The Doughnut Vault is one of Chicago’s better kept (speciality coffee) secrets. Put onto it by my friend Phillip, it was touted as the source of the best doughnuts in Chicago, Phillip recommended the Franklin Street location, a small (almost) hole-in-the-wall operation in River North around the corner from my hotel, which Amanda and I visited during our “polar vortex” trip to Chicago. It was only while we were there that the server pointed us towards the Canal Street branch across the river.
Given the aforementioned polar vortex, we didn’t venture out much, so couldn’t get to Canal Street on that visit. However, I returned the next time I was in Chicago, first with Amanda on Monday morning and again on my own on Wednesday lunchtime. As we discovered, Canal Street is somewhat bigger, best described as a “proper coffee shop”, serving, espresso, batch-brew and, of course, the aforementioned doughnuts.
A word of warning, though: the doughnuts sell out quickly. Best be there before nine o’clock if you want to be sure of getting one!
I’ve a long-standing soft spot for Intelligentsia, the Chicago-based veteran speciality coffee roaster and coffee shop chain. Indeed, I learnt to enjoy speciality coffee through its Black Cat espresso blend in the Monadnock coffee bar on Jackson Boulevard in The Loop long before I knew what speciality coffee was. Since then, Intelligentsia has spread its wings, with six Chicago locations, plus outposts on the West Coast (four Los Angeles locations) and East Coast (High Line Hotel in New York City and now two branches in Boston).
The Millennium Park coffee bar, down in The Loop, is the fourth Chicago Intelligentsia I’ve visited and the only surprise is that it’s taken me so long. Occupying a simple spot, it’s a large, open, high-ceiling space with, given the size, minimal interior seating in an uncluttered layout, plus a small outside seating area. The coffee, as ever, is excellent, Black Cat, decaf and a daily single-origin leading the way on espresso, another single-origin on batch brew and two more on pour-over, all changing daily. The pour-over, by the way, uses the (new to me) Poursteady automatic system. There’s also a wide range of Kilogram Teas and a small cake and savoury selection.
Verve Coffee Roasters, the international coffee shop/roaster chain, is primarily California-based. Starting in Santa Cruz, where it has four outlets, including its flagship Pacific Avenue store, it’s spread to Los Angeles (three, soon to be four¸ branches), San Francisco, and across the Pacific to Japan, where there are now three outposts. Having visited its Omotesando store in Tokyo last year, and its Spring Street location in Los Angeles earlier during this trip, calling in on today’s Coffee Spot, Verve’s solitary San Francisco branch, meant that I’d visited all four cities where Verve has stores. Except that Verve’s just opened in Kanagawa in Japan. Bugger. Oh well, I’ll be in Japan later this year…
You’ll find the usual coffee options, the Streetlevel seasonal blend joined by the featured espresso (another blend, Sermon, during my visit) and decaf, all the shots pulled on a custom four-group Kees van der Westen. Meanwhile, the batch-brew option is joined by three single-origin pour-overs through Kalita Wave filters using the Modbar modular system. If you’re hungry, there’s a small brunch menu until two o’clock, with cake/pastries served all day. All the coffee’s available in retail bags, along with a selection of merchandising and coffee equipment.
A pioneer of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene since first opening in The Mission in 2005, Ritual Coffee Roasters’ reputation preceded it. I’d seen its coffee across the USA from Box Kite in New York to Go Get ‘Em Tiger in Los Angeles. More recently, I’d had Ritual’s coffee at Maverick Coffee in Phoenix. Through all that, I’d never been to any of its six San Francisco outlets, so it was a priority on my return two weeks ago to pay Ritual a visit. As luck would have it, I’d chosen my hotel well, just a short walk from Ritual’s Hayes Valley location, occupying one of a small collection of shipping containers known as Proxy.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that, operating out of a container, Ritual might be a limited, takeaway-focused operation, but far from it. With proper cups for drink-in customers (bench inside or multiple tables outside), there’s a coffee selection that would put many larger shops to shame: house-blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, three single-origins on pour-over and another on batch-brew.
Although Flywheel Coffee Roasters is physically removed from the third wave hub of The Mission/SoMa, it’s not that far away, at the eastern end of Golden Gate Park, an ideal spot for a coffee stop before or after some serious touristing. However, in terms of look and feel, with its long, thin industrial interior, coffee shop in front, cast iron roaster at the back, it fits right in with the Sightglasses, Sextants and Four Barrels of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene.
The spacious interior is lovely, the coffee even more so. All roasted twice a week in the back of the store on a 15 kg Joper from Portugal, there’s a blend and decaf on espresso (occasionally joined by a single-origin), served from a cut-down espresso-based menu. In contrast to the relatively old-school roaster, the espresso machine, a Mk II Slayer, is about as cutting edge as they come.
If you fancy something different, there are four seasonal single-origins on filter. Refreshingly, there’s no batch-brew. Instead everything’s available through either the V60 or, unusually, the syphon, something which I only see in a handful of coffee shops. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cake, and that’s it.
On my first visit to San Jose in 2017, Chromatic Coffee was already an established name in the area. Unfortunately, I was too early for the branch in downtown San Jose, which opened in June that year, so my only other option was the original, flagship branch on Stevens Creek Boulevard. Located 6 miles west of San Jose in neighbouring Santa Clara, I never had the opportunity to visit on that trip. However, when my friend Richard, who I was staying with on this trip, said he would drop me off on his way to work, I jumped at the chance.
Chromatic Coffee is part of a small outdoor mall, with a large, outdoor seating area and plenty of seating inside. The coffee, roasted in-house at the San Jose roastery (ironically five minutes’ walk from Richard’s house), is available in retail bags. There’s a blend (which switches between Gamut and Heart’s Desire) and single-origin on espresso, with multiple seasonal choices on batch-brew (blend plus two single-origins) and pour-over (decaf plus two more single-origins). As well as coffee, there’s craft beer, while if you’re hungry, Chromatic has a toast-based brunch menu, grab-and-go salads and a large selection of cakes and pastries.
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 have a soft spot for Verve Coffee Roasters, the California-based coffee shop/roaster chain, although its three Japanese outposts earn it the tag “international”. Starting in Santa Cruz, where it has four outlets, including its flagship Pacific Avenue store, it’s spread both north to San Francisco (Market Street) and south to Los Angeles, where I visited the Spring Street store in downtown LA. Opening in 2015, it’s one of three Verve outlets in the city (soon to be four with opening of a roastery/ coffee shop in the Arts District in summer 2019).
The coffee options, which change monthly, are familiar to anyone who has visited Verve. There’s the Streetlevel seasonal espresso blend, joined by a featured espresso (also a blend, Sermon, during my visit), all the shots being pulled on a custom four-group Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine. For filter, there’s a batch-brew option, with three single-origins available as pour-over through Kalita Wave filters on the Modbar modular system. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of salads, wraps and bowls, with cake and pastries for those with a sweet tooth, while all the coffee is available in retail bags, along with a selection of merchandising and coffee equipment.
Woodcat Coffee Bar was a chance find that both made my day and reminded me of why I started the Coffee Spot in the first place. That I found it is entirely down to Kyle, the manager at Stumptown Coffee in New Orleans, and his wonderful team, who made it one of their top Los Angeles picks. A pick that, serendipitously, was a ten-minute walk from my hotel, which I’d booked over a month before. Naturally, I had to start my solitary day in Los Angeles with coffee at Woodcat.
A friendly, neighbourhood place, Woodcat is a labour of love from owners, married couple Janine & Saadat, who, having failed to find any good coffee on moving into the Echo Park neighbourhood, decided to open their own shop in September 2014. Starting on a shoestring, they had plenty of support from the local community, while Saadat built pretty much everything using reclaimed materials, giving Woodcat a wonderful, homely feel. Woodcat serves Flat Track Coffee from Austin, Texas on espresso and filter, where it’s joined by the occasional guest roaster. There are several signature drinks and a selection of teas, plus a range of savoury and sweet goodies if you’re hungry.
On one level, Stumptown, the US coffee shop/roaster chain that was founded in Portland, Oregon, needs no introduction. In particular, its partnership with Ace Hotels is well known, with Stumptown’s coffee shops gracing four of Ace’s US hotels. It’s therefore surprising that, prior to today’s Coffee Spot, I’ve only written about two Stumptown branches, both in New York City, one its flagship West 8th Street branch and the other inside the Ace Hotel.
Stumptown’s sole New Orleans coffee shop is one of the four co-located with Ace Hotels. In this case, it’s in the heart of New Orleans’ Central Business District, the coffee shop, a beautifully-appointed, elegant space to the right of the hotel lobby. There’s minimal seating, the hotel lobby providing ample overspill seating.
There’s plenty of choice when it comes to coffee, with the ubiquitous Hair Bender blend on espresso, joined by a guest espresso, which changes every few days. There’s also a batch-brew option, which can change several times a day, while in the morning, the staff will often have two options on at a time, giving you contrasting options. Finally, all four single-origins are available as pour-over using the Modbar system and Kalita Wave filters.