Brian’s Travel Spot: Portland to Atlanta by Car & Train

Locomotive 608, hauling Amtrak Train 19, The Crescent, from New York Penn Station to Washington DC Union Station before it is switched out for two diesel locomotives which take the train on to New Orleans.Welcome to the second instalment of this, the second Travel Spot of 2020. The first part covered my journey to Boston, flying in economy with British Airways, before catching the coach up to Portland, where I spent the next two weeks with Amanda. This instalment involves our journey down to Atlanta to see Amanda’s mother, while the next two parts will cover my onward journey to Chicago and my return home from there.

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.

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Octane: Westside

My cortado, made with the Petunias house-blend, at Octane: Westside in Atlanta.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 wide selection of cakes and savouries.

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ALL DAY

A lovely Ethiopian pour-over through the Kalita Wave, roasted by Per'La and served at ALL DAY in Miami.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.

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Vice City Bean

Detail from the side of the Vice City Bean cold brew tricycle in Miami, Florida :seriously good coffee!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.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying in the USA

My Therma Cup, Travel Press and Aergrind at Miami Airport to provide me with much needed coffee before for a pre-dawn flight to Phoenix.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.

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Panther Coffee, Coconut Grove

A bare light bulb in a wire cage, seen from below at Panther Coffee, Coconut Grove.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.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying To Miami

A screen shot of the travel map during my flight from London to Miami with British Airways. Here the plane is over the Atlantic, about 3/4 of the way to Miami.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.

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Panther Coffee, Wynwood

The label on Panther Coffee's West Coast Espresso Blend.My first-ever visit to Miami was in February 2017, when I called in on the wonderful Panther Coffee. Back then, I wrote about the roasting side of the business, the Wynwood branch doubling (for now) as the roastery. Today it’s the turn of the Wynwood branch to feature as a Coffee Spot in its own right.

Set back from the busy 2nd Avenue, Wynwood occupies a free-standing, single-storey building, with a large outdoor seating area, perhaps three times the size of the interior. Much of this is centred on a lovely, old tree, which, I imagine, provides much-needed shade in the summer.

Inside, the counter shares the space with the roaster, although Panther has plans to move to a new roasting facility, so it may not be there for much longer. There’s seating opposite the counter and in an annex to the right of the door, but I suspect that most people choose to sit outside.

Panther serves its East Coast and West Coast espresso blends from a concise menu thankfully lacking the buckets-of-milk sizes. There are seven single-origins available through a variety of (filter) brew-methods, plus bulk-brew and cold brew, along with a selection of cakes/cookies.

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Chinatown Coffee Co

The front of Chinatown Coffee Co on H Street in Washington DCIt’s a sign of how much I’m travelling and how many great coffee shops there are around the world that today’s bonus Coffee Spot is from one of last year’s trips, when I spent a day dashing around Washington DC in the rain. Chinatown Coffee Co is one of the capital’s stalwarts, having first opened its doors in 2009. Long and thin, it’s a cross between a corridor and a basement, a little reminiscent of the Dupont Circle branch of Filter Coffeehouse, which was my first ever speciality coffee experience in DC.

Chinatown’s stock-in-trade is the Black Cat espresso blend from Chicago-based, Intelligentsia. This is joined by a decaf espresso and four single-origins, available as V60, cafetiere or syphon, with two of them on the obligatory bulk-brew. Here Intelligentsia is joined by Portland’s Heart Coffee Roasters, with a new coffee appearing on the menu every two weeks. You can also buy a range of the beans to take home with you. Finally, there’s a selection of organic tea if you don’t fancy coffee.

If you’re hungry, there’s a range of pastries and cakes, plus a small selection of chocolate. On the savory side, there are sandwiches from Broodje & Bier.

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Panther Coffee

The label on Panther Coffee's West Coast Espresso Blend.Long before I ever visited Florida/Miami (or, indeed, had plans to), one name in speciality coffee stood out: the subject of today’s Meet the Roaster, Panther Coffee. When I found myself on a business trip to Miami, with next-to-no-time to explore, it was the one place that I decided I had to visit. As luck would have it, our team dinner, on my last night in Miami, was at the Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, just two blocks north of Panther on NW 2nd Avenue. I took this as a sign, and, getting out of the meeting slightly early, I jumped in a cab and made a beeline for the Wynwood District.

Panther was established five years ago and while it now has three branches, this one (Wynwood) is the original. As well as being a rather nice coffee shop (which now features as a Coffee Spot in its own right), Panther roasts all its coffee here, on a vintage, 1927 Perfekt roaster. However, change is afoot since the roaster is nearing capacity and Panther has plans to move to a new roasting facility, where it will install a 22kg version of the same machine. So, come down while you can if you want to watch the coffee being roasted in-store.

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