalment of my bonus Travel Spot. Just over a year ago, Amanda and I left Emeryville Station onboard Amtrak Train No. 6, the California Zephyr. A daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, the California Zephyr has a scheduled journey-time of 51½ hours as it makes its way west-to-east across roughly two-thirds of North America. The first part of this Travel Spot covered our first day on the train, travelling across California’s Central Valley, over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via the Donner Pass and down into and across Nevada following the Truckee and Humboldt Rivers.
In this instalment, we pick up our journey with our first of two nights on the train, which saw us going to bed in Nevada and waking up almost all the way across Utah. We followed the Colorado River for most of the day, crossing into Colorado along to 40 km long Ruby Canyon before climbing up through the Rockies, descending again into Denver as night fell. You can read about the third day of our journey, from Denver to Chicago, in the third and final instalment of this Travel Spot.Continue reading...
Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 3
Welcome to the third and final part of my bonus Travel Spot, telling the story of the journey that Amanda and I took from California to Chicago this time last year. We travelled on the California Zephyr, a daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, with a scheduled journey-time of 51½ hours. Along the way, it crosses roughly two-thirds of North America, over two mountain ranges and through an array of amazing, contrasting landscapes.
Our first day on the train was covered in Part 1 of this Travel Spot, when we travelled across California’s Central Valley, over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via the Donner Pass and down into and across Nevada following the Truckee and Humboldt Rivers. The following day, covered in Part 2, saw us going to bed in Nevada and waking up almost all the way across Utah. We then followed the Colorado River through Ruby Canyon before climbing into the heart of the Rockies, through the Moffat Tunnel and down to the other side to Denver.
In this final instalment, you can follow our progress through Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, crossing the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers on our way to Chicago.Continue reading...
Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak's Full Dining Service
Two months ago, Amanda and I caught Amtrak’s Crescent service from New York to Atlanta. As fans of Amtrak’s dining cars, we were keen to see what the new “upgraded” dining service was like. Suffice to say we were disappointed, prompting me to write about the demise of Amtrak’s full dining service.
The good news is that this only applies to services east of the Mississippi, including the City of New Orleans, which runs between Chicago and New Orleans. Further west, Amtrak still offers its full dining service, a major plus when travelling by train. Having recently written about my journey last year from Los Angeles to San Jose on the Coast Starlight, and the trip Amanda and I took on the California Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago a few weeks later, I’ve been inspired to write this as a counterpoint to the demise of Amtrak’s Full Dining Service.
For now, at least, the dining car, with its full dining service, is alive and well west of the Mississippi. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed us all of the joys of communal dining for now, I look forward to when I’ll be eating in the Superliner dining car again.Continue reading...
Travels with my Coffee
You can also see what my coffee and I got up to during the trip.
Travels with my Coffee: USA 2019
Welcome to another in my new series, Travels with my Coffee, where I take my coffee to all the best places, particularly when there are no speciality coffee shops to be found. This is the third Travels with my Coffee of 2019, which got off to a good start with my road trip through Arizona & New Mexico in January, followed by a trip to Shanghai in March.
Today it’s the turn of the five-week trip I took to the USA in April, which turned out to be a bit of an epic journey, starting in New Orleans and ending at the opposite end of the country in Chicago. In between, however, I flew to Los Angeles, took the train to San Jose, spent two weeks in the Bay Area, then took the train all the way to Chicago!
As ever, I was joined by my trusty Travel Press, Aergrind and Therma Cup. I also brought, for the first time ever, my rCup, a new reusable cup made from recycled paper coffee cups, which I’d picked up at the London Coffee Festival shortly before leaving on the trip, which doubled as a test-drive for the rCup.Continue reading...
You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited during the trip. I’ve organised this by city/area, following the route of my trip, starting with New Orleans and ending with Chicago. Within each city/area, the Coffee Spots are listed alphabetically.
This was my third visit to New Orleans (and the second with my Coffee Spot hat on), where I was attending a week-long work meeting. Despite this, I had a time to pop out to explore the city’s excellent speciality coffee scene, with several coffee shops within walking distance of the office.
Cherry Coffee Roasters
On my first visit to New Orleans in 2018, I visited Cherry Espresso in the Uptown District. This was the second Cherry Espresso, the original having opened inside Stein’s Deli on Magazine Street in 2013. In many ways my timing was poor since the Stein Deli espresso bar was in the process of closing, Cherry opening a second outlet in the Lower Garden District, midway between Uptown and the French Quarter. Not only that, it had just started roasting (as Cherry Coffee Roasters).
Therefore, on my return earlier this year, visiting the new Cherry Coffee Roasters was a priority and I was delighted with what I found. Whereas the Uptown location is, in my words at the time, a “typical American coffee shop”, the Lower Garden District outlet is totally different: long and thin, with several small, self-enclosed areas, it has the feel of an elegant New Orleans mansion.
The coffee is roasted in-house, with a house-blend and single-origin on espresso, plus various iced and batch brew options. You can have pour-over, but it’s not a regular option. Best of all are the espresso and beverage flights. There’s also a concise breakfast/lunch menu, smaller than the offering at the Uptown location.Continue reading...
Congregation Coffee Roasters
I spent last week exploring New Orleans’ small but vibrant speciality coffee scene. Most of the places were known to me from my previous trip, but there was one standout that came as a pleasant surprise. When I was last in New Orleans in early 2018, I noted that there was very little speciality coffee being roasted locally. Back then, Cherry Espresso Bar had just got going and was on the verge of opening Cherry Coffee Roasters, but that was about it. Or so I thought.
What I hadn’t realised was that just across the Mississippi in Algiers Point, Congregation Coffee Roasters was cooking up something special and just about to celebrate its first birthday, having opened in March 2017. On this trip, Congregation was recommended to me by both Mammoth Espresso and Revelator Coffee, so I took the short ferry ride across the river one Sunday afternoon to see what I could find.
My reward was a lovely coffee shop, serving some fantastic coffee on both espresso and batch-brew, all roasted on the 12 kg Probat at the back of the store. There’s a great selection of cakes, plus, at weekends, a concise brunch menu available until three o’clock.Continue reading...
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.Continue reading...
Revelator: New Orleans
Revelator Coffee, the roaster/coffee shop chain with big ideas, started life in 2014 in Birmingham, Alabama, spreading rapidly across America’s southern states. These days there are also outposts in New England, courtesy of Revelator’s purchase of Wired Puppy in Boston/Cape Cod, while this summer will see Revelator reach the West Coast with a branch opening in Los Angeles (although these have since closed). The subject of today’s Coffee Spot, however, is Revelator’s first New Orleans branch, which opened on Tchoupitoulas Street in 2016.
All the coffee is still roasted in Birmingham, although a move to Atlanta is being mooted. There’s a single option on espresso, usually the Petunias blend, but if the manager finds a single-origin that he likes, it goes on instead. This is joined by a pair of fortnightly single-origins on pour-over through the Chemex. There’s also a batch-brew option, the Lonely Hunter blend, plus cold brew, hot chocolate, chai and a selection of teas. The commendably concise coffee menu has espresso (black) and just three espresso & milk options: 4, 6 and 10oz. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes and pastries with empanadas and quiche for those looking for something more savoury.Continue reading...
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.Continue reading...
Stumptown Coffee, Ace Hotel (New Orleans)
On one level, Stumptown, the US coffee shop/roaster chain that was founded in Portland, Oregon, needs no introduction. In particular, its partnership with Ace Hotels is well known, with Stumptown’s coffee shops gracing four of Ace’s US hotels. It’s therefore surprising that, prior to today’s Coffee Spot, I’ve only written about two Stumptown branches, both in New York City, one its flagship West 8th Street branch and the other inside the Ace Hotel.
Stumptown’s sole New Orleans coffee shop is one of the four co-located with Ace Hotels. In this case, it’s in the heart of New Orleans’ Central Business District, the coffee shop, a beautifully-appointed, elegant space to the right of the hotel lobby. There’s minimal seating, the hotel lobby providing ample overspill seating.
There’s plenty of choice when it comes to coffee, with the ubiquitous Hair Bender blend on espresso, joined by a guest espresso, which changes every few days. There’s also a batch-brew option, which can change several times a day, while in the morning, the staff will often have two options on at a time, giving you contrasting options. Finally, all four single-origins are available as pour-over using the Modbar system and Kalita Wave filters.Continue reading...
Willa Jean, in New Orleans’ Central Business District, is many things to many people. It was recommended to me as a brunch place, although I ended up going there for dinner, where there’s a choice of full table service, or, if you’re dining solo, a spot at the counter or window-bar, where you can order anything from snacks to full meals. It’s also a lunch spot and a bakery with a fantastic range of cakes. And some awesome pies, all baked in-house.
Oh, and then there’s the coffee, which I discovered on my first visit. Willa Jean uses Chicago’s very own Intelligentsia, with options on espresso and batch-brew, plus a pair of single-origin pour-overs through the V60. Good restaurants, even those with more of a café style such as Willa Jean, rarely have really good coffee, so I felt obliged to pop back two days later to try it out.Continue reading...
This was just my second visit to Los Angeles, where I spent a whirlwind two nights and a day checking out the downtown coffee scene (I’d also spent two nights and a day on my first visit to Los Angeles).
G & B Coffee
G & B Coffee, short for Glanville and Babinski Coffee, after founders Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski, a pair of United States Barista Champions, opened in 2013. Located in the Grand Central Market, it brings top quality coffee right into the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The market, crammed full of food stalls, bars and several fruit and veg stalls, is worth a visit in its own right (I ate there twice), but for me, G & B Coffee is the highlight.
A large, standalone island counter at the top end of the market, you can sit where you like (or stand at the bar at the back) and one of the baristas will come to take your order. There are two choices on espresso and two more on filter, backed-up with a selection of signature drinks and a range of teas. If you are hungry, you have a wide range of food to choose from in the market, while G & B has waffles, granola and a range of cakes and pastries.Continue reading...
Verve Coffee Roasters, Spring Street
I have a soft spot for Verve Coffee Roasters, the California-based coffee shop/roaster chain, although its three Japanese outposts earn it the tag “international”. Starting in Santa Cruz, where it has four outlets, including its flagship Pacific Avenue store, it’s spread both north to San Francisco (Market Street) and south to Los Angeles, where I visited the Spring Street store in downtown LA. Opening in 2015, it’s one of three Verve outlets in the city (soon to be four with opening of a roastery/ coffee shop in the Arts District in summer 2019).
The coffee options, which change monthly, are familiar to anyone who has visited Verve. There’s the Streetlevel seasonal espresso blend, joined by a featured espresso (also a blend, Sermon, during my visit), all the shots being pulled on a custom four-group Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine. For filter, there’s a batch-brew option, with three single-origins available as pour-over through Kalita Wave filters on the Modbar modular system. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of salads, wraps and bowls, with cake and pastries for those with a sweet tooth, while all the coffee is available in retail bags, along with a selection of merchandising and coffee equipment.Continue reading...
Woodcat Coffee Bar
Woodcat Coffee Bar was a chance find that both made my day and reminded me of why I started the Coffee Spot in the first place. That I found it is entirely down to Kyle, the manager at Stumptown Coffee in New Orleans, and his wonderful team, who made it one of their top Los Angeles picks. A pick that, serendipitously, was a ten-minute walk from my hotel, which I’d booked over a month before. Naturally, I had to start my solitary day in Los Angeles with coffee at Woodcat.
A friendly, neighbourhood place, Woodcat is a labour of love from owners, married couple Janine & Saadat, who, having failed to find any good coffee on moving into the Echo Park neighbourhood, decided to open their own shop in September 2014. Starting on a shoestring, they had plenty of support from the local community, while Saadat built pretty much everything using reclaimed materials, giving Woodcat a wonderful, homely feel. Woodcat serves Flat Track Coffee from Austin, Texas on espresso and filter, where it’s joined by the occasional guest roaster. There are several signature drinks and a selection of teas, plus a range of savoury and sweet goodies if you’re hungry.Continue reading...
I was in the Bay Area for two weeks, the first for work in Foster City, with the second spent being a tourist. I did a mix of things, but when it came to coffee, I spent my time exploring more of the San Jose/Santa Clara speciality coffee scene.
I’ve spent the last week in San Jose/Santa Clara where, naturally, I’ve been exploring the small but excellent speciality coffee scene. I visited today’s Coffee Spot, B2 Coffee, on my first trip here in January 2017, but I never had time to write it up. Located in the San Pedro Square Market, it’s one of the area’s speciality coffee pioneers and, until it was joined by Chromatic Coffee (a couple of streets over), was pretty much the only speciality coffee outpost in downtown San Jose.
Regular readers are aware of my love of Coffee Spots in Markets, so it’s no surprise that I really liked B2 Coffee, located on one side of a large, communal seating area at the market’s northern end. You can take your coffee at what is effectively an island counter (more brownie points), find a seat (or sofa) in the communal area, or head outside. Talking of the coffee, it’s all roasted by sister company, Kickback, with seasonal offerings on espresso (single option plus decaf), pour-over (usually two options), batch-brew and nitro-cold brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes, plus the food hall in the market is at your disposal. And there’s a bar.Continue reading...
Meet the Roaster: Chromatic Coffee
Serendipity’s always played a large part in the Coffee Spot, even from its inception over seven years ago when someone said “why don’t you start a basketball blog” and I thought “a coffee blog! What an excellent idea!”. No matter how much I plan, chance discovery always plays its part and today’s Meet the Roaster is no exception
Visiting Chromatic Coffee was always part of the plan for my return to San Jose earlier this year. I’d heard great things about the coffee shop from my friend Richard on my first visit in 2017. Getting out to Santa Clara was also going to be the issue, so when Richard offered to drop me off on his way to work, I jumped at the chance.
Before I left, I had a long chat with the manager, who, on learning that I was staying in San Jose until the end of the week, suggested attending Chromatic’s public cupping, which takes place in the roastery every Thursday morning. And that led to me discovering that Chromatic’s roastery is a couple of blocks from Richard’s flat.
Naturally I went, enjoying not just the cupping, but also receiving a tour of the roastery to boot!Continue reading...
Chromatic Coffee, Santa Clara
On my first visit to San Jose in 2017, Chromatic Coffee was already an established name in the area. Unfortunately, I was too early for the downtown San Jose location, which opened in June that year (and, sadly, has since closed), so my only option was the original, flagship branch on Stevens Creek Boulevard. Located 6 miles west of San Jose in neighbouring Santa Clara, I wasn't able to visit on that trip. However, when my friend Richard, who I was staying with on this trip, said he would drop me off on his way to work, I jumped at the chance.
Chromatic Coffee is part of a small outdoor mall, with a large, outdoor seating area and plenty of seating inside. The coffee, roasted in-house at the San Jose roastery (which, since the end of 2019, has its own coffee shop), is available in retail bags. There’s a blend (which switches between Gamut and Heart’s Desire) and single-origin on espresso, with multiple seasonal choices on batch-brew (blend plus two single-origins) and pour-over (decaf plus two more single-origins). As well as coffee, there’s craft beer, while if you’re hungry, Chromatic has a toast-based brunch menu, grab-and-go salads and a large selection of cakes and pastries.Continue reading...
Voyager Craft Coffee
There’s something about Stevens Creek Boulevard, home of today’s Coffee Spot, Voyager Craft Coffee. It occupies the very unit that was home to the original Bellano Coffee, now established in downtown San Jose as B2 Coffee. Meanwhile, heading slightly further along (going west towards Cupertino) you’ll find Chromatic Coffee, another coffee shop/roaster with a considerable reputation.
However, at first sight this all seems very unlikely. Stevens Creek Boulevard is a busy urban highway, lined with wall-to-wall car dealerships on either side. This is pretty much the impression you get at second sight too. Walking along it further reinforced this impression. It is definitely not somewhere you would expect to find great coffee, but, tucked away along its north side, in a non-descript unit at the end of a non-descript mall, is Voyager Craft Coffee.
These days, Voyager roasts its own coffee, with a blend on espresso and five filter options, which includes a guest and a decaf. There’s also a range of destination drinks, inspired by the coffee cultures of various countries around the world, plus some seasonal specials. If you’re hungry, there’s a concise, toasted-based food menu, with a selection of cakes and pastries if you want something sweeter.Continue reading...
Although technically part of my two weeks in the Bay Area, San Francisco deserves an entry of its own. I spent the three-day Easter weekend in the middle of the two weeks exploring the city and its excellent coffee scene.
Cafe X, San Francisco
One of the Coffee Spot’s tag lines is “places I like to have coffee”, so today’s Saturday (on-a-Wednesday) Supplement is something of a departure for me since I’m not sure I’d describe Cafe X as somewhere I’d like to have coffee. Somewhere I’d go to get coffee, perhaps, but it’s definitely not somewhere to have coffee. However, there I was on Monday, in San Francisco, minding my own business, when Cafe X announced its grand opening. A block from my hotel. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so along I went.
So, what is Cafe X? Well, put simply, it’s an automated coffee shop, with a pair of high-end bean-to-cup machines and a robot arm that takes the place of the barista. There’s a choice of beans from local roasters, such as Verve (Santa Cruz) and Oakland’s AKA (previously known as Supersonic), plus a fairly standard selection of espresso-based drinks, but only one size (8oz). You order using one of the tablets attached to the Cafe X kiosk, or preferably ahead of time on your phone using the Cafe X app. Typically your coffee will be waiting for you in under a minute. Well, that’s the theory…Continue reading...
Flywheel Coffee Roasters
Although Flywheel Coffee Roasters is physically removed from the third wave hub of The Mission/SoMa, it’s not that far away, at the eastern end of Golden Gate Park, an ideal spot for a coffee stop before or after some serious touristing. However, in terms of look and feel, with its long, thin industrial interior, coffee shop in front, cast iron roaster at the back, it fits right in with the Sightglasses, Sextants and Four Barrels of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene.
The spacious interior is lovely, the coffee even more so. All roasted twice a week in the back of the store on a 15 kg Joper from Portugal, there’s a blend and decaf on espresso (occasionally joined by a single-origin), served from a cut-down espresso-based menu. In contrast to the relatively old-school roaster, the espresso machine, a Mk II Slayer, is about as cutting edge as they come.
If you fancy something different, there are four seasonal single-origins on filter. Refreshingly, there’s no batch-brew. Instead everything’s available through either the V60 or, unusually, the syphon, something which I only see in a handful of coffee shops. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cake, and that’s it.Continue reading...
I’m indebted to my friend Karen for introducing me to Linea Caffe, which we paid a flying visit to on my previous visit to San Francisco in April 2019. Sadly I didn’t have time to do a write up, so on my equally brief return to San Francisco last week, I made a point of calling in for a more extended visit.
Located in the heart of The Mission, there’s not a lot to Linea Caffe, just a small, near cube-shaped, sunny, corner spot with windows on two sides and a massive L-shaped counter inside, which leaves space for a single, two-person wooden bench and not much else. Indeed, there’s far more seating outside, where a similar bench is joined by six small, round tables down the side of Linea Caffe.
Linea Caffe, which roasts all its own coffee, has a concise espresso-based menu using a seasonal blend plus decaf, backed up with a single-origin on batch brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cakes and pastries, including savoury options, from Neighbor Bakehouse.Continue reading...
Ritual Coffee Roasters, Hayes Valley
A pioneer of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene since first opening in The Mission in 2005, Ritual Coffee Roasters’ reputation preceded it. I’d seen its coffee across the USA from Box Kite in New York to Go Get ‘Em Tiger in Los Angeles. More recently, I’d had Ritual’s coffee at Maverick Coffee in Phoenix. Through all that, I’d never been to any of its six San Francisco outlets, so it was a priority on my return two weeks ago to pay Ritual a visit. As luck would have it, I'd chosen my hotel well, just a short walk from Ritual’s Hayes Valley location, occupying one of a small collection of shipping containers known as Proxy.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that, operating out of a container, Ritual might be a limited, takeaway-focused operation, but far from it. With proper cups for drink-in customers (bench inside or multiple tables outside), there’s a coffee selection that would put many larger shops to shame: house-blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, three single-origins on pour-over and another on batch-brew.Continue reading...
Sextant Coffee Roasters
Sextant Coffee Roasters is a relatively new name in the San Francisco speciality coffee scene, but fits perfectly into the model established by the likes of Four Barrel Coffee and Sightglass Coffee. Like them, it’s a coffee shop/roaster, roasting on the premises on a vintage cast-iron roaster and occupying an old, warehouse-like building with high ceilings, skylights, exposed rafters and bare brick walls. It’s also roughly halfway between the two, sitting on Folsom Street between the Mission (Four Barrel) and SOMA (Sightglass), just a block from the Wrecking Ball roastery.
When it comes to coffee, Sextant specialises in Ethiopian coffees, the owner, Kinani Ahmed, hailing from Ethiopian. However, it also occasionally roasts some Central and South American coffees, aiming to roast light and extract the maximum sweetness from the coffee. The house-blend, Maiden Voyage, is always on espresso, while there are two single-origins on pour-over, using the Kalita Wave filter, and another on bulk-brew, all changing on a weekly-basis. If you fancy tea, then there’s a selection of loose-leaf teas brewed using the Silverton drippers (which I’ve only seen at La Colombe, where they were being used for coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s the usual range of pastries and cookies.Continue reading...
Verve Coffee Roasters, Market Street
Verve Coffee Roasters, the international coffee shop/roaster chain, is primarily California-based. Starting in Santa Cruz, where it has four outlets, including its flagship Pacific Avenue store, it’s spread to Los Angeles (three, soon to be four¸ locations), San Francisco, and across the Pacific to Japan, where there are now three outposts. Having visited its Omotesando store in Tokyo last year, and its Spring Street location in Los Angeles earlier during this trip, calling in on today’s Coffee Spot, Verve’s solitary San Francisco location, meant that I’d visited all four cities where Verve has stores. Except that Verve is also in Kamakura in Japan. Bugger. Oh well, I’ll be in Japan later this year…
You’ll find the usual coffee options, the Streetlevel seasonal blend joined by the featured espresso (another blend, Sermon, during my visit) and decaf, all the shots pulled on a custom four-group Kees van der Westen. Meanwhile, the batch-brew option is joined by three single-origin pour-overs through Kalita Wave filters using the Modbar modular system. If you’re hungry, there’s a small brunch menu until two o’clock, with cake/pastries served all day. All the coffee’s available in retail bags, along with a selection of merchandising and coffee equipment.Continue reading...
The final leg of my trip took me to downtown Chicago for another week-long work meeting. Fortunately, there are plenty of great speciality coffee shops within walking distance of the office, including one in the lobby!
Big Shoulders, The Loop
I first came across Big Shoulders a little over a year ago, when I spotted the Gold Coast branch, directly opposite Tempo Café, one of my favourite Chicago brunch spots. Although it had been around as a roaster since 2009, it was only recently that Big Shoulders had started opening its coffee shops. At the time of writing, Big Shoulders has seven locations, including today’s Coffee Spot, on West Lake Street in the Loop. I managed to visit it during the same trip that I discovered the Gold Coast coffee shop and returned when I was back in Chicago in May this year.
Big Shoulders roasts all the coffee, with a house blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, served from a fairly concise menu, including cortado, flat white and cappuccino/latte options (the last two available in small and large). There’s a choice of filter options, with one single-origin on batch brew (“fast drip” on the menu) and another on pour-over (termed “slow coffee”, which I rather like), prepared using a V60 on the Modbar automated pour-over system. There are also cold brew and nitro options, plus a selection of tea and a range of breakfasts sandwiches and cakes if you’re hungry.Continue reading...
Doughnut Vault, Canal Street
The Doughnut Vault is one of Chicago’s better kept (speciality coffee) secrets. Put onto it by my friend Phillip, it was touted as the source of the best doughnuts in Chicago, Phillip recommended the Franklin Street location, a small (almost) hole-in-the-wall operation in River North around the corner from my hotel, which Amanda and I visited during our “polar vortex” trip to Chicago. It was only while we were there that the server pointed us towards the Canal Street branch across the river.
Given the aforementioned polar vortex, we didn’t venture out much, so couldn’t get to Canal Street on that visit. However, I returned the next time I was in Chicago, first with Amanda on Monday morning and again on my own on Wednesday lunchtime. As we discovered, Canal Street is somewhat bigger, best described as a “proper coffee shop”, serving, espresso, batch-brew and, of course, the aforementioned doughnuts.
A word of warning, though: the doughnuts sell out quickly. Best be there before nine o’clock if you want to be sure of getting one!Continue reading...
Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar, River North Point
Good coffee in offices is something of a rarity, the odd exception such as Store Street Espresso in Sheldon Square notwithstanding. Therefore imagine my surprise on turning up at my office for the week and discovering, in the lobby, not a run-off-the-mill coffee bar, but a genuine multi-roaster in the shape of the Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar. Best of all? The building’s open to the public, so anyone can walk in for some great coffee.
Infuse has a blend and decaf on espresso, plus two options on bulk-brew, using different roasters from all over the country. Cold brew and iced tea are on tap, plus there’s normal tea, matcha and chai lattes and a range of food from local suppliers. Even better, if you are planning on staying for a bit, Infuse will serve your coffee in a proper cup, while the lobby has seating plus free Wifi.
January 2019: Infuse now uses Passion House Coffee Roasters on both espresso and batch-brew.Continue reading...
Intelligentsia, Millennium Park
I’ve a long-standing soft spot for Intelligentsia, the Chicago-based veteran speciality coffee roaster and coffee shop chain. Indeed, I learnt to enjoy speciality coffee through its Black Cat espresso blend in the Monadnock coffee bar on Jackson Boulevard in The Loop long before I knew what speciality coffee was. Since then, Intelligentsia has spread its wings, with six Chicago locations, plus outposts on the West Coast (four Los Angeles locations) and East Coast (High Line Hotel in New York City and now two branches in Boston).
The Millennium Park coffee bar, down in The Loop, is the fourth Chicago Intelligentsia I’ve visited and the only surprise is that it’s taken me so long. Occupying a simple spot, it’s a large, open, high-ceiling space with, given the size, minimal interior seating in an uncluttered layout, plus a small outside seating area. The coffee, as ever, is excellent, Black Cat, decaf and a daily single-origin leading the way on espresso, another single-origin on batch brew and two more on pour-over, all changing daily. The pour-over, by the way, uses the (new to me) Poursteady automatic system. There’s also a wide range of Kilogram Teas and a small cake and savoury selection.Continue reading...
Ipsento is a long-established player in Chicago’s speciality coffee scene, the coffee shop/roaster first opening its doors in 2006 in Bucktown, just off the speciality coffee corridor of Milwaukee Avenue. I discovered Ipsento three years ago, when I visited its second location, Ipsento 606, as part of my first around the world trip. Although only a few blocks from the original, it was a coffee shop too that day and, sadly, it’s taken me nearly three years to get back to Ipsento. To make up for this oversight, I visited twice when in Chicago earlier this year.
Ipsento is, in many ways, a classic American coffee shop, offering counter service from a bright front room, with additional seating in a cosy back room, plus there’s a large outdoor seating area. However, it’s anything but classic when it comes to the coffee, with the Cascade house-blend, a single-origin and decaf on espresso, plus batch brew and a separate brew bar (until 4pm) offering different single-origins on Aeropress, Kalita Wave and V60, all roasted in-house in a separate facility a couple of blocks away. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of filled breakfast croissants, lunch sandwiches and three toast options.Continue reading...
When I used to stay in downtown Chicago, my hotel was just around the corner from Tempo Café, an amazing 24-hour diner in Chicago’s Gold Coast (I say “used to stay”: it was all of three times!). However, I loved the place and made sure I visited for breakfast at least twice on each trip. Therefore, when I was back in Chicago as part of my coast-to-coast extravaganza last year, and unexpectedly found myself north of the river, I made a beeline to Tempo for a late brunch.
Tempo, along with Boston’s Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe, is one of my favourite American diners, although compared to Charlie’s, it’s a very different place, slightly more upmarket in layout and feel, but still great value for money. All the usual diner staples are there, but you can also get full meals and everything is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Comfort food at its best!Continue reading...