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 Speciality Coffee & Tea, which I was urged to visit by several people, including Fionn of The Pourover and Eric, at Mythical Coffee.
Pair Speciality 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.
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, there’s 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, there’s a selection of three savoury waffles, three sweet waffles and three toast-based dishes.
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.
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.
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.
Ipsento is a long-established player in Chicago’s speciality coffee scene, the coffee shop/roaster first opening its doors in 2006 in Bucktown, just off the speciality coffee corridor of Milwaukee Avenue. I discovered Ipsento three years ago, when I visited its second location, Ipsento 606, as part of my first around the world trip. Although only a few blocks from the original, it was a coffee shop too that day and, sadly, it’s taken me nearly three years to get back to Ipsento. To make up for this oversight, I visited twice during my trip to Chicago earlier this year.
Ipsento is, in many ways, a classic American coffee shop, offering counter service from a bright front room, with additional seating in a cosy back room, plus there’s a large outdoor seating area. However, it’s anything but classic when it comes to the coffee, with the Cascade house-blend, a single-origin and decaf on espresso, plus batch brew and a separate brew bar (until 4pm) offering different single-origins on Aeropress, Kalita Wave and V60, all roasted in-house in a separate facility a couple of blocks away. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of filled breakfast croissants, lunch sandwiches and three toast options.
Madcap Coffee is, other than Chicago’s Intelligentsia, the one name in Midwest coffee that I hear (and see) on a consistent basis around the US. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which I visited on last year’s Midwest road trip specifically to see Madcap and visit its three locations: Monroe Center, where it all began, the new roastery and coffee shop on Fulton Street, and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Madcap’s coffee bar in Downtown Market.
All three locations have the same basic menu, with two options on espresso and multiple pour-over options, although the choice of beans varies. For Downtown Market, this means that the Third Coast blend, along with decaf, are ever-present on espresso, joined by a second option which changes once or twice a week. For coffee equipment geeks, the shots are pulled on a Modbar system, with Modbar pour-over modules dispensing filter coffee through the Kalita Wave.
Breather Coffee, in Zushi in Kanagawa prefecture, was a recommendation from Dark Arts Coffee in nearby Hayama, who I visited while on my way to Tokyo during my recent trip to Japan in August/September this year. Occupying a small spot right in the centre of town, Breather Coffee is a five-minute walk from the station, making it an easy option if you’re reliant on public transport.
Run by a lovely, friendly Japanese couple, Kohei and Mizuho, Breather Coffee uses Melbourne roasters, Maker Coffee, a legacy of the five years that Kohei and Mizuho spent in Melbourne (which also accounts for their excellent English). You’ll find the Smith Blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a single-origin option, plus another on pour-over through the V60. The single-origins change on a weekly basis and are also available in retail bags. If you’re hungry, there are western-style cakes and a couple of toasties.
I was in luck during my time in Kanazawa, where I stayed for three days, part of the week I spent travelling around Japan at the end of August this year. I’d gone on the recommendation of my friend Christopher, but this was more with a view to being a tourist. The fact that I found so much great coffee, most of it within a few minutes of my hotel, was a bonus.
Blue Monday was the exception, since it’s not near my hotel. Instead, it’s close to Kanazawa station, making it a perfect introduction to the city (and a good last call before catching your train). Located in the Porte basement shopping complex under the Hotel Nikko, it offers espresso-based drinks, using a bespoke house-blend, plus herbal tea, hot dogs, toast, soft-serve ice cream and mini-doughnuts. If you want to stay, there’s no seating, but there are proper cups.
Unlimited Coffee Bar is almost directly under Tokyo’s famous 643m tall Skytree, which, since 2012, has been Japan’s tallest structure and the world’s tallest tower. Located just across the canal, opposite the Skytree’s southwest corner, it’s an ideal stopping off point for coffee (or lunch/dinner) either before or after taking in the magnificent views across Tokyo from the Skytree’s two observation decks. I’ve visited twice, once during my around the world trip last year, and again earlier this week on my current trip, both times calling in for coffee after a trip up the tower.
In contrast to the soaring tower, Unlimited Coffee Bar, an offshoot of Unlimited Coffee Roasters, is a much more modest affair, at least in terms of its physical extent, occupying the ground floor of a small, three storey building. The unlimited part refers to the coffee, with a selection of five or six single-origins, all roasted in-house, two of which are available on espresso, three on cold brew and all on pour-over via Aeropress, Silverton dripper or V60. Various tasting flights are offered, along with coffee cocktails, while all the beans are available in retail bags. Finally, for somewhere so small, there’s an impressive food menu.