It’s Monday. That means I need caffeine. Pronto. So, in the spirit of a summery Monday, here’s a line-up of some of my favorite coffee spots (you won’t find a Starbucks on this list!) – and feel free to submit your favorites as well!
Breaking New Grounds (14 Market St., Portsmouth, NH) is a local cafe in beautiful coastal Portsmouth. Previously in a smaller location, the new spot on the corner across from North Church serves up great artisan coffees and pastries. Not sure why reviewers note that the staff are ‘famously curt,’ because I’ve never noticed this brevity in all my years frequenting this coffee house. Be sure to also check out their sister store in Ogunquit, Maine (3 Harbor Lane, Ogunquit) – it’s an adorable little outpost right on the water.
If there’s one quality in myself I revere, it’s my ability to avoid addictions. Enter Funnel Mill Rare Coffee & Tea (930 Broadway, Santa Monica). Located way too close to my office, Funnel Mill offers the most delicious vanilla latte I have ever tasted. Their secret? House-made vanilla bean steeped milk (and oh yeah, freshly ground espresso as well). The owner is nearly always on hand to offer you advice and is certainly an expert – she regularly travels the world to source her coffee beans and tea leaves. There’s also one other thing they do that is simply brilliant: coffee ice cubes. I have a friend who drove 45 minutes last week to Santa Monica just for Funnel Mill’s vanilla latte. Oh yes, it’s that good.
This local mini-chain sprung into being a few years ago and has conquered the westside of Los Angeles in stride (locations on Montana Ave. in Santa Monica, the old Dutton’s Bookstore site on San Vicente in Brentwood, and the Brentwood Country Mart). I became a quick convert, often seen dashing through in yoga gear post-workout. Everyone I bring here from out of town (even those fussy European coffee snobs) love the espressos and freshly-ground drip coffees made to order at Cafe Luxxe. While the decor is a bit fussy and westside, it’s certainly worth a trip if you’re in town.
I first found the revered Beijing cafe, Sculpting in Time, in 2000, when I was a student at Beijing University. Once located outside the east gate of the university, the cafe was a mecca for coffee in a city that was then sans-Starbucks (oh, how lovely it would be if Beijing stayed that way!). I’d often ride my bicycle to the hutong (alleyway), cuddle up to a good book and a delicious mocha latte, and idle away the hours. In the same hutong there was also an independent movie store (where I was first introduced to a VCD of my favorite film, Jiang Wen’s In the Heat of the Sun) and a Tibetan shop owned by a man who immigrated from Lhasa. Sadly, like much in Beijing, the area was knocked down in 2002 to make way for a technology park – with that, Sculpting in Time (named for the diaries of Russian filmmaker Tarkofsky) had to move to a less-unique location in an office building in Wudaokou. The Chinese couple who owned the cafe (who met, incidentally, while backpacking in western China), have since expanded their brand to a number of outlets throughout the city. While the coffee remains the same, the spirit, sadly, does not. Sculpting in Time was a victim of Beijing’s aggressive modernization campaign and with it, a unique establishment (with the spirit of ‘Old Beijing’) was lost. I often think of the film store proprietor and the Tibetan with his amazing stories of 1980s Lhasa and wonder where they ended up. Like so much in Beijing in the last two decades, they were uprooted along with the hopes we all had for a much more civilized city…
For nostalgia’s sake, here are some photos of the ‘old’ Sculpting in Time location (maybe my bicycle is in that row):