I started 2019 with a four-week trip to the USA, which was split into two very contrasting halves. The first 2½ weeks saw me in Arizona and New Mexico, basking in temperatures that sometimes reached 20°C. From there, I flew to Chicago for the last 1½ weeks, arriving just in time for infamous polar vortex, when temperatures plummeted to around -30°C for a couple of days, easily the lowest temperatures that I’ve ever experienced!
I flew out to Phoenix on Friday, January 4th, returning from Chicago on Friday February 1st. Things got off to a good start when I was upgraded to first class on the way out. After a week’s work in Phoenix (plus a weekend to explore its growing speciality coffee scene), I took a 10-day road trip around southern Arizona and New Mexico, then flew from Phoenix to Chicago, swapping warm sunshine for freezing winter followed by the polar vortex. After a few days visiting my friends and then a week working in Chicago, it was time to fly home again.
The trip itself is covered in the Travel Spots below, while you can also read about the Coffee Spots I visited in Phoenix, Tucson and Chicago.
Header Image: the view from the Hancock Tower in Chicago, looking out over the frozen Lake Michigan.
You can read about the trip in the following Travel Spot posts.
Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying First Class to Phoenix
Welcome to the first Travel Spot of the new year, on my first trip of 2019. I’m heading to Phoenix, spending a couple of weeks enjoying the winter sun, then flying to Chicago (which will be an interesting contrast) before returning at the end of the month. As usual, I flew with British Airways, using American Airlines for the Phoenix-Chicago leg.
I’ll say up front that this was not meant to be about me flying First Class to Phoenix. Right up until I reached the check-in desk, I thought I was flying Club World and was quite surprised to be told that I’d be moving up to First Class, just the second time that I’ve been upgraded in my life (the other was 10 years ago, an upgrade to Club Europe when returning from Madrid).
It’s also just the second time that I’ve flown First Class, the other being on my return from Chicago last year. That was a night-time flight, and while I enjoyed it, I spent most of the flight asleep, whereas this is a daytime flight, giving me much more opportunity to get the full First Class experience, which started with the rather swanky lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 3…Continue reading...
Brian’s Travel Spot: The Apache Trail & Apache Lake
In 2018 and 2019 I made three visits to Arizona’s Apache Trail, an amazing road through the Superstition Mountains to the east of Phoenix, built in 1904 to provide access to the Theodore Roosevelt Dam, which was at that point under construction on the Salt River. The first two visits were during the same trip in January/February 2018, an initial taster drive to Canyon Lake and back, followed by driving the full length of the Apache Trail later on that week.
However, my love affair with the Apache Trail wasn’t over. On the second drive, I’d been over-ambitious, underestimating how long it would take to drive from end-to-end, which meant that I did the last part, from Apache Lake to the dam, in the dark. That left me with a sense of unfinished business, so on my return to Arizona in January the following year, I made driving the Apache Trail in daylight a priority.
As I had the previous year, I first spent a week in Phoenix for work, then hit the open road, this time on a week-long excursion through southern Arizona and New Mexico, starting with my drive along the Apache Trail.Continue reading...
Travels with my Coffee: Arizona & New Mexico, 2019
Regular readers know that having good coffee on my travels, particularly when there are no speciality coffee shops, is important to me. I’ve written about my travelling coffee kit, and also documented making coffee on planes and at airports, making long journeys bearable. At the start of last year, I wrote Travels with my Coffee: Part I, which documented, from the perspective of all the places I took my coffee, my trip around Florida and Phoenix.
The title, with its “Part I”, implied that there would be a Part II (possibly more), but the year went by and although I took plenty of photos, time got the better of me, and I never did write up Part II. However, this year started off with a flurry of travel, with three month-long trips, first to the US, then to China, and now back in the US, so I thought it high time that I continued Travels with my Coffee, beginning with this post. This covers the first of this year’s trips, an extensive road trip around southern Arizona and New Mexico. As you’ll see, with good coffee shops in short supply, my Travel Press and Therma Cup saw plenty of use.Continue reading...
Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying from Phoenix to Chicago
Welcome to the second instalment of the first Travel Spot of 2019, which started when I flew to Phoenix on the 4th January, getting upgraded to First Class along the way and experiencing not one, but two sunsets. I spent a week in Phoenix for work, visiting what coffee shops I could, before taking week-long road-trip east through the mountains of Arizona and southern New Mexico, returning through the desert to Tucson, where I spent a long weekend hiking and visiting coffee shops. Finally, I drove back to Phoenix on Tuesday, 22nd January and caught a flight to Chicago. Well, tried to.
Flying internally in the USA is one of my least favourite travel activities. I’ve had mixed experiences, ranging from okay to downright awful. My last internal flight was this time last year, going from Miami to Phoenix with American Airlines, a 4½ hour flight which I decided was best done in First Class. This year’s flight was slightly shorter, a mere three hours, but even so, I decided that First Class was still the best option, once again flying with American Airlines. Unfortunately, my flight coincided with a major snowstorm in the Midwest, which had some predictable consequences…Continue reading...
Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying from Chicago (Again)
Welcome to the third and final instalment of the first Travel Spot of 2019, covering my first trip of the year. This started when I flew to Phoenix on the 4th January, getting upgraded to First Class along the way, and ended with my return from Chicago on 1st February, when I had to slum it in business class. Along the way I spent two weeks in the warm, winter sun of Arizona and New Mexico and then flew from Phoenix to Chicago, arriving in time for the polar vortex and the second coldest spell in Chicago’s history.
In all, I spent four days in the suburbs, hanging out with my friends, before catching the commuter train into Chicago proper, which was when it got really, really cold. Perhaps fortunately, I was there for work and, knowing the reputation of Chicago winters, had already booked the hotel in the same building as my office, so I didn’t actually have to go out… The downside was that I only had a single day to explore, but, given the weather, that’s probably just as well. Then, as soon as my meeting was over, I was off to O’Hare for my flight home.Continue reading...
You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in Phoenix, Tucson and Chicago on this trip, all listed alphabetically by city, starting with Phoenix.
Berdena’s is a relatively recent addition to Scottdale’s growing speciality coffee scene, having opened in April 2017. Part of a new wave that includes Fourtillfour and Regroup Coffee + Bicycles, plus, just across the Arizona Canal, Press Coffee Roasters, it’s just a couple of blocks away along East 5th Avenue from the pioneering Cartel Coffee Lab. Unlike the majority of the area’s coffee shops, which focus solely on coffee, Berdena’s is known as much for its food, although in a fit of bad timing, I missed out on lunch on my first two visits! Berdena's serves a concise breakfast menu until 2pm every day, while there's a selection of cake all day long.
Turning to coffee, Berdena’s started with Madcap from Grand Rapids in Michigan, but has now evolved into a multi-roaster, changing roaster every six weeks or so, with a single-origin on espresso and another one batch-brew. You can also buy retail bags, although Berdena’s had sold out during my latest visit, the coffee from Morgon Coffee Roasters in Gothenburg proving extremely popular!
You can either sit outside at one of the tables sheltering under the passage to the left of the shop, or find a spot in the spacious interior, where there’s a selection of tables and a window-bar.Continue reading...
Cartel Coffee Lab, Phoenix Sky Harbor
I’ve already sung the praises of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, which is one of the best (large) airports I’ve had the pleasure of flying into/out of in recent years. Unsurprisingly, a big part of its charm (for me, at least) is that it has a branch of Cartel Coffee Lab past security in Terminal 4. The first two times I flew to/from Phoenix (late 2016, early 2017), it was closed by the time I got to the airport, but since then Cartel has extended its hours, so on my first of two 2018 visits to Phoenix, I was able to call in both when I arrived on a Monday morning and left, almost two weeks later, on a Sunday night.
Since it’s at an airport, Cartel would be forgiven for running a cut-down operation, but no, not Cartel. Instead, you are treated to the full Cartel range, which includes six single-origins (one decaf), one of which is available on espresso, while all six are available as pour-over via a combination of Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper and Chemex. There’s also the obligatory bulk-brew, while you can buy bags of the beans (and even a Chemex!) to take home (or on your flight) with you.Continue reading...
Cartel Coffee Lab, Scottsdale
It’s fitting that I celebrate my return to Phoenix with a long overdue write up of Cartel Coffee Lab in Scottsdale. Cartel, a small roaster/coffee shop chain with its flagship roastery/coffee shop in Tempe, has been going for almost 11 years. It now has seven branches, including downtown Phoenix and at Sky Harbor airport, as well as two branches in Tucson, and another in Palm Springs over the border in California. The Scottsdale branch has been going since 2011 and I visited three times last year, never managing to write it up for a variety of reasons (usually a lack of decent photo opportunities, since it’s perpetually busy).
Scottsdale is similar to all the other branches when it comes to coffee, serving six seasonal single-origins, all roasted in-house, one of which is decaf. Naturally, all the beans are available to buy. One (the top of the list) is always available as espresso, while there’s also a daily bulk-brew, with all the beans available as pour-over through the Chemex (8oz or 16oz), Cartel having stopped offering Aeropress/V60 at the end of 2018. There’s a range of cakes if you’re hungry and, in this branch, craft beer and Arizona wine on tap.Continue reading...
Scottsdale, to the east of Phoenix, is a lovely area of shops, hotels, houses, quiet streets and, right in the centre, a cluster of four speciality coffee shops, forming a rough diamond. At the southern tip is Fourtillfour, the creation of Nico and Mia, who moved here from San Francisco. Fourtillfour satisfies their twin passions: great coffee and vintage cars, the couple often organising rallies and other events.
I can’t speak to the cars, but when it comes to the coffee, it’s a small but lovely place. There’s an award-winning outdoor patio, which has the bulk of the seating, something you could only get away with in a climate such as Arizona, while inside there are a pair of small rooms. The first, accessible from the patio, has the counter, while the other houses a large Probat roaster, where Fourtillfour roasts all its own direct-trade coffee under the brand Four Coffee. This is served via a simple espresso-based menu, along with batch-brew, while if you're hungry, you there's a small breakfast menu and a selection of doughnuts. Naturally, the coffee is available to buy either in-store or on-line.Continue reading...
Kream | Coffee
Kream Coffee is part of the small, but growing, speciality coffee scene in and around Phoenix. It’s another of those places which I came across during my second visit to Phoenix last year, prompting me to make an excursion outside of my usual Scottsdale haunts. In this case I went just north of downtown Phoenix, where Kream is somewhat incongruously located inside a design shop on North Central Avenue.
However, don’t let that put you off. If anything, it’s a bonus, since it makes for some very pleasant surroundings, while when it comes to the coffee, Kream is top-notch. A multi-roaster, it draws on a cast of five roasters, some of the best in the US, to bring you awesome espresso and batch-brew, where there’s a different single-origin every day. The espresso, meanwhile, changes once or twice a week. You can also buy retail bags to take home with you.Continue reading...
Maverick Coffee is another of chances discoveries of a coffee shop right outside my hotel, in this case in the Paradise Valley Plaza, an old-style outdoor mall in Scottsdale, where I was staying on my visit to Phoenix last week. Maverick, which opened in 2015, in many ways feels like a typical American coffee shop, but when it comes to the coffee itself, it serves a house-blend from San Francisco’s Ritual, with a monthly guest, chosen by popular vote on social media, plus decaf on espresso.
However, that’s only the start. There’s the obligatory batch-brew, while if you really want to explore, Maverick has a constantly-changing selection of four single-origins on filter through the Aeropress, V60, Chemex and cafetiere. When one bag finishes, another goes on in its place. The range of roasters is bewildering, with Maverick supporting both local roasters and pulling in coffee from all over the country, most of which is for sale on the retail shelves by the counter.
If none of that takes your fancy, there is a selection of loose-leaf tea, various iced and cold-brew coffees, plus small but tempting all-day breakfast and lunch menus, all backed up by a variety of cake.Continue reading...
Peixoto Coffee Roasters
Something that I really admire about the speciality coffee industry is its commitment to improving the lot of coffee farmers by paying them a decent price (far above commodity prices) for their coffee. At the same time, the industry’s finding new ways to ensure that more of the value stays with the coffee farmers/producers. Perhaps one of the most exciting is the concept of farm-to-cup, also known as crop-to-cup (which has the advantage of being alliterative), where the entire value chain remains with the farmers who control every stage from production (crop) to the final drink (cup).
I’ve seen this in countries such as Vietnam (Oriberry Coffee), Thailand (Akha Ama Coffee) and China (Lanna Coffee), but the first time I saw it outside of a coffee growing region was in Arizona, when I visited Peixoto, in Chandler, southeast of Phoenix. Peixoto was set up specifically to roast and sell coffee from the family farm in Brazil, something which it’s been doing for the last four years (it celebrated its fourth birthday on 31st January). I’ve already written about Peixoto as a coffee shop: today, in this Meet the Roaster feature, I want to look at the rest of Peixoto’s operation.Continue reading...
Press Coffee, Scottsdale Quarter (Original Location)
I’m leaving Phoenix today after an all-too-short week-long visit, which included a weekend in the Grand Canyon. However, I couldn’t go without sharing on the unexpected highlights of my stay with you. Speciality coffee is not something I was expecting to find on this trip since I was on business and staying out to the northeast of the centre, in North Scottsdale. However, on my second evening there, having wandered the block from my hotel to the Scottsdale Quarter (I think of it as an outdoor shopping mall), I stumbled across Press Coffee Roasters, which immediately set off my Coffee Spot radar!
Press Coffee is both a roaster and a small chain of coffee shops in Phoenix and the surrounding cities! Press Coffee has been going since 2008, with the Scottsdale Quarter branch opening in 2010. There are two blends on espresso, along with decaf, plus five single-origins on filter, made using the Seraphim automated pour-over system through either the Kalita Wave or Chemex. There’s an espresso blend and single-origin on the obligatory batch-brew, plus cold-brew and nitro cold-brew. If you’re hungry, breakfast/lunch is served until 2.30, with cakes available all day.Continue reading...
Press Coffee, Waterfront
The Coffee Spots that I visited on this trip to Phoenix fell neatly into two categories: places I’d been before that I wanted to write-up this time around (such as Kream | Coffee), and chance discoveries (like Maverick Coffee). Of course, my first experience of speciality coffee in Phoenix was a chance discovery, stumbling upon Press Coffee as I wandered around the rather delightful Scottsdale Quarter on my first-ever visit to Phoenix. It’s therefore rather fitting that the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Press Coffee Waterfront in Old Scottdale, was another chance discovery, found while looking for the bridge across the Arizona Canal, on my way to visit Cartel Coffee Lab and Berdena's.
With the familiar clean lines and white décor of the other branches of Press Coffee that I’ve visited, I felt immediately at home. The offering is also similar, with the Twitch blend, decaf and seasonal single-origin on espresso, another blend (Early Edition) and single-origin on batch-brew, plus six seasonal single-origins on pour-over through either Kalita Wave or Chemex. This is backed up by decent breakfast and lunch menus, both served until 14:30, plus a good selection of cake and a range of shakes, cold brew and iced coffees.Continue reading...
You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in Tucson on this trip (listed alphabetically).
Cartel Coffee Lab, Downtown Tucson
Cartel Coffee Lab is a name I know well from my multiple visits to Phoenix, where I have visited many of its branches, including the flagship roastery/coffee shop in Tempe. I also make a point of calling in at the Sky Harbor Airport branch whenever possible, including when I flew out on Tuesday. However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot is the first time I have ventured outside of Phoenix, at least when it comes to Cartel, calling in on its downtown Tucson branch when I was there last weekend.
If you’re familiar with any of Cartel’s other branches, then you’ll know what’s on offer: six seasonal single-origins, all roasted in-house, one of which is decaf and another (the one on the top of the list) which is always available as espresso. Add to that a daily batch-brew and the pour-over option through the Chemex (8oz or 16oz), where you can choose from any of the beans, and you have a coffee-lover’s paradise. As usual, all the beans are available to buy, plus there’s craft beer and a range of cakes if you’re hungry. This is all served in a glorious, light-filled building which might be my favourite Cartel branch to date.Continue reading...
Exo Roast Co.
Exo Roast Co. has, since 2013, been roasting and serving some excellent coffee in the centre of Tucson, Arizona. I first visited in March last year, after a tip-off from Coffee Ken, who I met at Matador Coffee in Flagstaff on my first of visit to Arizona in 2018. I also called in again on Saturday, when I was back in Tucson.
Occupying a sunny corner, Exo is split in two. From the outside, I’d have bet that the back was the roastery, with the coffee shop up front. While I was right about the coffee shop part, the roaster is here too. The back, meanwhile, provides overspill seating, a part-time bar and occasional events space.
Exo Roast Co has a concise espresso-based menu, pleasingly lacking the buckets-of-milk style drinks, with a single-origin plus decaf on espresso, another on batch-brew and two more as pour-overs through the V60. Breakfast is served until noon during the week, while at weekends, it shifts by an hour, not starting until 8:00 but continuing until one o’clock. There’s a short, but inventive seasonal menu chalked up on a blackboard on the wall next to the coffee menu. There’s also a small selection of cakes/pastries.Continue reading...
Presta Coffee, Mercado San Augustin
One of the names that I kept seeing when in Phoenix was Tucson’s Presta Coffee. So, when I ended up there a week later at the end of my road trip through eastern Arizona/southern New Mexico, naturally I paid Presta a visit, calling in on the original branch in the Mercado San Augustin (Saint Augustin Market).
The market occupies a lovely, large, open rectangular courtyard with shops and restaurants on all sides (like an outdoor Mackie Mayor if you know Manchester). Presta has a long counter in one corner, with seating available at the counter itself and in a (non-exclusive) seating area off to one side. You can also take your coffee out into the courtyard where there are plenty of tables.
Compared to Presta’s flagship branch, the coffee service is limited, with the 120PSI blend being served from a concise espresso-based menu. There’s also a single-origin on batch brew which changes at least once a day. There is no food or cakes, but you are welcome to bring things in from any of the shops/restaurants in the market to have with your coffee.Continue reading...
You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in Chicago on this trip (listed alphabetically).
Big Shoulders, Gold Coast
Big Shoulders was not a name I’d really come across until about a year ago, since when it seems to have taken off. Founded nine years ago by Tim Coonan, who I had the pleasure of briefly meeting, Big Shoulders was originally a roaster, with Tim, who had a long career as a chef, roasting coffee in his garage. This grew to a wholesale roasting business and then came the coffee shops, currently standing at five. The Gold Coast branch opened in January, directly opposite Tempo Café, one of my favourite Chicago spots. So it made sense that on my return to the city, I would head first to Tempo for breakfast, then cross the road to try out the coffee at the new kids on the block.
Big Shoulders has its house blend on espresso, with a fairly concise menu, including a cortado and two sizes of cappuccino and latte. There is a choice of two single-origins on filter, either bulk-brew (termed “fast drip” on the menu) or pour-over via the V60 (termed “slow coffee”, which I rather like). There’s the now-obligatory iced and nitro options, plus a selection of tea and a range of cakes if you’re hungry.Continue reading...
Doughnut Vault, Franklin Street
This is the original Doughnut Vault that my friend Phillip recommended to Amanda and me as the source of the best doughnuts in Chicago. A small (almost) hole-in-the-wall operation in River North around the corner from my hotel, we visited during our “polar vortex” trip to Chicago. Although there is batch-brew filter coffee here for $1 a pop (takeaway only, so don’t forget to bring your own cup) we came specifically for the doughnuts, so can’t comment on the quality of the coffee.
Just like the bigger, coffee shop version of the Doughnut Vault on Canal Street, the doughnuts sell out quickly. However, unlike the Canal Vault, where the coffee shop has set hours and stays open selling coffee long after the doughnuts are gone, once the Franklin Vault sells the last doughnut, it closes. The good news, however, is that, unlike the Canal Vault, it opens at weekends, with a more civilised start time of 09:30, which is how Amanda and I managed to get up in time for the last of the doughnuts!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...
La Colombe, Gold Coast
Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for La Colombe, the Philadelphia-based coffee shop/roaster chain with branches in various east coast cities, California and Chicago, where I visited the Wicker Park branch on my round-the-world trip in 2016. Today’s Coffee Spot, the Gold Coast branch, is Chicago’s fifth La Colombe, having opened in February 2018.
It’s a small spot, with just enough room for the counter (which has a few bar stools at the back) and a row of four tables along the window at the front, plus, in the summer, a bench out front. The lack of size doesn’t stop it from offering pretty much the full La Colombe range though, with two options on espresso, another two on batch-brew and three on pour-over through the Silverton dripper. There’s also a range of in-house teas and draft lattes and, if you’re hungry, cakes and prepared salads.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...