Friday, December 22, 2006

CC: Cafe Grumpy



What's a Coffee Commentary?



Subject: Cafe Grumpy
Location visited: Manhattan, NY
(
224 West 20th Street)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]


O
n another excursion with the lovely girlfriend, we spent the day wandering the bustling metropolis of Manhattan. We took in Christmas sights, had an interesting walk through Harlem, and even spotted this curious vendor (Luscious Aixa's Paper) out of Hoboken who had some of the nicest leather-bound parchment.

Towards the end of the day, we make our way back home from the South St Seaport with an agreed stop at Cafe Grumpy (I begged), a Brooklyn-based coffeehouse that had recently sprouted a Chelsea location (Chelsea is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan). The overall operation has received much acclaim and I figured a small detour for an after-dinner coffee stood as a wonderful idea.

My premonition couldn't have been more right. To get straight to the coffee, I stood amazed at the wonder that met my eyes when I ordered my coffee: a beautiful java contraption that makes individual cups of coffee of french press quality in a mere 40 seconds! I didn't believe it could happen for I have seen too many "pod" coffee machines that boast superior coffee and yet fail, but after watching the barista work this wonder machine, I stand convinced.
*After later research, I discovered it's called a Clover 1s and is supposedly the first of its kind on the market.

Moving on, the coffee itself was Counter Culture, a growing coffee operation out of North Carolina that seems to emphasize social conscience and high quality. I swear I've had experience with Counter Culture before, a bad one at that, but the coffee I had at Grumpy was tasty and full-bodied with very little bitterness (could it have been just the machine that made a difference???).

The espresso also tasted great. The shot was pulled with finesse and it tasted very smooth and not too bitter. Their espresso blend comes from Ecco Cafe, yet another company I could have sworn I had a bad experience with but the blend that Grumpy uses for espresso was pretty good.

The tea was Art of Tea, an operation that seems to place emphasis not only on the taste of tea but on outward aesthetics as well. From the looks of it alone, the products look appetizing though I can't vouch for it from experience.

To sum it up, if you frequent or visit Manhattan or Brooklyn, you need to make a stop by. It's worth the effort.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

CC: Cream & Sugar Cafe


What's a Coffee Commentary?


Subject: Cream & Sugar Cafe
[ NOT a branch of Brew Ha Ha!
]
Location visited: West Chester, PA
Free WiFi ? : i think so

Rating: 3+ [see key]


J
ust the past Monday, my girlfriend and I made our way to Longwood Gardens to behold their lovely Christmas display, a time-honored tradition in my life for the past ten years or so (though LG went a-wall this year and really spiked their admission and cafe prices so the night was a whole lot more wallet-crippling then usual). But as we were traveling to LG from the King of Prussia mall (we decided to make a day of distant PA activities), we decided to stop in West Chester to kill some time and see if we could find anything interesting to hold our interests until dark.

After a couple blocks of taking in the quaint little town, I found something that caught my eye on lovely Gay St, a place dubbed the Cream and Sugar Cafe. Having only once meandered the streets of West Chester, I was surprised I hadn't bumped into this cafe sooner (I think last time I may have too quickly pegged it a wanna-be coffeehouse and walked on).

The place was typical, with big store windows and a decent amount of seating. It looked a tad run down with nothing aesthetically that really grabbed my attention. I realize now that some of the neglect may result from being part of a somewhat large chain (Brew Ha Ha!), where their multiple stores may all demand more upkeep then they generate in revenue.
*To also oddly note, I would have never made the connection of C & S cafe to Brew Ha Ha! had I not tried to find the website. Unless I overlooked a Brew Ha Ha! sign or something, why in the world would they cover it up?

Cream and Sugar as well as all Brew Ha Ha! cafes serve La Colombe, a predictable choice for a near Philly establishment though also a disappointing one. The coffee ended up as expected; very dark and not too tasty at all.

The espresso, which didn't seem to be affected by the barista's skills, held the typical La Colombe bite but I must admit it wasn't as bad as my many other La Colombe experiences (maybe a different espresso blend?).

The tea was Republic of Tea, an always welcome and quality addition to an establishment. I didn't get a chance to find or try the chai.

To put it simply, I really wasn't impressed with the C & S cafe. They "seem" dedicated to quality and yet, I am not convinced. Fortunately for the cafe, it's in a thriving college town and even though the coffee culture keeps reaching younger and younger, it seems most collegiates remain oblivious to good coffee. I wonder what the West Chester-ians think...

*Update 8/16/07
Turns out this was an independent operation at the time of my visit (and still is to this day) and hence any association with Brew Ha Ha! was but a matter of confusion.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

CC: Leaf and Bean

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Leaf and Bean
Location visited: Bozeman, MT
(both Main St and 19th St locations)
Free WiFi ? : yes

Hours:
observe here
Rating: 4+ [see key]


A small piece of history, the Leaf and Bean stands as the oldest coffeehouse in all Bozeman, started back in the 70's in order to have a venue where one could grab a decent espresso or cup of coffee along with decent atmosphere for those dining in.

Today, the business has expanded to two shops on both sides of town, one in the bustle of downtown Main St and the other in the shopping plaza of 19th St and Oak. Both have spacious atmospheres (Main St has a high ceiling and 19th St has a really open dining area), both decorated in a pleasing and subtle manner.

Getting into the coffee, Leaf and Bean serves Montana Coffee Traders as their bean of choice. I had enjoyed MCT's coffee when I had it at their Columbia Falls location, but every time I've had it at Leaf and Bean, it's been stale (a matter of keeping the java fresh) or over-roasted (a bean problem).

And on the topic of brewing, I have to say I'm amazed they never used their french presses for coffee, only for tea. I mean a press is a good tool for brewing free leaf tea but to not even consider offering french press service for coffee (I asked so many times) doesn't compute. But alas, I think they have done away with the presses altogether (*tear*).

The espresso is also really sharp here, with a very strong bitter aftertaste. I don't know if it's always been the case for the past 30 years or if most of their patrons get sugar-ladened drinks and don't notice, but the times I've sipped the espresso have caused me to wince. On a chipper note, their small army of teenage/young adult female baristas do seem to be wise in their ways.

Montana Tea and Spice purveys the tea. This company I still have not sampled but with the attention given to it by the baristas (solely using french presses for just tea), I'd guess it's decent. We'll see...

I would say that I would diagnose Leaf and Bean as a promising establishment with some areas of improvement with their coffee/espresso. I like the establishment but I can't fool my tongue.


Friday, November 24, 2006

CC: Villa Coffeehouse


What's a Coffee Commentary?


Subject:
Villa Coffeehouse
Location visited: Idaho Falls, ID
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]


T
his past weekend I had the "fortune" to attend a conference in the lovely city of Idaha Falls, deep in Mormon country (did you know that strict Mormon's won't drink coffee because of the stimulative effects?). Aside from my car breaking down on the way and Idaho Falls being hardly the cultural metropolis I had (oddly) hoped for, the city does have some minor charm and the conference did turn out to be quite pleasant.

Before I embarked on my trip, I had made sure to get a list of possible good coffee establishments. Armed with a list of four, I was remise to find that one didn't exist and the other three were extensively spread out over the city. Nonetheless, I made my way for the first (Villa), which I had driven by the day before (which was Sunday, when nooooothing is open).

The exterior didn't beam too much promise, as it was a blah grey with (cheesy) holiday window writing, but upon walking in my countenance changed. The architecture was a beautiful loft construction filled with vibrant shades of reds and grey. There was ample seating and a pleasantly-flowing atmosphere, complete with a fishbowl-ish conference room in the back.

The coffee was another surprise. They brew PT's Coffee out of Kansas (random?), a company that seems very emphatic on using only the best single origin coffees. From what I tasted at Villa, the coffee was pretty good (it had been sitting some time I think). The fact that there was an array of different coffees, ranging from Peru to Ethiopia really made my day.

The espresso was also fairly decent. My first trip in, my americano was stellar with a subtle brightness and smoothness that appeased my palate. But their weak point seemed to be their barista skills, as my second time in I got a latte that was overtly under-steamed and rather blah (like the front of the building).

The tea was very Republic of Tea, as the entire interior was covered in RoT
paraphernalia (though tactfully done) but fortunately I really like RoT, so it was another vote of confidence on their credibility.

Overall, a very bright gem of a coffee place in a very dull city. Idaho Falls really needs to embark on a downtown revitalization, as it seems to barely hold on with the passing years.

Also, on a separate sad note, I didn't make it to the other two coffee establishments, but maybe next time I'm in town (?).

Sunday, November 12, 2006

CC: Old City Coffee


What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Old City Coffee
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
(at Church St location)

Rating: 4+ [see key]


Growing up in the South Jersey suburbs, my parents often took me and my siblings to the various sights in Philadelphia. We went to Independence Hall, all of the museums, the zoo, and other various places. I remember as a kid liking it all but really wanting to go out to eat afterwards. As a place of various foods, I do find it funny that my parents never took us young children to the Reading Terminal Market, one of the most historic and iconic fixtures of 20th century Philadelphia (actually, my parents did make good on the trip by finally taking my siblings and I there about two years ago, but why did they wait so long?).

As many know, the RTM is full of many various vendors and styles of food (I love the Amish diner in the back). Fittingly, Old City Coffee holds as the purveyor of coffee in the densely packed market. A coffee presence since 1984, they now have two locations: the original on Church St near N 3rd Ave and the RTM.

I ran across the RTM site some years ago (never made it to the Church St one), kind of pegging them initially as just a mediocre company trying to iron out a decent dollar in the crazy atmosphere of the RTM. The booth is very small and not too different then the other stands, though admirably they house a huge roaster (they roast their coffee for both locations there) as well as other necessary amenities of a reputable operation, including doublesided serving capabilites (they're on a corner in the market).

So having dropped in several times, I have to say that I never really found their coffee all too flavorful. I mean it was good but there was something off about it. Whether it be over-roasted or just bad batches I can't say since it's been some months since I've had their drip.

I do vividly remember the espresso not being so good; it just came off way too sharp and bitter. I tried it both straight and with milk to no avail.

[As Old Coffee holds two locations, I will have to make a trip to the Church St venue to make a proper diagnosis of whether their coffee and espresso just don't sample well at the RTM or if it's an universal matter.] *see update below*

I don't remember the teas though according to their website, they have lots of tea. Yet oddly, they seem to place a bit of favoritism on green tea on the website, leaving the other four categories a bit neglected (black, oolong, red, and white). I know they serve them all at their locations, but I guess the webmaster really likes green tea.

Overall, I greatly honor Old City Coffee for their 20+ year commitment to decent specialty coffee in Philadelphia (a member of the SCAA since their advent) but as of yet, I have not had a tremendous cup of java there. Still, if you're in the Reading Terminal or down by Church St near N 3rd, I'd stop in and give it a try for yourself.

* Update 12/17/06
As promised, I made it finally to the Church St location. I was (amiably) surprised to find a very quaint, uniquely-shaped cafe full of locals (they had not the slightest hint of tourist to them at all). The coffee on tap was a dark blend, and as most coffees heavily roasted taste, it sat with a bitter harshness on my tongue. So, nothing new with the coffee (especially with a bit of visual confirmation of some drenched-in-oil, dark-roasted beans (why roast to Starbucks depths?)).

The espresso was a small surprise, with very clean and well-pulled shots and a tasty americano. The 6 bean espresso blend (with also visual inspection) wasn't as dark as I remembered it, and so it seemed, of fair quality (i.e. a change from my RTM experiences; must have been off days for myself or the resident baristas).

Overall, I am better assured with their espresso skillty, but I can't say I'm thrilled with some of their roasting outcomes (who really likes to drink beans so dark?).


* Update 6/12/07
New picture

Friday, October 27, 2006

CC: Montana Coffee Traders


What's a Coffee Commentary?


Subject: Montana Coffee Traders
Location visited: Columbia Falls, MT
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]


T
he state of Montana: land renown for its natural beauty and fossils, home to a dedicated breed of people who love the cold and/or downhill sports. Given the 7-9 month periods of cold (depending where you are in the state) and the natural progression of trends from the West Coast, Montana is slowly developing a strong coffee culture of its own.

One place that seems to be extending its influence throughout the state is Montana Coffee Traders, a 25 year old operation based out of Northwest Montana near Glacier National Park. I personally had heard of their beans but did not get a chance to visit a shop until recently running through the town of Columbia Falls. This particular location had a
restaurant paired with a coffee bar (I was happy to see that the two aspects were not merged, but that the coffee area was a distinctly separate chunk of the establishment). The interior had a TGI-Fridays-meets-hunting-lodge look (when in Rome?) with seemingly adequate seating (definitely not enough for the Sunday rush).

The coffee, to my chagrin, was fairly tasty. The medium blend hit the spot, though the dark blend was a little overdone (couldn't put my finger to whether it was brewed strong or if it had something else to it). They offer numerous blends and seem to be very dedicated to well-roasted, socially-responsible
(i.e. fair-trade) java.

The espresso was completely different; it tasted so burnt I nearly spat it on the floor. The beans seemed stale as well as a little too over-roasted. That paired with questionable barista skill(s) (maybe it was an off day?) definitely exposed a possible weak spot in a seemingly strong tank.

The teas came from Montana Tea and Spice, a company out of Missoula that's been around since disco. This tea I've seen in various Montana coffee locations though I have yet to sample it. It looks promising (I hope).

Regarding the various coffeehouse aspects, I'd have to say it was good, especially for a small town like Columbia Falls. If you're going to Glacier or you're of the few hardy folk who live in NW Montana, I'd say it's a good java option.

PS: the breakfast here is AMAZING (though not cheap)


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

CC: International Coffee Traders


What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: International Coffee Traders
Location visited: Bozeman, MT
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]
Hours: observe here


The town of Bozeman, a nice college town nestled in the mountains, has so many coffee establishments, it's almost ridiculous (keyword: almost). One of the few next to campus, though quite concealed behind a gas station, is International Coffee Traders (from here on in the post I will refer to them as ICT). I actually heard of them before I got to visit. I was told they were pretty good and a nice place to hang out.

Well, they were right about the hang out. ICT displays a very exotic, tropical decor with lots of green plants, tables made to look like they were straight out of South America, and numerous other tropical accents. The seating and tables are well-spaced and they even have two computer consoles free to customers.

But I wasn't as impressed with the coffee. Admirably, they roast their own coffee but they only know how to do really dark blends. Their light roast is about as dark as I can drink it and their dark roast is blackened to oblivion. The tang of over-roasted beans typically shadows the drip (and they don't do french press service either).

The espresso is not much better sadly. The shots have the same bitter, over-roastedness as the coffee. I'm no professional, but my taste buds definitely grab its jagged sharpness . The issue with the espresso could also just be that the blend/single-origin is not meant for espresso, but I think it's still more the roast profile.

On a positive note, ICT does have an intriguing way of doing iced coffee. They use a process dubbed "Cold Press", where
heavily concentrated coffee is extracted through a specialized filter, then added to ice and water/milk (depends on your preference). It comes off smooth and very chocolaty, but alas I have not had it in awhile b/c they either run out or the weather is not right for it.

ICT also has a fair offering of Numi teas, but nothing extensive. Regarding their sweeter/sugary drinks,
from what I gather they tend to hit the spot (though I cannot vouch for such beverages).

Overall, it's a great place to hang out or study, but not so great if you're looking for a great shot of espresso or a well-roasted cup of coffee. We'll see if that changes...


Monday, October 09, 2006

2006 East Coast Barista Jam


Finally a move in the direction of consistent Philly-wide espresso goodness!

Local coffeehouse Crescent Moon Coffee & Tea and NY coffeehouse Coffee Labs are putting on the East Coast Barista Jam, which according to the upcoming.org, is an event aimed to:

- Provide customers with higher quality espresso beverages

- Learn more about coffee

- Learn how to maintain your equipment for long lasting use
- Help your staff with customer service issues

- Help your business grow


From what I gathered from other sites as well, is that the event (mostly) targets currently established baristas and coffeehouse owners to better refine their skills so that the best coffee is not just a pipe dream for quality-famished customers.
They'll have several of the area's finest baristas doing Q&A and assisting in developing your finer skills, so it will prove to be most worth the time.
*note: this is not to say that if you're just interested in the finer things of espresso, you can't go. I would still definitely attend if I were you, as long as it's not too late to register.

The whole event falls in coordination with the Fresh Cup Roadshow, which doesn't seem to cost anything (?) though I didn't really investigate. But even if the roadshow does cost a little dinero, it would be worth it for most coffee fans.

Oh, and it's in Cherry Hill, an area with no decent coffeehouses (to my knowledge). Ironic, no?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

CC: Cafe Ole

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Cafe Ole' (no website)
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA (3rd St close to Race)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]



Old City Philadelphia boasts a great deal of substance and history. One aspect of Old City that I think (or so it seems) is overlooked is the area North of Market St between Front and 5th. The locale includes many art galleries and small antique shops as well as some long-lasting businesses. There's also First Friday which provides a rare chance to catch the art scene in Philadelphia, complete with street performers and lay-the-blanket-on-the-sidewalk vendors.

This area of Philly is where I found Cafe Ole', about 3-4 years ago when when searching for silk screen emulsion. Though I've known of it for some time, I didn't really get a good glimpse until about a year or so ago. The place is fairly cozy, with some small tables and a couch or two (I think) to recline in. I really dug the "Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Starbucks" on the back wall (I have one myself).

The coffee is La Colombe, so as predicted, the coffee was nothing to write home about. The espresso was pretty good, but as the bean is half (if not more) of the taste, it also wasn't too amazing. The baristas did seem fairly skilled though, so a "fancier" drink might better complement the espresso and/or coffee.

I did not catch the brand of tea but I do remember that they had vats of lemonade that were pretty popular (not that tea and lemonade are comparable, just more of consolation observation). The chai also did not catch my eye...

In the end, I wasn't floored but I was still somewhat impressed with the operation. So do stop in, as there is much worse business nearby that needs no patronage. I would especially encourage you to stop in if you are in the area for First Friday or other business.


image credited to www.philadelphiaweekly.com


Monday, September 18, 2006

CC: Teepee Espresso Place

What's a Coffee Commentary?


Subject: Teepee Espresso Place
Location visited: Browning, MT
Free WiFi ? : maybe
Rating: 2+ [see key]


A
s I was driving through snowy northern Montana (this was this past weekend) on my way to Glacier National Park, I ran across a coffee place that really caught my eye. It was one of those coffee places you drive up to and you know the coffee will be mediocre, but the sheer fact that this one had a teepee for a building reassured me that it was worth the try.

To put it simply, the place was not on the top ten of most amazing places I've been to but it was at least good. I didn't catch any information (as I was in a hurry) but I did notice that the barista/owner was very skilled. My americano was pretty good and the long line of people seemed to confirm the place was at least a bit decent.

And for you adventurous
entrepreneurs out there, it's for sale including equipment. Try the yellowpages for contact info...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

NY Times, right on the $


T
his almost made me jump out of my knickers with elation. A NY Times article that not only proclaims the good news of the booming attention to espresso but also correctly uses terms and analogies like a pro.

My favorite quotes:


"Most espresso drinks in this country are made with over-roasted blends on “super automatic” machines that leave little control to the person operating them and turn out anonymous brews."

"J. D. Merget, the owner of Oslo, explained: “It {roasting an espresso blend} is like grilling meat; if you char it but don’t burn it, you get to taste both the meat and the char. If you burn it all the way through, you’re just tasting char.”

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Website of Note: Good Coffee


In my coffee searches months ago, I stumbled across a New Zealand site called Good Coffee. Being interested in this website concept and layout, I had inquired if they had a US version. Now they do ( Good Coffee USA ), so make sure to stop by and either enter in or rate your favorite coffee places.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

CC: Rockford Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?



Subject:
Rockford Coffee
Location visited: Bozeman, MT (7th and Main)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Hours: observe here
Rating: 5+ [see key]



*Update 9/28/07

As I first entered Bozeman through Main St, Rockford was one of the three coffee places to catch my eye (the other two were Rocky Mt. Roasters and Leaf and Bean). One of the relatively new coffee places on the block, Rockford definitely seems to be pretty wise in the ways of coffee preparation.

The decor is minimalist yet appeasing. Light woods and eye-catching art resonate the entire space, with ample seating. A nice aspect common to Rockford and many coffee places in Bozeman is that they have computers free to customers (for a 1/2 hr, which is generous), an oddity all too rare in the Philly region.

The coffee is Caffe Vita, a small batch roaster out of Seattle (10 hrs away) which apparently does their roasting in vintage German roasters from the 1930s (I have no idea why that's a plus, it just sounds fascinating). The coffee at Rockford tastes pretty good, though I've only had their medium roast (they also do a french roast, but darker roasts usually don't catch my taste buds in a flattering manner). The funny thing about their coffee is that not once have they espoused what the name of the coffee was outside of "medium." Not a big deal really, as long as the java is decent.

The espresso also tastes delightful, with a very full and robust kick to it. The one time I had it, the taste really preserved, all the way to the bottom of my 16 oz americano. Another oddity/unique aspect is that they only serve iced americanos, never iced coffee (there could be several reasons, but I still like an iced coffee occasionally).

The tea was Harney and Sons, a tea company out of NY which looks interesting (it's on the list of things to try). The chai, once again, was overlooked.

During my time here in Bozeman, I've grown an appreciation for Rockford. If you're zipping East on Main, it's a good place to stop (if you're going west, take precaution as it's a hard turnaround to master). Overall, well done.

Update 9/28/07
I realized that I based their espresso on an americano when I wrote this. Having been in Rockford many times, their shots are very good. Just wanted to clarify :).

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

CC: Mad Cow Coffeehouse and Deli


What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Mad Cow Coffeehouse and Deli (no website)
Location visited: Mitchell, SD
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 2+ [see key]


On a "magical" trip through South Dakota, my friend and I made a point to stop in the town of Mitchell to see what the 3,232 Corn Palace billboards were about. We arrive in Mitchell to see this bohemith building of corn (it was not that amazing) but of more interest, right across the street was this odd-looking coffee establishment.

Having driven since Chicago without seeing a coffeehouse, the Mad Cow looked much more intriguing then I thought possible. We strolled in, greeted by the South Dakotian feel of mismatched furniture, the occasional cow art, and the counter at the back.

As advertized, they had a coffeehouse menu and a deli menu. I ordered a BLT to satisfy me hunger (it was lunch) and then poured over the coffee menu. They have two roasters from which they get their coffee (I guess they're indecisive in SD). One is Black Sheep and the other is Great Plains, both located in the lovely land of South Dakota. The one I had (they didn't say which it was) wasn't half bad. They were firm followers of the "brew in a hot plate coffee maker then transfer to a carfafe" philosophy.

The espresso was another story. The machine looked older then my father and as a result, the shots were a little messy and didn't taste too hot. The tea and chai didn't catch me eye, for we were in a hurry.

If you're traveling through South Dakota and you need a cup of joe, you might consider stopping in Mitchell for the coffee and grabbing a glimpse of the "wondererous" corn palace.

Monday, August 21, 2006

CC: Beans Coffee Shop

What's a Coffee Commentary?




Subject:
Beans Coffee Shop

Location visited: Woodstown, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]


CLOSED as of 8.24.11

Woodstown belongs to the part of South Jersey that most people don't accidentally run through. A pretty town yes, but until I knew people there (my church pastor and his family), I had no reason to travel there.

Anyways, I ran across Beans before it opened. I was driving through on the way to a church picnic and saw that Woodstown was getting a coffeehouse right on its Main St. I'm always happy to see another coffeehouse spring up (though I pray that it won't go the route of "corporate charcoal" or "all music and horrible coffee") so I made a point to stop back in a few months to inspect.

Sure enough, I stopped back a few weeks after it opened. The decor is comfortable, though seemingly lacking a theme (I'm no interior decorator but it seemed off to me). A thing that did stand out was that
they actually had an "adult seating area", a rarity in coffeehouses (though I'm not sure it's a need in many). The baristas seem to consist of mostly high school students; fortunately it looks like they know what they're doing (i.e. had some training).

They serve Kaffe Magnum Opus, a coffee roaster out of Millville. The coffee tasted decent, though I don't think amazing. Last cup I had was a little stale, but that is more the brewing method then the actual coffee. The espresso was good, with just the right zing, but once again, no shockwaves. The tea and chai I cannot recollect.

Overall, if you're in Woodstown, it's a nice spot to sit and have {your favorite beverage here}, but coming from Glassboro it's definitely not a realistic trek (unless you're going to visit your pastor).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

CC: Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters


What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters
Location visited: Chicago, IL (Broadway)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]


Last week, as I was heading across the country with a friend, we made a stop in Chicago to get some lunch and afterwards refuel with a good cup of coffee. I had made a note that the guy who came in third at the World Barista Championship came from Intelligentsia, a Chicago-based roaster/coffeehouse that is absolutely "fanatical" about coffee.

After a little traffic getting up to their Broadway store, we found parking right in front but decided to grab a deepdish pizza, then come back for coffee. The pizza took forever (it was a place on Broadway that was known for their stuffed pizza) but boy was it amazing (even better cold).

Upon our return to Intelligentsia, we found the store pretty packed, with numerous people doing work or holding conversation. I noted that they had a completely seperate counter for their whole bean sales which I guess was more out of necessity due to volume.

From what I could tell, the coffee was amazing as was the espresso. Both were smooth and well-balanced. My iced redeye was neither sharp nor too bitter, but had the right bit of hootsba (sp?) to keep me glowing.

Oddly I don't remember seeing their tea or chai, but upon investigation on their site, they sell their own tea as well! A rarity indeed if the tea is as good as the coffee.

One of few places that needs no real review; they're reputation precedes. So if you're near Chicago, grab a stuffed (or deepdish) pizza and finish it off with a trip to Intelligentsia.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

CC: Chestnut Hill Coffee Company

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Chestnut Hill Coffee Company
Location visited: Chestnut Hill, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]


This past week, the girlfriend and I had embarked to the Philly Zoo. Always a delightful experience (despite the heat and the high prices). We finished up around 2-3 pm and decided to grab some lunch (and some coffee) in Chestnut Hill. I had specifically heard rumor of a decent coffee company on Germantown Ave and figured today was as good a day as any to try it.

So we set off north, stopping for a delightful bite at Roxy's Sandwich Grille followed by a refreshing waterice at Rita's (they had mint chocolate chip, a flavor my girlfriend holds in the highest esteem). After some needless driving due to vague directions, we arrived at Chestnut Hill Coffee Co.

The decor and environment struck me as extremely creative. There were two floors (rare) with a variety of ample seating. I think they were even voted Best of Philly Magazine for child-friendly space.

The coffee was really good. Very smooth and full-flavored. It seemed they only had a limited offering of coffees (I didn't see anything else), though I'm pretty sure they roast their own and have more. They also seemed to focus on blends instead of single-origin, but I think they actually know what they're doing when they blend...

The espresso was well-done and very tasty. The barista who did it (I think it was John Hornall) was definitely trained in the ways of good technique and timing.

The tea was Mighty Leaf and the chai was probably powdered.

So if you're in the area, CHCC is definately worth a stop. It blends in on Germantown Ave, but it's right across from Borders in the ritzy part of town. I'd have to say that thus far, it's the best coffee I've had in PA.

Monday, July 31, 2006

CC: Bongo Java / Fido


What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Bongo Java / Fido
Location visited: Nashville, TN
Free WiFi ? :
Rating: 4+ [see key]

My weekend was spent in the lovely city of Nashville, known for its country roots, Christian music, and apparently its pancakes (Pancake Pantry is practically idol-worshipped here, but after trying a couple different dishes, I can't say I'd wait an hour for it).

But the coffeehouses here seemed numerous. My goal was to hit as many as possible, including the Frothy Monkey, Global Cafe, and a couple others. Sadly, due to the fact that everyone is closed on Sundays, I only got to two places. More oddly, the two I did visit were sister coffeehouses.

My first visit occurred after my sugar-laden breakfast at Pancake Pantry, when I was guided down the street to Fido, a fairly new cafe that sits in an old pet store (that's how it got its name). An offshoot of Bongo Java, this place serves more then just coffee. They have beer, wine, and apparently amazing food. They also have interesting policies with Wifi...

The next day, I dragged the girlfriend and my two cousins (from the mountains of PA) to find other coffeehouses. We found Bongo Java and Frothy Monkey, but due to time only went to Bongo Java. Bongo is situated across the street from Belmont University and has one of the nicest coffee house layouts I've ever seen. It's in an old house, so it has a lot of room as well as a huge front porch. The decor adds a nice artsy feel to it. I especially liked the serve-yourself, random water tap behind the counter.

Both Fido and Bongo Java's coffee were good. They roast their own coffee, the ethiopian harrar I had at Bongo being tasty and smooth. The espresso wasn't half bad either, though I can't say I was amazed. The tea was Numi and the chai I didn't spot.

Reflecting back, I wouldn't mind having a place like Bongo Java or Fido around me, as long as I didn't have to incur the heavy Tennessee heat.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Six Flags Nonsense

This topic has absolutely nothing to do with coffee, but I would just like to comment quickly on the (lack of) brains behind Six Flags Great Adventure. Having arrived at the park on Tuesday 10 AMish, we (me + girlfriend + gf's sister and fiancé) checked to see if Kingda Ka was open (which they spouted that it was) and had high hopes for good rides and lines abbreviated (it was a Tuesday).

But we encountered just the opposite. By 2 pm, we found Kingda Ka closed the whole day, waited in Superman only for it to break down before we boarded, and had basically ridden one ride (El Toro before it broke down) and had waited 2 hours to get on it. And to top it off, all but 4 coasters were offline.

Is it realistic to expect a theme park to advertise clearly which rides don't work before you waste your money on a day at a half-working theme park? Or that said rides shall be working 51 % of the time? Six Flags needs to shape up.

Good thing they gave us exit passes to appease our rage.

CC: Java Moon Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?
Subject: Java Moon Cafe (no website)
Location visited: Jackson, NJ
Free WiFi ? : maybe?
Rating: 2+ [see key]


UPDATE 12/17/17: Java Moon has closed down. 

This place I can say I've driven past on my way to Six Flags Great Adventure since I was a little kid (it's right between Six Flags and the outlets). When I was little, it had no appeal because it didn't look like it served anything fried or sugar-laden. When I began to drink coffee, I thought it just a place that served coffee but not a real coffeehouse (their sign advertizes meals so the mistake is easily made).

Anyways, this past winter while housesitting down the road, I decided to give it a try. Turns out they had a full coffee bar. I had dinner, which wasn't bad (a little expensive though) and had some coffee to go. The coffee/tea menu wasn't very extensive but they had the basics.

The coffee was Corim, a corporate subsidiary of a big food conglomerate. The espresso was the same. Both were good when I tried them, but after looking at the website, it doesn't sit as well (when you have 10x more flavored coffees then regular single-origins or blends, there's something askew). The tea was free-leaf, though I can't vouch for quality. The chai was powdered.

Another area with little decent coffee, Java Moon is a nice place to have around. But overall, it ranked as a child amidst giants; still room for growth.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

CC: La Colombe


What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: La Colombe Torrefaction
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
(19th St and about Walnut)

Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]


*Updated 1/10/09*

Quite a few people in Philadelphia love and rave about La Colombe, that it saved Philly from bad coffee. Granted I've only been a conscious coffee imbider these past 6 years, so I can't vouch for the improvement.

What I can vouch for is that La Colombe always tastes the same, whether it's a good coffeehouse, a bad coffeehouse, or the very La Colombe headquarters on South 19 St in Rittenhouse Square. Consistency is a good thing, but the thing is that I have never had a cup of La Colombe (coffee and espresso) that I stepped back and said "Wow, that's really good!", kinda more like "yep, that's La Colombe."

They espouse their claim to "excellence" is blending coffees, the art of mixing together different coffees to result in a better coffee. But these days, I think blending is overdone; it's a misleading sign of sophistication. Some amazing coffees should not be blended and hence offered as single-origin (unblended). La Colombe offers only 5 blends (1 is decaf) and while they might know how to blend, the results never knocked my socks off.

But my experience at the main store really impacted my feelings on the company. The baristas were hardly friendly, actually more bordering on rude. The espresso machine looked a little run down (though still trucking). And the decor was kinda bare; nice and spacious, but definitely crowded and noisy.

The tea was very basic (can't remember the name) and I didn't try the chai. But in the end, I really have to side with those that think that La Colombe is way overhyped. For the pride they espouse on their website, I would expect better.


Updated 1/10/09
Was walking around late one evening and decided to stop in to see if the espresso scene had improved (from my samplings at other spots, the coffee itself had not). My shots were pulled long, had only a bit of crema, and while it demonstrated a pleasant sweetness and tinge of cocoa, it also smacked of char on the back end. In the end, decent but still no where even close to an excellent espresso.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Land of Desolation


I have often pondered as to why this region of NJ has almost ZERO coffee establishments of repute. My parents live in Cinnaminson, and growing up I was not once exposed to a truly legitimate coffee establishment; just WaWa and Dunkin Donuts (though DD ain't bad). As a result, I've come to the conclusion that this area of NJ that is roughly the land divided between Rt 42 and I-195 is the "land of desolation." More specifically, it gets really bad between Rt 70 and a little above I-195 (you get the idea). And as far as South Jersey goes, this is the crowded part; how did the uncrowded, less busy part of South Jersey totally trump the northern half? It boggles the mind!

Maybe good coffee establishments can't survive here. Maybe there's a conspiracy. Whatever it is, it makes me really sad for people who live in this empty land. And I'm sure there are other such places of desolation, but I only truly know of this one.

CC: Coffee Works

What's a Coffee Commentary?


Subject:
Coffee Works
Location visited: Voorhees, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]


A sad fact about southern NJ is that between Collingswood and Trenton, few decent coffee & tea establishments exist. In fact, in my hometown area of Cinnaminson, I can't think of a single place around me that I would flock to get a good cup of coffee. I call this area the "land of desolation."

Now Voorhees isn't tremendously close to my house nor is it north of Collingswood (it's more east) but it's home to one of the few decent coffee establishments remotely near the "land of desolation". Coffee Works is situated in the Ritz 16 plaza, a very strategic spot I'm sure they sing about when they close up shop.

They roast their own coffee (always a plus) and usually do a good job, though sometimes the coffee goes south. A friend of mine commented that a couple times he went in, the big glass bins of coffee were looking a little stale and oily, and I can remember a couple times trying the coffee and it tasting a little decrepit. Also, roasting your own beans comes with the burden of roasting them to the right darkness, and it was here that I first had under-roasted coffee. But I think it's safe to say theses were probably isolated incidents (but always keep an eye out...)

The espresso is pretty good (a blend of their own as well) and they seem to employ well-trained baristas, which I think is what keeps people coming back (along with the fact that it encroaches on the "land of desolation"). The tea was an odd name that I can't remember, but it looked good (?) and the chai I did not see.

So if you're in the area or in the "land of desolation" towards the south, you should stop by.

*Update 5/30/2007
I would like to alter my earlier comment from "well-trained baristas" to "decently-trained baristas." I either have had the unfortunate luck of stopping in when new baristas are working or they just have bad days when I'm there, for decently-pulled espresso seems more a rarity then a usual occurence...



Wednesday, July 12, 2006

CC: Emjay's Cafe


What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Emjay's Cafe
Location visited: Mullica Hill, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]


*Update 9/27/07
It appears Emjay's is closed.


I usually don't blog twice in a day but today's an exception. About a week ago, I was prompted to visit a local coffeehouse that I had somewhat overlooked in my travels. Since Mullica Hill is home to my favorite coffeehouse as well to one of my least favorite coffeehouses (which still ranks above corporate charcoal), I figured the town couldn't possibly hold another viable coffee operation. Annnnd I was wrong.

A "subterranean" coffeehouse (because it's in a huge basement space), Emjay's is by far one of the nicest, most bohemian set-ups I have ever seen. The coffeehouse use to be several independent shops but now is one cohesive interesting space.

I forgot the name of the coffee roaster, but I do remember that the roaster is out of Yonkers and focuses on single origin coffees (i.e. doesn't focus on blends). Both the coffee and espresso were quite tasty, the espresso not too bitter and the coffee (a medium Costa Rican) was very full-bodied.

The tea is out of Oregon, a company called Stash. I only had an Earl Grey Iced (tasted pretty good) and the other tea also looks promising. The chai I didn't catch, but it's probably powdered (no one seems to do it old school anymore).

Overall, I find it amazing that a town like Mullica Hill would have two good coffee joints. While I still prefer Crescent Moon, Emjay comes in a very close second.


*Update 9/27/07
As could be predicted, Mullica Hill cannot support three coffee establishments. Emjay's had a brief change to Cafe Aroun before it was closed down. RIP.


CC: Mugshots CoffeeHouse and JuiceBar


What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Mugshots CoffeeHouse and JuiceBar
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]


*Updated 8/6/09

Probably the easiest part of finding this place is that it's right across the street from Eastern State Penitentiary (hence the name "Mugshots"). But the play off the prison's name is the only thing the two have in common.

I had first spotted Mugshots this past Fall when coming out of a tour of ESP. The look is well-done, with outside seating bordering the ramp that goes inside. Inside the place is superbly decorated, with a good deal of seating options.

The signature (or so it seems) of this place is that everything is organic/fair trade/environmentally friendly, which can be a great aspect of the business if it's not at the expense of quality (cause if it stinks, why bother?). The menu, as the title suggests, has a juice bar as well as other food and drinks.

The coffee is Equal Exchange out of Massachusetts, a socially-conscious roaster that makes not a bad cup of coffee (I didn't think it amazing though). The espresso was from the same place, but the drink that I got was a little bleh, whether it was the espresso machine or the coffee itself I couldn't tell.

The tea was Choice organic teas, a socially-conscious tea distributor based out of Seattle. I didn't get to try it, though I do plan to soon, but it looked promising. The chai was Oregon Chai, which is good if you like your chai sweet and thick (of course prep of the milk has a lot to do with it as well).

Overall, of Philly coffeehouses, Mugshots is a good place to grab some java, especially if you're going to visit the neighboring penitentiary.


*Update 8/6/09
Wanting to revisit a lot of my older haunts, I made it back to this Philly spot the other day to give this review a bit of an update.

I didn't bother with the drip again as it's still Equal Exchange (and my opinion of their coffee has greatly degenerated over the years) but they DO offer a coffee featured from the Independent Coffee Cooperative (this month was Crescent Moon's Las Milagras) which looks promising.

I did get an espresso, also Equal Exchange, which came out surprisingly fair. While it had the expected punch of charred bean, it also had notes of dark chocolate, nutmeg and tobacco. Not the best shots ever but pretty good for what I expected.

On other notes, the seating seems to have expanded and the place seems to still be going strong.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

CC: Avalon Coffee Company

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Avalon Coffee Company
Location visited: Avalon and Cape May Courthouse
Free WiFi ? : not at the one in Avalon

Rating: 3+ [see key]


*Updated 1/23/11*

U
sually I run across coffee and tea places, but this one came from a trusted recommendation. I was actually visiting my family down in Ocean City that day, and I figured this would be the closest to Avalon I would get the rest of this summer, so I went a half hour south to check out one of Avalon's locations (this one, in Avalon).

So I get there in the nick of time (cuz they're open til 10 pm!) and after a little confusion on location (they have a huge sign for the neighboring diner right outside their door...), I waltz in. The decor is a definite grab-and-go set up. The menu is extensive, with gelati, breakfast sandwiches, and so forth.

But on to the coffee. I was intrigued that they had hot-plate brewers as well as satellite brewers
, but they informed me that it was a wise two-step process; they brew on the hot-plate and then the second it's done, they put it into the satellite brewers to keep it hot and fresh. As the coffee is "fresh-roasted at each location", the two-step process married with the aspect of super fresh coffee makes for a stellar combo.

The espresso on the other hand I wasn't as impressed with. My americano was kinda weak and had a little funny of a taste to it, but I think it had more to do with shore water then the beans. The tea was Tetley, an old school, not-as-fresh choice but seemed ok. I didn't try the chai (again) but I've noticed that chai is rarely fresh tea and more often a powdered mix, so it really comes down to barista skills (which this place seems to have, but I'm not sure).

Overall, I was fairly impressed for a shore operation but I don't recommend driving half hour for it.


*Updated 1/23/11

As this was one of my early posts, it was long overdue for an update/correction. This time I visited the Cape May Courthouse location and I would venture the experience held to what I initially penned. I ordered a cup of Kenya AA which produced flavors of beef broth, carrot, caramel, a little ginger and a wee apple; a decent coffee but no fireworks. The espresso was as I (luckily) deduced before; poorly prepared (pulled long with poor crema) and held notes of bourbon, heavy cream and a little cherry all enveloped in a heavy burnt characteristic.

Not as impressed as I was in my youth.

Friday, July 07, 2006

CC: Double Shots Espresso Bar


Subject: Double Shots Espresso Bar

Location visited: Philadelphia
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]


*CLOSED and reoccupied*

Often have I wandered the streets of Center City, looking for a coffeehouse of promise. Sure, there are places to get coffee, but good coffee is a rarity.

I found Double Shots last summer during a time of avid trips to Old City. It's got a prime location, nestled right next to Market St, a whole hoopla of historic sites, and a hopping night scene. The decor is beautifully done, with maroon walls and bright woods all coercively decorated with the right mix of furniture.

The coffee is what won me over. Caffe Pronto is the name of their roaster (I think out of Maryland), an outfit that produces a very full-bodied cup of coffee. The espresso was also up there in quality; strong but not overpowering. Didn't try the Revolution tea or the chai. Going by the fruits of their labor, the baristas were of noticeable skill.

My only complaint with this place is the random hours. It's gotten to the point that I will drive past to make sure they're open before I park. Too often have I lead a party of expectant coffee drinkers forth with the sad realization they're closed! And with no website, the only way to find out is to go (or tatoo the hours on your arm, but that might prove futile when they change).

So my recommendation: go, but go during the middle of the day so you're not greeted with the close sign.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Simplifying Good Coffee & Tea


Many places still lack good coffee and tea, even in the big cities. To avoid confusion about what I mean, let me define the terms.


When I say good coffee, I mean:
- freshly-roasted
(brought to the establishment from the roaster within days of roasting)
- correctly-roasted
(not burnt charcoal or under-roasted)
- not deceptively blended
(some places will try and sell a "Kona coffee" or "Jamaican Blue Mountain" when in fact the coffee has but 3% of the advertised java blended with 97% of other Arabica or Robusta beans)
- correctly brewed and maintained
(not left on a hot plate, not stale, not lukewarm, brewed with good water, etc.)

And when I say good tea, I mean:
- freshly stored
(not sitting out in the open, left to the elements)
- not stale
(from not being freshly stored, poorly packaged, etc.)
- correctly brewed
(water of the right temperature, brewed with good water, correct steeping time, etc.)

Now I know that most people cannot afford the time and effort of preparing good coffee and tea all the time in their homes, but businesses who profess to specialize in this arena have no excuse. A coffeehouse should have educated and willing-to-learn leaders, trying to perfect their product.

I'm no bonified expert, just one who is learning more everyday. Yet in this matter, I merely echo the sentiments of the real expertise.