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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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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Fairgrounds Bucktown

Fairgrounds, Craft Coffee & Tea | Taste One, Taste All, written on the back wall at the Bucktown location in Chicago.I became aware of Fairgrounds Craft Coffee and Tea when I discovered the Infuse Coffee & Tea Bar inside my office building at River Point North. Although Infuse runs in-house coffee bars, the staff told me about Fairgrounds, Infuse’s sister company which runs cafés. That was in 2017, when Infuse had just opened, although it’s taken me another 2½ years before I’ve managed to visit Fairgrounds, although for once I’ve done it right, visiting its Bucktown location, which, like Infuse, opened in 2017, along with another Fairgrounds in The Loop.

Although it started in Chicago, Fairgrounds now has cafés in Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Los Angeles to join the (currently) three Chicago locations, plus two more in the suburbs. They all have the same mission, which is shared with Infuse: to serve a wide range of excellent coffee on espresso and filter, plus cold brew, nitro brew, various elixirs and tea. To this end, there’s a blend, decaf and rotating single-origin on espresso, plus three more blends, a further three single-origins and a decaf on pour-over, sourced from roasters across America. If you’re hungry, Fairgrounds had an all-day breakfast menu, sandwiches, salad bowls and soup, plus various snacks, bites and cake.

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Gourmet Coffee Bar & Kitchen, Crewe

A flat white, made with Clifton Coffee Roasters' Suspension Espresso and served in my HuskeeCup at Gourmet Coffee Bar & Kitchen on Platform 6, Crewe Station.I’ve been visiting Gourmet Coffee Bar & Kitchen at Crewe station for many years, picking up flat whites to go in my various reusable cups as I’ve changed trains, usually on my way to/from my Dad’s, so I thought it was about time I wrote it up. Gourmet Coffee has been going since 2007 and it’s been at Crewe since 2011. It now boasts coffee bars at 14 stations, mostly in the Midlands and North West, with outposts in Cardiff and Wrexham. There’s also a coffee bar on a Wrexham industrial estate.

Crewe has two Gourmet Coffee Bars, a smaller one on Platform 6 and the larger one on Platform 5, which I usually visit. Both have a similar offering, with a standard espresso-based menu and a range of sandwiches, crisps, cakes and pastries if you’re hungry. After years with Union Hand-roasted, Gourmet Coffee recently switched to Clifton Coffee Roasters.

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Giant Coffee, Phoenix Sky Harbor

The sign on the wall at Giant Coffee in Terminal 3, Phoenix Sky Harbor.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.

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Pair Specialty Coffee & Tea

My espresso, a Colombian Geisha, roasted and served at Pair Speciality Coffee & Tea in Mesa, and presented on a square, wooden tray with a glass of water on the side.After five previous visits to Phoenix, where I’ve visited coffee shops in the surrounding cities of Scottsdale, Tempe and Chandler, this trip has seen me add Gilbert, Peoria and now Mesa to the list. Mesa, which is east of Tempe and north of Gilbert, is somewhere I’ve only previously driven through on my way to the Superstition Mountains. What caused me to stop on this occasion was Pair Specialty Coffee & Tea, which I was urged to visit by several people, including Fionn of The Pourover and Eric, at Mythical Coffee.

Pair Specialty Coffee & Tea started as a pop-up inside the tap room at Cider Corps, although it’s now migrated to a more permanent set up at the back of the main bar with plans to expand the opening hours in the next month or two. Pair roasts all its own coffee, with five single-origins on pour-over, two of which are also on espresso. These are backed up by five loose-leaf teas pus matcha, with all the coffee/tea available to buy in retail bags.

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Verve Coffee Roasters, Kamakura

The window at the side of Verve Coffee Roasters in Kamakura Japan, which proudly states Verve's roots in Santa Cruz, California.I spent last week in the Bay Area, not far from Santa Cruz, home of Verve Coffee Roasters, which I visited almost exactly three years ago, in 2017. The following year it was the turn of Verve in Omotesando, Tokyo and then, last year, I managed to visit Verve in both Los Angeles (Spring Street) and San Francisco (Market Street). I was happily congratulating myself on having visited Verve in every city where it has a presence when I realised that one of its Japanese coffee shops was in Kamakura rather than Tokyo. Damn! So, when I headed back to Japan in September that year, I took a day trip to Kamakura. Naturally, I popped into Verve for coffee.

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.

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Fortitude Bakehouse

My 6oz with milk (aka a flat white), made with an Ethiopian Ana Sora, a naturally-processed coffee from Has Bean, served in a glass at Fortitude Bakehouse, London.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.

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Big Shoulders, The Loop

The Big Shoulders Coffee logo taken from a diner mug in its coffee shop in The Loop.I first came across Big Shoulders a little over a year ago, when I spotted the Gold Coast branch, directly opposite Tempo Café, one of my favourite Chicago brunch spots. Although it had been around as a roaster since 2009, it was only recently that Big Shoulders had started opening its coffee shops. At the time of writing, Big Shoulders has seven locations, including today’s Coffee Spot, on West Lake Street in the Loop. I managed to visit it during the same trip that I discovered the Gold Coast coffee shop and returned when I was back in Chicago in May this year.

Big Shoulders roasts all the coffee, with a house blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, served from a fairly concise menu, including cortado, flat white and cappuccino/latte options (the last two available in small and large). There’s a choice of filter options, with one single-origin on batch brew (“fast drip” on the menu) and another on pour-over (termed “slow coffee”, which I rather like), prepared using a V60 on the Modbar automated pour-over system. There are also cold brew and nitro options, plus a selection of tea and a range of breakfasts sandwiches and cakes if you’re hungry.

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Lost Sheep Coffee Update

Detail from the chipboard box next to the Lost Sheep Coffee Pod in Saint George's Lane, Canterbury.When I first went to Canterbury, in May 2017, Lost Sheep Coffee was already a fixture in the city, having, in 2015, traded in its cart on the High Street for a neat black pod down by the bus station. By the time I returned, an awful lot had changed, starting with the neat black pod, which was no more, having been replaced by a much larger (although still small in the grand scheme of things) pod. In addition, Lost Sheep had started serving in its own coffee from its new roastery in Whitstable.

In fairness to Lost Sheep, had I returned six months after my initial visit, I’d have found both these changes. However, thanks to my extensive travels, it was 2½ years later, at the end of November 2019, that I finally returned to Canterbury, making a beeline for the bus station to check out the “new” pod.

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