Tandem Coffee Roasters

A light bulb in the shape of a tandem bicycle from the wall of the Tandem Coffee Roasters RoasteryTypical. You wait ages for one Meet the Roaster, then two come along at once. Not only that, but they’re both American! Hot on the heels of last Saturday’s feature on the Brooklyn Roasting Company, comes the subject of today’s Meet the Roaster, Portland’s Tandem Coffee Roasters.

I first came across Tandem when I was in Boston, where I enjoyed a cappuccino at Boston’s Render Coffee made using Tandem’s seasonal Time and Temp espresso-blend. I also met with Larry, owner of Boston’s Pavement Coffeehouse chain, who sang the praises of Tandem’s co-founder and chief roaster, Will (an ex-Pavement employee). That pretty much sealed it for me, and when, a few days later, I popped up the New England coast to Portland to start my coast-to-coast, Portland-to-Portland train trip, I naturally sought out Tandem’s roastery.

What I found wasn’t just a thriving coffee roaster, but a cracking, friendly coffee bar too. Coffee bar aside, which has already featured as a Coffee Spot in its own right, today’s Saturday Supplement is focusing on the roastery side of the business, which centres around Tandem’s 12kg Probat roaster, housed in a separate wing of Tandem’s single-storey, L-shaped building  on Anderson Street.

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Tandem Cafe & Roastery

A light bulb in the shape of a tandem bicycle from the wall of the Tandem Coffee Roasters RoasteryThere are times when you feel that maybe the Coffee Gods don’t want you to visit somewhere. Rolling into Portland (Maine) one morning, I took my time settling into my hotel, intending to wander over to visit Tandem Cafe & Roastery in due course. Fortunately, I checked on-line. It closes at 2 pm. The time? Just gone noon! And it’s where? Oh, about as far away from my hotel as is possible…

One brisk walk later on a hot, summer’s afternoon, I arrived in a very unpromising neighbourhood. Let’s just say it looks industrial. Oh, and they were digging the road up. Not ordinary roadworks. Oh no, the whole road. Anyone would think they’d seen me coming.

Tandem Coffee Roasters is a fairly recent arrival in Portland, joining the likes of Bard Coffee and Speckled Ax. It has two outlets, Tandem Cafe & Roastery, subject of today’s Coffee, Spot, and Tandem Coffee + Bakery, which I’d unknowingly walked past going into town (it’s cunningly disguised as a gas station). The roastery consists of, unsurprisingly, the roastery, where Tandem roasts all its coffee, and a lovely little coffee bar (the cafe), where you can drink said coffee. As long as you’re there by two o’clock…

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Pavement Coffeehouse, Gainsborough

A plain white mug with the words "Pavement Coffeehouse" in black, The logo is completed by a drawing of an arm and hand holding a coffee mug, the arm bent to mimic the curve of the mug's handle.As much as I liked the original Pavement Coffeehouse on Boylston, which I visited last year, in comparison, I adored the Gainsborough branch. Both are in Boston’s Back Bay and are, in fact, just ten minutes’ walk from each other, albeit on different branches of Boston’s Green Line. Along with the equally close Render Coffee, they make the neighbourhood a go-to area for great coffee.

All the Pavements serve Counter Culture coffee. At Gainsborough, different beans, which change every two months or so, are available on espresso, bulk-brew and hand-pour, plus there’s a decaf option too. During my visit, they were all single-origins: a Bolivian Nueva Llusta on both espresso & bulk-brew, with a Kenyan Muthonjo on Aeropress (there’s usually a Chemex option on hand-pour as well), while the decaf was Peruvian.

The food is similar to Boylston: bagels and lunch/breakfast sandwiches, plus salads and cake. However, in terms of layout and atmosphere, Gainsborough and Boylston are like chalk and cheese. While Boylston is long, thin and very hectic, Gainsborough is square (in shape) and much more relaxed. There’s probably not much to choose between the two in size, but Gainsborough feels bigger and is certainly more spacious.

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Bard Coffee

The label on a bag of Bard Coffee's High Tide Espresso blend: medium roast, a blend of Central America and East Africa coffees, tasting notes of sweet red berries, orange-like citrus with a creamy body and a dark chocolate finish.As part of my current US trip, I paid a visit to Portland, Maine, partly to check out the local coffee scene and partly because it made a cool addition to my overall journey. What I found was a thriving coffee scene which I’ll cover in the next few months, starting today with the lovely Bard Coffee.

Bard Coffee occupies an amazing location next to Tommy’s Park, a lovely green space right in the heart of downtown Portland. For once got my timing right and arrived two weeks after Bard had reopened following a major refurbishment. Normally, it’s the other way around, with me arriving just before a refurbishment or, better still, in the middle of one!

Bard roasts all its own coffee, with a good selection available at any time. On espresso, there’s the seasonal High Tide blend or the decaf Lo-Fi blend, while on bulk brew there are two coffees of the day, a light- and dark-roasted single-origin. Finally, you can have any of five single-origins, plus decaf, through the Kalita Wave filter, with one of the single-origins available through the Chemex. This last one is chosen to highlight the difference between the Chemex and Kalita brew methods.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Heading West

Have coffee, will travel. Making an Aeropress on Amtrak between Boston and Albany.Welcome to the second instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, which follows my three week adventure across the USA. The first instalment, imaginatively entitled New England, covered my time on the east coast in New England: Boston, Providence and Portland, Maine, to be precise. This second instalment covers my journey west, by train, as I thread my way, city to city, to my ultimate destination.

The idea behind Brian’s Travel Spot is that it enables you to follow my adventures as they unfold. As with the New England post, I’ll update this post every few days, in between my normal Coffee Spot posts, the idea being to capture the highlights, with the emphasis on the travel rather than the coffees shops (although I’m sure they’ll feature).

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Coffee Exchange

Bins of roasted coffee beans for sale in Providence's Coffee Exchange.Although small, Providence, Rhode Island, has a pretty decent coffee scene. That I discovered it is entirely down to Allison, who with fiance Chris, runs Broke and Travelling. Having enticed me down from Boston on a day-trip, Allison acted as my guide, introducing me to Dave’s Coffee, The Shop and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Coffee Exchange.

Coffee Exchange is an old-hand when it comes to Providence’s growing speciality coffee scene. Founded in 1984, it can be said to have inspired a generation (at least) of Providence coffee-drinkers. Coffee shop, roaster and retailer all in one, Coffee Exchange operates out of its busy store on Wickenden Street, roasting all its own coffee using a pair of Deirich roasters conveniently located at the back of the store.

In look and feel, as well as in the coffee it roasts, Coffee Exchange seems a little old school. Dark roasts and blends predominate, although single-origins and lighter roasts are there for those who look. Coffee Exchange is also a pioneer, having championed strong ties between roasters, green bean importers and coffee growers long before it became fashionable. Indeed, Coffee Exchange co-owner Bill Fishbein founded both Coffee Kids and The Coffee Trust.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: New England

A cappuccino from Render Coffee in BostonWelcome to a somewhat new direction for the Coffee Spot as we head off into the unknown with Brian’s Travel Spot. As my followers on twitter may already know, I’ve just embarked on a three-week adventure across the United States. The aim of this little (well, not so little by the time I’ve finished it) piece is to keep a record of what I’ve been doing.

The idea is that it enables you, dear reader (Or should that be dear readers? Perhaps I’d better not be too ambitious and stick with dear reader for now.), to follow my adventures as they unfold. I’ll update this post every few days, in between my normal Coffee Spot posts, the idea being to capture the highlights, with the emphasis on the travel rather than the coffees shops (although I’m sure they’ll feature).

I’ve never tried my hand at travel writing before, so it could be an adventure in more ways than one! So, if you’ve made it this far, take the plunge, and come along with me as I traverse the USA!

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L.A. Burdick, Back Bay

A cup of hot chocolate from L.A. Burdick's Back Bay branch in Boston.I first came across L.A. Burdick exactly three years ago after a tip-off from a friend in Cambridge (Massachusetts, not UK). I tried the branch there and loved it, but was a little put off by how busy it was. Even late on a weekday afternoon, I still had to wait 20 minutes for a table, such was its popularity!

On my trip to Boston a year ago, I learnt that there was a branch on Clarendon Street in Back Bay, around 10 minutes from my hotel. Although excited, I nevertheless approached it with some trepidation, expecting crowds. However, I needn’t have worried: it was an oasis of tranquillity in comparison. It might have helped that it was gone six o’clock on a freezing cold Tuesday evening, but I wasn’t complaining.

The main draw of L.A. Burdick is the hot chocolate and the Back Bay branch is no exception. However, there’s also coffee, tea and a range of cakes and pastries. And, of course, chocolate. L.A. Burdick is definitely at the luxury end of the chocolate market and both prices and décor reflect this, making L.A. Burdick one the more sumptuously-appointed cafés you’ll visit.

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The Java Room

The Java Room: cafe, music, espressoWhen I originally started the Coffee Spot, the intention was to write about places where I liked to have coffee. Although it’s evolved a lot since then, this original motivation is still very much at the heart of the Coffee Spot. On that basis, I present today’s Saturday Supplement, The Java Room. Located in a small plaza on Littleton Road in Chelmsford, you might be mistaken for thinking that this represents my first foray into Essex, but this happens to be Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Confusingly, the New England version of Chelmsford is in Middlesex County. Go figure, as my American friends would say.

The Java Room offers pretty standard coffee-shop fare. There are no flat whites and piccolos here, no single-origin beans or micro-lots, just large lattes, cappuccinos and espresso, along with bulk-brewed filter coffee and various iced and blended beverages. Where the Java Room really scores is in its atmosphere. It’s a lovely spot, the perfect, small town, neighbourhood coffee shop, friendly, relaxed and welcoming. I’m kicking myself for having been to Chelmsford many, many times and not discovering it before last year.

March 2015: Correction. I popped in one Monday in March (since I was literally passing by) and there are indeed flat whites to be had at The Java Room. Naturally, I had to have one and it was very fine.

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Render Coffee

The Render Coffee logo, from the sign outside. The words RENDER COFFEE above a line-drawing of an anvil.I think I’ve found a new favourite in Boston. Head a few blocks along Columbus Avenue past my favourite breakfast spot, Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, and you’ll find Render Coffee, just before the junction with Massachusetts Avenue. Ironically, I found it from the other direction, walking south along Mass Ave from Pavement Coffeehouse on Boylston. Although only 10 minutes from Pavement, the contrast couldn’t have been sharper, going from the busy Pavement to the relatively laid-back calm of Render. Quiet, but not empty, it was a relaxed and relaxing place to spend the afternoon.

Like Pavement, Render serves Counter Culture as both espresso and pour-over, along with guest coffees (both from Gracenote Coffee during my visits). One of the things I really liked is there’s no bulk-brew filter coffee. Instead, Render only offers hand-pour. There’s also an excellent selection of food and cake.

Long and thin seems to be a theme for Boston coffee shops and Render is no different in this respect. Accessed by a short flight of steps up from Columbus Avenue, you can sit right at the front and watch the traffic go by, or better still, sit at the back where there’s an excellent fireplace and conservatory!

February 2016: Render now uses Portland’s Tandem Coffee Roasters and the local Gracenote Coffee rather than Counter Culture.

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