Typical. You wait ages for one Meet the Roaster, then two come along at once. Not only that, but they’re both American! Hot on the heels of last Saturday’s feature on the Brooklyn Roasting Company, comes the subject of today’s Meet the Roaster, Portland’s Tandem Coffee Roasters.
I first came across Tandem when I was in Boston, where I enjoyed a cappuccino at Boston’s Render Coffee made using Tandem’s seasonal Time and Temp espresso-blend. I also met with Larry, owner of Boston’s Pavement Coffeehouse chain, who sang the praises of Tandem’s co-founder and chief roaster, Will (an ex-Pavement employee). That pretty much sealed it for me, and when, a few days later, I popped up the New England coast to Portland to start my coast-to-coast, Portland-to-Portland train trip, I naturally sought out Tandem’s roastery.
What I found wasn’t just a thriving coffee roaster, but a cracking, friendly coffee bar too. Coffee bar aside, which has already featured as a Coffee Spot in its own right, today’s Saturday Supplement is focusing on the roastery side of the business, which centres around Tandem’s 12kg Probat roaster, housed in a separate wing of Tandem’s single-storey, L-shaped building on Anderson Street.
February 2020: I’ve updated my piece on Tandem Coffee Roasters. This is the original write-up, published in August 2015. For an up-to-date description, please see the updated post, while you can see what’s changed in my Coffee Spot Update.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
I’ve always found the café/roaster model to be much more prevalent in America than in the UK, although I suspect that there are more of them over here than I give them credit for (particularly since I’ve failed to visit some of the more notable examples in London such as Nude, Ozone and Allpress! That said, since writing this post, I have made it to both Allpress and Ozone. Still not made it to Nude though!). However, in the US, it seems to be a pretty dominant model, with one third of the 50+ US Coffee Spots I’ve covered falling into the café/roaster category.
I particularly like those café/roasters where the roasting is done on-site. This is a frequent occurrence, especially in small operations, and, for me, it’s a bonus when the roaster itself is openly in view. I understand that this isn’t always possible, especially in a busy coffee shop, where there are good operational reasons for separating the coffee drinker from the coffee roaster. For a start, the whole roasting process can be noisy, as well as generating a lot of heat, neither of which is usually conducive to enjoying a nice cup of coffee. On the flip side, for a roaster, being able to work in a controlled environment without the interruptions of a busy coffee shop (particularly customers asking questions), is quite important.
That’s why I understand when the roasting, even when it’s done on-site, is often tucked out of the way, allowing the roaster to work in peace (London’s TAP, 193 Wardour Street and Paris’ Café Lomi are good examples). There are, of course, plenty of coffee shops where the roasting takes place in plain view of the customers: last week’s Meet the Roaster, Brooklyn Roasting Company, is a prime example, although it’s planning on relocating the roasting to a dedicated facility in the near future. This seems to be a common route for successful roasters as they expand, Paris’ Coutume nicely illustrating the point.
However, I do believe that Tandem have found the perfect solution with its combined roastery and coffee bar. While the roaster is clearly on display, being the first thing you see when you walk in, it has its own well-delineated space and is obviously separate from the coffee bar (London’s Caravan at King’s Cross is another good example of this). This means that both coffee drinker and coffee roaster can get on with their business in peace, but at the same time the roaster remains the focal point of the establishment. It’s also a good opening gambit to get people involved in/engaged with the roasting process. I offer, as an example, the young man who walked in to order an iced something-or-other and, pointing back towards the roaster, asked “what’s that?”. Cue some coffee-themed education.
Tandem roasts three times a week, the output consisting of the seasonal Time and Temp espresso blend and, typically, four single-origin beans, some of which are roasted with espresso in mind, others for filter. Although a roaster/café, Tandem is also a very successful wholesaler/supplier, with just 5% of its output being used in the coffee bar and its second establishment, the Tandem Coffee + Bakery. The remaining 95% goes to supply a wide range of cafés in New England and beyond. Indeed, Tandem, which coincidentally celebrated its third birthday the day I published this piece (Happy Birthday!), is already so successful that a 15kg Loring roaster is on order to replace the faithful Probat.
|122 ANDERSON STREET • PORTLAND • ME 04101 • USA|
|www.tandemcoffee.com||+1 207 899 0235|
|Monday||07:00 – 14:00||Roaster||Tandem (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||07:00 – 14:00||Seating||Bar, Counter, Table (outside)|
|Wednesday||07:00 – 14:00||Food||Cookies|
|Thursday||07:00 – 14:00||Service||Counter|
|Friday||07:00 – 14:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||08:00 – 15:00||Wifi||No|
|Chain||Local||Visits||Original: 4th June 2015
Updates: 3rd, 9th August 2019