PAX Unplugged Coffee Recommendations

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Now that the 2017 Essen Spiel Fair is over, the board gaming hype machine is turning itself towards my hometown, Philadelphia, for the first-ever PAX Unplugged! I’ll be in attendance, but this little update isn’t about my con experience, it’s about yours: In particular, your coffee experience! I spent 7 years working in specialty coffee, so I have lots of opinions about the subject, including the following:

  1. Hotel and convention center coffee is terrible (I was a wholesale salesperson with hotel and convention center accounts, so believe me, I know).
  2. Chain coffee isn’t much better.
  3. Local shops have character, vibes, and (often but not always) the best coffee around.
  4. Philly is a sleeper hit when it comes to the specialty coffee scene. Outside of the West Coast and Chicago, you can’t find a better coffee city than Philly (New York: You know I’m right. Don’t @ me).

So, when you’re in town for PAX Unplugged, here are my recommendations, helpfully sorted by proximity to the convention center…

LESS THAN A MILE: Go for a walk!

ELIXR: Hidden away on an alley behind a Chipotle, this is a locally-owned roasting company with a great staff. Few tables and a long line mean you should probably order to-go. Their direct relationships with farms in Guatemala mean that their late-fall offerings are incredible. 207 S. Sydenham St.

SQUARE ONE: Roasting in Lancaster, but with 2 locations in Philadelphia, about equidistant from the convention center. Thirteenth street is my favorite of these two locations: Bright and spacious, with plenty of seating and big communal table you can use for an off-site board game if you want. 249 S 13th St. or 1811 JFK Blvd.

MENAGERIE: Right in the heart of Old City, and not far from gamer/techie hub N3RD ST., Menagerie makes a great cup of coffee, usually from hard-to-find-on-the-East-Coast Midwestern roasters. If they have Ruby Roasters on the menu, get it!  18 S. 3rd St.

ONE TO THREE MILES: Grab a bikeshare or a Lyft!

ULTIMO: One of the city’s specialty coffee pioneers just started roasting their own coffee about a year and a half ago. Their espresso program, featuring single origins and cocktail-like signature beverages is a must. While the Catharine Street location is closer, the Fifteenth Street shop shares space with a craft beer bottle shop. 2149 Catharine St. or 1900 S. 15th st.

REANIMATOR: Super-light roasted beans from some of the best importers in the world. This minimalist, nordic style of coffee isn’t for everyone, but if you like it, you’ll LOVE it. Also the only place on this list where you can get a cup in the roasting facility itself! Full disclosure, I used to work here, and I absolutely love it. 310 Master St. (the roastery) or 1523 E. Susquehanna St.

LA COLOMBE: Philly’s most famous coffee brand is also its least consistent (sorry La Colombe!). The exception: The Frankford Ave flagship store, where the company’s top baristas showcase its excellent “workshop” brand of coffees. This spot also plays host to a restaurant, bakery, and rum distillery. Not my favorite place on this list, but worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood.

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