Although a big advocate of cuppings, I rarely get the chance to attend them, so when an opportunity comes along, I tend to grab it with both hands. I was visiting Amanda in Portland last summer when the barista at the Tandem Coffee Roastery mentioned that the roastery holds public cuppings every Friday at noon: naturally, I had to go. Ironically, having not been to a cupping for a while, this was my second one that year, both in the USA.
In case you don’t know, a cupping is where several different coffees are tasted using a standard methodology, which allows their taste profiles to be compared without the brew method, etc, influencing the results. They’re a regular part of any roaster’s life, often used to assess new samples before deciding which beans to order. However, in this case, the cupping was part of Tandem’s quality control procedure for its production roasts.
Increasingly, roasters are opening up their production cuppings to the public. It’s a great opportunity to get to know more about a roaster and the coffees on offer, as well as a chance to develop your own palate. I thoroughly recommend that you attend one if you can!
It was four years before I returned to Portland, flying out last summer to visit Amanda. Naturally I took the opportunity to catch up with Tandem, Amanda and I calling in for coffee (I also popped back to the roastery the following Friday to attend a public cupping). Much of what I found was very familiar, in particular the intimate coffee bar. However, plenty had changed, including the roastery, which had relocated to the building next door.
Since I’m back in Portland (visiting Amanda, naturally) I thought I’d mark the occasion with this Coffee Spot Update, covering both the coffee shop and the roastery.
A highlight of last summer’s (brief) visit to Portland was Tandem Coffee Roasters, the roastery doubling as a lovely, intimate coffee bar. I was staying on the opposite side of town and Google Maps suggested I’d pass Tandem Coffee + Bakery on my way. So off I went, keeping an eye out for said bakery, only to walk right past without noticing!
My excuse? I, fool that I am, was looking for something bearing a vague resemblance to a bakery. Instead, I should have been keeping an eye out for something bearing a striking resemblance to a gas (petrol) station… Obviously. I discovered my mistake at the roastery, so on my way back, I paid more attention: there, right where Google Maps said it was, I discovered the bakery, occupying an old gas station.
Just as Tandem Cafe & Roastery’s a roastery with coffee bar attached, so Tandem Coffee + Bakery’s a bakery with coffee shop attached. And lovely outdoor seating. It doesn’t have quite the same range as the roastery, just a house-blend and single-origin on espresso, the same single-origin on Aeropress and another on bulk-brew. Being a bakery, there’s also multiple savoury and sweet things to feast upon.
I first came across Tandem Coffee Roasters in Boston, where I enjoyed a cappuccino at Render Coffee, made using Tandem’s seasonal Time and Temperature espresso blend. I also met with Larry, owner of Boston’s Pavement Coffeehouse chain, who sang the praises of Tandem’s co-founder, 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 roastery, but an excellent, friendly coffee bar too. The coffee bar aside, which features in its own Coffee Spot, this Meet the Roaster post focuses on the roastery side of the business. When I first visited in 2015, the roastery was in one half of a single-storey, L-shaped building, also home to the coffee bar. These days, it’s become so busy, it’s had to relocate to a separate building just behind the first, where a 35 kg Loring roaster takes pride of place, roasting all of Tandem’s coffee, for use in-house in the coffee bar and Tandem’s bakery/coffee shop on Congress Street as well as for Tandem’s growing wholesale business.
When I first came to Portland in 2015, to start my coast-to-coast train journey from Portland (Maine) to Portland (Oregon), I very nearly didn’t make it to Tandem Coffee Roasters. I’d arrived late in the morning and had settled into my hotel before realising that (in those days) Tandem closed at 2 pm. By then, it was already gone noon and Tandem was at the other end of town!
I made it, of course, and was very glad that I did, Tandem becoming a firm favourite of mine, along with the likes of Bard Coffee and Speckled Ax. There are, in fact, two Tandem Coffees in Portland, the Cafe/Roastery (the subject of this Coffee Spot) and Tandem Coffee + Bakery (cunningly disguised as a gas station on Congress Street).
Returning to the Cafe/Roastery, this consists of, unsurprisingly, a coffee shop and, in a second, standalone building behind it, the roastery, where Tandem roasts all its coffee on a 35kg Loring. The coffee shop is the focus of this Coffee Spot, while the roastery has its own Meet the Roaster feature. These days, by the way, the coffee shop is open until four o’clock each afternoon (except Sunday, when it’s closed).
I think I’ve found a new favourite in Boston. Head a few blocks along Columbus Avenue past my favourite breakfast spot, Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, and you’ll find Render Coffee, just before the junction with Massachusetts Avenue. Ironically, I found it from the other direction, walking south along Mass Ave from Pavement Coffeehouse on Boylston. Although only 10 minutes from Pavement, the contrast couldn’t have been sharper, going from the busy Pavement to the relatively laid-back calm of Render. Quiet, but not empty, it was a relaxed and relaxing place to spend the afternoon.
Like Pavement, Render serves Counter Culture as both espresso and pour-over, along with guest coffees (both from Gracenote Coffee during my visits). One of the things I really liked is there’s no bulk-brew filter coffee. Instead, Render only offers hand-pour. There’s also an excellent selection of food and cake.
Long and thin seems to be a theme for Boston coffee shops and Render is no different in this respect. Accessed by a short flight of steps up from Columbus Avenue, you can sit right at the front and watch the traffic go by, or better still, sit at the back where there’s an excellent fireplace and conservatory!