We could have gone straight to the airport, but instead we made a detour to the Midtown reason to visit Dancing Goats (or to use its full name, The Dancing Goats® Coffee Bar Midtown). Dancing Goats (part of Batdorf & Bronson coffee roasters) is one of four Atlanta-based coffee shops (with another five in Washington State, where it all started).
Dancing Goats is firmly in the speciality coffee world, but with a mass-market offering. There’s a small espresso-based menu combined with a much larger menu offering the typical American “large” drinks, featuring 20oz lattes amongst other things. The retail coffee offering mirrors this, with multiple blends supplemented by a smaller range of single-origins. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cake.
Although I spent a week in Atlanta with Amanda, we were in the suburbs, a 40-minute drive from the city, so I didn’t have much opportunity for coffee shop visits. With that in mind, when we arrived on the train from New York, we made a beeline for Octane: Westside and, from there, went to Firelight Coffee Roasters, which had come highly recommended (not least by the baristas at Octane).
Firelight began as a roaster in 2014, moving into its current premises, at the back of the Strongbox West co-working space, in 2015. It was much smaller then, but Firelight has slowly built out into the space, which now acts as both roastery and a small, cosy coffee shop. This serves as an in-house coffee shop for Strongbox tenants as well as a tasting room for curious visitors such as Amanda and me.
The coffee offering is straightforward, with a seasonal blend on espresso, daily single-origin on batch brew and the rest of the roastery’s output (typically five single-origins) on pour-over. Just be warned, however, that Firelight only opens from 09:00 to 13:30 and is closed at weekends, with roasting taking place out of hours on Monday and Saturday afternoons.
Welcome to the third instalment of this, the second (and possibly last, the way things are going) Travel Spot of 2020, all about my trip to America just before the COVID-19 crisis. Part 1 covered my flight to Boston with British Airways to spend a couple of weeks with Amanda in Portland. In Part 2, Amanda and I travelled from Portland to Atlanta by a combination of car and train to visit her mother. Then, after a week in the Atlanta suburbs, we parted company and I flew to Chicago, which is the subject of today’s Travel Spot. I was supposed to be there for two weeks, although subsequent events radically altered that plan!
It’s now exactly three weeks since I made that flight and, sitting here, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels very surreal to be writing about taking an internal flight in the US when so much has changed since then. However, at the time I flew, although people were starting to take precautions against catching COVID-19, everything seemed pretty normal. Little did I know at the time that this would be the last “normal” flight I’m likely to take for who knows how long!
Amanda and I had plenty of options to get from Portland (Maine) to Atlanta, the most obvious one being to fly. However, neither of us is a great fan of flying internally in the US, and, since we had time, we decided to look at other options. One alternative was driving, something Amanda’s done before, although it’s a one-way trip of 1,200 miles, which amounts to about 19 hours behind the wheel, so I ruled it out.
That left the train, a mode of transport which we both enjoy. It wasn’t the cheapest, nor was it the quickest, but it definitely sounded the most enjoyable, so we booked tickets on Amtrak’s Train 19, Crescent, from New York to Atlanta, building our trip around that.
Until Monday, I’d never been to Atlanta. The closest I’d come was passing through Peachtree Station en-route to New Orleans two years ago. I also managed a brief stop at the airport in January on my way to Portland. However, on Monday this week, Amanda and I stepped off Amtrak’s Crescent Service (the very same train that I caught to New Orleans) and I was in Atlanta. Naturally, our thoughts to turned to coffee, and where better to start than with Octane?
Octane was a pioneer of Atlanta’s speciality coffee scene until it was bought in 2017 by Revelator Coffee, much to the consternation of many. Octane had several locations in the city, but the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Octane: Westside, is, I believe, the original and the only one to retain the Octane name.
Located in a converted garage, it’s a large, spacious place, with a small amount of outside seating and limited parking. The Petunias blend is on espresso, with two single-origins on pour-over via the Chemex. If you want something stiffer, there’s a full bar, offering a wide range of drinks from 11:30 each day. If you’re hungry, there’s a broad selection of cakes and savouries.
Of all the places I visited in Miami, ALL DAY, which opened in the Park West neighbourhood in May 2016, felt most like a British coffee shop, perhaps because, as the name suggests, it serves an all-day breakfast menu (while a staple of American diners, I find it rate in speciality coffee shops). Options include various egg dishes (plus some interesting egg-based sandwiches), along with several non-egg based dishes. ALL DAY also helped itself no end by dispensing with the American curse of counter service, instead bringing your coffee and food to you.
Talking of coffee, this is equally impressive, starting with a bespoke, five-group La Marzocco espresso machine, serving a house-blend from Wisconsin’s Ruby Coffee Roasters, which continues a link between Midwest roasters and Miami. Refreshingly, ALL DAY has dispensed with coffee names, instead going for a simple choice of espresso, espresso with milk and espresso with water, while offering a range of sizes.
Ruby is also available on filter, either through batch-brew or pour-over via the Kalita Wave, where it is joined by various guest roasters. While I was there, this included local roaster, Per’la Speciality Roasters, and Roseline from the Pacific Northwest, which was supplying the decaf.
The casual visitor could be forgiven for thinking that Panther Coffee is all there is when it comes to speciality coffee in Miami. However, the coffee scene is slowly taking off, particularly over the last couple of years. It was a barista at Panther’s Wynwood branch who first put me onto one of these newcomers, Vice City Bean, which opened in April 2016, a few blocks south of Wynwood, just north of the downtown area.
It’s a lovely spot, with large, north-facing windows, high ceilings and lots of space. The coffee is all the way from Madcap in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while there’s a guest espresso, which was from Onyx Coffee Lab in Arkansas while I was there. These are available through a cut-down espresso menu with a range of alternative milks. If you prefer filter, there are two options on bulk-brew and three more on pour-over through the Kalita Wave, with offerings from Madcap and the guest roaster. Meanwhile, there’s cold brew and loose-leaf tea.
If you’re feeling hungry, there’s a range of cake and pastries, including savoury pastries. Add to that a small selection of empanadas and assorted toast-based snacks, so you are covered for breakfast and lunch.
Welcome to another of my Brian’s Travel Spot series which these days seems to involve documenting my various flights around the world. Normally these are long-haul international flights, but today I’m turning my attention to one of my least favourite activities: flying internally in America. It’s not something I do very often and certainly not something I do if I can help it.
This time last year, as I picked my way across America from San Francisco to Chicago to Miami to Boston, I took a series of three flights. One day I hope to write them up as part of the wider trip, but for now, the only other experience I’ve had of flying within America is on a couple of connecting flights, once on my way out to Phoenix in 2016 and the other when flying to Chicago via Newark last year.
This year began with a trip to Miami and Phoenix, involving a connecting flight between the two. Faced with the prospect of over five hours on a plane (and a small one at that), I looked at the options, and, with work’s travel budget picking up the tab, I decided that I’d better fly first class.
When I first came to Miami this time last year, one name was on everyone’s lips when it came to speciality coffee: Panther Coffee. From its home in Wynwood, where all the coffee’s roasted on-site, it had grown to a chain of three shops, all in Miami (although since my visit, another three branches have opened, including two in the last month!). Sadly I wasn’t in Miami for long last time, so only had the chance to visit the original in Wynwood.
However, on my return, I was determine to explore, so as I drove into Miami from the Everglades last night, I made a detour to visit the Coconut Grove branch. Very different in look and feel to Wynwood, it’s long and thin, with the counter on the right.
You’ll find all the usual Panther Coffee goodies here, with a choice between the East and West Coast espresso blends, plus multiple single-origins on filter, with Chemex or Clever Dripper if you’re prepared to wait, or bulk-brew if you’re not. There’s also cold brew and a collection of soft drinks as well as some craft beer. This is all rounded off with a limited selection of ready-made sandwiches and cakes/cookies.
Welcome to the first Brian’s Travel Spot of the New Year. This (not so) occasional series documents my ever-increasing travel experiences, which this year shows no signs of letting up. I’m currently in Florida, where I’ll be for another week, attending a meeting in Miami, then I’m flying to Phoenix for two weeks, returning home for nine days, then I’m heading back to the States. After that, things calm down a just a little bit, but I still have trips scheduled to Thailand, Chicago and Japan later this year. And that’s just for work.
I briefly visited Miami this time last year on another mad trip, which saw me fly to Phoenix, drive to San Francisco, fly to Chicago, then fly to Boston, via Miami, for a work meeting, before returning home. Flying from (freezing) Chicago to the warmth of Miami, staying for five days, then flying to (freezing) Boston was an interesting experience…
This time I flew to Miami from Manchester via Heathrow with British Airways, arriving a week ahead of my meeting for some sight-seeing. The choice of Manchester, not my favourite airport, was dictated by needing to see my Dad before I went. Thus the scene was set.