I made my first visit to Phoenix, a city I’ve since come to know very well, at the end of October, 2016. I’d not long since returned from my first around-the-world trip, travelling west-to-east via Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chicago. As a result, this trip, my last of the year, was rather hastily arranged. A rather concise affair, the whole trip lasted just eight days, in marked contrast to my return to Phoenix a few months later.
I flew in on the Monday, landing late in the evening, then spent the next four days in a meeting. However, I was determined to see something of the area and, knowing nothing about Phoenix itself, I decided that I would skip exploring the city and instead head north to the Grand Canyon, somewhere I’d always wanted to visit. I drove up on the Friday night, spent the weekend there, and then drove back to Phoenix on Monday afternoon to catch the evening flight home.
As regular readers of Brian’s Travel Spot will know, while I was travelling extensively for work, I stopped trying to write up my Travel Spots as I went, leaving me with various unfinished journeys, so to speak. Today’s post is one of those, a throwback to 2018 and the very end of my five-week long trip across America, which started in Boston at the end of February. I took the train from Providence, Rhode Island, down the northeast corridor to Manassas, catching the Crescent to New Orleans before taking the Sunset Limited all the way across to Tucson, Arizona. From there, I drove to Phoenix for work, before catching my flight home, which is the subject of today’ post.
This post was prompted by last week’s news of the final flights of British Airways’ remaining two Boeing 747s. Although my return from Phoenix wasn’t the last time I flew on a 747 (that was in January 2019, when I was unexpectedly upgraded to First Class on my way out to Phoenix of all places!), it’s the last of my 747 flights that remained without a write-up, so it seemed a fitting way to mark the retirement of British Airways 747 fleet.
Welcome to the third instalment of the first Travel Spot of the new year, documenting my first trip of 2020. Part I saw me flying from London Heathrow to San Jose on 3rd January, while Part II saw me take the relatively short hop from San Francisco to Phoenix. Now, after two weeks in Arizona (one for work, in Phoenix, and one travelling in Northern Arizona), Part III sees me flying all the way from Phoenix to Portland (Maine), my final stop before making my way home with British Airways.
Although I’d have loved to have done the trip by train, it would have taken a minimum of three days and cost an awful lot more than flying. I did a similar journey in reverse in 2018, when I went from Providence to Tucson by train, but that time I allowed myself a leisurely two weeks for the journey with plenty of stops along the way. With time against me on this trip, I ruled that out and decided to fly. Since you can’t fly directly from Phoenix to Portland, I was faced with various combinations of airlines/routes, eventually settling on going via Atlanta with Delta (my favourite US airline).
Although I have a soft spot for Press, I would be hard-pressed to describe its locations as anything other than utilitarian. Not The Roastery, however, which is magnificent, occupying a standalone building with a large outdoor seating area, a mezzanine level above the counter/kitchen and the roastery at the back.
The coffee offering is very familiar: the Twitch blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, two options on batch brew and up to six single-origins on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. Add to that a selection of tea, beer, wine and spirits, plus a concise all-day food menu and a range of cakes, and you have something for (almost) everyone.
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.
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.
Although this is my sixth visit to Phoenix in under four years, I’ve always stayed in northeast Phoenix or Scottsdale, my speciality coffee focus generally turned towards the centre and the cities to the southeast, such as Tempe and Chandler. However, Peoria’s Driftwood Coffee Co. has been on my radar since it opened in 2017, so when work finished unexpectedly early one afternoon, I took my chance and drove over to pay it a visit.
Driftwood is on the edge of Old Town Peoria, just off Highway 60, which runs northwest out of central Phoenix. Occupying a compact space at the end of a warehouse-like building, Driftwood has a generous outside seating area and a simple, high-ceilinged interior. A true multi-roaster, Driftwood aims to offer at least one Arizona-based roaster and one from elsewhere in America. While I was there, there were two local options, Mythical Coffee (which I’d visited earlier in the week) and Tucson’s Yellow Brick Coffee (which I’d previously enjoyed at Maverick Coffee), while the national offering was from Horizon Line Coffee in Des Moines, Iowa. There’s a concise espresso-based menu, batch brew (for those in a hurry) or a slow bar, offering cafetiere, Chemex or V60.
Welcome to the second instalment of the first Travel Spot of the new year, documenting my first trip of 2020. Part I saw me flying from London Heathrow to San Jose on 3rd January, where British Airways kindly upgraded me to Club World, thus ruining my plans for writing about my experiences in World Traveller Plus (premium economy to you and me). Not that I am complaining too much.
After a week in the Bay Area for work (plus visiting plenty of coffee shops and an unexpected Cat Café), Part II sees me on my way from San Francisco to Phoenix, flying with American Airlines. From there, I had two weeks in Arizona (one for work, one travelling) before flying from Phoenix to Portland (Maine) with Delta. From there, I made my way home via Boston with British Airways.
Flying internally in America is one of my least favourite activities, but I’m slowly learning to make the most of it, helped immensely by having a work travel budget that allows me to fly first class (not as grand as it sounds), plus having enough status with British Airways that I can use the lounge when flying with partner airlines such as American Airlines.
A permanent fixture of my now annual trips to Phoenix is meeting up with Meg and her husband Coffee Ken, Arizona’s leading coffee blogger. So, when I arrived in Phoenix on Saturday, other than picking up my hire car and checking into my hotel, my first act was to drive over to Gilbert, one the cities to the southeast of Phoenix, for our meet up. The venue was a new coffee shop, Mythical Coffee, on Gilbert Town Square.
What Ken hadn’t told me when he suggested Mythical Coffee as our venue, is just how new it is. Today it has been open for precisely two weeks. Mythical Coffee is a roaster and coffee shop, offering an ever-changing cast of single-origins, one each on espresso, batch brew and pour-over, with the coffee available to buy in retail bags. There’s also cold brew and, when the equipment has been tweaked, nitro cold brew will be available, along with several seasonal lattes and a small selection of matcha, chai and tea. Mythical offers a small brunch menu, featuring overnight oats, plus four different toast options, served until 2pm each day, along with a selection of cakes and pastries, available all day.
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.