Sunday, April 29, 2007

CC: Java

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Location visited: Twin Falls, ID
(228 Blue Lakes Blvd)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

One of the better feelings in life is stumbling on something pleasant, especially on a long car trip, and even more especially after driving northeast through Nevada into Idaho. I had just put around 360 miles behind me since 5 AM that morning and I knew definitively of no decent coffee stops until Idaho Falls (another 4 hours). Accordingly, my entourage and I had just planned on pushing through a long trip without really hunting for good coffee, but I was praying that we'd see something in Twin Falls that look promising...

Thank God that prayers are answered. While cutting through town, we saw a place that looked reputable, a little shop called Java. I asked for permission (we're a democratic entourage) and with a weak approval, I pulled in to check it out.

The shop from the outside looked rather atypical of a strip mall outfit though the inside displayed a colorfully warm, semi-circular space complete with bustling staff and a line of eager customers. Aside from the coffee/espresso/tea options, they also serve a full breakfast and lunch menu, which didn't seem to affect the environment too much (a coffeehouse should NEVER smell like a deli).

They serve up Cafe Moto beans, a San Diego supplier of roasted coffee as well as tea and other typical coffeehouse beverage supplies. After browsing the CM website, it "seems" they know their stuff; they just need to ditch the super corporate look as it makes it seem like they're faking it.

In my humble opinion, their drip tasted fairly decent. The espresso conveyed a decent body but it had a bit of a charred taste to it. The tea they serve fresh (free leaf) and while I only observed, it looked of decent quality.

Needless to say, my expectations were rock-bottom low to begin with, so Java played out to be a lovely note in that morning's arduous drive. As Twin Falls seems to be a bit of a crossroads, if you're ever going through be optimistic that there's at least one decent coffee stop in town.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

CC: Temple Fine Coffee and Tea

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Temple Fine Coffee and Tea
Location visited: Sacramento, CA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

A pleasant surprise upon my visit to Sacramento was how nice the place was. I guess I had never really thought about ever visiting Sac until I got there, and hence I guess I had no real expectations of what it would look like. The city has its gems as well as its sadder parts but overall, I liked it.

One particular evening, on a night out to dinner with friends in Old Sac, we had dinner near the river at Rio City Cafe, a seemingly overpriced classic American restaurant that actually turned out to be quite an amazing dinner (such succulent food). After dinner, we played with a sea lion (actually, we just tried to mobilize it from a distance) and then made our way to the nearby Capital area to try out Temple, a local Sac coffeehouse that had received a good deal of praise from various people.

As we arrived, Temple stood out like a little Scandinavian shop (both inside and out) amidst a sea of concrete (I like to imagine vikings reclining in the AM, sipping a morning macchiato before heading out to pillage). The inside was beautifully functional with plenty of seats and a surprising crowd for so late, as we arrived around an hour or so before closing.

Regarding the time, I think we caught the barista after a long day, because I have never in my days seen a barista so curt and cold with the customers (my friends and I decided she probably could use a hug). But nonetheless, mean baristas = no fun.

Onto the coffee, they serve Barefoot Coffee Roasters which according to Californians and national coffee freaks alike, serves up a wonderful cup of coffee and espresso. The coffee tasted fresh and full, with a nice acidity. The espresso, a Guatemalan peaberry, had a bright citrusy tang to it that sampled well from beginning to finish.

The teas, which I didn't catch where they get them from, looked delightful. The variety was decent and if I remember correctly, seemed of fair quality.

Next time I'm in Sac, I am probably going to stop by again as I feel that this particular visit was skewed due to the negativity of the barista (customer service is so crucial). But if you're in town, make sure to stop by and give Temple a try; hopefully you'll get a chipper barista.

Monday, April 16, 2007

CC: Ninth Street Espresso

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Ninth Street Espresso
Location visited: Manhattan, NY
(Alphabet City location)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

*12/18/07 - Update follows original post

A question I've had for the longest time when I've looked at maps of Manhattan is why the East Village has no subway service at all (take a look for yourself)? In past trips with friends, this tidbit of information just meant that if someone wanted to stop there, we'd walk through it, though never did we ever make it further east then First Ave.

That was until recently, when I had finally realized where Ninth St Espresso was; smack near the East River (this was prior to the new Union Square location opening, with its many subway hubs nearby). NSE had received a whole bunch of hype, stretching from enthusiastic praise from coffee professionals to the regular press, thus I figured such a place warranted a small detour.

So on a past trip with friends, being the optimist that I am, I figured it wouldn't be a big deal to gravitate that way, though I also didn't want to drag them on a long walk only I wished to travel. Long story short, our travels didn't go anywhere near East Village (pick your battles), that is until the very end of the day when my dear angel (fiancee') and I split off to head back to NJ early in order to get home for a preplanned soiree. Seeing as we had a little time at the last minute, I begged if we could take a small detour(?) to grab coffee (a plea she knows well), to which she ever-so-graciously agreed(!).

So we briskly walked to NSE (a walk that took much longer then either of us expected) and arrived to find the place jam-packed with people, not a single table even close to unoccupied. The NSE-ers behind the counter worked in an organized flurry of action, getting people very efficiently through the line.

As noted on their site, they serve up Counter Culture out of North Carolina, a coffee roasting giant fairly common in NYC (also at Cafe Grumpy). I watched NSE brew my coffee in a french press (they don't do drip and only offer one size, which I think is 16 oz) and it came out well, with a real smooth taste. The espresso, to which they garner most of their hype, truly held up to the good reviews. It tasted great, with a nice acidity and brightness.

Overall, the stop would have proved to be much more worth the while if it hadn't been for the fact that my detour took about 30 minutes longer then anticipated. I would love to make it back to the original E 9 St location some day, but unless I'm alone or in the area, I think I'll probably stop by the newer Union Square locale.

*Update 12/18/07
Quick correction about their other locations: the Union Square location is now Everyman Espresso and they now have (or have had) a location in the Chelsea Market (which is still more convenient then Alphabet City).

Monday, April 02, 2007

CC: Ritual Coffee Roasters

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Ritual Coffee Roasters
Location visited: San Francisco, CA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Coming from a frigid, Montanan climate to the Bay area must be one of the loveliest feelings I've felt this year. A wonderous transformation of landscape unfolds as you hit Reno, cross the mountains, hit California, and keep driving until you see ocean. Though cliche', it's beautiful.

One of the many things I wanted to catch while in SF was Ritual Coffee Roasters, a renowned roaster and espresso hub in the Nor Cal area (though they're not alone in the top half of Cali...). As random blessings come, I was navigating a large entourage of friends up the hill-acious streets when I recognized the street as the home of Ritual (I had done some major recon on coffee locations before we hit the city). Needless to say, we turned left and found it but three blocks down. After pulling to the side into a (temporary) spot, several cohorts and I jumped out of our van to check out the place.

The shop exterior didn't really stand out from a distance, but the interior caught my eye with crisp set up and a plethora of people. I was amazed at the expectant patrons in a line nearly out the door as well as the many more already served, packed out in the ample seating.

To accommodate the masses, Ritual had about eight (or more) staff behind the counter taking drink orders, whipping out shots of espresso, etc. Their efficiency and yet personable attitudes really impressed me (even when I asked a really random, not-a-one-word-answer question, they gave me a nice smile and good answer).

Though their name would denote they roast their own, apparently (according to their website), they use Stumptown out of Portland. This raises two questions on my end:
1. Why would you call yourself a roaster if you don't roast?
2. What does Gretta (bottom of the page) do?
Maybe this is just a case of poor website communication and/or failure to update?

Regardless of who roasts the coffee, it's excellent. They don't do drip coffee, only french press service (brew it in the press, then store it in a pump pot) and the brew hit the spot with a real nice finish
(I think it was a Papua New Guinea that day). The espresso also hit the spot beautifully; a full, chocolatey-tangy shot. In my rush, I failed to note the tea.

Needless to say, if you inhabit or visit SF, you must stop by Ritual to get a good cup of joe or great shot of espresso. My only warning is that if you can avoid driving a 15-passenger van, it would be wise to do so.

*Update 4/5/07*
Turns out they do roast all of their beans, and that they don't serve Stumptown anymore. So sayeth this Coffeegeek post. They just need to update their site a whole lot more often...