Welcome to the second instalment of my Brian’s Travel Spot covering my trip to/from Boston with Virgin Atlantic. In the first part, I wrote about my flight over from Heathrow, where I was unexpectedly upgraded to Upper Class. This post covers my flight back to Heathrow from Boston Logan, where I travelled in premium economy. I tend to fly either at the front of the plane (business class, when work is paying) or at the back of the plane (economy, when I’m paying), so this was a fairly unusual experience for me.
I also took the daytime flight from Boston to Heathrow, which leaves Boston in the morning and arrives in London in the evening, the perfect flight for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy sleeping on planes. When I first started flying transatlantic in the late 1990s, this used to be my favoured flight, but after 9/11, they largely disappeared from the schedule, only to reappear a few years ago. This was probably the first time I’ve caught this flight or its equivalent in nearly 20 years! With my flight leaving at 08:15, this meant an (unreasonably, for me) early start, although my first problem was getting to the airport…
This time last week I flew into Boston, then, the following day, drove up to Portland (Maine). The coastal area between the two cities is beautiful, full of historic towns and cities, including the likes of Newburyport and Portsmouth. What it lacks, however, is much in the way of speciality coffee. However, I’m indebted to Bex (of Double Skinny Macchiato fame) for the heads up about today’s Coffee Spot, Little Wolf Coffee, in the historic (New England) town of Ipswich.
Little Wolf is a roastery and coffee shop, located in an old car dealership, just north of the town centre. There’s a separate seating area off to one side, or you can sit in the main area with the counter, admiring the roastery at the back, where the 12kg Probat, which is in action on Monday and Wednesday each week, takes pride of place.
Little Wolf roasts a handful of seasonal single-origins, with a new coffee roughly once a month. The coffee shop has a simple menu, with one option on espresso and another on batch brew. These change every other day on average, batch brew changing more frequently than espresso. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes/pasties.
Welcome to another instalment of my occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. These weren’t so occasional last year, when there I managed 16 in all, but in 2019, I’ve concentrated on writing up coffee festivals, such as this year’s London Coffee Festival and Birmingham Coffee Festival, which, between them, have generated 10 posts and counting! It seems to be a case of writing up festivals or writing Travel Spots: clearly, I don’t have the time to do both!
In a year packed with business travel, mostly flying with British Airways, today’s Travel Spot marks something of a departure from the ordinary, prompting me to write about it. Firstly, I’m not flying for work. Instead, I’m making the (for me) relatively short hop from London to Boston to see Amanda, which means that I’m paying for this one. Secondly, although I’d planned to fly with British Airways, I’ve ended up flying with Virgin Atlantic for the first time in three years, which made for an interesting change.
This Travel Spot covers my flight out, with a separate Travel Spot for the return flight a couple of week later. My first challenge, of course, was getting to the airport…
There’s something about Stevens Creek Boulevard, home of today’s Coffee Spot, Voyager Craft Coffee. It occupies the very unit that was home to the original Bellano Coffee, now established in downtown San Jose as B2 Coffee. Meanwhile, heading slightly further along (going west towards Cupertino) you’ll find Chromatic Coffee, another coffee shop/roaster with a considerable reputation.
However, at first sight this all seems very unlikely. Stevens Creek Boulevard is a busy urban highway, lined with wall-to-wall car dealerships on either side. This is pretty much the impression you get at second sight too. Walking along it further reinforced this impression. It is definitely not somewhere you would expect to find great coffee, but, tucked away along its north side, in a non-descript unit at the end of a non-descript mall, is Voyager Craft Coffee.
These days, Voyager roasts its own coffee, with a blend on espresso and five filter options, which includes a guest and a decaf. There’s also a range of destination drinks, inspired by the coffee cultures of various countries around the world, plus some seasonal specials. If you’re hungry, there’s a concise, toasted-based food menu, with a selection of cakes and pastries if you want something sweeter.
On my first visit to New Orleans in 2018, I visited Cherry Espresso in the Uptown District. This was the second Cherry Espresso, the original having opened inside Stein’s Deli on Magazine Street in 2013. In many ways my timing was poor since the Stein Deli espresso bar was in the process of closing, Cherry opening a second outlet in the Lower Garden District, midway between Uptown and the French Quarter. Not only that, it had just started roasting (as Cherry Coffee Roasters).
Therefore, on my return earlier this year, visiting the new Cherry Coffee Roasters was a priority and I was delighted with what I found. Whereas the Uptown location is, in my words at the time, a “typical American coffee shop”, the Lower Garden District outlet is totally different: long and thin, with several small, self-enclosed areas, it has the feel of an elegant New Orleans mansion.
The coffee is roasted in-house, with a house-blend and single-origin on espresso, plus various iced and batch brew options. You can have pour-over, but it’s not a regular option. Best of all are the espresso and beverage flights. There’s also a concise breakfast/lunch menu, smaller than the offering at the Uptown location.
Willa Jean, in New Orleans’ Central Business District, is many things to many people. It was recommended to me as a brunch place, although I ended up going there for dinner, where there’s a choice of full table service, or, if you’re dining solo, a spot at the counter or window-bar, where you can order anything from snacks to full meals. It’s also a lunch spot and a bakery with a fantastic range of cakes. And some awesome pies, all baked in-house.
Oh, and then there’s the coffee, which I discovered on my first visit. Willa Jean uses Chicago’s very own Intelligentsia, with options on espresso and batch-brew, plus a pair of single-origin pour-overs through the V60. Good restaurants, even those with more of a café style such as Willa Jean, rarely have really good coffee, so I felt obliged to pop back two days later to try it out.
This is the original Doughnut Vault that my friend Phillip recommended to Amanda and me as the source of the best doughnuts in Chicago. A small (almost) hole-in-the-wall operation in River North around the corner from my hotel, we visited during our “polar vortex” trip to Chicago. Although there is batch-brew filter coffee here for $1 a pop (takeaway only, so don’t forget to bring your own cup) we came specifically for the doughnuts, so can’t comment on the quality of the coffee.
Just like the bigger, coffee shop version of the Doughnut Vault on Canal Street, the doughnuts sell out quickly. However, unlike the Canal Vault, where the coffee shop has set hours and stays open selling coffee long after the doughnuts are gone, once the Franklin Vault sells the last doughnut, it closes. The good news, however, is that, unlike the Canal Vault, it opens at weekends, with a more civilised start time of 09:30, which is how Amanda and I managed to get up in time for the last of the doughnuts!
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.
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.
The Doughnut Vault is one of Chicago’s better kept (speciality coffee) secrets. Put onto it by my friend Phillip, it was touted as the source of the best doughnuts in Chicago, Phillip recommended the Franklin Street location, a small (almost) hole-in-the-wall operation in River North around the corner from my hotel, which Amanda and I visited during our “polar vortex” trip to Chicago. It was only while we were there that the server pointed us towards the Canal Street branch across the river.
Given the aforementioned polar vortex, we didn’t venture out much, so couldn’t get to Canal Street on that visit. However, I returned the next time I was in Chicago, first with Amanda on Monday morning and again on my own on Wednesday lunchtime. As we discovered, Canal Street is somewhat bigger, best described as a “proper coffee shop”, serving, espresso, batch-brew and, of course, the aforementioned doughnuts.
A word of warning, though: the doughnuts sell out quickly. Best be there before nine o’clock if you want to be sure of getting one!
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.