Coffee is- and this will come as no surprise to my family, friends, and even many readers of this blog- one of my favorite things. I love waking up in the morning and knowing that the very first thing I’m going to do is walk into my kitchen a brew a pot, or maybe scoop some finely ground espresso into my stove-top Moka.
I love coffee at home, but I love coffee when I’m out, too. I made it a goal to drink as many café con leches as possible when I walked my Caminos (and to be honest, this was one of the easiest goals I’ve ever set for myself), I have a very long relationship with the café crème in France, and I even made a (small) pilgrimage to the first Starbucks in Seattle.
But this year, I set another kind of coffee goal, and this one involved drinking cups a little closer to home: to explore the coffee scene in Philadelphia. I live a little outside the city, and I have my favorite coffee shops in my own town that I’ve been frequenting over the years. I’ve been to some great cafés in Philly, but for as long as I’ve lived here, I have to say that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the coffee culture in my home city.
Several weeks ago I was scrolling a little mindlessly through Facebook when an article caught my eye: “Where to Find the Top Coffee Shops and Espresso Bars in Philadelphia”. 30 coffee shops were highlighted, in areas and neighborhoods all over the city.
“This would be a cool thing to try,” I thought to myself. “What if I could have a coffee in every one of these places?”
A friend of mine enthusiastically jumped on this idea with me, and just like that, a new goal was born: spend 2016 drinking all the coffee in Philadelphia (or, as much of it as possible).
So I’m kicking off what I hope to be an on-going series of posts with the first coffee shop on my pilgrimage, as well as a tiny glimpse into an up-and-coming neighborhood of Philly: Fishtown.
I’d been to Fishtown only a few times before, but in the past few years I’d been hearing a lot about the area. A traditionally working class neighborhood, named for once being the center of the shad fishing industry due to its border along the Delaware River, Fishtown is emerging as a truly creative center. An eclectic mix of people make up the area, from families who have settled here for generations to artists, musicians, writers, students. Galleries, cafés, studios, restaurants and independently-owned shops, along with lines of row homes, dot the small network of streets that make up the triangular grid of the neighborhood. The streets are lively but not chaotic- Fishtown sits directly northeast of center city so it is close to the action but also slightly removed.
There were several Fishtown coffee shops on our list but we only made it to one of them, as well as another in the neighboring area of Northern Liberties (my arbitrary “rules” for this pilgrimage include having some kind of coffee drink in every place. Stopping by to check out the space doesn’t fully count- I need to taste the coffee, too. But this means that doing more than 2 or 3 stops in a day is going to be challenging unless I want the caffeine to keep me up all night).
We hit the spot that may have been at the very top of my list- the flagship La Colombe café. La Colombe is probably the most well-known coffee company in Philadelphia. Founded in 1994, its first café was located near Rittenhouse Square, and it now has locations across the city, plus cafés in New York City, Washington DC and Chicago.
Just over a year ago, La Colombe’s new home base was opened in a large warehouse in Fishtown, and the place is amazing. It’s enormous, with space for offices, a coffee lab, roasting facilities, on-site bakery, even a rum distillery. When my friend and I arrived, it was almost too much to take in: a merchandise corner in the front of the store, ample food and pastry offerings, wine and beer (and rum!), plenty of seating areas and an upstairs lab which holds free cupping events on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of every month.
So many options, but all I wanted was a coffee. I ordered a cortado (influenced, perhaps, from my afternoon coffee breaks on the Norte this past summer). This shot of espresso with a dash of hot milk was served in a clear glass cup and I savored every sip. I love La Colombe coffee, and I have for a long time. It’s my go-to coffee when I want to have something special on-hand at home; Corisca is my favorite blend for filter coffee, Nizza is the best for espresso.
La Colombe has been about the extent of my Philly coffee knowledge for as long as I’ve lived here, and I suppose it’s fitting that this is where I started the coffee tour. It’s an old favorite, so I’m curious if I’ll find a contender as I journey around the city, from coffee shop to coffee shop. La Colombe is going to be hard to top, but then again, there’s a lot of great coffee out there. Stay tuned for more!
Once, I was privileged to have a cup of La Colombe brewed for me in a charming little coffee shop in Bryn Mawr. The guy making the coffee knew what he was doing, ground up fresh beans, then poured me the best mug of coffee I’d ever had. Just straight black coffee, it was superb. But probably, it was the quirky little place and even more likely the delightful company I was in that made the moment magic.
A coffee crawl – now that’s my kind of pilgrimage. There’s a coffee roaster close to my home, and of course I pay frequent visits.