When last we visited our neighbors to the north—okay, not that far north, but almost—at Tandem Coffee in idyllic Portland, Maine, excitement was mounting. Not just for the roaster's continued growth within the esteemed culinary world of Portland, but for the big news that they'd be opening a second, larger—conveniently located, even!—shop on the west side of Portland, featuring a full, and dangerously delicious sounding, in-house bakery.
This seems like the perfect time of year to focus on Portland: it may never be more itself than in the snowflaked first blushes of winter, and there may never be a better time to scarf down loads of coffee alongside jalapeno biscuits and custard pies than when the mercury starts to plummet. We checked in on our friends and partners at Tandem earlier this month for a taste of what growth has been like, and a look at what their growth tastes like. Here's what owner Will Pratt and baker Briana Holt had to say about Tandem today.
Sprudge: When we last checked in with you, you'd just finalized the space for Tandem II. How have things been going so far?
Will Pratt: We realized that opening something where people actually are makes it busier! We learned a business lesson there. Our first location is not very busy at all, and we're realizing that has something to do with location! So yeah, it's been really really good, meeting a lot of new folks over there.
Are you able to do anything different with coffee service at the second space?
Pratt: We're doing Fetcos over there, which has been pretty good. It's actually been harder to dial in than we thought—we thought it was just press play and forget about it, but it presents a lot of fun challenges. And we've actually been using the Mahlkönig K30, we've been doing espresso shots—longer shots—and the espressos up there are amazing. We're adding AeroPress and other made-to-order stuff in the next couple weeks as well. It's been crazy how the reaction to the space makes people forget that we're a coffee company, so we're trying to put that back in there as well. Every picture we see is of the food!
Are you wholesaling your coffee anywhere new outside of Maine?
Does new food menu play off of your coffees?
Pratt: We're trying to start talking about that. Briana has done things with them, like made frostings and she'll put the name of the coffee that's in the frosting as opposed to just, “coffee frosting!”. But I think we'll do more stuff like that – when we do ice cream and stuff like that this summer, make it more coffee-specific as opposed to just coffee-flavored.
Holt: There's definitely things that I've made in the past, and things that I want to make in the future that complement the coffee. There's a shortbread cookie that I make with rye flour and sesame seeds that I think tastes great with espresso. There's a custard pie that I make with maple syrup and sea salt and it's really custardy and sweet and kind of eggy, and it tastes real good with the coffee. I drink a lot of it. I get in at 4, and I get really excited when everyone else rolls in around 6, and they start making really good coffee, and then I can drink it.
Tell us a little more about your bakery program, helmed by Briana Holt (ex-Pies and Thighs, Brooklyn).
Pratt: Briana's scones are kind of unlike other people's scones, they're super moist and buttery. We're amazed at how many scones we've gone through and how popular her scones are. And she's done the birdhouse, which is a corn muffin with egg and breakfast sausage in it. But everything is changing as we go; I'll walk in there and be like “what is that?” and it'll be amazing. Briana's got this other-level thing; she was born to do this, it's really natural. She'll be making things that seems like she's never made before, and they'll be amazing. It's been remarkable to watch her do it. We knew she was good, but she's blown our minds so much more than we were expecting. We're really lucky.
And Briana, you waited a long time for the bakery space to come to fruition, during which time you worked at the original Tandem roastery location learning to make coffee. What was that like for you?
Holt: I certainly learned a lot—I know what it's like to watch somebody who doesn't know how to bake stuff, it sort of actually makes me lose my mind? And I know what it must have been like for [Tandem partner] Vien [Dobui] to watch me try to make coffee. I had a pretty mild knowledge of how it works in terms of beans, where they're coming from and how hard it is to turn them into coffee and all that stuff, but not the specifics—everybody working so hard to dial things in and being able to taste different things and why some taste better than other things.
What's coming onto the bakery shelves and into the hoppers this holiday season?
Pratt: Soon, we're going to start having some of the Colombians that we went to Colombia to taste.
Holt: It was just Thanksgiving and that was an insane pie marathon. There are a couple of new seasonal pies: a cranberry pie, and a black walnut pie with mollasses and rye whiskey, so those two are definitely going to be some good Christmas pies. For sure there'll be some new Christmasy pies, probably small mincemeat hand pies, dried fruit and nut cakes, and maybe who knows, maybe some special christmas surprise. I've been known to make a yule log.
Liz Clayton is the Associate Editor at Sprudge.com, and helms our NYC desk. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.
All photos courtesy of Tandem Coffee.