Although I’ve been through Washington DC a few times on the train, I rarely visit the city itself. So, when I took the sleeper down from Boston during last month’s USA trip, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity. I didn’t have long, so made a beeline for Peregrine Espresso’s Eastern Market location on Pennsylvania Avenue, a half-an-hour stroll from Washington Union Station past the US Capitol.
Peregrine Espresso occupies a small unit with a wide, glass front and a generous outdoor seating area which is actually on 7th Street, just around the corner from Pennsylvania Avenue. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s currently takeaway service only (so don’t forget to bring your own cup), although you’re welcome to sit outside with your coffee. In more normal times, there’s more seating inside, but this has been cleared away to provide plenty of space for customers who are queuing to order/waiting to collect their coffee.
Talking of which, Peregrine Espresso serves a concise espresso-based menu with a batch brew option, all the coffee roasted by Small Planes Coffee, owned by founders, Ryan and Jill Jensen. There’s also a selection of tea, plus a range of cakes and pastries.
I’ve been a fan of Little Woodfords in Portland, Maine, ever since I first visited in the summer of 2019. I was therefore rather worried when I heard, in July 2020, that it was forced to move from its original location in Woodfords Corner to a much smaller spot on Congress Street in downtown Portland. Fortunately, while this has meant an inevitable change of character, the friendly, inclusive welcome of the original, plus the awesome coffee from Vermont’s Vivid Coffee Roasters, remains as Amanda and I discovered on our visit last month.
The offering is much as it was as before, with a single option on espresso, batch brew and flash brew (a pour-over over ice, akin to a Japanese iced coffee). The coffee changes on a seasonal basis, and there’s also tea, hot cocoa and several latte-based specials. If you’re hungry, there’s a small, vegetarian/vegan breakfast menu, with various toppings on bagels/biscuits. While Little Woodfords has a small indoor seating (standing?) area at the front, it’s currently takeout-only due to COVID-19, although you’re welcome to sit outside, where you’ll find a bench out front, with a couple of picnic tables down the side, which catch the afternoon sun.
Today’s Coffee Spot was a chance discovery that Amanda and I made following a short hike at Diana’s Baths, a beauty spot in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Amanda spotted Frontside Coffee Roasters as we drove through North Conway on our way there, so we decided to call in on our way back, expecting nothing more than somewhere warm to have a late lunch. Instead we found a wonderful coffee shop, roasting and serving some exceptional single-origin coffees.
Frontside has been in its current location on White Mountain Highway, the main drag through North Conway, for ten years, although it’s been in existence in one form or another for over twenty. Occupying a large, corner plot, there’s a small parking lot at the back (behind which is the roastery) while there’s a large outdoor seating area off to the right with plenty more seating inside.
All the coffee is roasted in-house with two options on espresso (one blend, one single-origin), another blend on batch brew, plus two single-origins on pour-over. Naturally, all the beans are available to buy in retail bags. If you’re hungry, Frontside offers a selection of breakfast biscuits, a range of bagels and plenty of cake.
I was able to rectify this oversight on my latest trip to America, when, on my way back to Portland (Maine) from Washington DC, I had a couple of hours to kill at Boston’s South Station, where you’ll find La Colombe on the other side of Atlantic Avenue, directly opposite the entrance to the bus terminal. Off the foyer of a modern office building, it’s a large, spacious coffee shop with its own street entrance. The classic La Colombe offering sees two options on espresso, another two on batch-brew and two more on pour-over. There’s also a range of in-house teas and draft lattes and, if you’re hungry, cakes and items from the grab-and-go fridge.
I’d planned to visit Portland in March 2020, but sadly the COVID-19 pandemic ruled that out, preventing me from returning for another 18 months. However, the travel restrictions were eased in November 2021, and I was finally able to return to America and to Portland, where I paid a long overdue visit to the new Thames location.
Speckled Ax occupies a spacious ground floor unit with views across Thames Street to the harbour. At the time of writing, the space is effectively split into two, with a takeaway section to the right, while the seating is at the front on the left. There’s a limited coffee menu (which still manages to offer two espresso options and two on batch brew filter), while the kitchen provides a concise breakfast and lunch menu.
Exactly three weeks ago today, Amanda and I set off to drive from Atlanta, Georgia to Portland, Maine, a three-day journey that would take us through some lovely scenery along sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, before we got there, we stopped at Alma Coffee Roastery, a chance discovery which we made while planning the route. It’s on Holly Springs Parkway, which runs parallel to I-575, connecting Woodstock in the south and Canton to the north.
The roastery, which doubles as a coffee shop, is just off the parkway on the left as you drive north, with clear signage and plenty of parking, although there’s no public transport access. A generous outdoor seating area stands in front of the roastery, while inside, a neat coffee shop with a handful of tables occupies the right-hand side of the large roastery building.
Alma Coffee specialises in Honduran coffee, much of it from the owners’ family farms. You can buy any of the roastery’s output in retail bags, while Soulmate, a medium-roast washed coffee, is available through a concise espresso-based menu, along with various iced versions. Alma Coffee only serves in disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own.
I’ve been a fan of roasters, Gracenote, for a while, having first had its coffee at Boston’s delightful Render Coffee. Based in Berlin, Massachusetts, where it’s been roasting since 2012, Gracenote took a first step into serving its own coffee with a lovely coffee bar in downtown Boston, which opened in October 2015. During my most recent visit in February 2016, it was the place that everyone in the area (including Providence, Rhode Island) said I had to visit, and they weren’t wrong!
The coffee bar’s standing-room only, catering primarily for office workers from the area around Boston’s South Station. A lovely Modbar installation provides espresso, offering house-blend, a single-origin or decaf. There’s batch brew filter, cold-brew on tap and a choice of speciality tea. Naturally you can buy all of Gracenote’s coffee in retail bags, whole bean or ground-on-demand. If you’re hungry, there’s even a limited selection of sweet treats.
Speckled Ax joins fellow roasters-cum-coffee shops, Bard Coffee and Tandem Coffee Roasters, to form a small and vibrant specialty coffee scene in Portland (Maine). Speckled Ax started life as a roaster in 2007 (under the name “Matt’s Wood Roasted Organic Coffee”), with the coffee shop following five years later in 2012, prompting the name-change to “Speckled Ax”.
Situated on Congress Street, just west of the centre of Portland, Speckled Ax is long and thin, with the counter at the back and tables along either side. There’s a neat seating area in the window at the front, with benches clustered around a tree stump. This acts as a coffee table, instantly reminding me of the window-seating in Menagerie Coffee in Philadelphia.
Speckled Ax’s particular claim to fame is that it is one of just a handful of wood-fired coffee roasters in the USA (reminiscent of Witney’s Ue Coffee Roasters in the UK). Speckled Ax offers one or two single-origin espressos, plus decaf, in the shop through its Synesso espresso machine. There are usually three more single-origins available as filter, through the syphon, V60, Chemex or Aeropress, depending on your particular requirements. There’s also batch-brew until 11am if you’re in a hurry.