Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying From San Francisco to Phoenix

Making airline coffee bearable: make your own! My Espro Travel Press and Knock Aergrind in the American Airlines lounge at San Francisco Airport before my flight to Phoenix.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’ll have two weeks in Arizona (one for work, one travelling) before flying from Phoenix to Boston with Delta and making my way home from there 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.

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Linea Caffe

The Linea Caffe sign, from my visit in April 2019, with the words "Linea Caffe S.F" written in white in a cursive script on a red, circular background.I’m indebted to my friend Karen for introducing me to Linea Caffe, which we paid a flying visit to on my previous visit to San Francisco in April 2019. Sadly I didn’t have time to do a write up, so on my equally brief return to San Francisco last week, I made a point of calling in for a more extended visit.

Located in the heart of The Mission, there’s not a lot to Linea Caffe, just a small, near cube-shaped, sunny, corner spot with windows on two sides and a massive L-shaped counter inside, which leaves space for a single, two-person wooden bench and not much else. Indeed, there’s far more seating outside, where a similar bench is joined by six small, round tables down the side of Linea Caffe.

Linea Caffe, which roasts all its own coffee, has a concise espresso-based menu using a seasonal blend plus decaf, backed up with a single-origin on batch brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cakes and pastries, including savoury options, from Neighbor Bakehouse.

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Cat Town

The Cat Town logo, showing the silhouette of a cat climbing down the C of Cat Town.In 7½ years of writing the Coffee Spot, I’d never been to a cat café. However, all that changed last weekend when my friend Richard suggested visiting Cat Town in Oakland. It was America’s first cat café when it opened in 2014, adding the RAWR Coffee Bar, its own independent speciality coffee shop, in 2017. I wrote about RAWR earlier in the week, which you can visit in its own right, independent of Cat Town, while today’s Saturday Supplement focuses on Cat Town itself.

What makes Cat Town special in the world of cat cafés is that all the cats in residence are up for adoption, although you don’t have to be interested in adopting if all you want to do is visit and hang out with the cats. An hour with the cats will set you back $10, which goes towards covering Cat Town’s expenses. Although you can turn up on spec, booking ahead of time is recommended since Cat Town limits the number of people allowed in at any one time and it can get very busy. Note that while Cat Town is closed on Monday/Tuesday, RAWR is open, so you can still pop in for coffee.

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Ritual Coffee Roasters, Mission

The Ritual Coffee Roasters logo (a stylised cup tilted at 45 degrees with a star balanced on top).Ritual Coffee Roasters a veteran of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene, going strong since it opened its Mission location on Valencia in 2005. A roaster/coffee shop chain, I’ve had its coffee in various places across the USA, but until now, the only other location I’ve visited is Hayes Valley, when I was in San Francisco in April last year.

The Hayes Valley location is part of Proxy, occupying one of a handful of shipping containers, offering an impressively-full range of coffees despite its small size. In contrast, its original location in the Mission is a large, open space, with a distinctly minimalist vibe, a complete contrast to the stereotypical San Francisco exposed brick industrial spaces such as Sextant Coffee Roasters and Sightglass.

The focus is firmly on the coffee, with a blend (Emperor’s Cup), single-origin (Monte Álban, Mexico) and decaf (Los Gigantes, Colombia) on espresso, plus multiple single-origin filter options, including batch brew (La Folie, Guatemala) and three choices for the V60. Finally, there’s cold brew, nitro cold brew and a seasonal cascara drink. The coffee choices change seasonally, with all the beans (and more) available in retail bags. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes and pastries.

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RAWR Coffee Bar

The sign hanging outside RAWR Coffee Bar, part of Cat Town in Oakland, California.I must confess that I’ve never given much thought to visiting cat cafés, even though I really like cats. However, when my friend Richard suggested Cat Town in Oakland, which has the RAWR Coffee Bar attached, I was intrigued. Cat Town was America’s first cat café when it opened in 2014, while the RAWR Coffee Bar followed in 2017. Although linked (you enter Cat Town via the Coffee Bar, for example), they operate independently, so you’re free to pop into the coffee bar without any obligation to visit Cat Town.

What makes Cat Town stand out from the other cat cafés that I’ve previously been aware of is that all the cats in residence are up for adoption (which is why Richard was there). You can read more about Cat Town’s work in its own Saturday Supplement. Meanwhile, today’s Saturday Short focuses on the RAWR Coffee Bar, which serves espresso-based drinks and a batch brew filter option from local roasters Highwire. There’s also a small selection of pastries if you’re hungry.

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Chromatic Coffee Roastery Cafe

My flat white, in a glass, at the Chromatic Coffee Roastery Cafe in San Jose.Quite a lot has changed since I was last in San Jose in April. Back then, Chromatic Coffee had its original store in Santa Clara, along with a new location in downtown San Jose, while the roastery was on Lincoln Avenue, just around the corner from my friend Richard’s house. Fast forward just over seven months and, while the Santa Clara location is still going strong, everything else has changed.

The roastery, admittedly, is still on Lincoln Avenue, but it’s no longer around the corner from Richard’s house, since he’s moved to Willow Glen. The downtown coffee shop has gone, however, Chromatic deciding to relocate it to the roastery, where it now serves coffee to all-comers from a large space at the front of the roastery.

There’s a simple coffee menu, with the Gamut blend on espresso, although this is occasionally changed up. This is joined by a daily batch brew using the new Ground Control Cyclops, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of pastries from Manresa Bread. One thing to be aware of: the coffee shop is technically classified as a coffee truck, only able to serve coffee in takeaway cups, so  don’t forget to bring your own.

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Meet the Roaster: Chromatic Coffee

A bag of Chromatic Coffee's Gloria from San Jose, El Salvador, the very first farm that Chromatic worked with.Serendipity’s always played a large part in the Coffee Spot, even from its inception over seven years ago when someone said “why don’t you start a basketball blog” and I thought “a coffee blog! What an excellent idea!”. No matter how much I plan, chance discovery always plays its part and today’s Meet the Roaster is no exception

Visiting Chromatic Coffee was always part of the plan for my return to San Jose earlier this year. I’d heard great things about the coffee shop from my friend Richard on my first visit in 2017. Getting out to Santa Clara was also going to be the issue, so when Richard offered to drop me off on his way to work, I jumped at the chance.

Before I left, I had a long chat with the manager, who, on learning that I was staying in San Jose until the end of the week, suggested attending Chromatic’s public cupping, which takes place in the roastery every Thursday morning. And that led to me discovering that Chromatic’s roastery is a couple of blocks from Richard’s flat.

Naturally I went, enjoying not just the cupping, but also receiving a tour of the roastery to boot!

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Voyager Craft Coffee

A lovely flat white, made with the house espresso blend, at Voyager Craft Coffee in Santa Clara.There’s something about Stevens Creek Boulevard, home of today’s Coffee Spot, Voyager Craft Coffee. It occupies the very unit that was home to the original Bellano Coffee, now established in downtown San Jose as B2 Coffee. Meanwhile, heading slightly further along (going west towards Cupertino) you’ll find Chromatic Coffee, another coffee shop/roaster with a considerable reputation.

However, at first sight this all seems very unlikely. Stevens Creek Boulevard is a busy urban highway, lined with wall-to-wall car dealerships on either side. This is pretty much the impression you get at second sight too. Walking along it further reinforced this impression. It is definitely not somewhere you would expect to find great coffee, but, tucked away along its north side, in a non-descript unit at the end of a non-descript mall, is Voyager Craft Coffee.

These days, Voyager roasts its own coffee, with a blend on espresso and five filter options, which includes a guest and a decaf. There’s also a range of destination drinks, inspired by the coffee cultures of various countries around the world, plus some seasonal specials. If you’re hungry, there’s a concise, toasted-based food menu, with a selection of cakes and pastries if you want something sweeter.

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Verve Coffee Roasters, Market Street

The piccolo part of my one-and-one at Verve Coffee Roasters, Market Street, San Francisco.Verve Coffee Roasters, the international coffee shop/roaster chain, is primarily California-based. Starting in Santa Cruz, where it has four outlets, including its flagship Pacific Avenue store, it’s spread to Los Angeles (three, soon to be four¸  branches), San Francisco, and across the Pacific to Japan, where there are now three outposts. Having visited its Omotesando store in Tokyo last year, and its Spring Street location in Los Angeles earlier during this trip, calling in on today’s Coffee Spot, Verve’s solitary San Francisco branch, meant that I’d visited all four cities where Verve has stores. Except that Verve is also in Kamakura in Japan. Bugger. Oh well, I’ll be in Japan later this year…

You’ll find the usual coffee options, the Streetlevel seasonal blend joined by the featured espresso (another blend, Sermon, during my visit) and decaf, all the shots pulled on a custom four-group Kees van der Westen. Meanwhile, the batch-brew option is joined by three single-origin pour-overs through Kalita Wave filters using the Modbar modular system. If you’re hungry, there’s a small brunch menu until two o’clock, with cake/pastries served all day. All the coffee’s available in retail bags, along with a selection of merchandising and coffee equipment.

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Ritual Coffee Roasters, Hayes Valley

The Ritual Coffee logo in the window of the Hayes Valley branch.A pioneer of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene since first opening in The Mission in 2005, Ritual Coffee Roasters’ reputation preceded it. I’d seen its coffee across the USA from Box Kite in New York to Go Get ‘Em Tiger in Los Angeles. More recently, I’d had Ritual’s coffee at Maverick Coffee in Phoenix. Through all that, I’d never been to any of its six San Francisco outlets, so it was a priority on my return two weeks ago to pay Ritual a visit. As luck would have it, I’d chosen my hotel well, just a short walk from Ritual’s Hayes Valley location, occupying one of a small collection of shipping containers known as Proxy.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that, operating out of a container, Ritual might be a limited, takeaway-focused operation, but far from it. With proper cups for drink-in customers (bench inside or multiple tables outside), there’s a coffee selection that would put many larger shops to shame: house-blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, three single-origins on pour-over and another on batch-brew.

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