Tandem Coffee Roasters Is The Best In America

Written by:
Kenny Gould
Photography By:
Greta Rybus

Last June, the Hop Culture team visited Portland, Maine, to throw the Juicy Brews Island Getaway beer festival at Mast Landing Brewery. After running around the city all weekend, I needed a break. I stopped into Tandem Coffee Roasters in Portland, Maine, and I kid you not — it was one of the best decisions of my life.

The History Of Tandem Coffee Roasters

Founders Will and Kathleen Pratt opened their first Tandem location in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood at 122 Anderson Street in 2012. 

“When we started, we definitely didn’t have a mission written down,” said Will. “We didn’t get that until the 5 year mark.”

tandem coffee roasters will and Kathleen pratt

“Will and I met working at a coffee shop at school in Boston,” said Kathleen. “We kept moving around; I stayed in coffee. We knew how to do it. Our dream was to open a spot of our own, which I think is often a dream for people in our industry. For me, it was the instant community you get working in a space like that. You meet your neighbors, you meet people in a new place. We were looking for that and then we decided to take it up a notch. We wanted people to feel like they were stepping into our home.”

To this day, the original building is still used as a café and roastery. 

In 2014, the couple opened their second location at 742 Congress St. They took over a laundromat that was built in the 1960s. The new space included a bakery, an absolutely necessary part of the Tandem experience. 

Currently, the company donates 1% of sales from their coffee to 1% for the Planet. Additionally, 1% of bakery sales to local organizations and initiatives that need help.

What Makes Tandem Coffee Roasters So Special?

tandem coffee roasters cafe Portland Maine

Of course, it doesn’t make sense write about Tandem Coffee Roasters without mentioning the coffee.

“Pretty simply, we always say, ‘We make coffee that’s easy to work with for people who are easy to work with,’” said Will.

Although the roastery started with almost exclusively light roasts, they’ve since relaxed in favor of providing a more flexible at-home experience. That is, even a beginner working with Tandem Coffee can make a great cup without too much work.

“Sweet and clean,” said Kathleen. “That’s what we’re looking to get out of our coffee.”

If you visit Tandem in the winter months, opt for hot coffee and a bag of beans to take home. Stoker, an even blend of beans from Oaxaca, Mexico, and Tarrazu, Costa Rica, is a classic, with hints of dark chocolate, burnt honey, and cherry. In the summer, grab a seasonal blend or a light roast of one of Tandem’s single origins. Of course, you can never go wrong with something iced. 

The Tandem Coffee Community

community tandem coffee roasters Portland Maine

Now that we’ve covered the coffee, we can talk about the community that founders Will and Kathleen Pratt have built.

“We’ll co-host events to raise money for certain organizations, and we have a whole charitable section of our business,” said Kathleen. This includes 1% for the Planet, which Tandem supports with sales from their coffee, as well as another 1% of bakery sales that they earmark for various community initiatives.

Most recently, Will got several other cafés to commit to sustainability by charging 25 cents for single use items.

“I wanted tourists to leave Portland and say, that’s so weird. Everywhere we went, they charged us for cups,” said Will. Unfortunately, the initiative was sidetracked by COVID, but we hope it gets off the ground again soon. (Though they did hit their goal of zero single use cups in April as a result of the pandemic.)

What About The Baked Goods At Tandem

baked goods tandem coffee roasters

If you couldn’t tell, we think the coffee at Tandem Coffee Roasters is some of the best in the country. But when you combine it with one of the sweet treats coming out of the Tandem bakery, it’s an absolute homerun.

Founded in 2014 with the opening of Tandem’s West End location, the baked goods at Tandem are crafted by the extraordinarily talented Briana Holt. Every day, the bakery displays new fresh treats, but the real winners are the classics. 

For the best breakfast sandwich of your life —  rivaled only by the editorial team’s other favorites at Elle in Washington, D.C., and Barista Parlor in Nashville, TN — head to Tandem. The magic is in the biscuits. 

Other favorite baked goods include the sticky buns, which are also terrific. More like a cross between a sticky bun and a cinnamon roll, the buns contain the best of each sweet treat with none of the weaknesses. 

What Is the Good Thing Coffee And Vinyl Club?

Named after a David Byrne lyric (“As the heart finds the good thing, the feeling is multiplied”), Tandem’s Good Thing Coffee and Vinyl Club is perhaps the greatest coffee subscription you can order (other than the Hop Culture Coffee Club, of course). Each month, subscribers get one 12″ record and one delicious 12oz bag of coffee.

“It’s our favorite thing we do,” said Kathleen.

The Good Thing is such a cool club that every one of our staff members is either signed up or on the waiting list — although it’s temporarily sold out at 300 members, you can hop on the waitlist. Membership costs $40 and ships via USPS on the first Wednesday of every month.  

Past months have paired James Brown’s Live At The Apollo with Ivan Molano, a fresh Colombia coffee that tasted of red apple, grape jelly, and graham cracker. The month before, Tandem Coffee matched David Byrne’s Utopia with Kibingo, a deep, juicy coffee with complex florals from the Kibingo washing station in Kayanza, Burundi. 

Just like music, coffee has so many layers — it’s something that can be enjoyed passively, or you can slowly sink into its infinite complexity. Regardless, music and coffee go incredibly well together, and it’s nice to have someone as thoughtful as the Will pairing your tunes with your drink.

Where To Buy Beans From Tandem Coffee Roasters

tandem coffee roaster cafe Portland maine

The best place to get Tandem beans is at one of their two locations in Portland, Maine, where you can experience the Tandem magic firsthand. Of the two, we’d recommend the West End location, which also houses the Tandem Bakery. If the weather’s nice, get a breakfast sandwich and an iced coffee before sitting at one of the outside tables. You can spend hours sipping, nibbling, and people watching while you enjoy the sunshine.

But, if you’re not located near Portland, Maine, check out this list of Tandem stockists. The roastery works with some of the best retail shops in the country, from Chocolate Pi in Tampa, Florida, to Proof Bakery in Los Angeles, California. They also provide beans to the aforementioned Elle in DC, in addition to one of our favorite cafés — the singular Fox in the Snow in Columbus, Ohio.

Of course, you can always get Tandem beans shipped directly to your door. We recommend signing up for the Good Thing Coffee and Vinyl Club (at the very least, you can get on the waitlist) or ordering individual bags from the Tandem website. For domestic orders, Tandem charges a $6 flat shipping rate, though that fee is waived for orders over $50.

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