Regular travellers know that, with a few exceptions, airport coffee varies on a scale from mediocre to awful. While the likes of British Airways and Union Hand-roasted have made great strides forward, this is only of use to travellers who have lounge access. Meanwhile, it is left to individual airports/coffee shops to take the initiative, a great example being the branch of Cartel Coffee Lab at Phoenix Sky Harbor.
Into this mix comes Philadelphia-based roaster/coffee shop chain, La Colombe. I passed through Philadelphia Airport on my may from Manchester to Manchester (I couldn’t help myself) and was delighted to find multiple branches of La Colombe, at Terminals A, B, C and E. Each one serves a pair of blends, plus a decaf, on batch-brew and another blend plus decaf on espresso. Even though I had lounge access, I had to stop off and grab some proper coffee…
Philadelphia’s speciality coffee scene is dominated by roaster/coffee shops, with the occasional exception such as Menagerie Coffee. Into this mix comes Rally, a coffee shop which not only isn’t a roaster, but is also a creative marketing agency, as well as doubling as an events and co-working space. However, don’t let that put you off, since it’s still an excellent coffee shop in its own right.
Rally is in Bella Vista, just south of the centre, having opened in early 2016, not long after I visited the city, so I just missed out. However, on my return in 2018, I was alerted to its presence by the lovely folks at Ox Coffee, so naturally I had to check it out.
Using local suppliers wherever possible, Rally originally used Passenger Coffee Roasting from nearby Lancaster. However, it has recently switched to Philadelphia-based roaster Blind Tiger Coffee (which I’ve yet to try), set up last year by Charlie, one of the baristas at Rally. There’s a concise espresso-based menu, plus batch-brew and pour-over through the Clever Dripper. If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s tea, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cake from local bakers, plus ice-cream from Weckerlys in Fishtown.
Rival Bros was brought to my attention by my friend Greg of Coffee Guru App fame. On my first visit to Philadelphia, in 2014, Rival Bros was a roastery with a growing reputation and a coffee truck near the station. Sadly, I missed out visiting that time, but when I returned the following year, Rival Bros had opened its first bricks-and-mortar coffee shop on the corner of 24th and Lombard Streets.
Fast-forward anther three years (to this time last year) and I was once again in Philadelphia, part of another of my Grand Adventures. By now, Rival Bros was up to three coffee shops, including the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, its most recent venture on Tasker Street, firmly on Philadelphia’s south side, where it joins the likes of Ultimo Coffee and Plenty Café.
The ubiquitous Revolver blend is on espresso, where it’s joined by a decaf option and a single-origin, with more single-origins (four during my visit) available on pour-over through the Chemex. There’s also batch-brew if you’re in a hurry, plus cold-brew, nitro cold-brew and various iced coffees. If you’re hungry, Rival Bros has a small menu featuring two toast options and two sandwiches, plus a selection of cakes.
Welcome to the third and final instalment of the first Travel Spot of 2019, covering my first trip of the year. This started when I flew to Phoenix on the 4th January, getting upgraded to First Class along the way, and ended with my return from Chicago on 1st February, when I had to slum it in business class. Along the way I spent two weeks in the warm, winter sun of Arizona and New Mexico and then flew from Phoenix to Chicago, arriving in time for the polar vortex and the second coldest spell in Chicago’s history.
In all, I spent four days in the suburbs, hanging out with my friends, before catching the commuter train into Chicago proper, which was when it got really, really cold. Perhaps fortunately, I was there for work and, knowing the reputation of Chicago winters, had already booked the hotel in the same building as my office, so I didn’t actually have to go out… The downside was that I only had a single day to explore, but, given the weather, that’s probably just as well. Then, as soon as my meeting was over, I was off to O’Hare for my flight home.
Ultimo Coffee provided my first Philadelphia speciality coffee experience when I visited its Graduate Hospital branch on Catherine Street in 2014. Back then, there were just two locations, that one and the original, Newbold, on South 15th Street, but in 2017, Ultimo opened a third, more central, location just west of Rittenhouse Square which I visited on my way to the station during my trip last year.
Easily the smallest of the three locations, its comparative lack of size doesn’t limit its ambitions when it comes to coffee. On my previous visits to the two other Ultimo locations, it was using Counter Culture, but in 2016, Ultimo started roasting its own coffee in the Newbold location (sadly after I visited). I was therefore excited, since this was my first chance to taste Ultimo’s coffee.
There are several seasonal single-origins available at any time (there were five during my visit), all available as pour-over, with three of them on espresso, two iced and one through the Aeropress. If you’re in a hurry and it’s before 11 o’clock, there’s also one on batch-brew. Add to that 12 different teas, plus a selection of cakes and bagels, and Ultimo has you covered.
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.
I first visited Fourtillfour in February 2018, at the end of the first of two USA trips that year. Back then it was using San Francisco’s Four Barrel, although following Four Barrel’s well-publicised troubles, Nico and Mia were in the process of choosing a new roaster. When I returned the following month, FourTillFour had switched to another Californian roaster, Verve, although that was just a stop-gap while Nico and Mia moved to their ultimate solution, roasting their own coffee, which went live in October last year.
Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for La Colombe, the Philadelphia-based coffee shop/roaster chain with branches in various east coast cities, California and Chicago, where I visited the Wicker Park branch on my round-the-world trip in 2016. Today’s Coffee Spot, the Gold Coast branch, is Chicago’s fifth La Colombe, having opened in February 2018.
It’s a small spot, with just enough room for the counter (which has a few bar stools at the back) and a row of four tables along the window at the front, plus, in the summer, a bench out front. The lack of size doesn’t stop it from offering pretty much the full La Colombe range though, with two options on espresso, another two on batch-brew and three on pour-over through the Silverton dripper. There’s also a range of in-house teas and draft lattes and, if you’re hungry, cakes and prepared salads.
Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for Intelligentsia, the Chicago-based roaster/coffee shop chain with six branches in the city and others in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. Some of my earliest speciality coffee experiences came in its branch in the Monadnock Building on Jackson Boulevard and, in many ways, it wouldn’t be a visit to Chicago without at least one coffee from Intelligentsia. Since I’ve been confined to my hotel on my current trip by the freezing temperatures (down to -30°C, so cold that even the coffee bar in the lobby was closed), I thought I would take us back to warmer times, when I popped into Intelligentsia’s Logan Square branch on my previous visit to Chicago in August last year.
There’s the usual Intelligentsia offering, with a choice on espresso: the classic Black Cat blend, a seasonal single-origin and decaf, plus another single-origin on pour-over and a third through batch-brew. Unusually for speciality coffee, the pour-over is priced to reflect the extra effort required, coming in at twice the price of the batch-brew. If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s a good tea selection, plus, if you’re hungry, there’s a range of cakes and doughnuts.
One of the more famous names in Chicago’s independent coffee scene, I can’t say exactly when or where I first heard of Gaslight Coffee Roasters, but it’s a name that keeps coming up when people talk about places to visit. Like so much of Chicago’s speciality coffee, it’s on North Milwaukee Avenue between the Blue Line stops of Logan Square and California, the trains thundering close by Gaslight on the elevated section before disappearing underground at Logan Square. In terms of other speciality coffee shops, it neatly fills the gap between the cluster to the northwest (Logan Square), featuring the likes of Passion House Coffee Roasters and Intelligentsia, and the cluster to the southeast, starting with Ipsento/ Ipsento 606.
Roaster, retailer and coffee shop all-in-one, Gaslight is rare in American speciality coffee circles in that it also has a full kitchen, serving five or six seasonal dishes until three o’clock each afternoon. This is supplemented by a day-long selection of cakes and pastries. Roasting takes place three times a week in a separate room to the rear of the store. A small selection of single-origins is produced, which is rotated through espresso/batch-brew, with two single-origins on espresso and one on batch-brew.