What's a Coffee Commentary?
Subject: Cafe Kubal
Location visited: Syracuse, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]
After just having a talk with a good friend of mine about the sad state of affairs with the Philadelphia coffee/espresso scene (the fact that 90% of the shops are operating off poor skills and inaccurate knowledge), it really made me appreciate the good places that really know what they're doing.
But whenever I travel to new places, I rarely get my hopes up for the prospect of hidden gems. Almost always, the coffee geeks of the world mine and expose them quickly so that if you haven't heard of them shouted from the rooftops, there's not much hope.
So on my first trip to Syracuse, I had only heard a yell from a porch (figuratively) about a local joint called Cafe Kubal that by all means of their web page looked legit, but how appearances can deceive. But what good are tips if you let them sit...
I arrived one sunny morning to find the shop in a strip mall in an extremely small space. The outside is all storefront windows with some outside seating (surely only useable 4 maybe 5 months out of the year) and a nice neon sign. The interior is a very efficiently and effectively used space with a couple seats by the windows.
Kubal roasts all of their own coffee in a truly old school roaster dating back to the early 20th century. As I've been back to Kubal several times now, I've had mixed experience with their coffee. In-house, it's superb with a real nice acidity and a good flavor. But I also bought a bag for home use only to find it rather oily and very gross. From what I observe, they roast dark and so my guess on the oil is that it's hard to control with the old roaster. But old roaster or no old roaster, exterior oil = angry mob down the digestive highway.
The espresso is truly where they won my admiration. The baristas really know what they're doing and the espresso comes out beautiful with good crema and a full, fruit-esque flavor. Wonderful!
The tea is mostly free leaf and it looks good, though I haven't tried it.
So as far as gems, I'd say Kubal is currently a fine sapphire in need of some shaping (mostly the dark coffee). I hear there are plans in the works to have a second shop in the downtown area of Syracuse, which if true will be a nice accent for the revival of downtown Syracuse. Final words: give it go, try the drinks there, but be wary of taking your beans to go.
Cafe Kubal has definitely improved in several areas since I last scrawled this. First, I've had a couple coffees that were splendid such as their Indian Sitarra, a 100% robusta that has a lot of unique flavors to it. They have also extended and really spruced up their front patio area as well as upgraded their website. Also, I have learned that the while the roaster is a beautifully restored antique, the roast level still can be easily controlled by a knowledgeable roaster.
New final word: give it all a go.