Today’s Saturday Short is another new addition to Boston’s growing speciality coffee scene. Just one block along Boston High Street from Monday’s Coffee Spot, Phin Coffee House, it’s even newer, having only opened at the start of March. I’m talking about Gracenote Coffee and Wine Bar, part of High Street Place, a new food hall which occupies the atrium between two downtown skyscrapers.
The coffee and wine bar is the second outlet for renowned roasters, Gracenote, joining its original Boston coffee shop, itself a few blocks away on Lincoln Street. The coffee offering in High Street Place is more modest, with the reliable Alpha blend on espresso, joined by a rotating cast of single-origins on batch brew filter. What makes Gracenote stand out is the selection of wine and cocktails that are offered alongside the coffee and available well into the evening.
Although there’s no seating at the Gracenote itself, which occupies a simple counter, you’re welcome to take your coffee (or wine/cocktails) and sit anywhere within High Street Place (or outside if you wish).
On Monday last week, I caught Amtrak’s Downeaster from Portland to Saco to visit Time & Tide Coffee, a lovely coffee shop just across the river in Biddeford. While there, I met Jon, who, together with his wife Briana, founded Time & Tide in November 2018 when they relocated from Brooklyn to Biddeford. Jon was kind enough to invite me to Time & Tide’s roasting facility, just across the road in one of Biddeford’s many old mill buildings, which is the subject of today’s Meet the Roaster. The coffee shop, meanwhile, features in its own Coffee Spot.
Time & Tide produces three blends, The Commodore, designed for espresso, Year One Anniversary Blend, which is roasted for batch brew filter, and Clambake, which is intended for cold brew. All of these are served in the coffee shop, along with Time & Tide’s Twilight Decaf. In addition, there are typically three to five seasonal single-origins, which are offered for sale in retail bags, online and wholesale. This is all backed up by Steeped Coffee for those who want speciality coffee in a more convenient form, with Time & Tide offering bags of either The Commodore or Twilight Decaf pre-ground for immersion brewing.
I’d noticed Phin Coffee House on my last visit to Boston in February, but with an already-full itinerary, Phin went on my potentials list instead. When I returned to Boston for a one-day downtown tour on Monday, Phin was still a potential destination, but after my first stop of a packed day at Intelligentsia Coffee, where the barista recommended it, Phin moved to the top of the list. A recent addition to Boston’s speciality coffee scene, Phin only opened a year ago, occupying a spot at the western end of the High Street, conveniently just across the Rose Kennedy Greenway from South Station.
Phin is a Vietnamese coffee shop, owned by a lady originally from Ho Chi Minh City. There’s a fairly traditional third wave offering of espresso-based drinks, batch brew filter, pour-over and cold brew, all using a bespoke house blend and decaf from Barrington Coffee Roasting Company in western Massachusetts. This is joined by a number of house specials, including Ca Phe Phin, made with the Vietnamese cup-top filter of the same name. If you’re hungry, Phin has a range of sandwiches and more substantial plates and salads, mixing Western and Vietnamese classics, plus a selection of cakes.
Today’s Coffee Spot, Elements: Books Coffee Beer, is the second of two from this week’s visit to Biddeford. Like Monday’s Coffee Spot, Time & Tide Coffee, it’s on Main Street, albeit a little further on, close to the junction with US 1, which runs through the northern part of Biddeford. Like Time & Tide, Elements is both a roastery (Elements Coffee Roasters) and coffee shop, although Elements predates Time & Tide by a few years, having opened in 2013, with Elements Coffee Roasters setting up shop in early 2018. And, as the name suggests, Elements: Books Coffee Beer also offers beer (and wine), and it’s a book shop too!
Elements occupies a large spot on the corner of Main and Jefferson, with the bookshop part of the business on the left, and the coffee shop part at the front and on the right, although there’s plenty of overlap between the two. Elements offers a standard (American) coffee menu, with the usual (large) sizes of both espresso-based and batch brew filter. There’s also a selection of around five seasonal single-origins on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a range of bagels, small plates, ice cream and pastries.
Time & Tide Coffee opened in November 2018, nine months before Amanda and I drove through Saco and Biddeford in August 2019, looking for somewhere for lunch on our way to Boston. Although I’ve been through since, both by car and on the train, that was the last time I stopped here, and I’m rather annoyed to have missed out. This time, however, I was better prepared, making a special trip down from Portland on Monday lunchtime on Amtrak’s Downeaster, which stops just across the river at Saco.
Time & Tide occupies the right-hand half of the ground floor of the lovely brick-faced L. Anton Building, part of the Biddeford Main Street Historic District, whose structure dates from the 19th century. Inside, Time & Tide has a stripped-back look, with a simple, uncluttered layout. The offering is similarly simple and uncluttered, with a commendably concise espresso-based menu offering a blend (typically The Commodore) and Twilight Decaf, with another blend (Year One) on batch brew filter, plus several seasonal and signature drinks, with all the coffee roasted in Time & Tide’s roastery across the road. If you’re hungry, there’s a toast-based breakfast/lunch menu, plus a selection of cakes and pastries.
Flight Coffee of Dover (Dover, New Hampshire, that is) was recommended to me by Frontside Coffee Roasters form further upstate in North Conway. On Monday, with a free day to spare, I borrowed Amanda’s car and drove the 80 km from Portland to Dover, just over the state line in New Hampshire, to visit Flight Coffee, which is on Central Avenue, right in the heart of the old mill town.
Occupying two large, airy rooms, with plenty of seating on either side of the central, island counter, Flight Coffee has extensive breakfast and lunch offerings, with an equally impressive selection of tea (from Aera Tea Co. and Mem Tea) and coffee, the latter from Flight Coffee Co. Despite the similarity in names, the two are (these days) separate companies, with Flight Coffee Co. having its own roastery and café in Bedford, New Hampshire.
Flight Coffee of Dover serves Flight Coffee Co.’s Liftoff blend and Ground Control decaf on its concise espresso-based menu, while one of Flight Coffee Co.’s single-origins (currently the Peru Kovachii) is paired with an in-house dark-roast blend on batch brew filter. Finally, there’s the pour-over bar, offering a selection of single-origins through a variety of brew methods.
Smalls, which opened in January, is the latest addition to Portland’s small but thriving speciality coffee scene, a chance discovery which I made on Google Maps when planning a trip downtown at the end of last week. Located on Brackett Street in Portland’s West End, it’s a stone’s throw from the Casco Bay Bridge and a 15-minute walk from the Old Port and the heart of downtown.
One of the things I really admire about Portland’s speciality coffee scene is its diversity. No two places are the same (even when they’re part of the same group) and Smalls only adds to that. The front of Smalls is part coffee shop, restaurant and bar, while at the back, it’s a lovely little store, selling groceries, gifts, candles and personal care products, with an emphasis on reuse and local produce.
I can only really speak to the coffee shop part of Smalls, which serves Variety Coffee Roasters from Brooklyn in New York City. The Lucky Shot seasonal blend is on espresso, while there’s also decaf and a batch brew filter option. If you want to try more of Variety’s range, Smalls has a selection of retail boxes offering a variety of single-origins.
Welcome to the penultimate Travel Spot of my first trip of 2022, covering my return from Boston in mid-February. 2022 got underway as 2021 had ended, with a visit to North America, flying with British Airways in World Traveller Plus (aka premium economy). This time, however, rather than flying to Atlanta before returning from Boston, I flew to and from Boston. In another twist, instead of returning home to Guildford, I continued on to my Dad’s in North Wales, taking the familiar (from pre-pandemic times) short hop from Heathrow to Manchester.
Initially, I had planned to cover the whole trip in one post, but as is often the case, this Travel Spot grew in the telling. Therefore, I’ve decided to split it into two instalments, with this, the first, covering my flight from Boston to Heathrow. The second instalment covers the short hop from Heathrow to Manchester.
I flew out to Boston in mid-January on my way to spend three weeks in Maine with Amanda before flying back two weeks ago. On my previous trip, I took the bus down from Portland to Boston Logan airport, but this time, Amanda and I caught the Downeaster, Amtrak’s train service linking Boston with Maine. We go to Boston on Friday afternoon, spending 24 hours exploring the city before I made my way to the airport on Saturday evening.
Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for Portland’s coffee shop/roaster, Speckled Ax, which I first visited in June 2015. Back then, there was just the original coffee shop on Congress Street, with the roastery out in South Portland. However, Speckled Ax has been busy in recent years, opening its flagship Thames Street coffee shop in 2020, and then, a year later, moving the roastery to its new home on Walton Street, where it also opened a neat coffee bar.
On my return to Portland at the start of this year, I caught up with Matt, owner of Speckled Ax. I’ve already written about the coffee bar, so today’s Meet the Roaster is all about the roastery. Although an outstanding roastery in its own right, consistently turning out some excellent single-origins and blends year-on-year, Speckled Ax’s particular claim to fame is as one of a handful of wood-fired coffee roasters in the USA (reminiscent of Witney’s Ue Coffee Roasters in the UK). The magic happens in a large, industrial unit behind the coffee bar, where you’ll find the 20 kg Petroncini, a refurbished Italian roaster from the 1970s, its fire box filled with local kiln-dried wood.
When Amanda and I arrived in Boston last weekend, getting coffee was top of our list, and where better than George Howell in the Boston Public Market? It helped that it was on the way to our hotel, plus the New England winter had taken the weekend off, resulting in a glorious spring day, so we were able to take our coffee (it’s takeaway only thanks to COVID-19) across the road to the Rose Kennedy Greenway, where we enjoyed it while sitting in the sun.
I originally visited the coffee bar almost exactly six years ago, in February 2016, not long after it had opened. These days, it (and the Boston Public Market) is still going strong, do so well, in fact, that it’s now open seven days a week and has moved across the aisle to a much bigger counter, at least doubling in size. The basic offering remains the same though: top-notch coffee (espresso, batch brew and pour-over through the Chemex) along with a large range of retail bags of coffee for sale.