Verve Coffee Roasters, Palo Alto

Bringing a new meaning to the phrase "well-balanced", it's a one-and-one (split-shot espresso and macchiato) from Verve Coffee Roasters in Palo Alto, with the espresso cup precariously balanced on the edge of the saucer.Verve Coffee Roasters, which began in Santa Cruz, California, has spread out along the Pacific Coast, with locations in nearby San Francisco to the north and Los Angeles to the south. It’s also crossed the ocean to Japan, where it has coffee shops in Tokyo and Kamakura. Although I haven’t been to all the Verves, I decided that I would visit at least one coffee shop in each city, crossing off Kamakura, the last on my list, when visiting Japan last year. Which was where the staff told me about the new Palo Alto coffee shop. I swear they’re doing this deliberately! So, when I was in the Bay Area for work at the start of this month, I popped up to Palo Alto on the Caltrain to tick that one off my list.

Verve occupies a corner spot a block from the station, with a large outdoor seating area right on the corner, backed up by a bright, spacious interior with plenty more seating. The coffee offering will be familiar to anyone who has been to a Verve before, as will the twin Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machines. There’s also food until 2pm and cakes all day.

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Verve Coffee Roasters, Kamakura

The window at the side of Verve Coffee Roasters in Kamakura Japan, which proudly states Verve's roots in Santa Cruz, California.I spent last week in the Bay Area, not far from Santa Cruz, home of Verve Coffee Roasters, which I visited almost exactly three years ago, in 2017. The following year it was the turn of Verve in Omotesando, Tokyo and then, last year, I managed to visit Verve in both Los Angeles (Spring Street) and San Francisco (Market Street). I was happily congratulating myself on having visited Verve in every city where it has a presence when I realised that one of its Japanese coffee shops was in Kamakura rather than Tokyo. Damn! So, when I headed back to Japan in September that year, I took a day trip to Kamakura. Naturally, I popped into Verve for coffee.

If you’re familiar with Verve, then the coffee offering will come as no surprise. There’s the Streetlevel seasonal blend on espresso, joined by a single-origin and decaf, while on filter, Verve has a blend on batch brew and five single-origins, plus decaf on pour-over. There’s also my favourite, the one-and-one, plus a coffee flight, where you can compare three of the pour-over options side-by-side. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, you can choose from three savoury waffles, three sweet waffles and three toast-based dishes.

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Verve Coffee Roasters, Market Street

The piccolo part of my one-and-one at Verve Coffee Roasters, Market Street, San Francisco.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 is also in Kamakura 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.

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Verve Coffee Roasters, Spring Street

A Honduran single-origin pour-over served at Verve Coffee Roasters on Spring Street, Los Angeles, The coffee comes in a carafe, cup on the side, presented on a wooden tray with a card giving details of the beans.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.

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Verve Coffee Roasters, Omotesando

Barista skills in action: pouring two Kalita Wave filters simultaneously at Verve Coffee Roasters in Omotesando, Tokyo.Verve Coffee Roasters started life in Santa Cruz, California, before spreading north to San Francisco, south to Los Angeles and then across the Pacific to Japan, with two branches in Tokyo and another in Kamakura. I first came across Verve as a roaster in Café Plume (now Paquebot Mont-Royal) in Montréal, before visiting Verve’s flagship branch on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. The original Tokyo branch is in Shinjuku, a loud, busy place which I briefly visited in July. The second branch, subject of today’s Coffee Spot, opened in April this year. A much more relaxed basement affair under the Rag & Bone Store in Omotesando, I visited twice, first in July, and again on my return in October.

Although a basement, it’s a fairly bright spot. There’s space for a counter down one side, with seating opposite, plus a small seating area at the back. There’s the usual Verve offering, with a blend and daily single-origin on espresso, plus multiple single-origins on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. All the coffee, which is roasted in Santa Cruz and air-freighted over, is available to buy in retail bags. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of waffles, all made to order.

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Verve Coffee Roasters, Pacific Avenue

A packet of Verve coffee, a Guatemala Pulcal Typica, taken from a public cupping at the store on Pacific Avenue in Santa CruzI visited Verve’s flagship store on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz at the start of last year, 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.

Back then Verve had four branches in Santa Cruz, three in Los Angeles and one in Tokyo. Since then it’s opened its first San Francisco store (which I missed by a few weeks, but visited on my return in 2019) and two more in Japan, where I’m headed in two days’ time. Hence my desire to get this published before I go.

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.

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Fourtillfour

Fourtillfour in Scottsdale, operating out of this neat little space at the back of a patio.Scottsdale, to the east of Phoenix, is a lovely area of shops, hotels, houses, quiet streets and, right in the centre, a cluster of four speciality coffee shops, forming a rough diamond. At the southern tip is Fourtillfour, the creation of Nico and Mia, who moved here from San Francisco. Fourtillfour satisfies their twin passions: great coffee and vintage cars, the couple often organising rallies and other events.

I can’t speak to the cars, but when it comes to the coffee, it’s a small but lovely place. There’s an award-winning outdoor patio, which has the bulk of the seating, something you could only get away with in a climate such as Arizona, while inside there are a pair of small rooms. The first, accessible from the patio, has the counter, while the other houses a large Probat roaster, where Fourtillfour roasts all its own direct-trade coffee under the brand Four Coffee. This is served via a simple espresso-based menu, along with batch-brew, while if you’re hungry, you there’s a small breakfast menu and a selection of doughnuts. Naturally, the coffee is available to buy either in-store or on-line.

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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…

January 2020: Cafe X has closed its location in the Metreon Mall, along with its two other downtown San Francisco locations. However, there are two newly-opened locations in the Bay Area at San Francisco Airport (International Terminal) and San Jose Airport (Terminal B).

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Café Plume

Cafe Plume on Avenue Mont-Royal OuestIt’s fair to say that I was blown away by the coffee scene in Montréal. I came to it armed with precisely zero foreknowledge and left deeply impressed with the range and quality of the coffee spots dotted around the city. Café Plume is another of the new crop of places which have bloomed in the last 18 months or so. It was recommended to me by Marie- Ève of the Pikolo Espresso Bar and her recommendation proved to be spot on.

Café Plume is best described as a neighbour café. Located on the eastern edge of the plateau area of Montréal, opposite Parc Jeanne-Mance, it’s a laid-back, relaxed and friendly place with coffee that’s every bit as good as its setting. Throw in a generous provision of power outlets and free wifi and you have the sort of place that makes you want to move in next door (or, in the case of Café Plume, move into one of the flats above the shop). Or maybe just move into Plume itself!

October 2017: Café Plume has closed, but has been taken over by Paquebot, which has pretty much left things unchanged. You can see what I made of Paquebot Mont-Royal when I visited in a year later in October 2018. Continue reading