Brian's Coffee Spot

Devoted to Coffee

Portland, April 2022

The HUSKY bus standing outside the old fire station in Westbrook, on its way into Portland in April 2022.My second trip of 2022 was very similar to my first, with a return to Portland (Maine) to visit Amanda, the main difference being the weather. When I’d left in the middle of February, everything was under a blanket of snow, but six weeks later, at the start of April, it was all gone.

If anything, this trip was even more low-key than the one before. I was there for exactly four weeks, flying in and out of Boston again, although for ten days in the middle, I was left watching the critters (Fergie, aka Little Dog, and the three cats), while Amanda went down to Atlanta to visit her mother.

I did manage to pop into Portland on a couple of occasions to visit some coffee shops, while I also made a pair of day trips. The first was a drive down the back roads to Dover, just across the state line in New Hampshire. The second was slightly closer to Portland, when I took the Downeaster to Saco so that I could visit Biddeford, which is just on the other side of the river. Finally, I spent 24 hours in Boston, visiting more coffee shops before my flight home.

The trip is covered in the Travel Spots below, while you can also read about the Coffee Spots I visited on my trips into Portland, my day trips to Dover and Biddeford, and my day in Boston before I flew home.


Header Image: looking north across the Saccarappa Falls on the Presumpscot River in downtown Westbrook, Maine.


Travel Spots

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

Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Boston in Economy

My British Airways Boeing 777-200 on the stand at London Heathrow Terminal 5, waiting to take me to Boston.Welcome to another Travel Spot at the start of another trip to the USA, where I try to think of different variations on the theme of “Brian Goes Back to Boston” for the title. This is my third visit in six months, although my ultimate destination is (just as it was on the previous two trips) Portland, Maine. While I’m flying British Airways again, this time, for variation, I’m in World Traveller (economy to you and me) rather than World Traveller Plus, the first time that I’ve flown to Boston in economy since (check notes) two years ago. So really, not much change there then. In all, I’ll spend four weeks in Portland, before flying back from Boston (in World Traveller Pus) at the start of May.

As before, this Travel Spot covers my flight from London Heathrow to Boston Logan, plus my journeys to Heathrow by RailAir coach and from Logan with Concord Coach Lines. The two previous times I flew to America, the pre-flight process was so involved that it warranted a dedicated post on each occasion. However, this time, little has changed since I flew in January, so I’m going to keep that part to a minimum.

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

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

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

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Coffee Spots

You can read about the Coffee Spots that I visited during trips to Portland, along with those that I visited during my day trips to Dover and Biddeford. Finally, there’s the 24 hours that I spent in Boston before my flight home.

The Coffee Spots are listed alphabetically for each city.

Portland

Little Woodfords (COVID-19)

The front of Little Woodfords on Congress Street in Portland, Maine, proudly flying its Progress Pride flag.I’ve been a fan of Little Woodfords in Portland, Maine, ever since I first visited in the summer of 2019. I was therefore rather worried when I heard, in July 2020, that it was forced to move from its original location in Woodfords Corner to a much smaller spot on Congress Street in downtown Portland. Fortunately, while this has meant an inevitable change of character, the friendly, inclusive welcome of the original, plus the awesome coffee from Vermont’s Vivid Coffee Roasters, remains as Amanda and I discovered on our visit last month.

The offering is much as it was as before, with a single option on espresso, batch brew and flash brew (a pour-over over ice, akin to a Japanese iced coffee). The coffee changes on a seasonal basis, and there’s also tea, hot cocoa and several latte-based specials. If you’re hungry, there’s a small, vegetarian/vegan breakfast menu, with various toppings on bagels/biscuits. While Little Woodfords has a small indoor seating (standing?) area at the front, it’s currently takeout-only due to COVID-19, although you’re welcome to sit outside, where you’ll find a bench out front, with a couple of picnic tables down the side, which catch the afternoon sun.

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Smalls

The front of Smalls, on the steeply-sloping Brackett Street in Portland, with its door deeply recessed between two windows.Smalls, which opened in January, is the latest addition to Portland’s small but thriving speciality coffee scene, a chance discovery which I made on Google Maps when planning a trip downtown at the end of last week. Located on Brackett Street in Portland’s West End, it’s a stone’s throw from the Casco Bay Bridge and a 15-minute walk from the Old Port and the heart of downtown.

One of the things I really admire about Portland’s speciality coffee scene is its diversity. No two places are the same (even when they’re part of the same group) and Smalls only adds to that. The front of Smalls is part coffee shop, restaurant and bar, while at the back, it’s a lovely little store, selling groceries, gifts, candles and personal care products, with an emphasis on reuse and local produce.

I can only really speak to the coffee shop part of Smalls, which serves Variety Coffee Roasters from Brooklyn in New York City. The Lucky Shot seasonal blend is on espresso, while there’s also decaf and a batch brew filter option. If you want to try more of Variety’s range, Smalls has a selection of retail boxes offering a variety of single-origins.

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Speckled Ax, Thames (COVID-19)

A lovely cappuccino, made with the Honduras El Cedro, a honey processed coffee, served in a classic white cup at Speckled Ax, Thames Street in Portland, Main.On my first trip to Portland, in June 2015, Speckled Ax was one of three coffee shop/roasters that I visited (along with Tandem Coffee and Bard). Back then, Speckled Ax had a single coffee shop on Congress Street, but two new locations have recently opened, a coffee bar on Walton Street (attached to the new roastery which opened in 2021) and a large café on the waterfront at Thames Street (which opened in 2020).

I’d planned to visit Portland in March 2020, but sadly the COVID-19 pandemic ruled that out, preventing me from returning for another 18 months. However, the travel restrictions were eased in November 2021, and I was finally able to return to America and to Portland, where I paid a long overdue visit to the new Thames location.

Speckled Ax occupies a spacious ground floor unit with views across Thames Street to the harbour. At the time of writing, the space is effectively split into two, with a takeaway section to the right, while the seating is at the front on the left. There’s a limited coffee menu (which still manages to offer two espresso options and two on batch brew filter), while the kitchen provides a concise breakfast and lunch menu.

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Dover and Biddeford

Flight Coffee of Dover

A light-fitting in the style of a sci-fi rocket ship at Flight Coffee of Dover.Flight Coffee of Dover (Dover, New Hampshire, that is) was recommended to me by Frontside Coffee Roasters form further upstate in North Conway. On Monday, with a free day to spare, I borrowed Amanda’s car and drove the 80 km from Portland to Dover, just over the state line in New Hampshire, to visit Flight Coffee, which is on Central Avenue, right in the heart of the old mill town.

Occupying two large, airy rooms, with plenty of seating on either side of the central, island counter, Flight Coffee has extensive breakfast and lunch offerings, with an equally impressive selection of tea (from Aera Tea Co. and Mem Tea) and coffee, the latter from Flight Coffee Co. Despite the similarity in names, the two are (these days) separate companies, with Flight Coffee Co. having its own roastery and café in Bedford, New Hampshire.

Flight Coffee of Dover serves Flight Coffee Co.’s Liftoff blend and Ground Control decaf on its concise espresso-based menu, while one of Flight Coffee Co.’s single-origins (currently the Peru Kovachii) is paired with an in-house dark-roast blend on batch brew filter. Finally, there’s the pour-over bar, offering a selection of single-origins through a variety of brew methods.

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Elements: Books Coffee Beer

Detail of artwork from the wall at the back of Elements: Books Coffee BeerToday’s Coffee Spot, Elements: Books Coffee Beer, is the second of two from this week’s visit to Biddeford. Like Monday’s Coffee Spot, Time & Tide Coffee, it’s on Main Street, albeit a little further on, close to the junction with US 1, which runs through the northern part of Biddeford. Like Time & Tide, Elements is both a roastery (Elements Coffee Roasters) and coffee shop, although Elements predates Time & Tide by a few years, having opened in 2013, with Elements Coffee Roasters setting up shop in early 2018. And, as the name suggests, Elements: Books Coffee Beer also offers beer (and wine), and it’s a book shop too!

Elements occupies a large spot on the corner of Main and Jefferson, with the bookshop part of the business on the left, and the coffee shop part at the front and on the right, although there’s plenty of overlap between the two. Elements offers a standard (American) coffee menu, with the usual (large) sizes of both espresso-based and batch brew filter. There’s also a selection of around five seasonal single-origins on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a range of bagels, small plates, ice cream and pastries.

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Meet the Roaster: Time & Tide Coffee

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

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

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Time & Tide Coffee

A lovely cortado, made with the Year One Anniverary Blend and served in a ribbed glass at Time & Tide Coffee.Time & Tide Coffee opened in November 2018, nine months before Amanda and I drove through Saco and Biddeford in August 2019, looking for somewhere for lunch on our way to Boston. Although I’ve been through since, both by car and on the train, that was the last time I stopped here, and I’m rather annoyed to have missed out. This time, however, I was better prepared, making a special trip down from Portland on Monday lunchtime on Amtrak’s Downeaster, which stops just across the river at Saco.

Time & Tide occupies the right-hand half of the ground floor of the lovely brick-faced L. Anton Building, part of the Biddeford Main Street Historic District, whose structure dates from the 19th century. Inside, Time & Tide has a stripped-back look, with a simple, uncluttered layout. The offering is similarly simple and uncluttered, with a commendably concise espresso-based menu offering a blend (typically The Commodore) and Twilight Decaf, with another blend (Year One) on batch brew filter, plus several seasonal and signature drinks, with all the coffee roasted in Time & Tide’s roastery across the road. If you’re hungry, there’s a toast-based breakfast/lunch menu, plus a selection of cakes and pastries.

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Boston

I’m still adding coffee shops from my day in Boston (I visited six in all), so please continue to check back to see who else I visited!

George Howell, Godfrey Hotel

Detail from the wall of the George Howell Coffee Shop in the Godfrey Hotel in BostonFor a long time, downtown Boston was a desert when it came to speciality coffee. However, in the last couple of years, that’s all changed. For example, local roasters, Gracenote, moved in with an espresso bar near South Station, while this year, another personal favourite, Render Coffee, opened its second branch, Render Coffee 121, on Devonshire Street, around the corner from Japanese import, Ogawa Coffee. And then there’s George Howell, the American speciality coffee legend from Acton, whose coffee bar in the Boston Public Market opened  last year, joined in June by his latest venture, a coffee shop inside the Godfrey Hotel, on Washington Street in the heart of downtown Boston.

This is a busy, compact spot, at one level a typical, bustling mainstream coffee shop, but at the same time, a haven for the coffee geek, with a dedicated room, the Exploratorium, for retail sales and home to daily talks, events and masterclasses. The coffee stands up against the best, with the Alchemy Blend joined by a single-origin and decaf on espresso. There are a further four single-origins on pour-over (including one decaf), plus bulk-brew. Unusually for America, the usual cake is joined by a more substantial breakfast/lunch offering.

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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 batch 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.

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Gracenote Coffee and Wine Bar

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

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

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

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Intelligentsia, Post Office Square

A Black Cat espresso in a classic white cup, served at the Intelligentsia coffee bar on Post Office Square in Boston.I have a soft spot for Intelligentsia, a Chicago institution for more than 20 years, where I took some of my earliest steps in speciality coffee, long before I even knew what it was. Intelligentsia has been slowly expanding across the USA, with shops in Los Angeles, New York City and Austin. Now it’s reached New England with two Boston locations, one in Watertown and this one, right in the heart of the downtown on Post Office Square.

Occupying a large counter at the back of the lobby of office building 225 Franklin Street, the coffee bar has a fairly standard Intelligentsia offering, with the familiar Black Cat espresso blend joined by a seasonal guest and decaf, while for filter coffee, there are two options on pour-over and one on batch brew. This is backed up by a range of Kilogram Tea, plus cakes and pastries from The Danish Pastry House. You can sit at the coffee bar, at one of three window tables or take your coffee and find a seat in the lobby.

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Phin Coffee House

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

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

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