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).
Speckled Ax joins fellow roasters-cum-coffee shops, Bard Coffee and Tandem Coffee Roasters, to form a small and vibrant specialty coffee scene in Portland (Maine). Speckled Ax started life as a roaster in 2007 (under the name “Matt’s Wood Roasted Organic Coffee”), with the coffee shop following five years later in 2012, prompting the name-change to “Speckled Ax”.
Situated on Congress Street, just west of the centre of Portland, Speckled Ax is long and thin, with the counter at the back and tables along either side. There’s a neat seating area in the window at the front, with benches clustered around a tree stump. This acts as a coffee table, instantly reminding me of the window-seating in Menagerie Coffee in Philadelphia.
Speckled Ax’s particular claim to fame is that it is one of just a handful of wood-fired coffee roasters in the USA (reminiscent of Witney’s Ue Coffee Roasters in the UK). Speckled Ax offers one or two single-origin espressos, plus decaf, in the shop through its Synesso espresso machine. There are usually three more single-origins available as filter, through the syphon, V60, Chemex or Aeropress, depending on your particular requirements. There’s also bulk-brew until 11am if you’re in a hurry.
A highlight of last summer’s (brief) visit to Portland was Tandem Coffee Roasters, the roastery doubling as a lovely, intimate coffee bar. I was staying on the opposite side of town and Google Maps suggested I’d pass Tandem Coffee + Bakery on my way. So off I went, keeping an eye out for said bakery, only to walk right past without noticing!
My excuse? I, fool that I am, was looking for something bearing a vague resemblance to a bakery. Instead, I should have been keeping an eye out for something bearing a striking resemblance to a gas (petrol) station… Obviously. I discovered my mistake at the roastery, so on my way back, I paid more attention: there, right where Google Maps said it was, I discovered the bakery, occupying an old gas station.
Just as Tandem Cafe & Roastery’s a roastery with coffee bar attached, so Tandem Coffee + Bakery’s a bakery with coffee shop attached. And lovely outdoor seating. It doesn’t have quite the same range as the roastery, just a house-blend and single-origin on espresso, the same single-origin on Aeropress and another on bulk-brew. Being a bakery, there’s also multiple savoury and sweet things to feast upon.
Typical. 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.
There 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…
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.
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).
Welcome 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!