Exactly three weeks ago today, Amanda and I set off to drive from Atlanta, Georgia to Portland, Maine, a three-day journey that would take us through some lovely scenery along sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, before we got there, we stopped at Alma Coffee Roastery, a chance discovery which we made while planning the route. It’s on Holly Springs Parkway, which runs parallel to I-575, connecting Woodstock in the south and Canton to the north.
The roastery, which doubles as a coffee shop, is just off the parkway on the left as you drive north, with clear signage and plenty of parking, although there’s no public transport access. A generous outdoor seating area stands in front of the roastery, while inside, a neat coffee shop with a handful of tables occupies the right-hand side of the large roastery building.
Alma Coffee specialises in Honduran coffee, much of it from the owners’ family farms. You can buy any of the roastery’s output in retail bags, while Soulmate, a medium-roast washed coffee, is available through a concise espresso-based menu, along with various iced versions. Alma Coffee only serves in disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.
It’s typical. I go away for a couple of weeks and someone opens a coffee shop in Guildford. I think every opening in the last three years has been while I’ve been away… The newcomer in this case is the Ceylon House of Coffee, an offshoot of the London House of Coffee, which, ironically, is in Colombo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon, as was). Meanwhile the Ceylon House of Coffee is in Guildford, occupying the old American Express building at the bottom of the High Street, a lovely, spacious spot with floor-to-ceiling windows, and plenty of well-separated tables and sofas.
What makes the Ceylon House of Coffee stand out from the crowd is that it only serves coffee from Sri Lanka, with the owner attempting to recreate something of Sri Lanka’s heyday as a coffee-producing nation in the mid-19th century. For now, there’s only a single-option on espresso, along with a selection of Sri Lankan tea, plus a wide range of cakes.
The shop, meanwhile, is operating on reduced opening hours while everyone finds their feet, with drinks being served in disposable cups, although the staff are happy to accept customers’ reusable cups, so don’t forget to bring yours along!
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.
Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, has a reputation as a foodie heaven. What I hadn’t realised, until I got here, was that it is a speciality coffee heaven too, with a strong emphasis on Thai-grown coffee and with the third-wave philosophy of farm-to-cup put into practice. Without even trying, I had a list of more than 10 places to try, although top of pretty much everyone’s list is Akha Ama Coffee.
A social enterprise, with direct relationships with Thai coffee farmers, Akha Ama has been going since 2010. There are three branches so far, two coffee shops in Chiang Mai itself and a new roastery/coffee shop, Akha Ama Living Factory, about 20km north of the city. The focus of today’s Coffee Spot, Akha Ama Coffee La Fattoria, is the second of the two coffee shops and the one you are most likely to come across since it’s right in the centre of the old city.
Serving a variety of Thai coffee, mostly as blends, but with some single-origins, there’s a choice of both hot and cold/iced coffee on espresso and pour-over. There’s also a decent range of beans which you can buy. If you’re hungry, there’s a limited cake selection.
When it comes to speciality coffee in Phoenix, you need to include the surrounding cities, particularly Scottsdale (east), Tempe (southeast), and, beyond that, today’s destination: Chandler. And when it comes to Chandler, there’s one name on everyone’s lips: Peixoto. Indeed, several people suggested I’d be well served making a specific trip just to visit Peixoto, so having arrived on the early flight from Miami exactly a week ago, and with a free afternoon to kill, I pointed my newly-collected hire car in the direction of Chandler…
What marks Peixoto out as special is its crop-to-cup philosophy, taking the ethos of direct trade to its logical conclusion. I’ve seen this in coffee-producing countries such as Vietnam (Oriberry Coffee) and China (Lanna Coffee), but this is the first time I’ve seen it outside of those regions. In Peixoto’s case, (some of) the coffee comes from the Peixoto family farm in Brazil, imported directly to the roastery in the corner of the coffee shop and, from there, straight to your cup. Short of moving to Brazil, it doesn’t come more direct trade than that!
When I first came to Shanghai in 2016, the first speciality coffee shop I visited was Sumerian Coffee where I enjoyed my first taste of Chinese-grown coffee, from Yunnan Province in the south of the country. What I didn’t realise at the time was that, not far from Sumerian Coffee, stands Lanna Coffee, which embodies the whole farm-to-cup principle that I first saw in Vietnam, where Oriberry Coffee is probably the best proponent. You see, Lanna Coffee doesn’t just serve Yunnan coffee, it grows, processes and roasts it in Yunnan. Coffee doesn’t get much more direct trade than this.
Lanna Coffee occupies a small spot at the end of a row of equally small coffee shops (and one barbers/coffee shop). The majority of the seating is outside, in a sheltered, semi-enclosed area, with the coffee shop proper at the back, behind glass double doors. In all, you might seat 14 people if everyone shuffles up.
Despite this small size, Lanna Coffee serves a decent, western-style breakfast/brunch menu, plus a small selection of cakes, to go with its coffee. There’s the Red Lantern blend on espresso and a range of single-origin/single-estate Yunnan coffees to buy or to enjoy as a pour-over.
On my recent trips, I’ve had the very good fortune of having some outstanding coffee shops right next to my hotels, but in this case, good fortune had nothing to do with it. I’d deliberately picked my hotel, buried in the warren of narrow streets west of the lake in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter (Hoàn Kiếm), because it was next to two of Bex (Double Skinny Macchiato) top two recommendations, RuNam Bistro and today’s Coffee Spot, Oriberry Coffee.
Oriberry is a Vietnamese social enterprise founded in 2010 to work closely with Vietnamese coffee and tea farmers, the ideals at the heart of the third-wave coffee movement. Oriberry is a chain of four coffee shops, which also double as retail outlets for its range of pottery, which is handmade in the nearby village of Bat Trang, and coffee, all of which is roasted in-house.
Oriberry serves two espresso blends, one, the 64 blend, a mix of Robusta and Arabica beans, the other, the 73 blend, pure Arabica. Both are available as espresso, while the 64 is also available as traditional Vietnamese Coffee, made with the cà phê phin cup-top filter. There’s also a range of Vietnamese tea and cakes.