The Grand Adventure (USA), January/February 2017

My hire car, which I drove from Phoenix to San Francisco in 2017, parked up at my hotel in San Simeon on the Californian Coast.Welcome to what I called at the time, “The Grand Adventure”, my third big trip, following on from my train ride across America in 2015 and my around the world trip in 2016. This took place in January and February 2017, a combination of two week-long work meetings and some long-standing social engagements which saw me criss-crossing America (sadly, due to time constraints) by plane.

I began the trip with a weekend in Phoenix, followed by my first week-long meeting. I then had a two week gap before I was supposed to be in Chicago, visiting friends. In theory I could have flown back to the UK at the end of my meeting, got jet lag, spent a week in the UK, then flown back to Chicago for another round of jet lag. Of course, regular readers of my Travel Spots, will already know that was never going to happen…

Instead I decided to stay in the USA and use the two weeks to explore. Having recently been in Phoenix (I spent a week there for work the previous October, including a weekend in the Grand Canyon), I decided to expand my horizons a little. Had it been the summer, I might have been tempted to take the train to Chicago, or even to drive there, but instead I indulged myself and decided to fulfil a long-standing ambition, which became “The Grand Adventure” of the title.

Hiring a car, I drove west from Phoenix, stopping off first at Joshua Tree National Park, then Los Angeles. From there, I drove the length of the Californian coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with stops at Hearst Castle and Santa Cruz along the way, finally arriving in San Francisco almost exactly seven days to the hour after I left Phoenix.

At least, that was the plan, but as you’ll see, landslides in the Big Sur had closed Highway 1, the coastal route, and I was forced into a long, long detour inland (a route I pretty much ended up taking in parallel by train two years later). As a result, I didn’t actual achieve my ambition, which had been to do the coastal drive…

After a weekend in San Francisco, I flew to Chicago on Monday to hang out with my friends, and while that marked the end of the Grand Adventure, it wasn’t the end of the trip. I had a social event that weekend, then the following weekend I had another social event, this time in Providence, Rhode Island. Left to my own devices, I would have probably caught the train, retracing (in reverse) much of the first leg of my train ride across America from 2015. Either that, or I would have taken a ride with one of my friends who was also going to the same event.

However, work had other plans and, at relatively short notice, arranged a meeting in Miami, neatly sandwiched between my weekends in Chicago and Providence. So instead of a train-ride, car-ride or, worse-case scenario, a two-hour flight from Chicago to Providence, I took a three-hour flight from Chicago to Miami on Super Bowl Sunday, attended a meeting from Monday morning to Friday lunchtime, then had another three-hour flight from Miami to Boston on Friday afternoon, followed by an hour’s train ride down to Providence.

In the end, it worked to my advantage, because there was a massive New England snowstorm on Thursday, when many of my friends were due to arrive, and they all had their travel disrupted, whereas I had no problems at all (other than a horrible flight with American Airlines which went a long way to cementing my dislike of flying internally in the USA).

After my weekend in Providence, I caught the train up to Boston, where I finally flew home on Valentine’s Day, exactly one month after I had set off…

The trip itself is covered in the Travel Spots below, while you can also read about the Coffee Spots I visited in Phoenix, Los Angeles and the Coast, San Francisco, Miami and Boston.


Header Image: sunset on the Californian coast at Estero Bay, south of the Big Sur, looking out to the Pacific Ocean.


Travel Spots

You can read about the trip in the following Travel Spot posts, the first three of which I wrote during the trip, while the remainder will be added over the next few weeks.

Brian's Travel Spot: Phoenix and the Grand Adventure

Making coffee with my Travel Press on the flight on the way to Phoenix, October 2016. Grinding by Knock.Welcome to the fifth of the occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series, where I attempt to document my various travels around the world. The first of these was back in 2015 when I did my coast-to-coast trip across the USA by train, followed by a return visit to the US this time last year. 2016 was a good year for travel, with a brief sojourn in Porto, followed by a round-the-world trip via Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chicago.

This, the first Travel Spot of 2017 sees me off on a Grand Adventure around the US, starting with a return to Phoenix. Since I’m actually writing this at the gate in Heathrow’s Terminal 3, I thought I’d kick this Travel Spot off with a brief recap of my first visit to Phoenix which took place at the end of October last year, followed by what happened when I flew out this time...

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Brian's Travel Spot: My Return to Phoenix

Improving hotel coffee one Aeropress at a time with a little help from my Knock feldfarb hand grinder.Welcome to second instalment of the fifth in the occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. In the first part of this, the first Travel Spot of 2017, I explained how I was returning to Phoenix and took the opportunity to regale you with my adventures the first time around. We ended Part I with my arriving in Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport having flown in via Salt Lake City, which, it turn out, was an excellent idea. Apart from the vile cold that I caught on the short hop from Salt Lake City to Phoenix and which I’ve just about got over now, a week later.

However, that’s enough moaning. I really enjoyed my return to Phoenix, confirming my original impressions that it’s a fabulous place both to live and to visit. What I hadn’t fully realised (although I knew it conceptually) is that Phoenix the city is quite small and what I think of Phoenix is in fact the greater Phoenix area (I may have made that term up!) which includes the surrounding cities such as Scottsdale (where I was last time) and the likes of Tempe, which is where we’ll start the tale of my return, after a quick word about my motel…

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Brian's Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Part I

My hire car for the drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, parked up on the side of the road in the Joshua Tree National Park. The striking blue paint job made it easy to find in car parks!Welcome to the third instalment of this, the latest in the occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series, which document my various travels. The first two parts of this particular Travel Spot, which covered my first visit to Phoenix in October 2016 and my return in January 2017, were rather portentously entitled “Phoenix and the Grand Adventure”. This, the third part, is the start of the Grand Adventure itself, a road trip that would ultimately see me driving over 1,200 miles, starting in Phoenix and ending, almost exactly seven days later (to the hour!) in San Francisco.

However, we are getting ahead of ourselves. After spending a week in Phoenix, where I was attending a four-day long business meeting, I set off in my hire car, a rather striking blue Ford Fiesta, with the intention to drive west to Los Angeles, then north up the California coast, mostly along Highway 1, ultimately ending up in San Francisco.

You can follow my journey in these posts, starting with my drive west from Phoenix to Joshua Tree National Park. I had originally intended to update this post as I went along, but, honestly, I was having too much fun, plus I still had work commitments, such as conference calls, so the idea of sitting in my hotel room, writing posts after a day spent driving, quickly lost its attraction...

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Part II

A stand of Joshua trees in the Joshua Tree National Park in California.Welcome to the next instalment of The Grand Adventure, part of a series of Travel Spot posts covering my trip to America in January/February 2017. The Grand Adventure itself is the week-long drive I took from Phoenix to San Francisco via Joshua Tree National Park and Los Angeles, a total of 1,2000 miles.

In Part I, I left Phoenix, driving via Wickenburg, Arizona, to Joshua Tree, California, where I arrived in time for a short hike in the park at sunset. In this, Part II, I spend a day in the park and then continue my drive to the west, arriving in Los Angeles after nightfall.

The remaining parts of The Grand Adventure detail my drive up the Californian coast to San Francisco, while the rest of the posts will cover the remainder of the trip, where I flew from San Francisco to Chicago, Miami and Providence before flying home from Boston.

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Coffee Spots

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in Phoenix, Los Angeles and the Coast, San Francisco, Miami and Boston on this trip, all listed alphabetically by city, starting with Phoenix.

Phoenix

Cartel Coffee Lab, Downtown Phoenix

The Cartel Coffee Lab logo from the wooden A-board outside the store in downtown Phoenix.The contrast between Cartel Coffee Lab’s downtown location in the centre of Phoenix, and its flagship roastery/coffee shop in Tempe, which I visited the day before, couldn’t be starker. While the former’s a large, sprawling set of interconnected spaces, downtown is in an alcove off the lobby of 1 North 1st Street. It’s a very pleasant alcove, and, as alcoves go, it’s spacious enough, but it’s an alcove nonetheless. You can sit at the window-bar, out in the (echo-chamber like) lobby, or on the street at another window-bar.

Despite any perceived shortcomings in size, Cartel doesn’t compromise on the coffee, with the same full offering that’s out in Tempe. There are six single-origins, including decaf, all are available through Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper or Chemex. Meanwhile, one (plus decaf) is available as espresso. There’s also bulk-brew filter and cold brew, a small tea selection, plus cakes and prepared salads in the fridge opposite the counter.

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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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Press Coffee, Skywater Apartments

My Costa Rican filter coffee, made with the Kalita Wave using the Seraphim automated pour-over machine at Press Coffee, Skywater Apartments, Tempe.To celebrate my return to Phoenix, I present Monday’s Coffee Spot, Press Coffee at the Skywater Apartments in Tempe, which I visited on my previous trip to Phoenix almost exactly a year ago. Tempe is a separate city southeast of Phoenix, although part of the Greater Phoenix area. I first discovered Press Coffee, one of Phoenix’s leading roasters/coffee shops, when I fortuitously stumbled across its Scottsdale Quarter branch on my first visit to Phoenix.

The Skywater Apartments branch, which opened three years ago, is one of six in the Greater Phoenix area and is located in the Town Lake complex, just back from the southern bank of the Salt River and opposite the Tempe Center for the Arts. It’s a bright, open space, with a lovely, relaxed atmosphere.

If you’ve visited a Press Coffee before, then the offering will be familiar. There’s two blends (Twitch and Spitball during my visit) on espresso, with multiple single-origins on pour-over (five during my visit). One of these is also available as on bulk-brew along with another blend, Early Morning, which acts as the “house” filter. There’s also an extensive food served until 14:30, with various egg/bread-based dishes, plus the usual selection of cake.

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Los Angeles and the Coast

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in Los Angeles and during my drive along the Californian coast (listed in the order that I visited them).

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 bulk-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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Acme Coffee Roasting Company

The Acme Coffee Roasting Company logo from the front of its coffee counter in Seaside, CA.Just off Highway 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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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 2017, 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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San Francisco

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited in during my weekend in San Francisco on this trip (listed alphabetically).

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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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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Saint Frank Coffee

A beautiful espresso with milk, part of a split shot of a single-origin Guatemalan coffee in Saint Frank Coffee, San Francisco.Once again, I find myself following in the footsteps of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato. Saint Frank Coffee, in San Francisco’s Russian Hill area, was the very last stop of my final day-trip to San Francisco, part of my epic four-corners trip around America at the start of the year. It had been a good day, starting with a visit to Four Barrel in the Mission and ending at Saint Frank, both recommendations from Bex.

Founded in 2013, Saint Frank’s a relative newcomer to the scene. This is its flagship store, with two other outlets, one on the Facebook campus (sadly, employees only) and a new venture, called St Clare Coffee, in the Mission. Saint Frank roasts all its own coffee (sadly off-site), working directly with a small number of coffee farmers around the world.

There are three options on espresso (house-blend, a single-origin and a decaf) through a bespoke, under-the-counter espresso machine. There are three more options on pour-over (all single-origins, one of which is a decaf) using the Marco Beverage Systems SP9. Finally, there are two further single-origins, one on bulk-brew and one available as an iced coffee. If you’re hungry, there’s a small but tasty cake range.

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Sextant Coffee Roasters

The Sextant Coffee Roasters logo from the sign outside the front of the store on Folsom Street.Sextant Coffee Roasters is a relatively new name in the San Francisco speciality coffee scene, but fits perfectly into the model established by the likes of Four Barrel Coffee and Sightglass Coffee. Like them, it’s a coffee shop/roaster, roasting on the premises on a vintage cast-iron roaster and occupying an old, warehouse-like building with high ceilings, skylights, exposed rafters and bare brick walls. It’s also roughly halfway between the two, sitting on Folsom Street between the Mission (Four Barrel) and SOMA (Sightglass), just a block from the Wrecking Ball roastery.

When it comes to coffee, Sextant specialises in Ethiopian coffees, the owner, Kinani Ahmed, hailing from Ethiopian. However, it also occasionally roasts some Central and South American coffees, aiming to roast light and extract the maximum sweetness from the coffee. The house-blend, Maiden Voyage, is always on espresso, while there are two single-origins on pour-over, using the Kalita Wave filter, and another on bulk-brew, all changing on a weekly-basis. If you fancy tea, then there’s a selection of loose-leaf teas brewed using the Silverton drippers (which I’ve only seen at La Colombe, where they were being used for coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s the usual range of pastries and cookies.

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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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Wrecking Ball, Union Street

A Kalita Wave filter just finishing brewing at Wrecking Ball in San FranciscoWrecking Ball started life as a coffee roaster in San Francisco around 10 years ago. However, the coffee shop is a relatively new venture, having only been open for a couple of years when I visited in February 2017. It’s in Cow Hollow, slightly off the beaten track for the average tourist, west of North Beach/Russian Hill. However, it’s easy enough to get to on one of the many bus routes that criss-cross the city.

The coffee shop is an interesting space, underneath an old townhouse in what, I believe, was the parking garage. This gives it very much a basement feel, although it is directly accessible from the street via a long, corridor-like passage that slopes slightly upwards. It’s easily the smallest of the speciality coffee shops I visited on that trip, with three benches and three chairs inside and three small tables on the pavement outside. I admire the consistency!

As you might expect from one of San Francisco’s leading roasters, there’s a range beans for sale or to try, with a blend on espresso, along with decaf, and several single-origins, two of which are available as pour-over (Kalita Wave), one on cold brew and another on bulk-brew.

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Miami

Since I was in Miami for work, I had limited time to explore, but I did manage one trip downtown, visiting Panther Coffee, which you can read about in these two posts.

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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Panther Coffee, Wynwood

The label on Panther Coffee's West Coast Espresso Blend.My first-ever visit to Miami was in February 2017, when I called in on the wonderful Panther Coffee. Back then, I wrote about the roasting side of the business, the Wynwood branch doubling (for now) as the roastery. Today it’s the turn of the Wynwood branch to feature as a Coffee Spot in its own right.

Set back from the busy 2nd Avenue, Wynwood occupies a free-standing, single-storey building, with a large outdoor seating area, perhaps three times the size of the interior. Much of this is centred on a lovely, old tree, which, I imagine, provides much-needed shade in the summer.

Inside, the counter shares the space with the roaster, although Panther has plans to move to a new roasting facility, so it may not be there for much longer. There’s seating opposite the counter and in an annex to the right of the door, but I suspect that most people choose to sit outside.

Panther serves its East Coast and West Coast espresso blends from a concise menu thankfully lacking the buckets-of-milk sizes. There are seven single-origins available through a variety of (filter) brew-methods, plus bulk-brew and cold brew, along with a selection of cakes/cookies.

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Boston

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited during my one day in Boston at the end of my trip (listed alphabetically).

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

The Render Coffee logo, from the sign outside. The words RENDER COFFEE above a line-drawing of an anvil.I think I’ve found a new favourite in Boston. Head a few blocks along Columbus Avenue past my favourite breakfast spot, Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, and you’ll find Render Coffee, just before the junction with Massachusetts Avenue. Ironically, I found it from the other direction, walking south along Mass Ave from Pavement Coffeehouse on Boylston. Although only 10 minutes from Pavement, the contrast couldn’t have been sharper, going from the busy Pavement to the relatively laid-back calm of Render. Quiet, but not empty, it was a relaxed and relaxing place to spend the afternoon.

Like Pavement, Render serves Counter Culture as both espresso and pour-over, along with guest coffees (both from Gracenote Coffee during my visits). One of the things I really liked is there’s no bulk-brew filter coffee. Instead, Render only offers hand-pour. There’s also an excellent selection of food and cake.

Long and thin seems to be a theme for Boston coffee shops and Render is no different in this respect. Accessed by a short flight of steps up from Columbus Avenue, you can sit right at the front and watch the traffic go by, or better still, sit at the back where there’s an excellent fireplace and conservatory!

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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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