Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying from Atlanta to Chicago

Making my own coffee in the Admirals Club at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport. On display are my Travel Press and Aergrind, with beans from Tandem Coffee Roasters and hot water from the lounge's coffee machine.Welcome to the third instalment of this, the second (and possibly last, the way things are going) Travel Spot of 2020, all about my trip to America just before the COVID-19 crisis. Part 1 covered my flight to Boston with British Airways to spend a couple of weeks with Amanda in Portland. In Part 2, Amanda and I travelled from Portland to Atlanta by a combination of car and train to visit her mother. Then, after a week in the Atlanta suburbs, we parted company and I flew to Chicago, which is the subject of today’s Travel Spot. I was supposed to be there for two weeks, although subsequent events radically altered that plan!

It’s now exactly three weeks since I made that flight and, sitting here, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels very surreal to be writing about taking an internal flight in the US when so much has changed since then. However, at the time I flew, although people were starting to take precautions against catching COVID-19, everything seemed pretty normal. Little did I know at the time that this would be the last “normal” flight I’m likely to take for who knows how long!

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Grinding Coffee at Home

A comparison of different grind sizes from coarse (top left) to very fine (bottom right). The first three are ground with my feldgrind hand grinder: cafetiere (top left), V60 (top right), Aeropress (bottom left), while the fourth (bottom right) is my espresso grinder, ground for espresso in my Sage Barista Express.Last week I wrote about making coffee at home, using just a cafetiere and kettle. At the time, I said that the most important thing you can add is a grinder, so picking up on that, here’s a short post on the importance of grinding your own coffee at home, including some practical advice to help get you started.

The simple reason I advise everyone to grind their own coffee is that it tastes better! Coffee ages over time, slowly losing its taste, but ground coffee ages incredibly quickly (it’s to do with the amount of surface area exposed to the air). In contrast, whole beans keep much longer (and can be successfully frozen to further prolong their life). You then just grind the beans you need, ideally right before brewing, and off you go. You should notice an immediate improvement in taste.

Like many things in coffee, it can seem a little daunting at first, but grinding your own coffee needn’t be difficult, particularly if you are only grinding for one preparation method, which means you’re not always fiddling around with settings. In this post, I’ll talk about selecting a grinder and the all-important consideration: how fine to grind!

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Demise of Amtrak’s Full Dining Service

Amtrak's new "contemporary" menu on its Viewliner sleeper services: prepacked meals, delivered in a paper bag, a far cry from the full service dining cars it replaced. Bottom, my vegan Asian noodle bowl, and top, Amanda's red wine braised beef.One of the great pleasures of taking Amtrak’s long-distance trains used to be the dining car, where you could enjoy three hot meals a day, cooked to order from a varied menu, along with dessert and full table service. While this is still true on services running west of the magical line from Chicago to New Orleans, since the start of October last year, Amtrak has replaced its full dining service on all other sleeper services (except the Silver Star from New York to Miami, which is due to move to the new service on 1st May this year).

Although the new service is touted as an “upgrade” by Amtrak, it’s anything but. Having experienced (and loved) the full service dining car, what’s replaced it is vastly inferior, as Amanda and I discovered when we took the train from New York to Atlanta at the start of this month. Instead of a bustling dining car, full of happy passengers, we found a near empty carriage, grumpy staff and, while the food was good, the menu was limited (particularly if you don’t eat meat). As an experience, it was an immense disappointment, fundamentally detracting from the enjoyment of our journey.

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Making Coffee at Home: Cafetiere

My shiny metal cafetiere (I got tired of breaking the glass ones!).With the COVID-19 crisis in full swing, most people will be making coffee at home for the foreseeable future. While I’m rather obsessive about my home coffee making (fancy scales, hand grinder, gooseneck kettle, multiple filter methods, espresso machine…) and even have my own travelling coffee kit, that’s not for this post. Rather, I’m going back to my coffee-making roots with the method I used before I got swallowed by the speciality coffee rabbit hole. Hopefully this will help anyone not used to making coffee at home.

So, rather than write about my Aeropress, V60 or Clever Dripper, this post is all about the humble cafetiere (aka French Press) which I still use to make my morning coffee every day. I find it a simple, reliable and, above all, forgiving way of making coffee. It’s also very scalable: using the same basic recipe you can make coffee for one person just as easily as you can for three or four (as long as you have a big enough cafetiere, of course). All you really need is coffee, a cafetiere, mug, kettle and a timer, although the most important thing you can add is a grinder, which will improve things immensely!

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Supporting Coffee Shops in the Face of COVID-19

A flat white to go in my ThermaCup, bought from Krema Coffee Guildford, the day before it temporarily closed as a response to COVID-19.A week ago, I’d just arrived in Chicago for work, having flown in from Atlanta. While there were worries around COVID-19, and people were taking precautions, everything seemed very normal. I went for a walk around the city and visited some coffee shops. That weekend now feels a very, very long time ago.

The day after I arrived, Sunday, 15th March, the Governor of Illinois announced the closure of all bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes to all except takeaway customers, and I made the decision to return home. I flew to Boston the following day and on Tuesday, I flew from a near-empty airport on a near-empty flight back to Heathrow.

Since then, I’ve been trying to readjust to life at home and practice social distancing, while continuing to work (I’m fortunate that I work remotely anyway and, for now, work is carrying on as normal). I’m also trying to support my local coffee businesses as best I can and for as long as I can.

Am I taking unreasonable risks? I don’t know. Am even doing the right thing? I don’t know. All I can tell you is that I’m asking myself those questions every day, re-evaluating, every day.

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Meet the Roaster: Ue Coffee Roasters

The Ue Coffee Roasters logo from the sign outside the roastery in Witney, OxfordshireWith the COVID-19 situation getting worse every day (all UK coffee shops closed as of last night), now seems like a good time for a new Meet the Roaster feature.

I first visited Ue Coffee Roasters back in 2014 for a feature in Caffeine Magazine. In those days, the roastery, on Windrush Industrial Park, a couple of miles west of Witney, was a standalone operation. These days, it’s been joined by a lovely café & kitchen, which occupies the front of the building, the roastery still in its same old spot, a large, warehouse like space at the back, which you can see through the windows behind the counter. Even better, the café’s toilets are in the roastery, so you have a legitimate excuse to nose around!

Ue Coffee made its name as the UK’s only wood-fired roaster. However, it’s come a long way since then, launching a sister company, Jeeves & Jericho, offering artisan loose-leaf tea and opening not one, but two coffee shops. While still doing much of its roasting on its bespoke, wood-fired roaster, there’s a new, gas-fired 30kg Giesen, along with a sample roaster, reflecting a new emphasis on high-scoring single lots and micro-lots. There’s also a plan for a new organic roastery in Cheltenham, due to open later this year. With all that in mind, Amanda and I had a tour with head roaster, Jon.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Portland to Atlanta by Car & Train

Locomotive 608, hauling Amtrak Train 19, The Crescent, from New York Penn Station to Washington DC Union Station before it is switched out for two diesel locomotives which take the train on to New Orleans.Welcome to the second instalment of this, the second Travel Spot of 2020. The first part covered my journey to Boston, flying in economy with British Airways, before catching the coach up to Portland, where I spent the next two weeks with Amanda. This instalment involves our journey down to Atlanta to see Amanda’s mother, while the next two parts will cover my onward journey to Chicago and my return home from there.

Amanda and I had plenty of options to get from Portland (Maine) to Atlanta, the most obvious one being to fly. However, neither of us is a great fan of flying internally in the US, and, since we had time, we decided to look at other options. One alternative was driving, something Amanda’s done before, although it’s a one-way trip of 1,200 miles, which amounts to about 19 hours behind the wheel, so I ruled it out.

That left the train, a mode of transport which we both enjoy. It wasn’t the cheapest, nor was it the quickest, but it definitely sounded the most enjoyable, so we booked tickets on Amtrak’s Train 19, Crescent, from New York to Atlanta, building our trip around that.

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Trying Eugenioides at Terremoto

The rare the Eugenioides coffee species in a cortado at Terromoto Coffee in Chelsea, New York City.In the wild, coffee has over 120 individual species. However, two species dominate commercially grown coffee: Arabica and Robusta, with Arabica accounting for the vast majority of speciality coffee. Other species are occasionally commercially grown, and last weekend at Terremoto Coffee in New York, Amanda and I were presented with Coffea eugenioides, a rare species indigenous to the East African highlands, including Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and western Tanzania.

Coffea eugenioides (Eugenioides for short) is, in fact, one of Arabica’s two parent species, the other being Robusta. The Eugenioides at Terremoto was roasted by Neat, a roaster/importer in Darien, Connecticut, and comes from a farm, Las Nubes, in Colombia. Naturally, we had to try it, ending up with a pour-over, an espresso and, to try it in milk, a cortado. Our barista also provided us with a shot of the house espresso (a washed Colombian) and a batch brew sample (a washed Honduran) for comparison!

Normally, I’d write this up as part of my description of the coffee shop, but since Eugenioides is so different from anything that I’ve tried before, I’ve dedicated this entire Saturday Supplement to it, with Terremoto featuring in its own Coffee Spot.

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Terremoto Coffee

The Terremoto Coffee logo, taken from the A-board outside the coffee shop on W 15th Street in New York.I’m indebted to Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato (and her excellent New York Speciality Coffee Map) for the heads-up on today’s Coffee Spot, Terremoto Coffee. Amanda and I were in New York City for less than 24 hours, en-route from Portland (Maine) to Atlanta. Other than quick stops at Café Grumpy in both the Fashion District and Chelsea, we only had time for one prolonged stop, which was at Terremoto.

There’s not much to Terremoto, just a bench outside and three small tables inside, but size is no limit to its ambition when it comes to coffee. Its most eye-catching feature is the gold Slayer espresso machine, but the real star is the coffee itself. Terremoto serves a wide selection of single-origins on both espresso and pour-over (Kalita Wave), one of which is also available on batch brew, plus there’s a small selection of cakes and pastries if you are hungry.

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Cupping at Tandem Coffee Roasters

C:\Users\Brian\Documents\Work\NNB020 Coffee Spot\00 Coffee Spot\Documents 2020\NNB020D1444 - SS Cupping at Tandem Coffee RoastersAlthough a big advocate of cuppings, I rarely get the chance to attend them, so when an opportunity comes along, I tend to grab it with both hands. I was visiting Amanda in Portland last summer when the barista at the Tandem Coffee Roastery mentioned that the roastery holds public cuppings every Friday at noon: naturally, I had to go. Ironically, having not been to a cupping for a while, this was my second one that year, both in the USA.

In case you don’t know, a cupping is where several different coffees are tasted using a standard methodology, which allows their taste profiles to be compared without the brew method, etc, influencing the results. They’re a regular part of any roaster’s life, often used to assess new samples before deciding which beans to order. However, in this case, the cupping was part of Tandem’s quality control procedure for its production roasts.

Increasingly, roasters are opening up their production cuppings to the public. It’s a great opportunity to get to know more about a roaster and the coffees on offer, as well as a chance to develop your own palate. I thoroughly recommend that you attend one if you can!

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