Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak Northeast Regional 65

Amtrak Locomotive 629, a Siemens Sprinter ACS-64, which was at the front of Northeast Regional 65 at Washington DC's Union Station.I had expected to spend most of my month-long trip to the USA at the end of last year in Maine with Amanda. However, the death of a close friend necessitated a weekend there-and-back trip to Washington DC for the funeral. The obvious choice was to fly, but a combination of factors, including my dislike of flying internally in the US, plus a lack of (reasonably priced) direct flights, led to me taking the train, by far my preferred option anyway.

Initially, I looked at travelling down on Saturday (the funeral was on Sunday morning) but that would have involved spending all day on the train (from Boston, the quickest service, the Acela, takes seven hours, while the regular Northeast Regional takes eight hours). While exploring my options, I noticed the Northeast Regional 65, a train which leaves Boston at 21:30 on Saturday night, arriving in Washington DC’s Union Station at 06:30 on Sunday morning. That would give me plenty of time to get to the funeral, as well as avoiding an overnight stay in the DC area. And, as a final bonus, it meant I could spend Saturday with Amanda. So, the Amtrak Northeast Regional 65 it was.

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Peregrine Espresso, Eastern Market (COVID-19)

A lovely cappuccino from Peregrine Espresso, Easterm Market, served in my HuskeeCup.Although I’ve been through Washington DC a few times on the train, I rarely visit the city itself. So, when I took the sleeper down from Boston during last month’s USA trip, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity. I didn’t have long, so made a beeline for Peregrine Espresso’s Eastern Market location on Pennsylvania Avenue, a half-an-hour stroll from Washington Union Station past the US Capitol.

Peregrine Espresso occupies a small unit with a wide, glass front and a generous outdoor seating area which is actually on 7th Street, just around the corner from Pennsylvania Avenue. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s currently takeaway service only (so don’t forget to bring your own cup), although you’re welcome to sit outside with your coffee. In more normal times, there’s more seating inside, but this has been cleared away to provide plenty of space for customers who are queuing to order/waiting to collect their coffee.

Talking of which, Peregrine Espresso serves a concise espresso-based menu with a batch brew option, all the coffee roasted by Small Planes Coffee, owned by founders, Ryan and Jill Jensen. There’s also a selection of tea, plus a range of cakes and pastries.

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Alma Coffee Roastery

A lovely cappuccino, made with the medium-roast Soulmate from the family farm in Honduras, roasted and served in my HuskeeCup at Alma Coffee Roastry in Canton, Georgia.Exactly three weeks ago today, Amanda and I set off to drive from Atlanta, Georgia to Portland, Maine, a three-day journey that would take us through some lovely scenery along sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, before we got there, we stopped at Alma Coffee Roastery, a chance discovery which we made while planning the route. It’s on Holly Springs Parkway, which runs parallel to I-575, connecting Woodstock in the south and Canton to the north.

The roastery, which doubles as a coffee shop, is just off the parkway on the left as you drive north, with clear signage and plenty of parking, although there’s no public transport access. A generous outdoor seating area stands in front of the roastery, while inside, a neat coffee shop with a handful of tables occupies the right-hand side of the large roastery building.

Alma Coffee specialises in Honduran coffee, much of it from the owners’ family farms. You can buy any of the roastery’s output in retail bags, while Soulmate, a medium-roast washed coffee, is available through a concise espresso-based menu, along with various iced versions. Alma Coffee only serves in disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Atlanta in Premium Economy

Making coffee on the plane (again), this time with my Frank Green ceramic cup, Espro TravelPress and Knock Aergrind.Welcome the second instalment of my Travel Spot covering my current trip to Atlanta, Georgia, and Portland, Maine, which began on Monday last week when I flew to Atlanta, travelling in World Traveller Plus (premium economy to you and me) with British Airways. Coincidentally, this (8th November) was the very first day that the USA eased its restrictions, finally allowing vaccinated passengers from around 30 countries, including the UK, to travel to America. As a result, I dedicated the first post in this series to all the procedures I had to go through and all the (electronic) paperwork I had to fill out before I could take my flight.

This post is more traditional, covering my flight out, which departed from London Heathrow in mid-afternoon, arriving in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport in the early evening. This is the third time that I’ve flown to/from Hartsfield-Jackson, having made a pair of visits at the start of 2020, one enroute from Phoenix to Portland (Maine) and the second when I flew from Atlanta to Chicago in March 2020. However, this is the first time that I’ve flown into Terminal I, which handles all Atlanta’s international flights, my previous three flights all being internal.

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Dancing Goats Midtown

The logo for The Dancing Goats® Coffee Bar , a goat dancing on its hind legs holding a cup of coffee, taken from the sign outside the Midtown location in Atlanta.I didn’t have much chance to visit coffee shops during the week in I spent in Atlanta with Amanda, since we were staying in the suburbs, a 40-minute drive from the city. We visited Octane: Westside and Firelight Coffee Roasters when we arrived on the train from New York, but the next time we were in the city centre was on my way to the airport for my flight to Chicago at the end of my stay.

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.

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Firelight Coffee Roasters

The Firelight Coffee Roasters logo from the back wall of the coffee shop/roastery in Strongbox West, Atlanta.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.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying from Atlanta to Chicago

Making my own coffee in the Admirals Club at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport. On display are my Travel Press and Aergrind, with beans from Tandem Coffee Roasters and hot water from the lounge's coffee machine.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!

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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 remaining posts in the series 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 broad 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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