Portland to Portland, June/July 2015

The amazing Multnomah Falls in the Columbia Gorge. There are two parts to the falls, the larger one dropping into a pool before passing under a bridge and over the second, smaller falls.This is the trip that launched Brian’s Travel Spot, a trans-USA train trip from Portland in Maine, to Portland in Oregon, that I took back in July 2015. I also spent some time in Boston and Providence before catching the train, while I also spent a few days in Seattle at the end before flying home, along with stops at Rochester and Chicago.

The trip itself fulfilled a long time dream of travelling across the USA by train. A friend was getting married in Portland (Oregon) in June, so it was the perfect opportunity for the trip. I’d originally planned to start from New York or Boston on the east coast, but very late in the day realised that I could start my journey in Portland (Maine) which appealed to me.

The train trip itself was split into three parts: from Portland to Rochester, Rochester to Chicago and then the big one, Chicago to Portland. As log as you’re not in a hurry, I hearitly recommend travelling by train in the US: it’s a great way to see the country and is much more relaxing than driving!

The trip itself is covered in the Travel Spots below, while you can also read about the Coffee Spots I visited along the way, which are listed by city:


Header Image: my train, the Lake Shore Limited, pulling into Albany Station in New York State on its way to Chicago.


Travel Spots

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

Brian’s Travel Spot: New England

A cappuccino from Render Coffee in BostonWelcome to a somewhat new direction for the Coffee Spot as we head off into the unknown with Brian’s Travel Spot. As my followers on twitter may already know, I’ve just embarked on a three-week adventure across the United States. The aim of this little (well, not so little by the time I’ve finished it) piece is to keep a record of what I’ve been doing.

The idea is that it enables you, dear reader (Or should that be dear readers? Perhaps I’d better not be too ambitious and stick with dear reader for now.), to follow my adventures as they unfold. I’ll update this post every few days, in between my normal Coffee Spot posts, the idea being to capture the highlights, with the emphasis on the travel rather than the coffees shops (although I’m sure they’ll feature).

I’ve never tried my hand at travel writing before, so it could be an adventure in more ways than one! So, if you’ve made it this far, take the plunge, and come along with me as I traverse the USA!

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Heading West

Have coffee, will travel. Making an Aeropress on Amtrak between Boston and Albany.Welcome to the second instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, which follows my three week adventure across the USA. The first instalment, imaginatively entitled New England, covered my time on the east coast in New England: Boston, Providence and Portland, Maine, to be precise. This second instalment covers my journey west, by train, as I thread my way, city to city, to my ultimate destination.

The idea behind Brian’s Travel Spot is that it enables you to follow my adventures as they unfold. As with the New England post, I’ll update this post every few days, in between my normal Coffee Spot posts, the idea being to capture the highlights, with the emphasis on the travel rather than the coffees shops (although I’m sure they’ll feature).

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Pacific Northwest

The amazing Multnomah Falls in the Columbia Gorge. There are two parts to the falls, the larger one dropping into a pool before passing under a bridge and over the second, smaller falls.Welcome to the third and final instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, following my three week adventure across the United States. The first instalment, imaginatively entitled New England, covered my time on the east coast in New England: Boston, Providence and Portland, Maine, to be precise. The second instalment, Heading West, covered my journey west, by train, from Portland in Maine, to Portland in Oregon, a total of just over three days on the train, although I had a couple of stop-offs along the way. This, the final instalment, covers my week in the Pacific Northwest and my flight home.

I wrote Brian’s Travel Spot to enable you to follow my adventures as they unfolded. Unfortunately, as the trip went along, the Travel Spot got further and further behind, so now you’ll be reliving my adventures. As with the first two posts, I’ll update this post every few days, in between my normal Coffee Spot posts, the idea being to capture the highlights, with the emphasis on the travel rather than the coffees shops (although they feature too).

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Coffee Spots

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited on this trip (listed alphabetically by city, while the cities themselves are listed in the order I visited them).

Boston

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

Dwelltime/barismo 364

The sign hanging outside dwelltime in Cambridge, although since my visit in June last year, it's changed its name to barismo 364.I visited Dwelltime in Cambridge (Massachusetts, not UK) on my coast-to-coast adventure in June last year and, since I’m now back in Boston, I thought it was high-time I published it! However, since my original visit, Dwelltime has renamed itself barismo 364 to better reflect its ownership (although I quite liked the name Dwelltime).

Dwell-barismo-364-time (henceforth barismo 364) opened in 2012 as the flagship coffee shop for local roaster barismo. It incorporates a full kitchen at the back of the store, where all the food is prepared and all the cakes, cookies, etc are baked. It also has a lovely island counter, which was all part of the fit-out when barismo took over the disused Hubley auction house on Broadway.

Barismo offers two options (during my visit, a blend and a single-origin) plus decaf on espresso, while there’s also a full filter-bar, offering a pair of single-origins through the V60. Unusually for an American coffee shop, there’s no bulk-brew filter (something it shares with Render Coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s an extensive lunch menu and a range of cakes, cookies and pastries. At weekends, there’s also a full brunch menu until 2.30 and a ban on laptops.

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Flour Bakery + Café, South End & Back Bay

The Flour Bakery + Cafe at 1595 Washington Avenue on a sunny morning in late February 2013Normally I write about a single place, but this post is about two branches of the Flour Bakery + Café chain. In all, Flour has four outlets, all in Boston and, on recommendation, I visited the Back Bay branch on Clarendon Street and the South End branch on Washington Street.

If ever there was a lesson that the physical space plays as big a role as any in whether I like a Coffee Spot, Flour is it. In terms of what’s on offer, both are very similar, the main difference being the space. There’s nothing wrong with the Back Bay branch: it just didn’t do it for me. On the other hand, the South End branch is exactly what I’m looking for in a café. It’s a smaller, more intimate space and, on the sunny day I was there, filled with warmth and light from the windows that go almost the whole way around the place.

What you’ll get from both branches is good coffee, breakfast, soup, made-to-order sandwiches and an outstanding selection of cakes. I only had time to try the coffee and cake, but if everything else is up to the same standard, then you’re in for a treat...

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L.A. Burdick, Harvard

The single-source chocolate options at L.A. Burdick in Harvard, chalked up on a board, complete with tasting notes.I first discovered L.A. Burdick in my pre-Coffee Spot days, after a recommendation by some Boston friends. It sounded so awesome that I had to seek it out when I was looking around Harvard. I must confess, I was not disappointed… When it came to starting the Coffee Spot, L.A. Burdick was one of the places I wanted to write about, but, of course, in traditional Coffee Spot style, I first visited L.A. Burdick’s New York City branch, plus the branch in Boston’s Back Bay, before finally getting around to a return visit to Harvard at the start of my coast-to-coast trip last summer.

As well as being the hot chocolate equivalent of a coffee shop, L.A. Burdick sells chocolate (and chocolates), the retail space usually being of equal size to the café part. There’s also tea, coffee and a wide range of sumptuous-looking cakes. However, for me, the whole purpose of coming to L.A. Burdick is to indulge in the amazing, rich and, above all, chocolaty hot chocolate.

Be warned: Harvard is smaller than the other two branches. You’ll often struggle to get a seat, having to wait for a one to become free before putting in your order.

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Pavement Coffeehouse, Gainsborough

A plain white mug with the words "Pavement Coffeehouse" in black, The logo is completed by a drawing of an arm and hand holding a coffee mug, the arm bent to mimic the curve of the mug's handle.As much as I liked the original Pavement Coffeehouse on Boylston, which I visited last year, in comparison, I adored the Gainsborough branch. Both are in Boston’s Back Bay and are, in fact, just ten minutes’ walk from each other, albeit on different branches of Boston’s Green Line. Along with the equally close Render Coffee, they make the neighbourhood a go-to area for great coffee.

All the Pavements serve Counter Culture coffee. At Gainsborough, different beans, which change every two months or so, are available on espresso, bulk-brew and hand-pour, plus there’s a decaf option too. During my visit, they were all single-origins: a Bolivian Nueva Llusta on both espresso & bulk-brew, with a Kenyan Muthonjo on Aeropress (there’s usually a Chemex option on hand-pour as well), while the decaf was Peruvian.

The food is similar to Boylston: bagels and lunch/breakfast sandwiches, plus salads and cake. However, in terms of layout and atmosphere, Gainsborough and Boylston are like chalk and cheese. While Boylston is long, thin and very hectic, Gainsborough is square (in shape) and much more relaxed. There’s probably not much to choose between the two in size, but Gainsborough feels bigger and is certainly more spacious.

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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.

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True Grounds

One of the many fine tables in True Grounds, with some of Maria Marx's paintings hanging on the wall above it.Some places I’m sold on when I walk in the door. Others take a little while to grow on me. Some never do and so don’t make it into the Coffee Spot. It’s fair to say that I was sold on True Grounds from the moment I saw it from across the street. I’m not sure why, but I’ve learnt over the years to trust my Coffee Spot radar: it rarely lets me down. So it was with True Grounds.

True Grounds is a neighbourhood coffee shop par excellence. It’s the sort of neighbourhood coffee shop that makes you want to move into the neighbourhood. It might be off the beaten track up in Somerville, north of Boston, but I’m glad that I went out of my way to pay it a visit. What makes it for me is the space, a bright, sunny, warm and welcoming place to drink my coffee, which was, by the way, excellent.

I might have been swayed by the bright, sunny day, but whatever it was, True Grounds made a lasting impression on me!

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Providence

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

Coffee Exchange

Bins of roasted coffee beans for sale in Providence's Coffee Exchange.Although small, Providence, Rhode Island, has a pretty decent coffee scene. That I discovered it is entirely down to Allison, who with fiance Chris, runs Broke and Travelling. Having enticed me down from Boston on a day-trip, Allison acted as my guide, introducing me to Dave’s Coffee, The Shop and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Coffee Exchange.

Coffee Exchange is an old-hand when it comes to Providence’s growing speciality coffee scene. Founded in 1984, it can be said to have inspired a generation (at least) of Providence coffee-drinkers. Coffee shop, roaster and retailer all in one, Coffee Exchange operates out of its busy store on Wickenden Street, roasting all its own coffee using a pair of Deirich roasters conveniently located at the back of the store.

In look and feel, as well as in the coffee it roasts, Coffee Exchange seems a little old school. Dark roasts and blends predominate, although single-origins and lighter roasts are there for those who look. Coffee Exchange is also a pioneer, having championed strong ties between roasters, green bean importers and coffee growers long before it became fashionable. Indeed, Coffee Exchange co-owner Bill Fishbein founded both Coffee Kids and The Coffee Trust.

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Dave’s Coffee

The words "Dave's Coffee" in red on a white wall.Since I’m going to be back in Providence later on this week, I thought I really ought to publish the last of the places I visited during my trip to Providence last summer. Dave’s Coffee roasts all its own coffee, which it sells throughout Rhode Island and beyond, as well as serving in its two cafes. My friend Allison, who was responsible for inviting me down to Providence in the first place, took me to visit Dave’s on Main Street, Providence, which was the first stop on a mini-tour which included the venerable Coffee Exchange and The Shop.

Dave’s roasts a signature espresso blend, the interestingly-name “Blind Pig”, as well as a decaf, both of which are available through the bright orange Slayer espresso machine. Dave’s has the obligatory bulk brew (the Black Crow blend) as well as featuring two single-origins on pour-over, available through Chemex, Aeropress, Clever Dripper and French Press, although the Chemex is most heavily featured and hence most often requested. Plus, if you ask nicely, the staff will open up whatever single-origins they have in stock and make you a cup. If you’re feeling peckish, Dave’s also has a small, but interesting, selection of cake.

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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 🙂

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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.

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Portland (Maine)

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in Portland in Maine (listed alphabetically).

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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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 + Bakery

A dual-hopper Malhkonig Coffee Grinder with three bags of Tandem Coffee Roasters coffee in front of it, each with Tandem's logo of a stick-figure tandem bicycle.A highlight of last summer’s (brief) visit to Portland was Tandem Coffee Roasters, the roastery doubling as a lovely, intimate coffee bar. I was staying on the opposite side of town and Google Maps suggested I’d pass Tandem Coffee + Bakery on my way. So off I went, keeping an eye out for said bakery, only to walk right past without noticing!

My excuse? I, fool that I am, was looking for something bearing a vague resemblance to a bakery. Instead, I should have been keeping an eye out for something bearing a striking resemblance to a gas (petrol) station… Obviously. I discovered my mistake at the roastery, so on my way back, I paid more attention: there, right where Google Maps said it was, I discovered the bakery, occupying an old gas station.

Just as Tandem Cafe & Roastery’s a roastery with coffee bar attached, so Tandem Coffee + Bakery’s a bakery with coffee shop attached. And lovely outdoor seating. It doesn’t have quite the same range as the roastery, just a house-blend and single-origin on espresso, the same single-origin on Aeropress and another on bulk-brew. Being a bakery, there’s also multiple savoury and sweet things to feast upon.

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Tandem Coffee Roasters

A light bulb in the shape of a tandem bicycle from the wall of the Tandem Coffee Roasters RoasteryI first came across Tandem Coffee Roasters in Boston, where I enjoyed a cappuccino at Render Coffee, made using Tandem’s seasonal Time and Temperature espresso blend. I also met with Larry, owner of Boston’s Pavement Coffeehouse chain, who sang the praises of Tandem’s co-founder, Will (an ex-Pavement employee). That pretty much sealed it for me, and when, a few days later, I popped up the New England coast to Portland to start my coast-to-coast, Portland-to-Portland train trip, I naturally sought out Tandem’s roastery.

What I found wasn’t just a thriving roastery, but an excellent, friendly coffee bar too. The coffee bar aside, which features in its own Coffee Spot, this Meet the Roaster post focuses on the roastery side of the business. When I first visited in 2015, the roastery was in one half of a single-storey, L-shaped building, also home to the coffee bar. These days, it’s become so busy, it’s had to relocate to a separate building just behind the first, where a 35 kg Loring roaster takes pride of place, roasting all of Tandem’s coffee, for use in-house in the coffee bar and Tandem’s bakery/coffee shop on Congress Street as well as for Tandem’s growing wholesale business.

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Tandem Cafe & Roastery

A light bulb in the shape of a tandem bicycle from the wall of the Tandem Coffee Roasters RoasteryWhen I first came to Portland in 2015, to start my coast-to-coast train journey from Portland (Maine) to Portland (Oregon), I very nearly didn’t make it to Tandem Coffee Roasters. I’d arrived late in the morning and had settled into my hotel before realising that (in those days) Tandem closed at 2 pm. By then, it was already gone noon and Tandem was at the other end of town!

I made it, of course, and was very glad that I did, Tandem becoming a firm favourite of mine, along with the likes of Bard Coffee and Speckled Ax. There are, in fact, two Tandem Coffees in Portland, the Cafe/Roastery (the subject of this Coffee Spot) and Tandem Coffee + Bakery (cunningly disguised as a gas station on Congress Street).

Returning to the Cafe/Roastery, this consists of, unsurprisingly, a coffee shop and, in a second, standalone building behind it, the roastery, where Tandem roasts all its coffee on a 35kg Loring. The coffee shop is the focus of this Coffee Spot, while the roastery has its own Meet the Roaster feature. These days, by the way, the coffee shop is open until four o’clock each afternoon (except Sunday, when it’s closed).

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Chicago

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in Chicago (listed alphabetically).

Asado Coffee, Pickwick Place

A beautiful espresso in a classic white cup, served at Asado Coffee, Pickwick Place.Asado is a small coffee shop/roaster chain with three (soon to be four) branches in downtown Chicago. I’d already planned to visit Asado’s branch on Jackson Boulevard (Pickwick Place), a block from an old favourite of mine, Intelligentsia, when I was coincidentally introduced to Jeff Liberman, one of Asado’s co-owners. As a result, I got a behind the scenes tour, which you can read about in Brian's Travel Spot.

Asado occupies its own private alley, Pickwick Place, a narrow dead-end on the north side of Jackson Boulevard. If that doesn’t sound very appealing, then think again, since it’s one of the best locations I’ve seen for a coffee shop (in good weather, at least!). Sheltered on both sides by tall buildings, all the seating (bar for a single chair) is outside in the alley, a beautiful, south-facing sun trap.

Asado roasts all its own coffee, each of its locations having its own bespoke analogue roaster. Due to space limitations, Pickwick Place is the exception to this rule. Despite this lack of space, it still manages a full espresso menu, pulled on a beautiful Kees van der Westen lever machine, plus individual hand-poured filter, supplemented with bulk-brew filter when it’s busy.

August 2016: I've just heard that the shop has changed hands and is now Pickwick Coffee.

September 2017: on my return to Chicago, I discovered that Pickwick Coffee is no more and that it is now a branch of Hero Coffee Roasters.

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Asado Coffee, River North

A mug of filter coffee from Asado, River North.I discovered Asado Coffee when visiting Chicago last summer on my coast-to-coast train trip across the USA. Jeff Liberman, one of Asado’s co-owners, met me when I arrived at Union Station, giving me a behind-the-scenes tour of Asado’s Pickwick Place branch (which has now changed hands) down in the Loop before adding a bonus tour of the River North branch. This was interesting because it hadn’t yet opened, although it was all kitted out and ready to go. It’s the first time I’ve been in a fully-functioning coffee shop before it’s opened. As it turned out, River North would have to wait another five months before Asado finally opened its doors. Hopefully my descriptions aren’t too out-of-date!

At the time of writing, Asado was a coffee shop/roaster chain with four branches in downtown Chicago, although that's now down to two as of August 2016. Asado roasts all its own coffee, with both shops having their own bespoke analogue roaster. Asado’s other main quirk is that it only uses lever espresso machines, usually from Kees van der Westen, although in the case of River North, it’s an Astoria. As well as espresso, there’s bulk-brew filter in the mornings, plus hand-poured filters throughout the day using Zero ceramic drippers from Japan.

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Intelligentsia, Jackson Boulevard

The remains of a shot of Intelligentsia's Black Cat espresso, as seen from above. A five-pointed red star can just be seen at the bottom of the cup, a classic white espresso cup with a big handle.If I was still running the Where It All Began Coffee Spot Award, then the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Intelligentsia’s branch in the Monadnock Building, on Jackson Boulevard, right in the heart of downtown Chicago, would be a shoe-in. It’s the second-ever Intelligentsia, a Chicago coffee roaster which now boasts six coffee shops in that city, plus three in Los Angeles and the High Line Hotel in New York City.

I think the Jackson Boulevard branch opened in 2002, but it was certainly there when I first visited Chicago in 2003. It’s quite possibly the first speciality coffee shop I ever visited, although back then I had no idea that speciality coffee shops existed. All I knew was that Intelligentsia served exceptionally good coffee.

Since then, I’ve become a regular visitor, regular in that I pop in whenever I’m in downtown Chicago. My latest visits came as part of my coast-to-coast trip across the USA last year, when I called into Intelligentsia twice, once when I arrived in Chicago and again, two days later, when I left. I’m pleased to say that it looks and feels very much how I remember it from that first visit all those years ago in 2003…

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Tempo Café

Tempo Cafe in Chicago's Near North neighbourhood.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!

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Portland (Oregon)

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in Portland in Oregon (listed alphabetically).

Case Study Coffee Roasters, Downtown

The words Case Study Coffee in gold on black written in an oval around a line-drawing of a coffee bean.Case Study Coffee Roasters is the first coffee shop I visited in Portland. Located in the heart of downtown, on the intersection of SW 10th Avenue/Yamhill Street, it is one three branches of this local chain, which roasts all its own coffee in a separate roastery.

The downtown branch is glorious. Rectangular in shape, there’s an amazing, copper-topped island counter and floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides, the natural light supplemented by multiple, interesting light-fittings for the odd gloomy day. The seating follows the windows, with the trees lining the streets providing plenty of shade, plus you can sit at the counter, or right at the back whether there are four more tables. The right-hand wall is taken up by a large set of retail shelves.

The focus, of course, is firmly on the coffee, all roasted in-house. There is a choice of the house-blend on espresso, joined by a single-origin and decaf. For filter, there’s the obligatory bulk brew, plus a choice of four single-origins through the Kalita Wave filter, which you can watch being made. Finally, Case Study has cold brew, made on the counter using some impressive kit that could have come straight out of a chemistry lab.

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Coava Coffee Roasters, Hawthorne

Detail taken from a picture on top of the retail shelves at Coava Coffee Roasters branch on Hawthorne Street, Portland.Coava Coffee Roasters, on Hawthorne Boulevard, is another of Portland’s many coffee shop/roaster mini-chains. Coava’s a chain of two, with the roastery (combined with another coffee shop) being about 20 blocks away in the direction of the city centre. This branch is another shared space, in this case, the lobby of Hawthorne Twenty Six, a modern residential building on Hawthorne Boulevard, between 26th and 27th Avenues. It’s a beautiful space, split across two levels, with high ceilings and generous, south-facing windows.

Coava specialises in roasting single-origins (no blends here!) and forging strong links with individual farmers. Pictures of some of the coffee farms that Coava works with adorn the walls at Hawthorne. Typically, Coava roasts up to eight single-origins at any given time. Of these, two are available as espresso (along with decaf), while a third is on bulk-brew. If you don’t like what’s on offer, just wait a day or two and it will change, although this is quite pedestrian compared to the main shop/roastery, where the coffee can change several times a day! Talking to the baristas about this, they admitted it could be quite stressful trying to constantly dial new coffee in when it was busy!

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Either/Or

The sign hanging outside Either/Or in Portland. The words EITHER/Or on a wooden board.

One of the many things I like about Portland’s coffee scene is that it’s not just confined to the centre. There seems to be good coffee all over the city, especially east of the Willamette River. Such is the case with Either/Or, which was not on my original list. However, it was independently recommended to me by baristas from both Case Study Coffee Roasters and Coava Coffee Roasters as the place to go in Portland. Although quite a way south of the centre, it’s not the sort of recommendation you can ignore, so I hopped on the Number 70 bus down to the Sellwood-Moreland neighbourhood.

What I found was a delightful little place that was well worth the trip. Either/Or is something of a rarity in an American market where café/roasters seem to be the established model. It’s a genuine multi-roaster establishment, regularly rotating beans from local roasters Roseline and Heart, plus Seattle’s Kuma Coffee.  Denver’s Huckleberry Roasters and Oregon’s Bespoken Coffee Roasters occasionally make appearances too. While coffee’s clearly the primary focus, with two tasting flights (see Slate Coffee Roasters) on offer, it also helps that Either/Or is one of the nicest spots I’ve been to in a while.

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Extracto Coffee Roasters, Prescott

The Extracto Coffee Roaster logo: a coffee bean held in a metal clamp.Since I’ve been starting my mornings with Extracto’s Eleven of Spades espresso blend, I thought I ought to write up my Coffee Spot on Extracto’s Prescott branch, which was the final stop on my second (and final) day in Portland, Oregon. Extracto is a chain of exactly two, the Prescott branch and the roastery/coffeehouse on Killingsworth, both of which are north of Portland city centre.

Ideally I’d have visited the roastery first, but it’s another 30 minutes further out from the city centre and I’d already done a lot of travelling between coffee shops that day, having started down to the south at Either/Or earlier that morning. Instead, I settled for the closer branch in Prescott village, where Prescott Street meets 15th Avenue in northeast Portland.

Set at the back of a courtyard, a little way off the busy Prescott Street, Extracto is a great little place. All the coffee is roasted over in Killingsworth. There’s a choice of the Eleven of Spades house-blend, a single-origin or decaf on espresso, while on pour-over there were four different beans on offer during my visit. A more extensive range of beans are on sale on a table by the counter.

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Five Points Coffee Roasters, Division

Five Points prepares two Chemex at a time rather than using a bulk-brewer. The coffee is either served immediately or kept warm in flasks.I had two full days in Portland on last year’s coast-to-coast trip; naturally, I spent them visiting coffee shops. The first was Five Points Coffee Roasters on Division Street, in suburban eastern Portland. It was a pleasant stroll from my motel, down leafy, residential streets, so I headed over for breakfast.

First, let’s clear up the issue around the name. Five Points started off life as Coffee Division six years ago, when it was acquired by the current owner, Chris. Initially Coffee Division used Stumptown, but four years ago, Chris started roasting on nearby Powell and 21st, using the name Five Points Coffee Roasters. By the time I arrived almost exactly a year ago, Five Points was in the middle of moving to have both coffee shop and roaster under the single brand

Five Points offers its house-blend on espresso, plus decaf, although by the time you read this, there should also be a single-origin on the third grinder. However, where Five Points really scores is on its filter coffee. There are four single-origins available as an individual hand-pour Chemex and, eschewing the normal batch-brew, Five Points makes up two Chemex at a time using its filter of the day.

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Heart Coffee Roasters, Burnside

An espresso in a classic white mug at Heart Coffee Roasters, Burnside in Portland.Heart Coffee Roasters is one of many coffee shops/roasters based in Portland, Oregon, but, after Stumptown, it’s probably the one that the most people on this side of the Atlantic have heard of. It was certainly very high on my list during my brief visit to Portland as part of my coast-to-coast trip last June, so I thought it was about time it featured on the Coffee Spot.

There are two Heart coffee shops in Portland, one on the west side, and this, on the east side, on East Burnside, right in the middle of the vast grid of residential streets on the eastern bank of the Willamette River. As well as being a coffee shop, this was also where, for many years, all of Heart’s coffee was roasted. However, the old Probat roaster was retired shortly before my visit due to Heart moving its growing roasting operation to a dedicated facility nearby.

The result, when I was there, 11 months ago, was a coffee shop in flux, so there may well have been more changes since my visit. However, what I found was a delightful, spacious, sunny spot, serving some excellent coffee, amongst the best of my entire trip.

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Portland Roasting, The Cupping Room Cafe

A light bulb from the Cupping Room at Portland Roasting in Portland, Oregon, held in a light-fitting made from an upturned portafilter.Portland Roasting is the final Coffee Spot from my mammoth coast-to-coast trip across the USA last year. It was one of six Portland coffee shop/roasters that I visited, but the only one where the roastery was actually on the same site as the coffee shop (known as the Cupping Room Cafe). Portland Roasting is a well-established name in Portland, having been around for 20 years now. It occupies a relatively large two storey building on the corner of 7th Avenue and Oak Street just east of the Willamette River, opposite the city centre. The building houses not just the roaster and its two drum roasters, but it also provides a home to the company’s administration and marketing departments and the delightful Cupping Room Cafe.

Set in an area that is predominantly offices and workshops, it’s not somewhere you would naturally find yourself strolling through. However, Portland Roasting and The Cupping Room is worth making a short detour to visit. With two options on espresso, another on bulk-brew and two more single-origin pour-overs, the coffee alone is worth the trip. On top of that, if you get your timing right, there are roastery tours and public cuppings (Monday/Wednesday/Friday, 10:00 & 14:00).

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Hood River

You can read about the one Coffee Spot I visited in Hood River.

Stoked Roasters + Coffeehouse

A chalk drawing on the wall at Stoked Roasters + Coffeehouse, showing a blossom tree in bloom with the words "Live in full Bloom"To celebrate Brian’s Travel Spot reaching the West Coast and the Columbia Gorge, I present Stoked Roasters and Coffeehouse in Hood River, on the Oregon side of the amazing Columbia Gorge. That I even know about Stoked is down to Chloe, aka The Faerietale Foodie, who visited a few months before me and informed me of this wonderful find.

Stoked is indicative of the spread of speciality coffee outside of the big America cities. Both roaster and coffeehouse, a model much more common in the US than it is in the UK, Stoked roasts all its coffee in the store itself on a lovely San Franciscan roaster. You can buy all the output, a mixture of single-origins and blends, from a retail shelf by the door. As is often the case in the US, the beans, even for the single-origins, are typically roasted more darkly than in the UK.

When it comes to the coffeehouse side of the business, Stoked offers a wide range of drinks, including house-blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, the obligatory bulk brew and hand-poured filter on the V60. While I was there, there was a choice between three single-origins and, unusually for filter, two blends.

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Seattle

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in Seattle (listed alphabetically).

Elm Coffee Roasters

The Elm Coffee Roasters sign, hanging outside on a sunny Seattle day.Elm Coffee Roasters is a relatively new addition to Seattle’s excellent speciality coffee scene, having only opened in December 2014 and celebrating its six month anniversary not long before my visit in the summer of last year. On 2nd Avenue in downtown Seattle, it’s very close to King Street Station, which makes it the ideal spot to start your coffee tour of Seattle if arriving by train or bus. Which I did, Seattle being the last stop of my coast-to-coast journey that had started in Portland, Maine. And I didn’t go, because I forgot to check my phone and didn’t realise how close Elm was when I got off the train! And I’m still kicking myself even now, nine months later.

It’s not just that Elm is a beautiful, large, uncluttered sun-drenched space and an amazing location for a coffee shop. It’s also a roaster, with all the coffee being roasted in the Probat at the back of the store, in plain view for all to see. In that respect, it’s like Stoked Roasters + Coffeehouse in Hood River, or, for UK readers, Birmingham’s Quarter Horse Coffee. Best of all is a coffee menu that lets you try absolutely everything!

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Milstead & Co.

A model of a biplane sitting above the door at Milstead & Co. in Seattle.Milstead & Co., in Seattle’s Fremont district, is tucked away almost directly under the Aurora Bridge, which vaults far overhead across the Fremont Cut. It was recommended to me by several people, including no lesser an authority than Slate. Fortunately I was staying, completely coincidently, about a 15-minute walk away along Highway 99. Having bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t found many multi-roaster coffee shops in America (Boston’s Render Coffee being a rare exception to this rule), I suddenly seemed to be falling over them in Portland (Either/Or) and Seattle (Street Bean), with Milstead being the latest example.

Milstead & Co. offers two options on espresso (while I was there, a single-origin and a blend) and three single-origins on Aeropress (no bulk-brew filter here!). The drink types/sizes are fairly standard, although no-one was phased when I ordered a decaf cortado (which wasn’t on the menu). Like Portland’s Either/Or, Milstead rotates the coffee as and when it runs out, usually putting on two 5lb bags at a time. To give you an example, while I was there, one of two espresso options (the one I had!) ran out and was replaced by a single-origin Guatemalan that was also on the filter menu.

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Slate Coffee Roasters, Ballard

The sign from the window of Slate Coffee Roasters in Seattle: the words 'SLATE COFFEE ROASTERS', one word per lineI wrote about Slate Coffee Roasters last summer: I'd been so impressed with the amazing coffee tasting flight that I wanted to write about it there and then. So I did. Today it’s finally the turn of Slate itself, which occupies a rather unprepossessing building in Ballard, in suburban Seattle. Although from the outside it might not seem like much, it’s worth the trek, since Slate’s possibly the best coffee shop I’ve ever visited (since my visit, two more branches, Pioneer Square and University District, have opened).

It’s also a remarkably small spot. There's a pair of tables outside, one for either window, and another table at the pavement’s edge, along with a couple of benches. Inside, there’s a pair of window-bars or you can do what I did and perch at either end of the counter on a bar stool.

The real draw is, of course, the coffee, which is all roasted in-house, and served from a pared back menu which puts the focus firmly on the coffee. There’s also a small selection of cakes and savoury snacks. Slate is all about speciality and, in everything it does, it tries to be special, from the coffee to the service.

June 2019: My visit to Slate was one of my personal Coffee Spot highlights. I'm therefore deeply saddened to learn of reports of mistreatment of the staff.

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Street Bean Coffee

The A-board outside Street Bean Coffee on Seattle's 3rd Avenue, pointing the way inside.Coffee with a conscience, community coffee, social coffee; the list goes on. The idea that a coffee shop can do more than just serve good coffee seems to be taking off, with several social enterprise coffee shops springing up, with some London’s leading society enterprises being featured in Issue 15 of Caffeine Magazine. However, while in Seattle, I was lucky enough to visit Street Bean Coffee, a pioneer in this area which first opened its doors in 2009.

Sitting in the shadow of Seattle’s futuristic Space Needle on 3rd Avenue, Street Bean doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve. Rather than relying on pricking your conscience, Street Bean is happy to stand up on its own two feet as a coffee shop, something it does very well. Street Bean is a multi-roaster shop, quite a rare thing in the US, offering single-origins and blends on espresso, a wide range of single-origin pour-overs and the obligatory bulk-brew (yet another single-origin option).

By the time you read this, Street Bean will also have starting roasting in the space next door, with initially a 1.5 kg roaster, which will be used for training. Check its website for more on what Street Bean does.

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Victrola Roastery & Café

The Victrola Coffee Roasters logo, showing a black-and-white line drawing of the 1920s phonograph after which Victrola is named.Victrola Coffee Roasters is a local chain of three Seattle cafés, with this, its second outlet, doubling as both roastery (to the left) and café (centre and right). Occupying a gorgeous, spacious and bright 1920s building on the steeply-sloping East Pike Street, it’s a lovely spot, just a block away from the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room. I know where I’d rather be.

Victrola has been going since 2000 and roasting since 2003. In 2007, the roastery and café opened and since then all Victrola’s coffee has been roasted here. Just as the café is a bright, airy space, so is the roastery, separated from the café by tall windows which run all the way to the back.

Victrola offers a house-blend (Streamline) on espresso, plus decaf and a single-origin which changes every month or so. There are two single-origins on pour-over, which change every few months, available through the V60. There’s also a cafetiere option, but no bulk-brew. The full range of beans are for sale from the retail shelves at the back.

There’s also a selection of soft drinks and a limited range of beer. If you’re hungry, there’s a decent selection of sandwiches, salads and cake.

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