Return to Portland, August 2019

Portland Head Lighthouse in South Portland, MaineThis is one of my shorter trips, squeezed in the summer of 2019 between my various work trips. In this case, I made the relatively short hop (for me at least) over the Atlantic to Boston, and from there went up to Portland in Maine to visit Amanda for a week, flying out on Thursday, August 1st and back on Tuesday, August 13th.

In some ways, this trip was a forerunner of my business trips for 2020, since I flew back from Boston on a day-time flight. That gave me the idea that for my business trips, rather than flying back overnight in business class, I could travel to Boston/Portland, visit Amanda, and then fly back from Boston on the day-time flight, where I’ll happily travel in premium economy, which is about half the price!

The trip is covered in the Travel Spots below, which includes a drive Amanda and I took from Portland to Boston along the Maine coast. Meanwhile you can also read about the Coffee Spots I visited in Ipswich (on the drive up to Portland from Boston) and in Portland itself (although these were revisiting old haunts that I discovered on my previous visit to Portland in 2015).


Header Image: Cape Neddick, on the southern coast of Maine, looking north across the Bay.


Travel Spots

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

Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Boston with Virgin Atlantic

My ride to Boston from London Heathrow's Terminal 3: Miss England, a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330-300.Welcome to another instalment of my occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. These weren’t so occasional last year, when there I managed 16 in all, but in 2019, I’ve concentrated on writing up coffee festivals, such as this year’s London Coffee Festival and Birmingham Coffee Festival, which, between them, have generated 10 posts and counting! It seems to be a case of writing up festivals or writing Travel Spots: clearly, I don’t have the time to do both!

In a year packed with business travel, mostly flying with British Airways, today’s Travel Spot marks something of a departure from the ordinary, prompting me to write about it. Firstly, I’m not flying for work. Instead, I’m making the (for me) relatively short hop from London to Boston to see Amanda, which means that I’m paying for this one. Secondly, although I’d planned to fly with British Airways, I’ve ended up flying with Virgin Atlantic for the first time in three years, which made for an interesting change.

This Travel Spot covers my flight out, while a separate Travel Spot covers the return flight just under two weeks later. My first challenge, of course, was getting to the airport…

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying from Boston with Virgin Atlantic

Mademoiselle Rouge, a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330-300, waiting on the stand at Boston Logan Airport to take me back to London Heathrow.Welcome to the second instalment of my Brian’s Travel Spot covering my trip to/from Boston with Virgin Atlantic. In the first part, I wrote about my flight over from Heathrow, where I was unexpectedly upgraded to Upper Class. This post covers my flight back to Heathrow from Boston Logan, where I travelled in premium economy. I tend to fly either at the front of the plane (business class, when work is paying) or at the back of the plane (economy, when I’m paying), so this was a fairly unusual experience for me.

I also took the daytime flight from Boston to Heathrow, which leaves Boston in the morning and arrives in London in the evening, the perfect flight for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy sleeping on planes. When I first started flying transatlantic in the late 1990s, this used to be my favoured flight, but after 9/11, they largely disappeared from the schedule, only to reappear a few years ago. This was probably the first time I’ve caught this flight or its equivalent in nearly 20 years! With my flight leaving at 08:15, this meant an (unreasonably, for me) early start, although my first problem was getting to the airport…

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Coffee Spots

You can read about the Coffee Spots I visited in Ipswich and Portland during this trip, with the Coffee Spots listed alphabetically by city.

Ipswich

Little Wolf Coffee

A lovely La Virgen Colombian single-origin espresso, roasted and served at Little Wolf Coffee in Ipswich, MA.This time last week I flew into Boston, then, the following day, drove up to Portland (Maine). The coastal area between the two cities is beautiful, full of historic towns and cities, including the likes of Newburyport and Portsmouth. What it lacks, however, is much in the way of speciality coffee. However, I’m indebted to Bex (of Double Skinny Macchiato fame) for the heads up about today’s Coffee Spot, Little Wolf Coffee, in the historic (New England) town of Ipswich.

Little Wolf is a roastery and coffee shop, located in an old car dealership, just north of the town centre. There’s a separate seating area off to one side, or you can sit in the main area with the counter, admiring the roastery at the back, where the 12kg Probat, which is in action on Monday and Wednesday each week, takes pride of place.

Little Wolf roasts a handful of seasonal single-origins, with a new coffee roughly once a month. The coffee shop has a simple menu, with one option on espresso and another on batch brew. These change every other day on average, batch brew changing more frequently than espresso. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes/pasties.

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Portland

Bard Coffee

The label on a bag of Bard Coffee's High Tide Espresso blend: medium roast, a blend of Central America and East Africa coffees, tasting notes of sweet red berries, orange-like citrus with a creamy body and a dark chocolate finish.As part of my current US trip, I paid a visit to Portland, Maine, partly to check out the local coffee scene and partly because it made a cool addition to my overall journey. What I found was a thriving coffee scene which I’ll cover in the next few months, starting today with the lovely Bard Coffee.

Bard Coffee occupies an amazing location next to Tommy’s Park, a lovely green space right in the heart of downtown Portland. For once got my timing right and arrived two weeks after Bard had reopened following a major refurbishment. Normally, it’s the other way around, with me arriving just before a refurbishment or, better still, in the middle of one!

Bard roasts all its own coffee, with a good selection available at any time. On espresso, there’s the seasonal High Tide blend or the decaf Lo-Fi blend, while on bulk brew there are two coffees of the day, a light- and dark-roasted single-origin. Finally, you can have any of five single-origins, plus decaf, through the Kalita Wave filter, with one of the single-origins available through the Chemex. This last one is chosen to highlight the difference between the Chemex and Kalita brew methods.

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Cupping at Tandem Coffee Roasters

C:\Users\Brian\Documents\Work\NNB020 Coffee Spot\00 Coffee Spot\Documents 2020\NNB020D1444 - SS Cupping at Tandem Coffee RoastersAlthough a big advocate of cuppings, I rarely get the chance to attend them, so when an opportunity comes along, I tend to grab it with both hands. I was visiting Amanda in Portland last summer when the barista at the Tandem Coffee Roastery mentioned that the roastery holds public cuppings every Friday at noon: naturally, I had to go. Ironically, having not been to a cupping for a while, this was my second one that year, both in the USA.

In case you don’t know, a cupping is where several different coffees are tasted using a standard methodology, which allows their taste profiles to be compared without the brew method, etc, influencing the results. They’re a regular part of any roaster’s life, often used to assess new samples before deciding which beans to order. However, in this case, the cupping was part of Tandem’s quality control procedure for its production roasts.

Increasingly, roasters are opening up their production cuppings to the public. It’s a great opportunity to get to know more about a roaster and the coffees on offer, as well as a chance to develop your own palate. I thoroughly recommend that you attend one if you can!

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Little Woodfords

The Little Woodfords sign, hanging outside the store on Forest Avenue in Portland, Maine. It's a design based on the clock tower which sits atop of the building and reads "little woodfords | coffee + snacks".Little Woodfords is in the Woodfords Corner neighbourhood of Portland, just west of Back Cove. The staff at Tandem Coffee Roasters tipped me off when I was visiting Amanda last summer and, while we popped in on that trip, I didn’t have a chance to write it up. As a result, on my return to Portland last week, I made it a priority to call in, visiting one sunny Tuesday morning.

Little Woodfords occupies a bright, spacious spot on the busy Forest Avenue, close to its junction with Woodford Street. It’s fairly small, but feels much bigger thanks to the high ceilings (I would guess at least 4 metres) and a tall bay window that runs the full width of the store front, catching the midday and afternoon sun.

The coffee’s from Vivid Coffee Roasters in Vermont, 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 every six months, Little Woodfords working with Vivid to select the particular bean/blend. There’s also tea, hot cocoa and several latte-based specials. If you’re hungry, there’s a small breakfast menu, with various toppings on bagels/biscuits, complete with gluten-free options.

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Speckled Ax

A square with the motif of an axe buried head-first in a tree-trunk above the word COFFEESpeckled Ax joins fellow roasters-cum-coffee shops, Bard Coffee and Tandem Coffee Roasters, to form a small and vibrant specialty coffee scene in Portland (Maine). Speckled Ax started life as a roaster in 2007 (under the name “Matt’s Wood Roasted Organic Coffee”), with the coffee shop following five years later in 2012, prompting the name-change to “Speckled Ax”.

Situated on Congress Street, just west of the centre of Portland, Speckled Ax is long and thin, with the counter at the back and tables along either side. There’s a neat seating area in the window at the front, with benches clustered around a tree stump. This acts as a coffee table, instantly reminding me of the window-seating in Menagerie Coffee in Philadelphia.

Speckled Ax’s particular claim to fame is that it is one of just a handful of wood-fired coffee roasters in the USA (reminiscent of Witney’s Ue Coffee Roasters in the UK). Speckled Ax offers one or two single-origin espressos, plus decaf, in the shop through its Synesso espresso machine. There are usually three more single-origins available as filter, through the syphon, V60, Chemex or Aeropress, depending on your particular requirements. There’s also bulk-brew until 11am if you’re in a hurry.

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Tandem Coffee Update

A lovely cappuccino, made with the Time and Temperature house blend which Amanda had at the Tandem Cafe and Roastery on my return in 2019.I first came to Portland, Maine in 2015 to start my journey across the USA, travelling by train from Portland (Maine) to Portland (Oregon). Before I set off, I spent a day exploring the city, finding a small, vibrant speciality coffee scene. This included Tandem Coffee Roasters with its bakery on Congress Street and the eponymous coffee shop/roastery on Anderson Street, part of an up-and-coming area north of the city centre.

It was four years before I returned to Portland, flying out last summer to visit Amanda. Naturally I took the opportunity to catch up with Tandem, Amanda and I calling in for coffee (I also popped back to the roastery the following Friday to attend a public cupping). Much of what I found was very familiar, in particular the intimate coffee bar. However, plenty had changed, including the roastery, which had relocated to the building next door.

Since I’m back in Portland (visiting Amanda, naturally) I thought I’d mark the occasion with this Coffee Spot Update, covering both the coffee shop and the roastery.

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