Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying From San Francisco to Phoenix

Making airline coffee bearable: make your own! My Espro Travel Press and Knock Aergrind in the American Airlines lounge at San Francisco Airport before my flight to Phoenix.Welcome to the second instalment of the first Travel Spot of the new year, documenting my first trip of 2020. Part I saw me flying from London Heathrow to San Jose on 3rd January, where British Airways kindly upgraded me to Club World, thus ruining my plans for writing about my experiences in World Traveller Plus (premium economy to you and me). Not that I am complaining too much.

After a week in the Bay Area for work (plus visiting plenty of coffee shops and an unexpected Cat Café), Part II sees me on my way from San Francisco to Phoenix, flying with American Airlines. From there, I’ll have two weeks in Arizona (one for work, one travelling) before flying from Phoenix to Boston with Delta and making my way home from there with British Airways.

Flying internally in America is one of my least favourite activities, but I’m slowly learning to make the most of it, helped immensely by having a work travel budget that allows me to fly first class (not as grand as it sounds), plus having enough status with British Airways that I can use the lounge when flying with partner airlines such as American Airlines.

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Linea Caffe

The Linea Caffe sign, from my visit in April 2019, with the words "Linea Caffe S.F" written in white in a cursive script on a red, circular background.I’m indebted to my friend Karen for introducing me to Linea Caffe, which we paid a flying visit to on my previous visit to San Francisco in April 2019. Sadly I didn’t have time to do a write up, so on my equally brief return to San Francisco last week, I made a point of calling in for a more extended visit.

Located in the heart of The Mission, there’s not a lot to Linea Caffe, just a small, near cube-shaped, sunny, corner spot with windows on two sides and a massive L-shaped counter inside, which leaves space for a single, two-person wooden bench and not much else. Indeed, there’s far more seating outside, where a similar bench is joined by six small, round tables down the side of Linea Caffe.

Linea Caffe, which roasts all its own coffee, has a concise espresso-based menu using a seasonal blend plus decaf, backed up with a single-origin on batch brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cakes and pastries, including savoury options, from Neighbor Bakehouse.

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Mythical Coffee

A lovely one-and-one (espresso and macchiato) plus a glass of sparkling water, beautifully presented on a triangular tray at Mythical Coffee in Gilbert, Arizona.A permanent fixture of my now annual trips to Phoenix is meeting up with Meg and her husband Coffee Ken, Arizona’s leading coffee blogger. So, when I arrived in Phoenix on Saturday, other than picking up my hire car and checking into my hotel, my first act was to drive over to Gilbert, one the cities to the southeast of Phoenix, for our meet up. The venue was a new coffee shop, Mythical Coffee, on Gilbert Town Square.

What Ken hadn’t told me when he suggested Mythical Coffee as our venue, is just how new it is. Today it has been open for precisely two weeks. Mythical Coffee is a roaster and coffee shop, offering an ever-changing cast of single-origins, one each on espresso, batch brew and pour-over, with the coffee available to buy in retail bags. There’s also cold brew and, when the equipment has been tweaked, nitro cold brew will be available, along with several seasonal lattes and a small selection of matcha, chai and tea. There’s also a small brunch menu, featuring overnight oats, plus four different toast options, served until 2pm each day, along with a selection of cakes and pastries, available all day.

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Cat Town

The Cat Town logo, showing the silhouette of a cat climbing down the C of Cat Town.In 7½ years of writing the Coffee Spot, I’d never been to a cat café. However, all that changed last weekend when my friend Richard suggested visiting Cat Town in Oakland. It was America’s first cat café when it opened in 2014, adding the RAWR Coffee Bar, its own independent speciality coffee shop, in 2017. I wrote about RAWR earlier in the week, which you can visit in its own right, independent of Cat Town, while today’s Saturday Supplement focuses on Cat Town itself.

What makes Cat Town special in the world of cat cafés is that all the cats in residence are up for adoption, although you don’t have to be interested in adopting if all you want to do is visit and hang out with the cats. An hour with the cats will set you back $10, which goes towards covering Cat Town’s expenses. Although you can turn up on spec, booking ahead of time is recommended since Cat Town limits the number of people allowed in at any one time and it can get very busy. Note that while Cat Town is closed on Monday/Tuesday, RAWR is open, so you can still pop in for coffee.

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Ritual Coffee Roasters, Mission

The Ritual Coffee Roasters logo (a stylised cup tilted at 45 degrees with a star balanced on top).Ritual Coffee Roasters a veteran of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene, going strong since it opened its Mission location on Valencia in 2005. A roaster/coffee shop chain, I’ve had its coffee in various places across the USA, but until now, the only other location I’ve visited is Hayes Valley, when I was in San Francisco in April last year.

The Hayes Valley location is part of Proxy, occupying one of a handful of shipping containers, offering an impressively-full range of coffees despite its small size. In contrast, its original location in the Mission is a large, open space, with a distinctly minimalist vibe, a complete contrast to the stereotypical San Francisco exposed brick industrial spaces such as Sextant Coffee Roasters and Sightglass.

The focus is firmly on the coffee, with a blend (Emperor’s Cup), single-origin (Monte Álban, Mexico) and decaf (Los Gigantes, Colombia) on espresso, plus multiple single-origin filter options, including batch brew (La Folie, Guatemala) and three choices for the V60. Finally, there’s cold brew, nitro cold brew and a seasonal cascara drink. The coffee choices change seasonally, with all the beans (and more) available in retail bags. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes and pastries.

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RAWR Coffee Bar

The sign hanging outside RAWR Coffee Bar, part of Cat Town in Oakland, California.I must confess that I’ve never given much thought to visiting cat cafés, even though I really like cats. However, when my friend Richard suggested Cat Town in Oakland, which has the RAWR Coffee Bar attached, I was intrigued. Cat Town was America’s first cat café when it opened in 2014, while the RAWR Coffee Bar followed in 2017. Although linked (you enter Cat Town via the Coffee Bar, for example), they operate independently, so you’re free to pop into the coffee bar without any obligation to visit Cat Town.

What makes Cat Town stand out from the other cat cafés that I’ve previously been aware of is that all the cats in residence are up for adoption (which is why Richard was there). You can read more about Cat Town’s work in its own Saturday Supplement. Meanwhile, today’s Saturday Short focuses on the RAWR Coffee Bar, which serves espresso-based drinks and a batch brew filter option from local roasters Highwire. There’s also a small selection of pastries if you’re hungry.

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Chromatic Coffee Roastery Cafe

My flat white, in a glass, at the Chromatic Coffee Roastery Cafe in San Jose.Quite a lot has changed since I was last in San Jose in April. Back then, Chromatic Coffee had its original store in Santa Clara, along with a new location in downtown San Jose, while the roastery was on Lincoln Avenue, just around the corner from my friend Richard’s house. Fast forward just over seven months and, while the Santa Clara location is still going strong, everything else has changed.

The roastery, admittedly, is still on Lincoln Avenue, but it’s no longer around the corner from Richard’s house, since he’s moved to Willow Glen. The downtown coffee shop has gone, however, Chromatic deciding to relocate it to the roastery, where it now serves coffee to all-comers from a large space at the front of the roastery.

There’s a simple coffee menu, with the Gamut blend on espresso, although this is occasionally changed up. This is joined by a daily batch brew using the new Ground Control Cyclops, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of pastries from Manresa Bread. One thing to be aware of: the coffee shop is technically classified as a coffee truck, only able to serve coffee in takeaway cups, so  don’t forget to bring your own.

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Maverick Coffee

A lovely flat white, made with the guest espresso, the Runaway Blend from Yellow Brick Coffee in Tucson and served at Maverick Coffee in Phoenix.Maverick Coffee is another of chances discoveries of a coffee shop right outside my hotel, in this case in the Paradise Valley Plaza, an old-style outdoor mall in Scottsdale, where I was staying on my visit to Phoenix last week. Maverick, which opened in 2015, in many ways feels like a typical American coffee shop, but when it comes to the coffee itself, it serves a house-blend from San Francisco’s Ritual, with a monthly guest, chosen by popular vote on social media, plus decaf on espresso.

However, that’s only the start. There’s the obligatory bulk-brew, while if you really want to explore, Maverick has a constantly-changing selection of four single-origins on filter through the Aeropress, V60, Chemex and cafetiere. When one bag finishes, another goes on in its place. The range of roasters is bewildering, with Maverick supporting both local roasters and pulling in coffee from all over the country, most of which is for sale on the retail shelves by the counter.

If none of that takes your fancy, there is a selection of loose-leaf tea, various iced and cold-brew coffees, plus small but tempting all-day breakfast and lunch menus, all backed up by a variety of cake.

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Berdena’s

A lovely espresso, served on a wooden tray, with a glass of sparkling water on the side.Berdena’s is a relatively recent addition to Scottdale’s growing speciality coffee scene, having opened in April 2017. Part of a new wave that includes Fourtillfour and Regroup Coffee + Bicycles, plus, just across the Arizona Canal, Press Coffee Roasters, it’s just a couple of blocks away along East 5th Avenue from the pioneering Cartel Coffee Lab. Unlike the majority of the area’s coffee shops, which focus solely on coffee, Berdena’s is known as much for its food, although in a fit of bad timing, I missed out on lunch on my first two visits! Berdena’s serves a concise breakfast menu until 2pm every day, while there’s a selection of cake all day long.

Turning to coffee, Berdena’s started with Madcap from Grand Rapids in Michigan, but has now evolved into a multi-roaster, changing roaster every six weeks or so, with a single-origin on espresso and another one batch-brew. You can also buy retail bags, although Berdena’s had sold out during my latest visit, the coffee from Morgon Coffee Roasters in Gothenburg proving extremely popular!

You can either sit outside at one of the tables sheltering under the passage to the left of the shop, or find a spot in the spacious interior, where there’s a selection of tables and a window-bar.

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Cartel Coffee Lab, Phoenix Sky Harbor

A decat cortado at Cartel Coffee Lab at Terminal 4, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.I’ve already sung the praises of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, which is one of the best (large) airports I’ve had the pleasure of flying into/out of in recent years. Unsurprisingly, a big part of its charm (for me, at least) is that it has a branch of Cartel Coffee Lab past security in Terminal 4. The first two times I flew to/from Phoenix (late 2016, early 2017), it was closed by the time I got to the airport, but since then Cartel has extended its hours, so on my first of two 2018 visits to Phoenix, I was able to call in both when I arrived on a Monday morning and left, almost two weeks later, on a Sunday night.

Since it’s at an airport, Cartel would be forgiven for running a cut-down operation, but no, not Cartel. Instead, you are treated to the full Cartel range, which includes six single-origins (one decaf), one of which is available on espresso, while all six are available as pour-over via a combination of Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper and Chemex. There’s also the obligatory bulk-brew, while you can buy bags of the beans (and even a Chemex!) to take home (or on your flight) with you.

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