Gracenote Coffee and Wine Bar

A lovely espresso, made with the Alpha blend, seen from directly above in a handleless ceramic cup and matching saucer, served at Gracenote Coffee and Wine Bar in High Street Place, Boston.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).

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Phin Coffee House

The Ca Phe Phin from Phin Coffee House in Boston: traditional Vietnamese Robusta coffee mixed with condensed milk and lots and lots of ice, served in a double-walled glass.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.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Boston to Manchester via Heathrow

My British Airways Boeing 787-10 on the stand at Boston Logan Airport, waiting to take me back to London.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.

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George Howell, Boston Public Market Update

Details of the coffee menu at George Howell, Boston Public Market.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.

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La Colombe, Seaport

An espresso, made with the single-origin option, the Women of Ketiara from Sumatra, served in my Kaffeeform cup at La Colombe, Seaport.Regular readers will know that one of my go-to American coffee places is La Colombe, the roastery/coffee shop chain from Philadelphia. Along with its Philadelphia coffee shops, I’ve visited La Colombe in New York CityWashington DC, Chicago and, most recently, Boston, when I caught La Colombe, South Station between arriving by train from New Haven and catching the bus to Portland. However, that still left the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, the Seaport location, which I was able to catch just before my flight back to the UK on my most recent trip.

As the name suggests, La Colombe, Seaport is in Boston’s Seaport District, just across Fort Point Channel from Downtown Boston.  Although the address is Northern Avenue, it’s actually around the corner on the pedestrian strip connecting it with Seaport Boulevard. A fairly small shop, with just seven tables inside, this doesn’t stop it from providing the full La Colombe offering of two options on espresso, another two on batch-brew and two more on pour-over. There’s also a range of in-house teas and draft lattes and, if you’re hungry, cakes and pastries. For now, La Colombe only uses takeaway cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: From Boston to Portland by Bus

My Concord Coach Lines bus waiting at the gate at Boston's South Station Bus Terminal before taking me up to Portland, Maine.Welcome to the third and final instalment of this mini Travel Spot series about my impromptu trip to Washington DC back in November, itself part of my wider month-long trip to America. Part one covered my journey to Washington Union Station on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional 65 sleeper service, travelling overnight from Boston South Station. The second part, meanwhile, was all about my first time on the Acela service, travelling from New Haven back to Boston South Station. That just left the small matter of getting back to Portland from Boston, the subject of today’s post.

In an ideal world, I’d have completed the journey by train, taking Amtrak’s Downeaster from North Station. However, as much as I like travelling by train, the Downeaster is not very convenient compared to the bus. Although the same price (a very reasonable $24), the Downeaster runs once every three hours, compared to the bus’s hourly schedule. Plus, while the bus leaves from South Station, where I’d just arrived, to catch the train, I’d have to get myself over to North Station (admittedly a short tube ride or a 25-minute walk through the city centre, but an unnecessary additional step). So, the bus it was.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak Northeast Regional 65

Amtrak Locomotive 629, a Siemens Sprinter ACS-64, which was at the front of Northeast Regional 65 at Washington DC's Union Station.I had expected to spend most of my month-long trip to the USA at the end of last year in Maine with Amanda. However, the death of a close friend necessitated a weekend there-and-back trip to Washington DC for the funeral. The obvious choice was to fly, but a combination of factors, including my dislike of flying internally in the US, plus a lack of (reasonably priced) direct flights, led to me taking the train, by far my preferred option anyway.

Initially, I looked at travelling down on Saturday (the funeral was on Sunday morning) but that would have involved spending all day on the train (from Boston, the quickest service, the Acela, takes seven hours, while the regular Northeast Regional takes eight hours). While exploring my options, I noticed the Northeast Regional 65, a train which leaves Boston at 21:30 on Saturday night, arriving in Washington DC’s Union Station at 06:30 on Sunday morning. That would give me plenty of time to get to the funeral, as well as avoiding an overnight stay in the DC area. And, as a final bonus, it meant I could spend Saturday with Amanda. So, the Amtrak Northeast Regional 65 it was.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Returning from Boston in Premium Economy

My travelling coffee kit at the British Airways Lounge in Boston Logan Airport, Terminal E. Back row, from left to right: my Frank Green ceramic cup, Knock AerGrind hand grinder and Espro TravelPress. The tub holds a pre-weighed dose of beans.Welcome the last leg of my trip to Atlanta (Georgia) and Portland (Maine), which included an unexpected weekend round-trip to Washington DC. Today’s Travel Spot covers my return to the UK last weekend, flying World Traveller Plus (aka Premium Economy) with British Airways. Having arrived in Atlanta almost four weeks earlier, I continued my USA tradition of (hardly ever) flying to/from the same airport by returning from Boston Logan.

This post starts with my pre-flight preparations (an essential part of travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic). Even though the rules changed mid-trip (due to the omicron variant), things were nowhere near as onerous as when I flew out, when the process was sufficiently complex that I dedicated an entire Travel Spot to the experience.

The remainder of the post is more traditional, covering the journey to the airport, the airport itself, and my flight. In the last few years, I’ve taken the early morning flight from Boston (either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic), but that disappeared from the schedules at the start of the pandemic.  Instead, I flew back overnight in World Traveller Plus, my first overnight economy flight since 2017, when I flew from Chicago to Manchester with American Airlines.

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La Colombe, South Station

A cortado, made with the Sun Peak, a Guatemalan single-origin, and served in a glass at La Colombe, South Station in Boston.Over the years, I’ve become very familiar with La Colombe, the roastery/coffee shop chain from Philadelphia, having visited its coffee shops there, in New York City, Washington DC and Chicago. I’m also very familiar with Boston, having made many trips there, albeit mostly in the early years of the Coffee Spot (or before). However, it’s been over five years since my last major visit to Boston, in February 2016, which explains why I’ve never visited either of the city’s two La Colombe locations.

I was able to rectify this oversight on my latest trip to America, when, on my way back to Portland (Maine) from Washington DC, I had a couple of hours to kill at Boston’s South Station, where you’ll find La Colombe on the other side of Atlantic Avenue, directly opposite the entrance to the bus terminal. Off the foyer of a modern office building, it’s a large, spacious coffee shop with its own street entrance. The classic La Colombe offering sees two options on espresso, another two on batch-brew and two more on pour-over. There’s also a range of in-house teas and draft lattes and, if you’re hungry, cakes and items from the grab-and-go fridge.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: New England & New York

Our hire car, aka "The Tank", which friends of mine hired for the second part of my stay.These posts are, in more ways than one, a first for the Travel Spot. They cover the first trip I made after starting the Coffee Spot (and long before I had the idea of the Travel Spot). Unsurprisingly, while I visited plenty of coffee shops, I didn’t make any notes about the trip itself, so they’re a combination of memories, sparked when I stumbled across my photos from the time.

This post, the first of three, covers the initial part of the trip, which began in late February 2013 when I flew to Boston. I spent a few days in the city before taking various day trips around New England with some friends. Finally, I caught the train down to New York City, where I also spent a few days.

From New York City, I boarded Amtrak’s Adirondack service, which is covered in the next post in this series. This took me through upstate New York and across the Canadian border to my final destination, Montréal, which is covered in the third and final post.

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