Friday, May 11, 2007
CC: City Brew Coffee
What's a Coffee Commentary?
Subject: City Brew Coffee
Location visited: various
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]
Yet another small road trip ago, I got to see the lovely city of Billings for the second time in a much more comprehensive manner then the first (it was a 1 AM pit stop in a 10 hr drive). While it definitely can boast as the "city" of Montana (it has skyscrapers!) it's still no thriving metropolis.
Now that might sound critical and condescending, but it actually has a lot of perks. For one, never was it overwhelming to navigate the city. And secondly, its local coffee chain hadn't gone the way of charred disgusting-ness.
The chain I reference is City Brew Coffee, the other Montana coffee chain found mainly in its home in Billings. While I had heard much about it from a good pal (she's their biggest fan), I tend to hold skepticism of a coffee operation with so many locations across such a wide space...
So cut to the chase, I had to try it while I was in Billings. After a decent dinner out, a nice-sized group (about six of us) headed over to the closest branch to our sleeping quarters. The exterior of City Brew looks corporate as does the inside, with the expected Panera/Starbucks environment (which isn't bad, just a little overdone).
But the decor is where the corporate look stopped. I was stunned to see they offered french press (at a decent price too!) and that their espresso machine wasn't automatic (not completely manual either, but few places can maintain those machines at quality operation).
They roast their own coffee, and unlike many of their chain-brethren, its actually not over-roasted to an oily misery. On top of it, their various brews actually tasted decent (though not overly amazing either).
Their espresso, while light years beyond corporate charred espresso funneled out of an auto machine, still didn't really impress me. It had a decent body and flavor, but overall was pretty bland. The shots also failed to be consistent in my several visits, which would be the weakness of multiple locations.
The teas were also their own, though I didn't get to try them.
After much deliberation and visits to multiple locations (even the new one in Bozeman), I would say amongst coffee chains they're head and shoulders above the competition, but in the world of specialty coffee they still have a bit of improving to do. If you ever set foot in a Montana city (the places with more then 20K people), keep your eye out for one and give it a whirl.