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Café Guide: Portland, Maine

L.L. isn't the only bean that runs this city.

by Angela André Roberts | March 10, 2022

Mainers love coffee — which isn’t all that surprising considering the average low temperature in Portland is 40 degrees or colder seven months out of the year. Sipping on a piping hot cup of Joe is one of the easiest ways to stay warm. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy, one of the state's top-selling spirits.

From Kittery to Fort Kent, Mainers have been roasting coffee in small batches long before it was trendy, but nowhere in Maine is coffee taken more seriously than in Portland. Despite its modest size and population (less than 67,000 people), The Forest City is as rich in coffee as Bean boots.

Here are ten places in Portland, Maine — from roasters to restaurants — pouring the best coffee:

Tandem Coffee Roasters

122 Anderson Street; Portland, Maine 04101

742 Congress Street; Portland, Maine 04102

Founded by Will and Kathleen Pratt in 2012, Tandem has become one of the most recognized roasters in the state. Food & Wine named it Best Coffee in Maine, and Bon Appétit has sung its praise more than once. The original location in East Bayside (known by loving fans as Little Tandem) is currently under renovation and slated to reopen in spring 2022. The bakery, housed in a former auto repair shop, opened in 2014. You can expect a long line on the weekends no matter the time of year, but Briana Holt’s pastries, pies, and biscuits are well worth the wait. As a Trade subscriber, you can try six Tandem coffees, including my favorite, La Piramide.

Speckled Ax

567 Congress Street; Portland, Maine 04101

18 Thames Street; Portland, Maine 04101

135 Walton Street; Portland, Maine 04103

I’ll never forget the first time I tried a cup of Speckled Ax coffee. The blueberry notes were so intense that I thought it was a flavored brew. I double-checked the label velcroed to the airpot. It read, “Ethiopia Misty Valley,” and beneath that, the tasting notes, “milk chocolate, blueberry, tropical fruits.” I’ve been hooked on Speckled Ax ever since.

Founder Matt Bolinder roasts his beans using a vintage Italian Petroncini fueled by local hardwood, which feels appropriate considering Maine is the most forested state in the country. He opened his first location on Congress Street in 2012. The second location, on Thames Street, debuted in fall 2020 and offers spacious indoor seating, water views, and delectable pastries and sandwiches.

Bard Coffee

185 Middle Street; Portland, Maine 04101

Founded in 2009 under the philosophy that “great coffee is most often grown by incredible people in incredible places,” Bard Coffee is committed to sharing the stories of those people and places. Owner Bob Garver visits all of their coffee sources. You can learn more about the farmers on their website.

Bard Coffee resides in a charming brick building with high ceilings and tall windows. Although indoor service closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new walk-up window service is just as enjoyable and even more convenient. You can also visit the Bard coffee trailer at Fore Points Marina during the warmer months. A second Bard Coffee location in the East End is under construction and expected to open in 2022.

Little Woodford’s

316A Congress Street; Portland, Maine 04101

Food & Wine just named this itty bitty coffee shop the best in Maine! Despite its petite size, you can’t miss this milky white brick building with bubblegum pink trim. Co-owners Andrew Zarro and TJ Quinn opened Little Woodfords in October 2017 in Woodford’s Corner and relocated to Congress Street in July 2020. I highly recommend the ✨AsTrO dRiNkS✨, a rotating drink special inspired by the current astrological season.

Coffee By Design

1 Diamond Street; Portland, Maine 04101

620 Congress Street; Portland, Maine 04101

67 India Street; Portland, Maine 04101

Roast magazine’s 2020 Roaster of the Year! Co-owners Mary Allen Lindemann and Alan Spear launched Coffee By Design (CBD) in July 1994. For nearly 30 years, they’ve shown an unwavering commitment to community, sustainability, and traceability. You can source every bag of coffee back to the farmer or community of farmers. CBD roasts at seven levels and creates over 100 blends at their impressive 45,000 square-foot roastery on Diamond Street. I’m partial to their quaint inaugural coffeehouse on Congress Street.

Burundi Star Coffee

261 St John Street; Portland, Maine 04102

Relatively new to Portland’s food scene, Burundi Star has quickly earned the respect of the community and coffee connoisseurs. Owner Jocelyne Kamikazi moved to Maine in 2004 from the Ngozi province of Burundi where her father was a coffee farmer. Once a lucrative profession, she has since witnessed first-hand the struggles of coffee farmers in her homeland. When you order a cup of Burundi Star coffee, you’re not only experiencing some of the best in the world, but you’re also supporting business, education, and healthcare opportunities for the people of Burundi. While you’re there, don’t pass up a pastry from Norimoto Bakery.

Rwanda Bean Co.

463 Stevens Avenue; Portland, Maine 04103

290 Thompson's Point Road; Portland, Maine 04102

185 Cottage Road; South Portland, Maine 04106

Rwanda Bean is a coffee roaster, wholesaler, and retailer that gives 50% of its profits back to coffee farmers. They provide healthcare to 1,200 farmers and invest in community development projects, like a preschool in Rwanda that will support 200 children. Founder Michael Mwenedata, a Rwanda native, opened his first location in Portland in 2013. In 2021, he launched a third location at Thompson’s Point and established the Rwanda Bean Espresso Bar Bistro in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

Buzz Coffee

19 Exchange Street; Portland Maine 04101

Summer 2021 brought a wave of mobile coffee concepts, starting with Buzz Coffee. Corey Koch first debuted his handbuilt pushcart in May 2021. His signature drink is cold brew made with Little Wolf coffee and topped with cold foam. He flavors the cold foam with your choice of local maple syrup or blueberry syrup. Thankfully, you don’t have to wait until the weather warms up to give it a try because the brick-and-mortar location on Exchange Street is now open!

Moonday Coffee

93 Washington Avenue; Portland, Maine 04101

David Kessel converted a 2x3 foot steel utility cart into something far more beautiful than anything I could have imagined. Moonday made its first appearance on the streets of Portland in August 2021. Kessel serves Speckled Ax coffee and espresso drinks made from a baby blue La Marzocco Linea Mini, which he lovingly refers to as “the beating heart” of his coffee cart.

La Mega

In September 2021, Joe Radano, a cinematographer and editor with Italian roots, rolled onto the streets of Portland in a 1992 turquoise blue Piaggio Ape. Inspired by a trip to Italy, Radano purchased the truck from Palermo and spent three to four months converting it to an espresso cart. He serves hot and cold beverages using coffee beans from Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co. Come April, La Mega will be roaming the streets of Portland once again.

While the ethos of local runs deep here, there are several Portland restaurants and cafés serving coffee by roasters from around the country. You’ll find Portrait Coffee at Cong Tu Bot (try the Kinako Cold Foam Iced Coffee), Parlor Coffee at Rose Foods, Bolt Coffee Co. at Bread & Friends, and many more. Whether you’re simply looking for a great cup of coffee or yearning for a sip of something local, you will indeed find it in Portland, Maine.