Intelligentsia, Wicker Park

The latte art in my decaf cappuccino, served at Intelligentsia, Wicker Park in Chicago.Just before the full onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent a day exploring Wicker Park, one of many Chicago neighbourhood clustered along Milwaukee Avenue. I visited three coffee shops along the way, Fairgrounds Craft Coffee and Tea, Purple Llama (now sadly permanently closed) and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Intelligentsia. It’s appropriate that, in the week that I wrote about Canopy Coffee, the first coffee shop I visited since the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, that I should also feature the last coffee shop I visited before COVID-19 forced many coffee shops to close.

As regular readers know, I have a soft spot for Intelligentsia, one of Chicago’s pioneering roaster/coffee shop chains. I first visited its coffee bar in the Monadnock Building on Jackson Boulevard in 2003, long before my Coffee Spot days. The Wicker Park location is a more recent addition, occupying an open, light-filled space on the ground floor of an apartment block on the corner of Division and Ashland. There’s the usual Intelligentsia offering of coffee, Kilogram tea, cakes/savouries and a large retail selection. There are three espresso options: Black Cat, single-origin and decaf, while pour-over and batch-brew each have their own single-origin.

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The Miners Coffee and Characters, Slavíkova

The sign from outside The Miners Coffee & Characters in Prague.Today’s Coffee Spot takes us back to last summer and Prague, when I visited The Miners Coffee and Characters (to give it its full name) in Vinohrady. The first of a planned series of coffee shops, it was very new when I visited in June last year, having only been open for three months. In contrast to everywhere else I’d visited that weekend, Miners had an ultra-modern, Scandinavian feel to it, with clean, open lines, pale woods and white walls.

It also had the latest equipment, its brand-new Mark II Slayer espresso machine matched with a pair of Victoria Arduino Mythos 1 grinders. For all the high-tech espresso equipment, pour-over is still done by hand (albeit with an uber boiler, backed up with a couple of temperature-controlled kettles). The coffee is from the UK’s Colonna Coffee, although Miners has plans to roast its own, to be used in conjunction with Colonna. There are three options on espresso, including decaf, and three more on pour-over through the V60. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes, a choice of three toasted sandwiches (one vegan) and three standard weekend brunch options (two vegetarian: French toast and scrambled eggs; and one vegan: avocado toast).

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Dancing Goats Midtown

The logo for The Dancing Goats® Coffee Bar , a goat dancing on its hind legs holding a cup of coffee, taken from the sign outside the Midtown location in Atlanta.I didn’t have much chance to visit coffee shops during the week in I spent in Atlanta with Amanda, since we were staying in the suburbs, a 40-minute drive from the city. We visited Octane: Westside and Firelight Coffee Roasters when we arrived on the train from New York, but the next time we were in the city centre was on my way to the airport for my flight to Chicago at the end of my stay.

We could have gone straight to the airport, but instead we made a detour to the Midtown reason to visit Dancing Goats (or to use its full name, The Dancing Goats® Coffee Bar Midtown). Dancing Goats (part of Batdorf & Bronson coffee roasters) is one of four Atlanta-based coffee shops (with another five in Washington State, where it all started).

Dancing Goats is firmly in the speciality coffee world, but with a mass-market offering. There’s a small espresso-based menu combined with a much larger menu offering the typical American “large” drinks, featuring 20oz lattes amongst other things. The retail coffee offering mirrors this, with multiple blends supplemented by a smaller range of single-origins. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cake.

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Firelight Coffee Roasters

The Firelight Coffee Roasters logo from the back wall of the coffee shop/roastery in Strongbox West, Atlanta.Although I spent a week in Atlanta with Amanda, we were in the suburbs, a 40-minute drive from the city, so I didn’t have much opportunity for coffee shop visits. With that in mind, when we arrived on the train from New York, we made a beeline for Octane: Westside and, from there, went to Firelight Coffee Roasters, which had come highly recommended (not least by the baristas at Octane).

Firelight began as a roaster in 2014, moving into its current premises, at the back of the Strongbox West co-working space, in 2015. It was much smaller then, but Firelight has slowly built out into the space, which now acts as both roastery and a small, cosy coffee shop. This serves as an in-house coffee shop for Strongbox tenants as well as a tasting room for curious visitors such as Amanda and me.

The coffee offering is straightforward, with a seasonal blend on espresso, daily single-origin on batch brew and the rest of the roastery’s output (typically five single-origins) on pour-over. Just be warned, however, that Firelight only opens from 09:00 to 13:30 and is closed at weekends, with roasting taking place out of hours on Monday and Saturday afternoons.

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Kanazawaya Coffee Shop Head Office

Kanazawaya Coffee Shop Head Office, a welcome sight on a rainy day, just outside the northern entrance to Kanazawa Castle.Last summer I spent a few days in Kanazawa in Ishikawa on Japan’s northern coast, where I found a small, thriving speciality coffee scene, not least the excellent Kanazawaya Coffee Shop Head Office. Both a coffee shop and roastery, it’s just outside the northern entrance to Kanazawa Castle, making it the ideal spot for a pre- or post-sightseeing coffee.

It’s part of the Caravanserai Coffeeshop, which has been going since 1980 in the nearby Omicho market, with Kanazawaya Coffee Shop Head Office opening in 2011. As well as being a lovely coffee shop, spread over two floors with a small outside terrace and traditional Japanese sitting area, it’s also a roastery, with a 6 kg Giesen tucked in downstairs beside the counter.

In keeping with many Japanese coffee shops, full table service is offered, with a range of coffee on offer, backed up by a selection of cakes and snacks. As well as a concise espresso-based menu with the house-blend, there are five blends available on pour-over as well as five single-origins, with roast profiles ranging from light to dark. All the beans are available to buy in retail bags, along with a range of cups, coffee kit and hand-carved spoons.

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Octane: Westside

My cortado, made with the Petunias house-blend, at Octane: Westside in Atlanta.Until Monday, I’d never been to Atlanta. The closest I’d come was passing through Peachtree Station en-route to New Orleans two years ago. I also managed a brief stop at the airport in January on my way to Portland. However, on Monday this week, Amanda and I stepped off Amtrak’s Crescent Service (the very same train that I caught to New Orleans) and I was in Atlanta. Naturally, our thoughts to turned to coffee, and where better to start than with Octane?

Octane was a pioneer of Atlanta’s speciality coffee scene until it was bought in 2017 by Revelator Coffee, much to the consternation of many. Octane had several locations in the city, but the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Octane: Westside, is, I believe, the original and the only one to retain the Octane name.

Located in a converted garage, it’s a large, spacious place, with a small amount of outside seating and limited parking. The Petunias blend is on espresso, with two single-origins on pour-over via the Chemex. If you want something stiffer, there’s a full bar, offering a wide range of drinks from 11:30 each day. If you’re hungry, there’s a broad selection of cakes and savouries.

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Ue Coffee Roastery Cafe & Kitchen

A pair of pour-overs sitting on a table in the window of the Ue Coffee Roasters Cafe & Kitchen in Witney, slowly steaming in the afternoon sun.I first went to Witney in 2014  to write about Ue Coffee for a feature in Caffeine Magazine. Back then, it was just a roaster (albeit the UK’s only wood-fired roaster), but Ue Coffee’s come a long way since then, launching a sister company, Jeeves & Jericho, which offers artisan loose-leaf tea, as well as opening not one, but two coffee shops in Witney. And then, if that wasn’t enough, it’s also opened a cafe at the roastery (for more on the roastery, check out the Meet the Roaster feature),

Ue Coffee’s on the Windrush Industrial Park, a couple of miles west of Witney, occupying a large, two-storey unit. Other than an eye-catching sign at the industrial park entrance, you wouldn’t know it was there, but despite that, the cafe was doing a roaring trade on the rainy Tuesday when Amanda and I visited.

Not that this is any old coffee bar attached to a roastery. Ue Coffee Roastery Cafe & Kitchen, to give it its full name, has a wide range of coffee, including any of the roastery’s single-origins or blends through V60, Chemex or Aeropress, plus the whole Jeeves & Jericho range of tea. If you’re hungry, there are full breakfast, brunch and lunch menus plus a generous cake selection.

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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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Dos Mundos Coffee Roastery

A flat white, made with a San Rafael from Honduras, one of two daily single-origins on espresso at Dos Mundos in Prague. Served in a glass, it's presented on a wooden tray with a glass of water on the side.Monday’s Coffee Spot takes us back to last summer in Prague, when I found so many great coffee shops that I’m still writing about them! Today is the turn of Dos Mondus, another well-established player, which has had a coffee shop/roastery in Vinohrady, east of the centre, since 2013, with a second café opening across the river in Holešovice in 2017.

Typically, I visit places in reverse order, but this time I got it the right way around, trying the original coffee shop/roastery on Korunní first. Occupying a pair of adjoining rooms, the seating is all on the right, while the left-hand side holds both the counter and the roastery, with the roaster, a lovely-looking 6kg Giesen, taking pride of place in the window.

All the coffee is roasted on-site on Mondays and Thursdays, with two options on espresso and one on batch brew. The specific options change daily, drawn from a seasonal selection of up to 10 single-origins from around the world (Dos Mundos had seven single-origins on offer during my visit), all of which are available through V60, Aeropress or Chemex. Naturally, all the beans are available to buy as well, along with a selection of coffee-making kit.

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Ue Coffee Roasters at The Old Smithy

My flat white, made with the guest coffee, a washed El Salvador, and served at The Smithy, one of two Ue Coffee Roasters shops in Witney. I've drunk half of my flat white, which reveals Ue Coffee Roasters written on the inside rim of the cup.I first went to Witney 2014 to visit Ue Coffee Roasters, out on the Windrush Industrial Park, a couple of miles west of the town. Since then, Ue Coffee has opened a pair of coffee shops, which I discovered when I returned in 2017. The first was the Ue Coffee Roasters True Artisan Café & Store, which opened on the High Street in 2016. The second followed the next year, located in The Old Smithy on Market Square, at the other (southern) end of the High Street. However, it wasn’t until this week that I had a chance to return to Witney to check it out, a mere 2½ years later…

The Old Smithy is a lovely old building (I couldn’t find out exactly how old, but I suspect several hundred years), with Ue Coffee occupying a single, ground floor room plus two more upstairs, the second one over the neighbouring opticians. It offers an espresso-based menu, with Ue’s house-blend joined by its decaf and a monthly guest. Alternatively, there’s a range of loose-leaf tea from sister company Jeeves & Jericho, with a range of cakes and a small selection of savoury items (sausage rolls and muffins) if you’re hungry.

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