Willa Jean, in New Orleans’ Central Business District, is many things to many people. It was recommended to me as a brunch place, although I ended up going there for dinner, where there’s a choice of full table service, or, if you’re dining solo, a spot at the counter or window-bar, where you can order anything from snacks to full meals. It’s also a lunch spot and a bakery with a fantastic range of cakes. And some awesome pies, all baked in-house.
Oh, and then there’s the coffee, which I discovered on my first visit. Willa Jean uses Chicago’s very own Intelligentsia, with options on espresso and batch-brew, plus a pair of single-origin pour-overs through the V60. Good restaurants, even those with more of a café style such as Willa Jean, rarely have really good coffee, so I felt obliged to pop back two days later to try it out.
On one level, Stumptown, the US coffee shop/roaster chain that was founded in Portland, Oregon, needs no introduction. In particular, its partnership with Ace Hotels is well known, with Stumptown’s coffee shops gracing four of Ace’s US hotels. It’s therefore surprising that, prior to today’s Coffee Spot, I’ve only written about two Stumptown branches, both in New York City, one its flagship West 8th Street branch and the other inside the Ace Hotel.
Stumptown’s sole New Orleans coffee shop is one of the four co-located with Ace Hotels. In this case, it’s in the heart of New Orleans’ Central Business District, the coffee shop, a beautifully-appointed, elegant space to the right of the hotel lobby. There’s minimal seating, the hotel lobby providing ample overspill seating.
There’s plenty of choice when it comes to coffee, with the ubiquitous Hair Bender blend on espresso, joined by a guest espresso, which changes every few days. There’s also a batch-brew option, which can change several times a day, while in the morning, the staff will often have two options on at a time, giving you contrasting options. Finally, all four single-origins are available as pour-over using the Modbar system and Kalita Wave filters.
I spent last week exploring New Orleans’ small but vibrant speciality coffee scene. Most of the places were known to me from my previous trip, but there was one standout that came as a pleasant surprise. When I was last in New Orleans in early 2018, I noted that there was very little speciality coffee being roasted locally. Back then, Cherry Espresso Bar had just got going and was on the verge of opening Cherry Coffee Roasters, but that was about it. Or so I thought.
What I hadn’t realised was that just across the Mississippi in Algiers Point, Congregation Coffee Roasters was cooking up something special and just about to celebrate its first birthday, having opened in March 2017. On this trip, Congregation was recommended to me by both Mammoth Espresso and Revelator Coffee, so I took the short ferry ride across the river one Sunday afternoon to see what I could find.
My reward was a lovely coffee shop, serving some fantastic coffee on both espresso and batch-brew, all roasted on the 12 kg Probat at the back of the store. There’s a great selection of cakes, plus, at weekends, a concise brunch menu available until three o’clock.
Revelator Coffee, the roaster/coffee shop chain with big ideas, started life in 2014 in Birmingham, Alabama, spreading rapidly across America’s southern states. These days there are also outposts in New England, courtesy of Revelator’s purchase of Wired Puppy in Boston/Cape Cod, while this summer will see Revelator reach the West Coast with a branch opening in Los Angeles. The subject of today’s Coffee Spot, however, is Revelator’s first New Orleans branch, which, since it opened in 2016, has been joined by three more.
All the coffee is still roasted in Birmingham, although a move to Atlanta is being mooted. There’s a single option on espresso, usually the Petunias blend, but if the manager finds a single-origin that he likes, it goes on instead. This is joined by a pair of fortnightly single-origins on pour-over through the Chemex. There’s also a batch-brew option, the Lonely Hunter blend, plus cold brew, hot chocolate, chai and a selection of teas. The commendably concise coffee menu has espresso (black) and just three espresso & milk options: 4, 6 and 10oz. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes and pastries with empanadas and quiche for those looking for something more savoury.
Mammoth Espresso is a small coffee shop in New Orleans, serving the Midwest’s finest, Madcap, on espresso, with filter provided by the automated Seraphim pour-over system. There’s a bespoke espresso blend and a daily single-origin option. This, plus two or three more single-origins, are available on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes/pastries, prepared in-house, plus breakfast burritos.
A seven-minute walk from the station and towards the southern edge the Central Business District, Mammoth is a little off the beaten (tourist) track, but well worth seeking out. I first popped in during my visit to New Orleans this time last year, when it was my final stop before catching my train to Tucson, providing me with a fitting send off to New Orleans.
On my return this year, I made it a priority to revisit Mammoth since I didn’t have time to write it up the first time around. It was therefore fitting that my first action on my first morning after flying in the night before was to take the short walk along Baronne Street from my hotel to Mammoth for my first coffee of the trip. Such symmetry pleases me.
Cherry Espresso Bar opened towards the end of 2016, although it’s been going since 2013, operating inside Stein’s Deli on Magazine Street. This branch, in the Uptown district, west of the Lower Garden District, is a bit of a trek, but well worth the effort. Occupying the ground floor of a lovely, sunny, south-facing building near the river, it’s very much a neighbourhood spot, but with multiple options on espresso and pour-over, plus full breakfast and lunch menus, served until three o’clock.
In many ways, I picked a poor time to visit. I arrived shortly before Cherry Espresso opened another branch in the Lower Garden District, midway between Uptown and the French Quarter, at the same time closing its original location. Cherry Espresso has also started roasting (as Cherry Coffee Roasters), with plans to move to its own coffee on espresso, but retaining a guest roaster on the second grinder.
For now, however, Portland’s Roseline provides the house espresso, while there is a rotating weekly guest single-origin on the second grinder, which was from Wisconsin’s Ruby Coffee Roasters during my visit. There are also two single-origins from Roseline available through the Chemex while Cherry’s own coffee is on the bulk-brewer.
Welcome to this instalment of what I have somewhat ambitiously called Another Grand Adventure, part of my occasional Travel Spot series. It follows my second long-distance American train trip, which saw me travelling from Boston, in New England, to Phoenix, in the south west, by train. Well, almost.
I actually went from Providence to Tucson by train, driving the first and last legs. If I’d had the courage of my convictions, I’d have carried on from Tucson to Los Angeles so that I could have completed my second coast-to-coast train journey. However, given that I actually had to be in Phoenix for work, this would have required me to turn around and come straight back again once I got to LA. That would have been rather extreme, even for me.
The trip started with my flight to Boston, while the second instalment covers the series of short journeys I took along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor from Providence to Manassas, south of Washington DC. This instalment takes us from Manassas to New Orleans, travelling on Amtrak’s Crescent Service, while the remaining two instalments will cover the leg from New Orleans to Tucson on the Sunset Limited and my flight back from Phoenix.
Following hot on the heels of yesterday’s Coffee Spot, Spitfire Coffee, comes Spitfire’s new big sister, Pax Treme, which I visited last Sunday. I’d not heard anything of Pax before I arrived in New Orleans, but that’s probably because it only opened the Monday before my visit. Talk about good timing!
I’m indebted to Marissa, the barista at Spitfire, who gave me the heads-up about Pax. It has perhaps the most (initially) unpromising location for a coffee shop, almost directly under an elevated section of the I-10 freeway which thunders through the heart of New Orleans Tremé neighbourhood, north of the French Quarter. About 10 times the size of Spitfire, and that’s not counting the balcony, it’s a handy getaway from the hustle of the French Quarter and just a short walk away across Louis Armstrong Park.
Like Spitfire, Pax is a multi-roaster, with a single-origin on espresso and three more available either as espresso (ground using the Mahlkönig EK-43) or pour-over through V60 or Chemex (with plans to add Kalita Wave and maybe Aeropress, plus bulk-brew) There’s also a kitchen at the back, so Pax has a small (for now) breakfast/lunch menu, plus cakes, all baked on-site.
March 2019: I’ve learnt that Pax Treme has had to close due to a series of unfortunate incidents. The word on the ground in New Orleans is that it may re-open soon, which would be excellent news!
My first speciality coffee in New Orleans came courtesy of Spitfire Coffee. A tiny spot in the heart of the French Quarter, it’s the number one option when you need decent coffee during a hard day’s sight-seeing. Given its size/location, Spitfire could be forgiven for serving a middle-of-the-road espresso blend and a big flask of drip coffee to go. But no, Spitfire is cut from a different cloth.
The coffee comes from a cast of five roasters, with a different option on espresso every day, coupled with multiple options on pour-over using V60 or Chemex. There’s also cold-brew, a decent selection of tea and some signature drinks (Las Tres Flores and a Cuban Cortado). You can also have an iced espresso or latte should that take your fancy and, refreshingly, there’s no batch-brew on offer. If you’re hungry, there’s a choice of two cakes, baked at Spitfire’s sister location, Pax.
Doing my research before my short trip to New Orleans, not many names came up when I asked about speciality coffee. However, of those that did, the most prevalent was Sólo Espresso, which was also highly recommended on the ground. The first thing to say is that if you stick to the usual tourist areas, you’re not going to come across Sólo. It’s east of the French Quarter, on the border between Bywater and St. Claude, and across the canal from the Lower Ninth Ward.
However, as I always say, good coffee’s worth travelling for. In this case, you have several options, including a fairly pleasant 50-minute stroll through Crescent Park on the north bank of the Mississippi. There’s also a couple of buses or a 10-minute taxi ride, depending on traffic.
Whichever route you take, you won’t be disappointed. Occupying the ground floor of a long, low building, there’s something of the basement about Sólo. The coffee, meanwhile, comes from old friends, Miami’s Panther Coffee, with the East Coast blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a guest single-origin, plus decaf. There’s also bulk-brew, cold-brew or pour-over using the Chemex. If you’re hungry, there’s a breakfast/lunch menu, plus cake.