This is a first for the Coffee Spot. Almost four years ago to the day, I was in Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, Los Angeles, following a recommendation from Lee Gaze of Silhouette. It was during my first visit to the city and, while I really liked it, I didn’t have time to finish my write up during my busy trip, so it languished on my hard drive instead. As weeks turned to months, and months turned to years, it seemed increasingly pointless to publish an out-of-date Coffee Spot, so that’s where it stayed, languished on my hard drive.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to limit both my travel and my ability to visit (and hence write about) coffee shops, at the start of the year I decided to return to my backlog of Travel Spots, which led to me to continue writing up The Grand Adventure (as I call my drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, undertaken in January 2017). And that, in turn, has provided the perfect excuse to dust off my notes and old photos of Intelligentsia…
So, let me present Intelligentsia’s Venice coffee bar, exactly as I found it three years and 363 days ago.
I’ve spent the last week in San Jose/Santa Clara where, naturally, I’ve been exploring the small but excellent speciality coffee scene. I visited today’s Coffee Spot, B2 Coffee, on my first trip here in January 2017, but I never had time to write it up. Located in the San Pedro Square Market, it’s one of the area’s speciality coffee pioneers and, until it was joined by Chromatic Coffee (a couple of streets over), was pretty much the only speciality coffee outpost in downtown San Jose.
Regular readers are aware of my love of Coffee Spots in Markets, so it’s no surprise that I really liked B2 Coffee, located on one side of a large, communal seating area at the market’s northern end. You can take your coffee at what is effectively an island counter (more brownie points), find a seat (or sofa) in the communal area, or head outside. Talking of the coffee, it’s all roasted by sister company, Kickback, with seasonal offerings on espresso (single option plus decaf), pour-over (usually two options), batch-brew and nitro-cold brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes, plus the food hall in the market is at your disposal. And there’s a bar.
I 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.
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.
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.
Wrecking 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.
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.
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.
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.
When I was staying with my friends in San Jose in California earlier this year, there was good coffee to be found, but you had to know where to look. Other than a couple of options in downtown San Jose itself, everything else is spread out in the surrounding suburbs and not that easy to get to without a car. An exception to this is Barefoot Coffee in Campbell, four miles to the southwest of downtown San Jose and conveniently located a 10-minute walk from the Hamilton stop on the excellent light rail system.
Barefoot Coffee Roasters is based in nearby Santa Clara and this is, so far, its only coffee shop. It’s a small, plain, modern building serving anything but plain coffee. There’s one option on espresso, plus decaf, with a choice of three beans on pour-over through the Kalita Wave, one of which is available as bulk-brew (but only in the morning). The choices change every couple of days: whenever what’s on runs out, the baristas switch over to the something else.
If you don’t fancy coffee, there’s a small selection of tea, while if you’re hungry, there’s a range of pastries and other sweet snacks.
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.