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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Monday, June 17, 2013


                                    - Jackie Chan 

It will come as a shock to, well, just about no one, but coffee is a fundamental in my life. It's both a prop and a "propper-upper" in the morning. (If evidence is to be believed, I am far from alone. Coffee is the second most-heavily traded commodity in the world after oil. There's some reasoning behind the advertisement that "America Runs on Dunkin'". Their logo is, after all, a coffee cup -- not a donut.)

So when I'm on the road, coffee remains an important part of the overall experience. I've written previously in regards to the thermos full of coffee which my mother invariably packed for my father for our all-too-frequent early morning departures for some expedition to parts both known and unknown. That whiff of black coffee some four or five minutes in to what promised to be a long drive became synonymous, for me, with the road trip, or any travel for that matter.

(Last Friday, as my wife and I departed for an anniversary trip down the coast I added a good twenty minutes to our drive when I discovered that three of my favorite Orange County coffee houses stops had disappeared in the last year or so. It seems that the twin impacts of the economy and my working from home --  and therefore not buying my coffee from these fine establishments -- had done them in. Yes, I am wracked with guilt.)

All this noted, it should be no surprise that one of my chief tasks upon arrival at any destination is a rapid assessment of the local coffee scene. Some, like Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, are old friends demanding an immediate pilgrimage, not unlike that to Mecca itself. Others, like the Starbuck's down the street from the Westin in San Diego, are convenient and reliable. 

(No, I am not an SBUX basher. My preference is always a local chain, but in the absence of that a Starbuck's will do nicely. When you travel for business, as I often will, the local spots aren't as visible to the business hotels. It's when I'm on my own for personal travel that I get to play with the local kids.)

Sometimes both mix, as in a pilgrimage to Starbuck's in Pike Place Market in Seattle. It's the oldest existing location for the chain and marked the beginning but is itself a localized event.

In Las Vegas every large casino boasts a coffee shop, sometimes several. Again, SBUX is ubiquitous but with a little searching you can find an alternative. (One of my favorite is in the Paris Hotel and Casino. JJ'S Boulangerie. Tucked back into the hotel's "shopping street" JJ's is a bread and coffee house that -- belying the big business they are part of -- manages to convey a more neighborhoody vibe. 

In Rome I was deeply challenged. The Westin sat apart from the fun, in a distinctly UN-bohemian part of town, and would have required taxi service to find ANY coffee service (except the hotel itself, of course.) One would have thought finding a decent cup of coffee in the Eternal City would have been a cinch, but not quite so much in that end of town.

New York, of course, is simply a matter of choosing which one of many options. In South Beach the world goes to the News Cafe, while in St Barth it's Maya's to Go. Here in SoCal, my home town of Long Beach even fostered what has now become a national brand: It's A Grind. (Score one for the Home Team!) The city also boasts a dozen or so hangouts, including Portfolio and Viento y Agua -- a large number for its size and enough to give even Portland a run for the coffee cultural money.

Philadelphia has La Colombe, of course: Todd Carmichael's justifiably famous smackdown  response to Taster's Choice.

Hawaii, being a major bean producer itself, is not to be outdone with coffee houses and local bakeries abounding on most major highways. (Our favorite is The Coffee Shack in the Big Island town of Captain Hook. Strong Kona coffee and a stunning view! Good eats, too.) And there's nothing quite like a quiet New England sunrise at the Dock Square Coffee House in Kennebunkport, Maine, at with a good cup of joe at your side.

Finding that local coffee place is often part of the fun. The telling mark of a good place is the crowd. If you walk in and the tables are empty, run. (Well, unless they've just opened.) Optimally it should look like, and feel like, a warm and inviting place to sit down and enjoy your drink. If the purpose is to get in, grab the caffeine and get out, then absolutely find the nearest Starbuck's and enjoy.

But if your intention is to sit down, sip at your drink slowly, so as to let the caffeine soak into your brain and bring you awake amidst a true traveler's experience -- then grab a seat at the local joint where the people watching and the vibe give you a real clue as to what the neighborhood is all about. 

Here are a few of my favorites:

(You can find your nearest Dunkin' or Starbuck's anywhere -- no need for a link.)


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