Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 1

Amtrak Locomotive No. 161 at the head of the California Zephyr, eastbound for Chicago, standing at the platform at Grand Junction, Colorado, with Locomotive No. 19 behind it.Welcome to today’s bonus Travel Spot. Exactly a year ago today, Amanda and I left Sunnyvale in the Bay Area, California, to catch Amtrak Train No. 6, the California Zephyr, at Emeryville Station. Roughly 60 hours and 4,000 km later, we reached our destination, Buffalo Grove, in the Chicago suburbs. This was part of a much larger, five-week trip that began in New Orleans, then saw me fly to Los Angeles so that I could take the Coast Starlight along the Pacific Coast to San Jose. From Chicago, I (eventually) flew home. One day I hope to write up the entire trip, but for now, I hope you enjoy the train ride!

The California Zephyr is a daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, a scheduled journey of 51½ hours that crosses the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains as well as both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers as it makes its way west-to-east across roughly two-thirds of North America. It’s the longest I’ve been on a train, beating the 47 hours I spent on the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland (Oregon) in 2015.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Coast Starlight, Los Angeles to San Jose

The glorious, vaulted ceilings of one of the old waiting rooms at Los Angeles' Union Station.Welcome to this, today’s bonus Travel Spot, covering a journey I took exactly a year and one day ago, when I boarded Amtrak Train No. 14, the Coast Starlight, at Los Angeles’ Union Station. This was part of a much larger, five-week trip that began in New Orleans, then saw me travel to Los Angeles, San Jose/the Bay Area and Chicago (on the California Zephyr), from where I (eventually) returned home. One day I hope to write up the entire trip, but for now, I hope you enjoy the train ride!

The Coast Starlight is a daily service between Los Angeles and Seattle, although I was only going as far as San Jose, an all-day journey that departed Los Angeles at 10:10 and arrived in San Jose at 20:11, ten hours and one minute later! It was also very cheap, a one-way advance fare in coach class costing just $60, although since I was going to be on the train for 10 hours, I’d decided to spend the extra $30 for a seat in business class. Along the way, I saw a lot of the Pacific Coast as well as some awesome mountain scenery, plus I had two excellent meals in the dining car!

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Voyager Craft Coffee, San Pedro Square Market

A Finca Las Ventanas from Costa Rica, roasted by Voyager Craft Coffee and served as an espresso in its new location in the San Pedro Square Market in San Jose.On my last visit to San Jose, in April 2019, B2 Coffee was a fixture in the San Pedro Square Market. However, like so much in San Jose speciality coffee since then, everything has changed, while at the same time feeling much the same. B2 Coffee has, sadly, closed, but, with pleasing symmetry, Voyager Craft Coffee, which took over from the original Bellano Coffee (B1 Coffee if you like) on Stevens Creek Boulevard, has now taken over from B2 as well.

The basic set-up is almost identical, Voyager occupying the same U-shaped counter located on one side of a large, communal seating area at the market’s northern end. You order here and find a seat (or sofa) in the communal area, or, alternatively, head outside, where there’s even more seating.

The coffee is all roasted in-house by Voyager, with seasonal offerings on espresso (Cascade blend, single-origin and decaf), batch brew and with up to five choices on pour-over. Add to that Voyager’s unique destination drinks, their ingredients inspired by places around the globe. If you’re hungry, there’s a concise toast-based menu, a selection of cakes, plus the food hall in the market is at your disposal. And there’s a bar!

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Verve Coffee Roasters, Palo Alto

Bringing a new meaning to the phrase "well-balanced", it's a one-and-one (split-shot espresso and macchiato) from Verve Coffee Roasters in Palo Alto, with the espresso cup precariously balanced on the edge of the saucer.Verve Coffee Roasters, which began in Santa Cruz, California, has spread out along the Pacific Coast, with locations in nearby San Francisco to the north and Los Angeles to the south. It’s also crossed the ocean to Japan, where it has coffee shops in Tokyo and Kamakura. Although I haven’t been to all the Verves, I decided that I would visit at least one coffee shop in each city, crossing off Kamakura, the last on my list, when visiting Japan last year. Which was where the staff told me about the new Palo Alto coffee shop. I swear they’re doing this deliberately! So, when I was in the Bay Area for work at the start of this month, I popped up to Palo Alto on the Caltrain to tick that one off my list.

Verve occupies a corner spot a block from the station, with a large outdoor seating area right on the corner, backed up by a bright, spacious interior with plenty more seating. The coffee offering will be familiar to anyone who has been to a Verve before, as will the twin Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machines. There’s also food until 2pm and cakes all day.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: From San Francisco to Phoenix with American

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 had two weeks in Arizona (one for work, one travelling) before flying from Phoenix to Portland (Maine) with Delta. From there, I made my way home via Boston 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 RAWR, 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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