Mojo, 200 South Wacker

The Mojo logo from the wall of its first Chicago branch, 200 South Wacker.Mojo, the New Zealand-based roaster/coffee shop chain, was founded in 2003 and now has 33 branches. Since 2017, it’s had a small foothold in Chicago, starting with today’s Coffee Spot, it’s first Chicagoland location, 200 South Wacker. Since then, it’s added a second branch a few blocks away on West Jackson, with another in River North on the way.

I visited Mojo last summer, at the start of my Midwest Road Trip. I pride myself on being reasonably on top of Chicago’s growing speciality coffee scene, but I must confess that I was clueless about Mojo until I walked in to see the Synesso espresso machine and Steampunk brewers. That I found it was entirely down to Tony Gebely, a fellow author, who is writing The Philosophy of Tea, a companion book for The Philosophy of Coffee, to be published by the British Library in September.

Mojo has a house-blend on espresso for milk-based drinks and a single-origin for espressos/americanos, with another on filter and two options on batch-brew, all roasted for Mojo in the West Loop. Showing its Kiwi roots, Mojo is as much as about food as it is coffee, the extensive brunch menu available until three o’clock.

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Intelligentsia Coffee, Millennium Park

A classic, Intelligentsia diner mug from my visit to the Millennium Park coffee bar.I’ve a long-standing soft spot for Intelligentsia, the Chicago-based veteran speciality coffee roaster and coffee shop chain. Indeed, I learnt to enjoy speciality coffee through its Black Cat espresso blend in the Monadnock coffee bar on Jackson Boulevard in The Loop long before I knew what speciality coffee was. Since then, Intelligentsia has spread its wings, with six Chicago locations, plus outposts on the West Coast (four Los Angeles locations) and East Coast (High Line Hotel in New York City and now two branches in Boston).

The Millennium Park coffee bar, down in The Loop, is the fourth Chicago Intelligentsia I’ve visited and the only surprise is that it’s taken me so long. Occupying a simple spot, it’s a large, open, high-ceiling space with, given the size, minimal interior seating in an uncluttered layout, plus a small outside seating area. The coffee, as ever, is excellent, Black Cat, decaf and a daily single-origin leading the way on espresso, another single-origin on batch brew and two more on pour-over, all changing daily. The pour-over, by the way, uses the (new to me) Poursteady automatic system. There’s also a wide range of Kilogram Teas and a small cake and savoury selection.

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Ritual Coffee Roasters, Hayes Valley

The Ritual Coffee logo in the window of the Hayes Valley branch.A pioneer of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene since first opening in The Mission in 2005, Ritual Coffee Roasters’ reputation preceded it. I’d seen its coffee across the USA from Box Kite in New York to Go Get ‘Em Tiger in Los Angeles. More recently, I’d had Ritual’s coffee at Maverick Coffee in Phoenix. Through all that, I’d never been to any of its six San Francisco outlets, so it was a priority on my return two weeks ago to pay Ritual a visit. As luck would have it, I’d chosen my hotel well, just a short walk from Ritual’s Hayes Valley location, occupying one of a small collection of shipping containers known as Proxy.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that, operating out of a container, Ritual might be a limited, takeaway-focused operation, but far from it. With proper cups for drink-in customers (bench inside or multiple tables outside), there’s a coffee selection that would put many larger shops to shame: house-blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, three single-origins on pour-over and another on batch-brew.

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Flywheel Coffee Roasters

The Flywheel Coffee Roasters logo from the wall of the coffee shop in San Francisco.Although Flywheel Coffee Roasters is physically removed from the third wave hub of The Mission/SoMa, it’s not that far away, at the eastern end of Golden Gate Park, an ideal spot for a coffee stop before or after some serious touristing. However, in terms of look and feel, with its long, thin industrial interior, coffee shop in front, cast iron roaster at the back, it fits right in with the Sightglasses, Sextants and Four Barrels of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene.

The spacious interior is lovely, the coffee even more so. All roasted twice a week in the back of the store on a 15 kg Joper from Portugal, there’s a blend and decaf on espresso (occasionally joined by a single-origin), served from a cut-down espresso-based menu. In contrast to the relatively old-school roaster, the espresso machine, a Mk II Slayer, is about as cutting edge as they come.

If you fancy something different, there are four seasonal single-origins on filter. Refreshingly, there’s no batch-brew. Instead everything’s available through either the V60 or, unusually, the syphon, something which I only see in a handful of coffee shops. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cake, and that’s it.

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Chromatic Coffee, Santa Clara

A 1&1 (espresso + macchiato) made with the Papua New Guinea single-origin at Chromatic Coffee in Santa Clara.On my first visit to San Jose in 2017, Chromatic Coffee was already an established name in the area. Unfortunately, I was too early for the branch in downtown San Jose, which opened in June that year, so my only other option was the original, flagship branch on Stevens Creek Boulevard. Located 6 miles west of San Jose in neighbouring Santa Clara, I never had the opportunity to visit on that trip. However, when my friend Richard, who I was staying with on this trip, said he would drop me off on his way to work, I jumped at the chance.

Chromatic Coffee is part of a small outdoor mall, with a large, outdoor seating area and plenty of seating inside. The coffee, roasted in-house at the San Jose roastery (ironically five minutes’ walk from Richard’s house), is available in retail bags. There’s a blend (which switches between Gamut and Heart’s Desire) and single-origin on espresso, with multiple seasonal choices on batch-brew (blend plus two single-origins) and pour-over (decaf plus two more single-origins). As well as coffee, there’s craft beer, while if you’re hungry, Chromatic has a toast-based brunch menu, grab-and-go salads and a large selection of cakes and pastries.

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B2 Coffee

"B2 PROUDLY serving KICK BACK", taken from the board outside B2 in San Pedro Square Market.I’ve spent the last week in San Jose/Santa Clara where, naturally, I’ve been exploring the small but excellent speciality coffee scene. I visited today’s Coffee Spot, B2 Coffee, on my first trip here in January 2017, but I never had time to write it up. Located in the San Pedro Square Market, it’s one of the area’s speciality coffee pioneers and, until it was joined by Chromatic Coffee (a couple of streets over), was pretty much the only speciality coffee outpost in downtown San Jose.

Regular readers are aware of my love of Coffee Spots in Markets, so it’s no surprise that I really liked B2 Coffee, located on one side of a large, communal seating area at the market’s northern end. You can take your coffee at what is effectively an island counter (more brownie points), find a seat (or sofa) in the communal area, or head outside. Talking of the coffee, it’s all roasted by sister company, Kickback, with seasonal offerings on espresso (single option plus decaf), pour-over (usually two options), batch-brew and nitro-cold brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes, plus the food hall in the market is at your disposal. And there’s a bar.

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Verve Coffee Roasters, Spring Street

A Honduran single-origin pour-over served at Verve Coffee Roasters on Spring Street, Los Angeles, The coffee comes in a carafe, cup on the side, presented on a wooden tray with a card giving details of the beans.I have a soft spot for Verve Coffee Roasters, the California-based coffee shop/roaster chain, although its three Japanese outposts earn it the tag “international”. Starting in Santa Cruz, where it has four outlets, including its flagship Pacific Avenue store, it’s spread both north to San Francisco (Market Street) and south to Los Angeles, where I visited the Spring Street store in downtown LA. Opening in 2015, it’s one of three Verve outlets in the city (soon to be four with opening of a roastery/ coffee shop in the Arts District in summer 2019).

The coffee options, which change monthly, are familiar to anyone who has visited Verve. There’s the Streetlevel seasonal espresso blend, joined by a featured espresso (also a blend, Sermon, during my visit), all the shots being pulled on a custom four-group Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine. For filter, there’s a batch-brew option, with three single-origins available as pour-over through Kalita Wave filters on the Modbar modular system. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of salads, wraps and bowls, with cake and pastries for those with a sweet tooth, while all the coffee is available in retail bags, along with a selection of merchandising and coffee equipment.

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Madcap, Fulton

An exclusive naturally-occurring varietal from El Salvador, served as an espresso in a snifter glass at Madcap, Fulton in Grand Rapids.Today’s Coffee Spot celebrates the publication of Sprudge’s A Coffee Drinker’s Guide to Grand Rapids, written by friend of the Coffee Spot, The Pourover. Taking you back to a glorious, sunny, hot (29°C) Sunday last September, the day I visited Grand Rapids on my Midwest Road Trip, let me present my own modest contribution, Madcap’s Fulton Street branch, attached to its roastery in suburban eastern Grand Rapids.

The roastery moved here from the basement of the original Monroe Center location in 2015, with the coffee shop opening in March 2018. Occupying an old garage set back from the street, there’s a broad forecourt, with seating out front. The roastery and training room, open by appointment only, is to the left, while the standalone coffee shop is to right.

A smaller, more relaxed operation than the flagship store downtown, the coffee offering’s similar, with two options on espresso (a blend and single-origin), four on pour-over (one blend, three single-origins) and four on batch-brew (six at the weekend). Various drinks are on tap, including nitro and cold brew, plus there’s tea and seasonal drinks. Naturally, the entire output is available in retail bags, with a small selection of cake if you’re hungry.

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The Point

My coffee, overlooking the five stone arches of Fangsheng Bridge in Zhujiajiao from the back terrace of The Point.Today’s Coffee Spot was another chance discovery, following on from last week’s unexpected finds during my recent trip to Shanghai. Whereas Seesaw and Mellower Coffee were names I already knew, The Point, in the ancient Water Town of Zhujiajiao, was an unknown quantity. Visiting Zhujiajiao purely as a tourist, drawn by its narrow, winding alleys, canals, and old, stone bridges, coffee was not high on my list. Indeed, before I left, I’d filled up my Travel Press, bringing it with me so that I’d be sure of one decent coffee during the day.

However, as I wandered the narrow lanes, practically every café/restaurant was offering coffee (and practically every other shop was a café/restaurant). Most looked unimpressive, several were interesting, but only one leapt out at me: The Point. The roaster standing proudly at the front of the counter was a clear statement, one which, I discovered, was backed up by some excellent coffee.

It’s also an excellent place to drink said coffee. Long and thin, it’s comprised of multiple, small rooms running back from the street, ending in a lovely terrace overlooking the Dianpu River. Even better, it’s spread over three floors, each successively smaller as you go up.

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% Arabica, Shanghai Roastery

The % Arabica logo from one of the two pairs of double doors at the front of its Shanghai Roastery.My first experiences of % Arabica were in department stores/malls, initially in % Arabica’s hometown of Kyoto in 2017, where I visited its Fujii Daimaru Department Store branch, then last week in Shanghai, in the newly-opened Xintiandi Plaza branch. In both cases, it was disposable cups only: disappointing, given that both cater to sit-in customers, but forgivable, given the location/style of service. I was therefore looking forward to visiting % Arabica’s combined Shanghai roastery and coffee shop, in a prime location just off the Bund.

I have a rule on the Coffee Spot never to write negative/critical pieces. Today, I’m partially suspending that rule. Never have such high expectations been met with such bitter disappointment. Don’t get me wrong: the coffee was excellent, while the setting has so much potential. However, counter-service and disposable cups just don’t cut it for me, not when you could do so much more.

Talking of the coffee, there’s a house-blend (Brazil and two different Ethiopians) and a single-origin, both available as espresso or pour-over (through the Chemex), but that’s pretty much it. You can, of course, buy the beans, while there’s a limited range of merchandising on sale, but don’t forget to bring your own cup.

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