Verve Coffee Roasters, Pacific Avenue

A packet of Verve coffee, a Guatemala Pulcal Typica, taken from a public cupping at the store on Pacific Avenue in Santa CruzI visited Verve’s flagship store on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz at the start of 2017, part of my road trip from Phoenix to San Francisco via Los Angeles and the Pacific coast. Santa Cruz, home of Verve Coffee Roasters, which still roasts in the town, was my final stop before the trip ended at San Francisco later that day and, to not visit at least one Verve branch would, have been very remiss of me.

Back then Verve had four branches in Santa Cruz, three in Los Angeles and one in Tokyo. Since then it’s opened its first San Francisco store (which I missed by a few weeks, but visited on my return in 2019) and two more in Japan, where I’m headed in two days’ time. Hence my desire to get this published before I go.

The Pacific Avenue branch is lovely, a large, open, high-ceilinged space with twin Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machines, serving a house-blend, guest and decaf, while three Modbar pour-over systems serve multiple options through the Kalita Wave. Finally, if you’re in a hurry, there’s another option on bulk-brew. All the beans (and more) are available in retail bags, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cake.

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Press Coffee, Skywater Apartments

My Costa Rican filter coffee, made with the Kalita Wave using the Seraphim automated pour-over machine at Press Coffee, Skywater Apartments, Tempe.To celebrate my return to Phoenix, I present Monday’s Coffee Spot, Press Coffee at the Skywater Apartments in Tempe, which I visited on my previous trip to Phoenix almost exactly a year ago. Tempe is a separate city southeast of Phoenix, although part of the Greater Phoenix area. I first discovered Press Coffee, one of Phoenix’s leading roasters/coffee shops, when I fortuitously stumbled across its Scottsdale Quarter branch on my first visit to Phoenix.

The Skywater Apartments branch, which opened three years ago, is one of six in the Greater Phoenix area and is located in the Town Lake complex, just back from the southern bank of the Salt River and opposite the Tempe Center for the Arts. It’s a bright, open space, with a lovely, relaxed atmosphere.

If you’ve visited a Press Coffee before, then the offering will be familiar. There’s two blends (Twitch and Spitball during my visit) on espresso, with multiple single-origins on pour-over (five during my visit). One of these is also available as on bulk-brew along with another blend, Early Morning, which acts as the “house” filter. There’s also an extensive food served until 14:30, with various egg/bread-based dishes, plus the usual selection of cake.

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Wrecking Ball, Union Street

A Kalita Wave filter just finishing brewing at Wrecking Ball in San FranciscoWrecking Ball started life as a coffee roaster in San Francisco around 10 years ago. However, the coffee shop is a relatively new venture, having only been open for a couple of years when I visited in February 2017. It’s in Cow Hollow, slightly off the beaten track for the average tourist, west of North Beach/Russian Hill. However, it’s easy enough to get to on one of the many bus routes that criss-cross the city.

The coffee shop is an interesting space, underneath an old townhouse in what, I believe, was the parking garage. This gives it very much a basement feel, although it is directly accessible from the street via a long, corridor-like passage that slopes slightly upwards. It’s easily the smallest of the speciality coffee shops I visited on that trip, with three benches and three chairs inside and three small tables on the pavement outside. I admire the consistency!

As you might expect from one of San Francisco’s leading roasters, there’s a range beans for sale or to try, with a blend on espresso, along with decaf, and several single-origins, two of which are available as pour-over (Kalita Wave), one on cold brew and another on bulk-brew.

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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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Cartel Coffee Lab, Downtown Phoenix

The Cartel Coffee Lab logo from the wooden A-board outside the store in downtown Phoenix.The contrast between Cartel Coffee Lab’s downtown location in the centre of Phoenix, and its flagship roastery/coffee shop in Tempe, which I visited the day before, couldn’t be starker. While the former’s a large, sprawling set of interconnected spaces, downtown is in an alcove off the lobby of 1 North 1st Street. It’s a very pleasant alcove, and, as alcoves go, it’s spacious enough, but it’s an alcove nonetheless. You can sit at the window-bar, out in the (echo-chamber like) lobby, or on the street at another window-bar.

Despite any perceived shortcomings in size, Cartel doesn’t compromise on the coffee, with the same full offering that’s out in Tempe. There are six single-origins, including decaf, all are available through Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper or Chemex. Meanwhile, one (plus decaf) is available as espresso. There’s also bulk-brew filter and cold brew, a small tea selection, plus cakes and prepared salads in the fridge opposite the counter.

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Saint Frank Coffee

A beautiful espresso with milk, part of a split shot of a single-origin Guatemalan coffee in Saint Frank Coffee, San Francisco.Once again, I find myself following in the footsteps of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato. Saint Frank Coffee, in San Francisco’s Russian Hill area, was the very last stop of my final day-trip to San Francisco, part of my epic four-corners trip around America at the start of the year. It had been a good day, starting with a visit to Four Barrel in the Mission and ending at Saint Frank, both recommendations from Bex.

Founded in 2013, Saint Frank’s a relative newcomer to the scene. This is its flagship store, with two other outlets, one on the Facebook campus (sadly, employees only) and a new venture, called St Clare Coffee, in the Mission. Saint Frank roasts all its own coffee (sadly off-site), working directly with a small number of coffee farmers around the world.

There are three options on espresso (house-blend, a single-origin and a decaf) through a bespoke, under-the-counter espresso machine. There are three more options on pour-over (all single-origins, one of which is a decaf) using the Marco Beverage Systems SP9. Finally, there are two further single-origins, one on bulk-brew and one available as an iced coffee. If you’re hungry, there’s a small but tasty cake range.

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Sextant Coffee Roasters

The Sextant Coffee Roasters logo from the sign outside the front of the store on Folsom Street.Sextant Coffee Roasters is a relatively new name in the San Francisco speciality coffee scene, but fits perfectly into the model established by the likes of Four Barrel Coffee and Sightglass Coffee. Like them, it’s a coffee shop/roaster, roasting on the premises on a vintage cast-iron roaster and occupying an old, warehouse-like building with high ceilings, skylights, exposed rafters and bare brick walls. It’s also roughly halfway between the two, sitting on Folsom Street between the Mission (Four Barrel) and SOMA (Sightglass), just a block from the Wrecking Ball roastery.

When it comes to coffee, Sextant specialises in Ethiopian coffees, the owner, Kinani Ahmed, hailing from Ethiopian. However, it also occasionally roasts some Central and South American coffees, aiming to roast light and extract the maximum sweetness from the coffee. The house-blend, Maiden Voyage, is always on espresso, while there are two single-origins on pour-over, using the Kalita Wave filter, and another on bulk-brew, all changing on a weekly-basis. If you fancy tea, then there’s a selection of loose-leaf teas brewed using the Silverton drippers (which I’ve only seen at La Colombe, where they were being used for coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s the usual range of pastries and cookies.

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Four Barrel Coffee, Valencia

My decaf cappuccino in a beautiful, handleless cup at Four Barrel Coffee, San Francisco.Four Barrel Coffee, founded in 2008, is one of the big names of San Francisco speciality coffee. Now a chain of three shops (one of which is a bakery) as well as a roaster, this branch, in the Mission, is the original. It was also, for a while, the main roastery as well. These days, roasting takes place at a dedicated facility in Oakland, but the old roaster is still there at the back of the store. In fact, the space is neatly split in two, with the coffee shop in the front, and the old roastery, now used for storage, training and cuppings, at the back.

Four Barrel is unusual in that it has two counters. The main one is in the middle of the store, offering the Friendo Blendo seasonal house-blend on espresso, along with decaf, plus a rapidly-changing single-origin on bulk-brew. There is also a wide selection of cake on offer if you are hungry. Alternatively, to the left of the door, is the “slow bar”. This offers five single-origins on pour-over and another on espresso. The slow bar has limited hours, only opening from eight until three in the week and until six at the weekends.

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Acme Coffee Roasting Company

The Acme Coffee Roasting Company logo from the front of its coffee counter in Seaside, CA.Just off Highway 1 in southern California, east of Monterey, in the delightfully-named town of Seaside, is a parking lot. Not just any old parking lot, mind you. This one’s special. Although I did wonder, as I pulled in, if I’d come to the right place… However, there, at the back of the lot, in a low, garage-like building, is the Acme Coffee Roasting Company, purveyors of fine artisan, small-batch coffee.

Acme, which was established in 2004, roasts all its own coffee. Indeed, this used to be the roastery, but as the company grew, the roaster was moved to a dedicated facility, leaving this space as a lovely little coffee bar. There’s a blend and single-origin on espresso, plus a filter bar, where the drip coffee is made to order using pour-over cones. There’s also the obligatory bulk-brew if you’re in a hurry and a selection of cakes and sweet-treats.

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George Howell, Godfrey Hotel

Detail from the wall of the George Howell Coffee Shop in the Godfrey Hotel in BostonFor a long time, downtown Boston was a desert when it came to speciality coffee. However, in the last couple of years, that’s all changed. For example, local roasters, Gracenote, moved in with an espresso bar near South Station, while this year, another personal favourite, Render Coffee, opened its second branch, Render Coffee 121, on Devonshire Street, around the corner from Japanese import, Ogawa Coffee. And then there’s George Howell, the American speciality coffee legend from Acton, whose coffee bar in the Boston Public Market opened  last year, joined in June by his latest venture, a coffee shop inside the Godfrey Hotel, on Washington Street in the heart of downtown Boston.

This is a busy, compact spot, at one level a typical, bustling mainstream coffee shop, but at the same time, a haven for the coffee geek, with a dedicated room, the Exploratorium, for retail sales and home to daily talks, events and masterclasses. The coffee stands up against the best, with the Alchemy Blend joined by a single-origin and decaf on espresso. There are a further four single-origins on pour-over (including one decaf), plus bulk-brew. Unusually for America, the usual cake is joined by a more substantial breakfast/lunch offering.

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