Good airport coffee is still, sadly, a rarity. It therefore seems unfair that, given its scarcity, Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport should have not one, but two speciality coffee shops. The first is Cartel Coffee Lab in Terminal 4., which is very handy for me, since I typically fly British Airways/American, both of whom use the terminal.
However, this time, I was flying Delta, which uses the newly-refurbished Terminal 3. I was just kicking myself for my choice of airline and hence terminal, rueing missing out on a decent pre-flight coffee, when I walked past Giant Coffee, a small coffee bar tucked in with a larger convenience store/newsagent.
Although there’s not much to Giant, it offers a concise espresso-based menu using the house-blend and decaf, plus there’s pour-over (V60 or cafetiere) and batch brew, each sporting a different single-origin. There’s also Rishi Tea and a range of cakes, sandwiches and salads.
Verve Coffee Roasters, which began in Santa Cruz, California, has spread out along the Pacific Coast, with locations in nearby San Francisco to the north and Los Angeles to the south. It’s also crossed the ocean to Japan, where it has coffee shops in Tokyo and Kamakura. Although I haven’t been to all the Verves, I decided that I would visit at least one coffee shop in each city, crossing off Kamakura, the last on my list, when visiting Japan last year. Which was where the staff told me about the new Palo Alto coffee shop. I swear they’re doing this deliberately! So, when I was in the Bay Area for work at the start of this month, I popped up to Palo Alto on the Caltrain to tick that one off my list.
Verve occupies a corner spot a block from the station, with a large outdoor seating area right on the corner, backed up by a bright, spacious interior with plenty more seating. The coffee offering will be familiar to anyone who has been to a Verve before, as will the twin Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machines. There’s also food until 2pm and cakes all day.
Although this is my sixth visit to Phoenix in under four years, I’ve always stayed in northeast Phoenix or Scottsdale, my speciality coffee focus generally turned towards the centre and the cities to the southeast, such as Tempe and Chandler. However, Peoria’s Driftwood Coffee Co. has been on my radar since it opened in 2017, so when work finished unexpectedly early one afternoon, I took my chance and drove over to pay it a visit.
Driftwood is on the edge of Old Town Peoria, just off Highway 60, which runs northwest out of central Phoenix. Occupying a compact space at the end of a warehouse-like building, Driftwood has a generous outside seating area and a simple, high-ceilinged interior. A true multi-roaster, Driftwood aims to offer at least one Arizona-based roaster and one from elsewhere in America. While I was there, there were two local options, Mythical Coffee (which I’d visited earlier in the week) and Tucson’s Yellow Brick Coffee (which I’d previously enjoyed at Maverick Coffee), while the national offering was from Horizon Line Coffee in Des Moines, Iowa. There’s a concise espresso-based menu, batch brew (for those in a hurry) or a slow bar, offering cafetiere, Chemex or V60.
If you’re familiar with Verve, then the coffee offering will come as no surprise. There’s the Streetlevel seasonal blend on espresso, joined by a single-origin and decaf, while on filter, Verve has a blend on batch brew and five single-origins, plus decaf on pour-over. There’s also my favourite, the one-and-one, plus a coffee flight, where you can compare three of the pour-over options side-by-side. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, you can choose from three savoury waffles, three sweet waffles and three toast-based dishes.
A permanent fixture of my now annual trips to Phoenix is meeting up with Meg and her husband Coffee Ken, Arizona’s leading coffee blogger. So, when I arrived in Phoenix on Saturday, other than picking up my hire car and checking into my hotel, my first act was to drive over to Gilbert, one the cities to the southeast of Phoenix, for our meet up. The venue was a new coffee shop, Mythical Coffee, on Gilbert Town Square.
What Ken hadn’t told me when he suggested Mythical Coffee as our venue, is just how new it is. Today it has been open for precisely two weeks. Mythical Coffee is a roaster and coffee shop, offering an ever-changing cast of single-origins, one each on espresso, batch brew and pour-over, with the coffee available to buy in retail bags. There’s also cold brew and, when the equipment has been tweaked, nitro cold brew will be available, along with several seasonal lattes and a small selection of matcha, chai and tea. Mythical offers a small brunch menu, featuring overnight oats, plus four different toast options, served until 2pm each day, along with a selection of cakes and pastries, available all day.
Fortitude Bakehouse, tucked away in the heart of Bloomsbury behind Russell Square Tube Station, opened in the summer of last year, an event which largely passed me by, perhaps explaining why I left it until the start of this month to pay it a visit. It is, as the name suggests, a bakery, reminding me, in concept at least, of the original Exploding Bakery in Exeter.
There’s a single counter running the entire width of the shop, behind which the bakery bustles away, turning out sourdough sweets and savouries, all of which you’ll find laden on the counter. Even better, at the far end, a Victoria Arduino White Eagle espresso machine dispenses drinks from a concise espresso menu, using a single-origin from Has Bean. Although aimed mostly at the takeaway trade, there’s a small amount of seating inside, while outside on the quiet street, you’ll find six two-person tables.
Garage Coffee first came to Whitstable with its 2018 pop-up, making things permanent when it took over its current location from Burgate Coffee House in January of the following year. This made it Garage Coffee’s second permanent location, following on from its coffee shop inside the Fruitworks co-working space in Canterbury. However, in October, Garage left Fruitworks and, staying in Canterbury, moved to the Canteen on nearby Sun Street. Technically, of course, this leaves the Whitstable outpost as Garage Coffee’s oldest coffee shop…
Compared to either of the Canterbury locations, the Whitstable café is a fairly modest affair, but it’s still a substantial operation, with a generous seating area at the front and a counter with minimal seating at the back. The coffee offering is the same, with everything roasted in-house. The Maypole blend is on espresso, joined by decaf and a single-origin, which changes every few days. There’s a daily single-origin on batch-brew while all Garage’s single-origins are available on pour-over through the V60, Aeropress or Chemex.
Although the food offering’s not as substantial as Canterbury, it’s still pretty impressive, with a toast-based all-day breakfast menu plus sourdough toasties and wraps, all prepared in the kitchen at the back.
Even in a city like Prague, with its excellent speciality coffee scene, it’s rare to find top quality coffee in the tourist-centric heart of the city. Fortunately, Pauseteria is an exception to this rule, located right in the heart of Prague’s old city, making it a near-essential stop for any coffee lover doing the usual tourist sights. Opening in April 2018, Pauseteria occupies a large, vaulted central room, with a smaller room off to each side.
In keeping with a typical Czech café, there’s full table service (and very attentive it is too), along with an interesting, all-day breakfast/brunch menu, backed up with a wide range of cakes, baked fresh every day. Naturally, there’s a small selection of beer and wine, along with soft drinks and tea. And then, of course, there’s the coffee, drawn from a regularly-rotating group of Czech roasters, with two options on espresso and another on filter, available as either batch brew or through the V60.
Amanda and I liked Pauseteria so much that we visited twice, once for breakfast on a busy Sunday morning, Amanda’s first full day in Prague, and again for coffee and cake on Friday afternoon, our final day in the city.
Some cities never change. In others, change is almost constant, Canterbury being a good (for me, at least) example. Since my previous visit, 2½ years ago in May 2017, pretty much everything has changed. Of the places I visited, only the Micro Roastery is still going in the same place/format. Water Lane Coffee has gone, Lost Sheep has doubled in size and now roasts its own coffee, while today’s Coffee Spot, Garage Coffee, has left Fruitworks and taken over the Canteen, a few streets away, next to the Cathedral. Spread over three floors of a lovely, 500-year-old building, the contrast with the large, open spaces of Fruitworks couldn’t be starker.
The star of the show, of course, is the coffee, with a very similar offering despite the change of venue. All roasted in-house, there’s a blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, while any of the single-origins and decaf are available through V60, Aeropress and Chemex, with a daily option on batch brew. The Canteen part of the operation is represented by a range of options, all baked/cooked on-site. This includes various flatbreads, salads, sourdough toasties and multiple things on toast. There’s also soup, jacket potatoes and a range of cakes.
Although I love Canterbury, its narrow, winding medieval streets can get very crowded, so much so that sometimes I need to break from all the people, which makes today’s Coffee Spot, Coffee Curiosity, even more of a find. Recommended by practically everyone, but in particular Sally Gurteen, Mike Stanbridge and Dan from Lost Sheep Coffee, it’s a five-minute walk west of the city centre, an oasis of calm in the Tannery Square development.
Coffee Curiosity was opened in January 2018 by Chase, a barista I first met in G!RO Cycles almost four years ago to the day of my visit, catching up with him 18 months later during my previous visit to Canterbury, when he worked at Garage Coffee in its days at Fruitworks. Impressively, he recognised me the instant I walked through the door!
Coffee Curiosity is a reverse TARDIS, the interior far smaller than it looks. There’s an espresso blend from Coldblow, a local roaster from Tenterden, plus regular guests on filter, with a Kenyan single-origin from Cambridge’s The Brew Project during my visit. There’s also tea from local suppliers, Debonair Tea Company, a small selection of panini and a range of cakes, all baked by Chase’s father-in-law.