Abigail Pratt/Courtesy of Tandem
Brian Kevin
August 25, 2014

New Englanders embraced coffee early in American history, evidently a consequence of their opposition to high tea taxes. But New England today is Dunkin’ Donuts country, bub, and the sheer ubiquity of that coffee-and-sweets chain helped delay Maine’s embrace of the artisan joe revolution.  Java junkies can rest easy, though—in Portland especially, Mainers are finally making up for lost time.  The last few years have seen several new roasters come onto the scene, along with a bevy of small shops lovingly brewing espresso drinks, each with its own distinct character. A certain national, nautically themed chain still has a comparatively meek presence in the state—perhaps thanks to Portlanders’ touted Buy Local ethic—making room for a couple of local chains and plenty of hangout-friendly indies. Here are five spots where you want to caffeinate in town (though to avoid the shakes, probably not all on the same day).

Bard Coffee

This way polished Old Port shop roasts its own beans, and the baristas take pride in being able to walk you through their provenance. In fact, Bard is loaded with so many sexy, high-end brew supplies, it’s the warmth and evident knowledge of the staff that keeps the place from being intimidating to specialty coffee newbies.

Yordprom Coffee Co.

Great espresso drinks, organic loose-leaf teas, and a high-octane Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk—these are the calling cards of this small West End coffee shop. All that and a tranquil, fenced-in garden patio, where the stylishly simple wooden tables fill up quickly on summer afternoons.

Coffee By Design

Maine’s coffee chain success story helped introduce Portland to specialty coffee and espresso twenty years ago, and it’s still a local favorite that custom roasts in small batches. A flagship store and cupping room are in the works in East Bayside, but in the meantime, all four other locations are mellow and approachable, with plenty of baked goods.

Speckled Ax

This Arts District hangout is the café manifestation of Matt’s Coffee, which roasts certified organic coffee beans using a wood-fired Italian roaster. Tech-happy Speckled Ax is a java nerd’s paradise, and I’ll cop to dropping in just to watch my drink get brewed on one of the dual-chambered glass vac pots lining the counter.

Tandem

The roaster-entrepreneurs behind Tandem want to focus on coffee—and they want you to too—which is why the postage-stamp East End location doesn’t encourage lingering, with little seating and no wi-fi. There are free public cuppings on Fridays, though, and loyal patrons come together over the beloved Malt Iced Coffee, a summer treat made sweet with brewers malt.

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