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24 February 2017

The NYC Caffeine Chronicles: Greenpoint Coffee Guide

I have spent a lot of time in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Williamsburg over the years, including a recent visit to a couple of speciality coffee shops there, but I hadn't really scratched the surface on its northern neighbour, Greenpoint, apart from to go to Five Leaves, a favourite restaurant of mine, which is on the Greenpoint–Williamsburg borders. When carrying out some coffee research for my most recent trip to New York, I realised that there were a fair few Greenpoint coffee spots that were worth a visit and I spent a happy — and caffeinated — morning there last week.

I took the East River Ferry from the Financial District all the way up to the India Street docks (which provides the above vista of the Manhattan skyline), a fast 15-minute journey, which brought me within a five-minute walk of the coffee.

I started my tour at Homecoming, which is located in the "middle-west" of Greenpoint on one of the main north–south drags, Franklin Street. I was attracted both by the prospect of coffee from San Francisco roaster Sightglass (a favourite of mine) and by the fact that Homecoming is a flower shop and lifestyle boutique as well as a coffee shop. The interiors are beautiful, the colourful flowers setting off the minimalist white tiling and light wood flooring.

The exchange rate being what it is, I allowed myself only to browse the shop briefly, before taking a seat at the little bench by the door. The cortado I ordered ($4) was really nice, the barista was lovely and there was a very calming, relaxed ambiance in the cafe during my visit. There are no filter coffee options, although there is a cold brew on the menu, if that's your thing.

107 Franklin Street nr Greenpoint Ave. WebsiteTwitterInstagram.

As someone who loves to spend time in Nordic cities, I was naturally drawn to the Nordic-influenced Búðin, which is half a block east of Homecoming on Greenpoint Avenue. The cafe has minimalist, industrial-chic décor: blue walls, metal stools and pendant lights. There is plenty of seating around the three sides of the large, central coffee bar and both smaller and communal tables along the side and in the back.

Búðin often offers coffees from Sweden, Norway and Iceland, and there were two coffees from the Swedish Drop Coffee available as a pourover: an El Salvador variety and a Gichathaini from Kenya ($5), which is the one I chose. The pourover was excellent, with the slightly tart and fruity notes of the Gichathaini coming through very nicely. There were quite a few MacBookers on a Monday morning, but with its welcoming, knowledgable baristas and warm atmosphere, Búðin remains a great place to enjoy top-notch coffee.

114 Greenpoint Avenue bet. Franklin St. & Manhattan Ave. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Champion Coffee
I saw a lot of beautiful espresso machines on this New York trip but one of the loveliest was the cerulean La Marzocco in Champion's Manhattan Avenue coffee bar. In fact, everything Champion do is beautifully designed, from the gallery wall next to the coffee bar to the retail bags of coffee beans. There is plenty of seating in the small-ish cafe and I read that there is also a lovely back garden but it was much too cold a day for that.

I had hoped to sample a hand-brewed filter coffee, but the coffee menu focuses on espresso-based drinks and so I stuck to my usual cortado ($3.75), which was on the long side but tasted nice. I already had lunch plans and couldn't sample the tempting selection of sandwiches.

1107 Manhattan Avenue nr Clay St. Website. Instagram.

Upright Coffee

So petite that only a few people can stand inside at one time, I can confirm that Upright Coffee, further south down Manhattan Avenue from Champion, is indeed appropriately named. There are a couple of stools where you can perch by the front window watching the denizens of Greenpoint walk past but otherwise, Upright is standing room only (and not much of that).

Upright roast their own coffee and the coffee menu was, once again, espresso-based. If I had known pourovers were a rare breed in Greenpoint, I might not have loaded up on two cortados back in Manhattan! The cortado I ordered was also on the long side — the price was the same as for a latte and it probably approached a latte in volume. The coffee, though, was rich and smooth and worked well as a (not-so-)cortado.

860 Manhattan Avenue #2 nr Milton St. Website. Twitter.

On my list for next time:

Odd Fox Coffee (984 Manhattan Avenue nr Huron St.). Website. When I was in Greenpoint — just last week — the airplane-themed Propeller Coffee occupied the shop at 984 Manhattan Avenue. I didn't have time to go in but it has now permanently closed and Odd Fox is its replacement.

Sweetleaf Coffee (159 Freeman Street nr Manhattan Ave.). Website. Twitter. Instagram. They also have coffee shops in Long Island City and Williamsburg.

Variety Coffee Roasters (145 Driggs Avenue nr Russell St.). Website. Instagram.

22 February 2017

Boston Coffee Guide

As I mentioned in my last post, I used to travel to Boston fairly frequently but hadn't been to the city for almost a decade until a conference took me there last week. I was just starting to get into speciality coffee back in 2007 and I don't think Boston had yet hopped onto the third wave, although I did find this photo in my archives, which I took at Caffè Vittoria — an almost-90-year-old Italian cafe (caffè, technically) in the North End — in December 2005. It may be my first ever 'arty' photo of a cup of coffee, although I hadn't yet got the hang of bokeh.

I have known about this trip — and a subsequent holiday I will be taking to the Boston area this summer — for some time and because I knew I wouldn't have much time to coffee-shop hop while I was out there, planning was crucial. Luckily, I was staying near the Hynes Convention centre and so there were branches of several mini-chains very close by, and my heavy meeting schedule did allow me to visit a few of the other places on my list (though not quite all), even if time constraints generally limited me to cortados rather than sampling more hand-brewed filter coffees. Brian, of Brian's Coffee Spot, has visited Boston more often and more recently than I, and has much more in-depth knowledge of the city's coffee scene.

Downtown Crossing
George Howell Coffee at The Godfrey Hotel
The new location for fêted speciality coffee pioneer George Howell's cafe inside the hip Godfrey Hotel has been at the top of my Boston coffee list since I ogled the beautiful photos in Sprudge's write-up last year. Although its Downtown Crossing site, just a block away from the Boston Common, is very central, I wasn't sure I would have the chance to visit, but I was able to take a quick coffee break there on Saturday and it was indeed wonderful.

The cafe itself is beautiful: large, airy and with two seating areas, as well as an 'exploratorium', where they host brewing and cupping classes, among others and a 'shop' selling beans and some very attractive coffee-making kit. Despite its size, the cafe was packed when I arrived on a Saturday afternoon, during the tail end of a cupping. Luckily, I managed to find a seat at one of the communal tables.

I tried a chocolatey Brazilian espresso, which worked very nicely as a cortado ($3.50), and one of the four single-origin coffees available as pourovers, brewed through the Kalita Waves that line the brew bar. I tried a coffee from Burundi — a common theme in my Boston trip — a Nkonge Hill variety ($6), which was beautifully fruity with strong berry notes. Both coffees were excellent and the cafe is lively, thoughtfully designed and the essential destination for any coffee aficionado visiting Boston.

George Howell Coffee is located at 505 Washington Street nr Temple Pl (their original Boston location is in Boston Public Market). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Ogawa Coffee
I think I first heard about the first US location of Japanese coffee chain Ogawa Coffee when Brian posted in December about his visit to the Boston cafe in Milk Street, just a few blocks north of George Howell. I somehow missed Ogawa on my visit to Japan in 2014, but did make it to the Boston cafe, which had a queue out of the door on an unseasonably warm February Sunday afternoon. There is a lot of seating available, including a tiered bench section alongside the coffee bar but it's a popular spot so you might have to wait.

I really wanted to try one of the featured coffees (a Guatemalan and one from Burundi) as a filter coffee but I didn't have time for a pourover, so opted for a cortado instead. I chose a Los Alpes coffee from El Salvador ($5.25) and took a seat in the bleachers, where I could people-watch and admire the sleek, white DC Pro espresso machine. My coffee was very good, although if you have more time than me, you might like to try the single-origin trio or the Signature Drink (chilled, foamed espresso served in a martini glass and paired with a cappuccino).

Ogawa Coffee is located at 10 Milk Street nr Hawley St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

North End
Equal Exchange Cafe
Located just steps from Boston's North Station, Equal Exchange Café was very convenient for one of my meetings. The red-brick walls of the cafe house a colourful interior with a red espresso machine and brightly patterned walls. It's a fun and cosy spot to enjoy a coffee or some of the locally sourced food. My cortado ($2.90) was nicely smooth and nutty — I'm not sure which espresso they were using but there are usually a couple of different beans in the hoppers. As well as specialising in fairly traded coffees sourced from small farmer co-ops, Equal Exchange baristas can apply to be on a "worker-owner track," which means they receive additional benefits and on track to become an owner of the organisation, which sounds like a great idea.

Equal Exchange Cafe is located at 226 Causeway Street nr Medford St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

South End
Render Coffee
Render's original location on Columbus Avenue in the South End was close enough to my hotel that I was able to go for breakfast one extremely cold morning. I do love a good stroll through the brownstones of the South End, which looked particularly fetching in the snow. The cafe is on the raised-ground level and although its front section, which houses the coffee bar, is fairly slender, there is more seating in the glass-enclosed conservatory at the back (in warmer climes, I understand that you can also sit in the garden).

There were a few different coffees available, from Maine-based Tandem Coffee Roasters and Boston roaster Gracenote. On the barista's recommendation, I went for one of Tandem's coffees: a Mikuba variety from Burundi (I told you there was a theme), brewed as a pourover ($4.25). As soon as I picked up the cup, the tart and fruity raspberry notes hit my nose. It was a really excellent pourover. My breakfast sandwich, which involved bacon and a rosemary-potato-frittata, which also amazing. The staff are super-friendly and Render is a lovely place to hang out.

Render Coffee is located at 563 Columbus Avenue nr Wellington St (they have another location in the Financial District, and a third to come in Kendall Square). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Back Bay
Pavement Coffeehouse
Pavement has six locations in the Boston area and I visited the Newbury Street café a couple of times — one of my meetings was, in fact, conveniently located there. The cafe is on the lower ground so I had to climb over the snow to get down the steps. The large windows at the front let in plenty of light, though, and if you aren't fond of a window seat, there are more tables in the back. I ordered cortados ($3.50) both times, which were made with a Counter Culture espresso that resulted in a smooth, chocolatey coffee. There was also a Buziraguhindwa coffee from — you guessed it — Burundi available as a V60. Depending on the time of day, you can also find some excellent bagels and sandwiches on offer.

Pavement Coffeehouse is located at 286 Newbury Street nr Gloucester St (they also have five other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Thinking Cup
Thinking Cup has three cafes in Boston, all serving Stumptown coffee. I visited the Newbury Street cafe early on a weekday morning and, possibly as a result of the snowy weather, it was packed. I enjoyed the lively, bustling atmosphere — people-watching and hearing snippets of conversations is always fun in Boston and Cambridge. The queue wasn't too big, though, and I was able to nab a small table while I waited for my cortado ($3.50) to arrive. As well as serving hot drinks, Thinking Cup has a large selection of breakfast options, sandwiches and cakes. As I was in a bit of a hurry, I ordered a slice of banana bread to go (which was very good), but drank my coffee in — I would have liked to try a pourover but was already running late — but my cortado was nice.

Thinking Cup is located at 85 Newbury Street nr Clarendon St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Wired Puppy
I stopped by Wired Puppy for a quick breakfast on my way back from running on my last day in Boston. Like many of the other Newbury Street cafes, it is located on the lower-ground floor although large windows allow in plenty of light. Wired Puppy serves coffee from Alabama-based Revelator and although they weren't serving single origins through the V60 (which I realised too late), I had a pourover with a very pleasant South American blend called Misfit. It cost under $3 for a regular cup — the same price as the batch brew — which, given the exchange rate, was a nice surprise.

Wired Puppy is located at 250 Newbury Street nr Fairfield St. Website. Twitter.

Barrington Coffee Roasting Company
The first thing I noticed when I walked into Barrington Coffee Roasting Company's Newbury Street cafe was the large, colourful table near the coffee bar. This contrasted with the fairly minimalist décor of the rest of the cafe, including the four Steampunk brewers on the bar. These weren't in action — possibly, I had come too late in the day — so I went for my usual cortado ($3.50). Just after the barista had started making my drink, I asked which espresso he would be using and he pointed me to the Gold blend; I realised immediately that I should have asked for the Kintamani single-origin from Bali instead and I suspect my regret influenced my enjoyment somewhat. The cortado was still good, but I would have liked to go back to try another coffee, especially as the baristas in the cafe seemed very passionate and knowledgeable.

Barrington Coffee Roasting Company is located at 303 Newbury Street nr Hereford St (their other location is in Fort Point). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Bonus entry: Cambridge
1369 Coffeehouse
After a meeting at MIT, I just had time to stop by 1369 Coffeehouse's Central Square location on Massachusetts Avenue (the original is further north, at the titular 1369 Cambridge Street) for a coffee. It felt very studenty late on a Friday afternoon but I rather liked the vibe. There is a big menu of speciality hot drinks, including various hot ciders and hot chocolates. There weren't any hand-brewed filters on the menu so I ordered a cortado (surprise, surprise; $3.30) and took a seat near the bar and next to the cool mural. The coffee — brewed with an espresso blend — was nice and the cafe was a fun place to hang out.

1369 Coffeehouse is located at 757 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge (not Boston, I know, but close enough to include!). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

20 February 2017

A Wintry Week in Boston

The main motivation for my current work trip to the US was to attend a conference in Boston. I have a soft spot for Beantown as it was the first US city I ever visited, on a family holiday back in 1993. I went back four or five more times over the next decade and a half but as work took me increasingly to San Francisco and DC, and the attractions of New York won me over, I began to neglect Boston and I haven't been back since 2007 (some of my adventures on my last trip are documented on this blog, the recent 10th anniversary of which I realised that I have forgotten to celebrate).

A colleague and I took the train from New York on Wednesday afternoon, a very pleasant four-and-a-half journey through the New England countryside. The views from the window seat were wonderful, particularly as the sun began to set, and I also appreciated the free wifi and comfortable seats. It was a short, if snowy, walk from Back Bay station to my hotel, the Sheraton at the Hynes Convention Center, and I stayed around just long enough to check into my room, which was on the 23rd floor and had impressive views over Fenway and Kenmore, before heading out in search of dinner. We went to Luke's Lobster, a small chain of seafood shacks on the Eastern Seaboard, and I had a delicious lobster roll (well, when in New England...). On the way back, I stopped by Trident Booksellers & Cafe, a wonderful independent bookstore where I spent quite a bit of time back in 2007. I was glad to see that it is still thriving.

In the morning, I woke up early so that I could go for a run before my hectic day of back-to-back meetings and networking. It had snowed again overnight and was snowing lightly when I set out towards the Charles River. The esplanade along the river is probably lovely in the summer but the paths were covered in snow and slush and it made for a somewhat slippy run. I headed over the Longfellow Bridge and then ran along the Cambridge side of the river before returning to the Back Bay via the Harvard Bridge. There are several bridges along the river so it's possible to do longer routes if you have more time and better weather than I did.

Although my conference was at the Hynes, my meetings took me out to several of the academic and research institutions based in Boston and Cambridge so I did get to see a bit of the city. Although I've been compiling a list of speciality coffee shops to visit since last year, time constraints meant that I had to limit myself to those cafes that were very close to my meetings. As usual, I will put together a separate post about my coffee experiences in Boston in due course.

I had heard good things about Boston Burger Co, a little further west along Boylston from the Hynes, so my colleague and I went for dinner. I ordered a frankly ridiculous 'mac attack' burger: a burger topped with deep-fried mac 'n' cheese, topped with bacon, served with a portion of home-made chips (crisps) and baked beans. It was absolutely delicious but I was grateful I'd been doing so much walking and running. It wasn't even the most ridiculous item on the menu: that might have been one of the 'freak frappes', a milkshake served with whipped cream and Reese's Pieces on the side, and topped with a wedge of cheesecake the size of my head. God bless America!

Friday was another hectic day so I was grateful that Eataly, the 'Italian dining emporium', had just opened in the Prudential Center. I had a delicious (and huge) artisanal pizza slice for lunch one day, and a caprese panini another. There is a big deli section and counters for salads, ice cream and all sorts of other goodies too. In the evening, there was a drinks reception at Fenway Park, which was fun to visit, although the pitch was rather too snowy for a game (the last time I was there was for a Red Sox game, most of which went way over my head).

I had a little more flexibility in my schedule on Saturday and it was also a beautiful sunny day, so I took a couple of hours off from the conference to walk down to the Boston Common. I picked up a sandwich at the excellent Flour Bakery, which also has some impressive pastries, and went to eat it in the Boston Public Gardens. The pond was still frozen over but the weather was so mild (for Boston, that is) that some people were wearing short-sleeved shirts.

After my mini-picnic, I walked a little way along the Freedom Trail, which I've covered in its entirety a few times in the past. I didn't have time to go inside any of the buildings but I enjoyed my walk, which took me through the North End.

On my final evening, I had a drinks reception and a party to go to — a nice position to be in! The first took me up to the 50th floor of the Skywalk Observatory and although we were a little too late for sunset, the views of the city were still impressive, albeit hard to photograph well. The latter took place in Cyclorama, a historic venue in the South End, which might be my new favourite Boston neighbourhood.

Despite these festivities, I was still up early this morning to go for a run along the river, through the lovely Beacon Hill neighbourhood and back across the Common. The weather was much more pleasant and the snow was starting to melt so it was quite a different experience from Thursday.

And so ends my busy but fun visit to Boston. The good news is that I won't have to wait another decade before I return: my family and I are coming back in July to spend a couple of weeks on the North Shore, which was the location of our initial visit in 1993. I'm looking forward to lobster, sunshine and, of course, more time to explore Boston's coffee scene in more depth!