Not too long ago we were coming home from a weekend in Maine and decided to stop for coffee in Portland. We picked a random exit that took us downtown and lo and behold, there was a Starbucks. But instead of feeling elated at the sight of a Starbucks — as the usual highway exit coffee choices are gas stations or McDonald’s — I asked my husband to drive past it with the hope of finding a someplace a little more specific to Portland, Maine. Someplace to get a cup of coffee that I couldn’t get in every other American city and suburb. A few blocks more and we saw this:
An unassuming storefront, but as I always keep an eye on design, I knew right away that this was the place for us, the whiteboard outside notwithstanding. Unfortunately, my eye for design doesn’t extend to my person, and with my middle class trappings (three kids, lame wardrobe, bulky stroller) the fact that I plopped down for a cup of coffee did not add to its cool factor. But it added to mine.
Called The Speckled Ax, this is a coffee shop unlike any I’ve ever been to on the east coast, more like a temple of coffee than a place for college students to sprawl across a table drinking seasonal lattes while updating their Spotify playlist, or whatever it is the kids are doing these days. Matt, the owner, struck me as someone who is dedicated to the good life, in the Aristotelian sense, with all the fervor and austerity of a true Yankee. Which is to say that he takes good living seriously. He roasts his coffee beans, all sourced in the most responsible way humanly possible I’m sure, with a wood-fired roasting technique that doesn’t deplete the earth of fossil fuels. The coffee tastes earthy and hearty, reminding me that the bean which produces coffee is actually from a plant — something organic — and not fabricated in a lab somewhere. While checking out the coffee sold at The Speckled Ax, a brand called Matt’s Coffee, I realized that I had purchased a pound of the same brand before at a shop near where I live in Massachusetts. Then I put it together: besides the coffee shop, Matt’s second full-time job is selling the coffee he roasts directly and to wholesale accounts under the Matt’s Coffee label. Stumbling on The Speckled Ax, which just so happens to also be the home of Matt’s Coffee, was a happy accident.
The design of the place is very high New England with lots of handmade elements. Traditional wood paneling in combination with one-off lighting fixtures and tables made from stumps made the place feel current in its minimalism but a bit rustic too. Matt pours a no-joke espresso, the kind that Europeans are always wandering around the Northeast looking for when they come here. If you know any Europeans in sore need of an afternoon jolt, send them to The Speckled Ax. Or if that’s not possible, let them know that it exists; it will elevate the status of our entire nation in their eyes.
And if you’re ever in Portland stop by The Speckled Ax. Bring a meaningful book to accompany your meaningful cup of coffee, prepared by people who have dedicated their lives to rethinking aspects of contemporary American life that the rest of us take for granted, like molded plastic booths at an all-too-convenient McDonalds, or irresponsibly roasted and sourced coffee beans. People like Matt are making our world a better place. The least the rest of us can do is buy our coffee from them.
To purchase Matt’s Coffee online: www.mattscoffee.comThe Speckled Ax 567 Congress Street, Portland, Maine