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 State Route 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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Render Coffee 121

The Render Coffee Logo, a coffee cup seen from above, painted on the window at 121 Devonshire Street in Boston.Not long after I left Boston on my previous trip in 2016, Render Coffee opened its second branch, continuing a recent theme of speciality coffee moving into the heart of downtown Boston. Just around the corner from downtown pioneers, Ogawa Coffee, you’ll find Render Coffee 121, appropriately enough, on 121 Devonshire Street.

The first thing to say is that this is a totally different space from the original Render on Columbus Avenue. It’s inside the CIC office building, serving as an in-house café as well as being open to the public. The space, in comparison to Columbus Avenue, is huge, with high ceilings and a broad frontage onto Devonshire Street. However, both are long and thin, although 121 is probably four to five times as wide as the Columbus Avenue branch, but goes just as far back.

Despite these differences, the coffee is just as good at 121. With offerings from Portland’s Tandem Coffee Roasters and the local Gracenote Coffee, you’ll often find the same coffee at both branches, but each manager has discretion to order what they like, so there may be differences. Unlike Columbus Avenue, there’s no breakfast/lunch menus, but you’ll find a similarly excellent selection of cake.

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Meet the Roaster: Panther Coffee

The label on Panther Coffee's West Coast Espresso Blend.Long before I ever visited Florida/Miami (or, indeed, had plans to), one name in speciality coffee stood out: the subject of today’s Meet the Roaster, Panther Coffee. When I found myself on a business trip to Miami, with next-to-no-time to explore, it was the one place that I decided I had to visit. As luck would have it, our team dinner, on my last night in Miami, was at the Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, just two blocks north of Panther on NW 2nd Avenue. I took this as a sign, and, getting out of the meeting slightly early, I jumped in a cab and made a beeline for the Wynwood District.

Panther was established five years ago and while it now has three branches, this one (Wynwood) is the original. As well as being a rather nice coffee shop (which now features as a Coffee Spot in its own right), Panther roasts all its coffee here, on a vintage, 1927 Perfekt roaster. However, change is afoot since the roaster is nearing capacity and Panther has plans to move to a new roasting facility, where it will install a 22kg version of the same machine. So, come down while you can if you want to watch the coffee being roasted in-store.

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Cafe X, San Francisco

The robot arm at the heart of the Cafe X operation.One of the Coffee Spot’s tag lines is “places I like to have coffee”, so today’s Saturday (on-a-Wednesday) Supplement is something of a departure for me since I’m not sure I’d describe Cafe X as somewhere I’d like to have coffee. Somewhere I’d go to get coffee, perhaps, but it’s definitely not somewhere to have coffee. However, there I was on Monday, in San Francisco, minding my own business, when Cafe X announced its grand opening. A block from my hotel. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so along I went.

So, what is Cafe X? Well, put simply, it’s an automated coffee shop, with a pair of high-end bean-to-cup machines and a robot arm that takes the place of the barista. There’s a choice of beans from local roasters, such as Verve (Santa Cruz) and Oakland’s AKA (previously known as Supersonic), plus a fairly standard selection of espresso-based drinks, but only one size (8oz). You order using one of the tablets attached to the Cafe X kiosk, or preferably ahead of time on your phone using the Cafe X app. Typically your coffee will be waiting for you in under a minute. Well, that’s the theory…

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Sightglass Coffee Bar & Roastery

Details of the Sightglass logo.The first thing to say about Sightglass (which practically everyone recommended that I visit) is that it’s huge! It might not be as big as say, Caravan, King’s Cross, but it’s getting there. This is Sightglass HQ, which is where it all started back in 2009. It houses the roastery, coffee bar and the company’s training room and offices. What’s amazing, from a UK perspective, is that other than the roastery and offices, which occupy less than half the space, all Sightglass does is serve coffee, backed up with a few pastries. There’s no food service here, something which I’d find unimaginable in a similar-sized (or indeed much smaller) operation in the UK.

This does mean that the focus is firmly on the coffee, however, which is all roasted on-site. There are two counters: the main one, downstairs, serves the Owl’s Howl espresso blend, with three single-origin filters, one on batch-brew and two on V60, all three changing daily. The smaller counter, which is upstairs at the back of the mezzanine, opens at 11 o’clock and serves two single-origin espressos, plus the Blueboon filter blend on V60. The two single-origins, a Kenyan & a Honduran, change on a seasonal basis.

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Go Get Em Tiger, Los Feliz

A classic cappuccino in a non-classic glass, along with two samples of filter coffee from Go Get Em Tiger on Hollywood Boulevard, LA.That I ended up in Los Angeles in the first place, let alone having coffee at Go Get Em Tiger, is entirely down to Lee of Silhouette, who, while I was discussing my current trip, simply would not believe that I was going to drive past Los Angeles and not call in. So, I decided to change my plans and spend a day in LA, visiting coffee shops and being a tourist (Lee, I loved it!).

Go Get Em Tiger is on Hollywood Boulevard, in the Los Feliz neighbourhood, sharing a space with McConnell’s ice cream parlour, which is on the right, with Go Get Em Tiger on the left. Long and thin, there’s no seating inside, just “standing” down the left-hand side at various broad window-sills. To sit down, you need the raised terrace in front of the shop, which is normally a good option, unless you arrive on one of the (rare) days when it’s been pouring with rain…

Go Get Em Tiger is a multi-roaster, with two options on espresso and two more on batch-brew. It also has a good range of cakes and an impressive brunch menu (7am to 4pm) cooked in the open-plan kitchen at the back on the right.

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Cartel Coffee Lab, Tempe

A one and one (otherwise known as a split shot), beautifully presented on a wooden tray with a glass of soda water at Cartel Coffee Lab in Tempe, Arizona.Along with Press Coffee, a chance discovery on my first visit to Phoenix, the other big name in Phoenix coffee is Cartel Coffee Lab. Another roaster/coffee shop chain, Cartel has multiple locations, including at Sky Harbor Airport (one of my favourite airports), downtown Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson. In a departure from the Coffee Spot norm, my introduction to Cartel was visiting its original branch, the coffee shop/roastery, in downtown Tempe.

A large, sprawling spot, Cartel consists of multiple, connected spaces, which betrays its roots, since Cartel started in just one small part of its current home, slowly expanding to incorporate the additional spaces over the years. Further expansion is in the pipeline: the roastery (currently along the left-hand side in the front part of the store) will soon be shifted into the adjacent building at the back of the store.

Cartel, which never roasts blends, has six single-origins, including a decaf. All are available as filter through Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper and Chemex, while one (plus the decaf) is available as espresso. There’s also a daily option on bulk-brew, cold brew and, if you’re hungry, a small selection of cake. If you don’t fancy coffee, there is a small tea selection too.

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Press Coffee, Scottsdale Quarter

A beautiful cappuccino in a classic, hard-to-photograph black cup on a black saucer, made at Press Coffee Roasters, Scottsdale Quarter.I’m leaving Phoenix today after an all-too-short week-long visit, which included a weekend in the Grand Canyon. However, I couldn’t go without sharing on the unexpected highlights of my stay with you. Speciality coffee is not something I was expecting to find on this trip since I was on business and staying out to the northeast of the centre, in North Scottsdale. However, on my second evening there, having wandered the block from my hotel to the Scottsdale Quarter (I think of it as an outdoor shopping mall), I stumbled across Press Coffee Roasters, which immediately set off my Coffee Spot radar!

Press Coffee is both a roaster and a small chain of coffee shops in Phoenix and the surrounding cities! Press Coffee has been going since 2008, with the Scottsdale Quarter branch opening in 2010. There are two blends on espresso, along with decaf, plus five single-origins on filter, made using the Seraphim automated pour-over system through either the Kalita Wave or Chemex. There’s an espresso blend and single-origin on the obligatory bulk-brew, plus cold-brew and nitro cold-brew. If you’re hungry, breakfast/lunch is served until 2.30, with cakes available all day.

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