Friday, August 31, 2007

CC: Infusion Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?


Subject:
Infusion Cafe
Location visited:
Sacramento, CA

(1628 K St)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]


Though my fiancee' doesn't believe me, I really hate being late to things. Well that is I hate being late to things I know I shouldn't be late to like weddings, funerals, business appointments, and speaking engagements. But when it gets to things like conferences, who cares when you get there?

Well apparently the people I tend to travel with (but fortunately all of them are very reasonable). While I was staying in Sacramento area, I and several more laid back compatriots decided to skip the morning sessions of a conference we were attending in favor of recuperating from a fairly crazy week of running around, while we let those set on going to the morning sessions go ahead of us.

This new window allowed for a nice coffee stop at Infusion Cafe, a Sacramento coffeehouse that little blue birds had sung several positive melodies about (i.e. I had heard good things). So on the way to the conference, we find it fairly easily in a very neighborly section of Sacramento. The entire structure that houses Infusion really catches your attention with its bright colors and attractive design. The inside further elaborates your senses, with beautiful designs, furniture, and even an illustrious fish tank.

The coffee comes from Zoka out of Seattle, a fairly widely-used roaster who manages to usually produce a stellar coffee (sadly, I had a friend bring me back a bag of Zoka from Seattle earlier that year, and it tasted so-so and a little over-roasted). The coffee in turn sampled well, though if I recollect correctly it did taste a little stale (foul on the barista). The espresso also came out tasty, though I can't remember being wowed as I had expected to be (maybe my expectations over-sensitized my tongue?). The tea was free leaf and while I didn't try it, it looked decent.

Infusion goes on the list of places I want to go to again to give it another go, for I don't think I caught them at their best. If you stop by, let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

CC: Mishka's Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?


Subject:
Mishka's Cafe
Location visited:
Davis, CA

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



The other day I was thinking of how much I miss California and how I would love to take a trip back soon. A couple months back I had visited some friends in Davis, CA and while in the area made several trips to nearby Sacramento and San Francisco. But I must say for what Davis lacks in skyscrapers, it sure makes it up in coolness. Never in all of my days have I visited as nice a town (and college) as Davis. I don't know if my perception was jaded due to the lovely weather and wonderful company, but I do plan on revisiting.

Like any cool town, Davis has its share of coffee establishments and cafes. But in all my time there, I really heard absolutely no recommendations for any place besides Mishka's Cafe, a rather odd-sounding name for a coffeehouse but eh, the more eclectic the better in my mind.

After scouting it out, I found a bright orange awninged shop looking a little old school in that we-know-it-looks-tacky-but-we-like-it manner with scattered outside seating to take in that lovely Cali weather. The inside was something else all together, as it looked more like a high school experiment to pack as many laptops as possible in the space available (talk about efficient seating).

According to their website, the coffee is roasted in-house on "an
old and finicky Diedrich roaster." The coffee sampled decent; nothing amazing but not bad either. The espresso was similar in that it had a nice taste but definitely was lacking. The one sad aspect of their espresso was that besides offering their own espresso roast, they also pull shots of Illy, a mediocre Italian coffee that fails to give props to its rich national heritage.

Looking back, Mishka's does a good job in satisfying most of the locals but as far as California coffeehouses they have much work to do (especially with Temple and Infusion so close in Sacramento). Nonetheless, if in town and you're in need of a decent cup, hit Mishka's up.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

CC: Metropolis Coffee Company

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject:
Metropolis Coffee Company
Location visited:
Chicago, IL

Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]



Whenever I visit Chicago, it feels like I rush through city. Always rushing back and forth to see things or in this specific case, to grab lunch and show my good pal of mine a broad glimpse of the city (in the end, we saw most of the tourist spots under 3 hours...).

But as any serious coffee lover knows, you don't go through Chicago without making a coffee stop. My last time through, I hit Intelligentsia (always a good cup) but this time I wanted to pop in at Metropolis Coffee Company, a roaster/coffeehouse that has received much acclaim for their coffee as well as their espresso (a sweet-smelling melody to one's ears).

So, in order to make our time well-spent, we parked up near Metropolis in the far north of Chicago, which actually turned out to not be metered! We got there early and so hit the place before we began our whirlwind tour.

The shop is long, with some outside tables and a clean modern exterior. The inside blew me away with the square footage of the space, the nice art, and how every single piece of furniture was occupied by someone (obviously some local love).

As mentioned, they roast their own and (wo)man do they do a good job. Since they offer drip as well as french press for coffee, I figured I'd try the press. The coffee was beautiful, with a buxom body and just the right acidity (I forget which coffee it was, *tear*).

The espresso also knocked my socks off, with a really sweet tang that hit my tongue with sniper precision. The baristas, who were excellent in delightful service, had stellar skills in pulling the shots well.

I failed to note the tea (but I bet it's good!).

The fact that Chicago has such a gem really made my day. If you're ever nearby, make sure to make a side trip to sample Metropolis.

Friday, August 10, 2007

CC: Brew Ha Ha!

What's a Coffee Commentary?


Subject: Brew Ha Ha! Espresso Cafe and News Stand
Location visited:
Philadelphia, PA
(214 S. 12th St location)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]


Update 6/1/09

Walking the city on a cool summer night tends to be a very relaxing activity (though my fiance' would tell you otherwise; she doesn't like wandering). Yet what Philly boasts in serene walks it lacks in evening business hours, especially in coffeehouses. Now, you may exclaim "Who drinks coffee at night!?" and I will tell you that many would rather gather at a coffeehouse for decent java then a noisy nightclub. But I digress.

Brew Ha Ha! is one of those places that I always managed to pass at night, when it was closed. I never really came in the area any other time, but I figured one day I'd hit it when it was open.

That day came one recent, humid summer day when I had some time to kill one Friday afternoon as I waited for a friend. I was walking along 12th St, looked up and there before my eyes it stood open and buzzing with customers. The shop is in an old building with beautiful front windows and a nice exterior paint job. The inside is very expensively and stylistically designed, with really nice furniture and some beautiful pieces of art.

But the pleasantries stopped there. The coffee was La Colombe, a tedious cup of joe that constantly fails to serve up to its hype. The espresso was pulled rather well, but the espresso itself came out jagged with a charred finish and a bitter aftertaste (I deduce it was more the espresso then the barista or machine). I failed to note the tea.

While Philadelphia has many coffeehouses, Brew Ha Ha! joins many other Philly coffee establishments in the realm of mediocrity (can't say I'm surprised, as its West Chester location faired no better). If you're looking more for a place to hang out with friends during the day and not so much a stellar espresso, try Brew Ha Ha!.

Update 8/16/07
Turns out that the West Chester location (Cream and Sugar Cafe) is no longer a Brew Ha Ha! branch. My mistake!

Update 11/25/07
Soon after writing this post, Brew Ha Ha! shot me an email to notify me that they were dropping La Colombe because of poor quality and picking up another East Coast roaster, Caffe Pronto out of Annapolis. When I heard this, I jumped clear out of my seat (figuratively) as Caffe Pronto not only has a reputation for knowing what they're doing but I've had the good pleasure of sampling some of their coffees at Doubleshots on nearby Strawberry and 2nd.

Just recently I made my way over to their 12 St location to see if indeed the news was true. To my distinct pleasure, I saw the big bags of Caffe Pronto sitting behind the counter and the new coffee offerings prominently displayed. The coffee was a house blend (endemic to Brew Ha Ha!) which surprisingly blew me away with a variety of flavors and fullness (many times the house is a so-so breakfast blend). The espresso, pulled decently, also tasted so much better with a glowing acidity and wonderful body.

Needless to say, Brew Ha Ha! just moved from a coffee company of mediocrity to heavy promise. It's amazing what a better roaster can do...

6/1/09
Apparently, some time this past autumn '08, Brew Ha Ha! began roasting their own coffee. I decided to stop at their Limestone Rd location to try out the new beans and sadly, the experience left me in want. The drip of their Kenyan had some nice notes of bright acidity and berries, but the coffee had the overpowering bite of over-roasted beans. The espresso fared no better, as the shots were pulled a medium length with little crema
and embodied some heavy bitterness, though there were slight redeeming shadows of peanut and vanilla.

Overall, I have to say this experience left me a little depressed, as the place had a lot of promise as per my last visit. Hopefully this was just a really bad day and things are not as bad as they seem.


CC:Calder's Coffee {Memorium}


What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject:
Calder's Coffee
Location visited:
Littleton, CO
Free WiFi ? : no longer
Rating: 5+ [see key]
CLOSED INDEFINITELY


It's always a tremendous shame when a great coffee operation closes. I have only witnessed a handful of closures in my time, but it makes it even worse when the place closes because of reasons such as location or personal matters (if you have inferior product and you didn't have the humility to listen to criticism, it's much less sad).

So seems the case with Calder Coffee right outside of Denver. I made a visit there this summer while on my way through. The place had not much outside appeal but it had a really nice interior full of cute little tables and functional discussion areas.

The coffee was roasted in-house and the espresso was expertly pulled. I must say I truly enjoyed my experience. It makes me sad to see the place go but sometimes, circumstances extend much further then our reach allows.

To the prior owner and his family, all the best.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

CC: Cafe d'Bolla

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject:
Cafe d'Bolla
Location visited:
Salt Lake City, UT
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]



Grids must be the one thing I love about major cities. The ease of getting around with nothing more then mediocre directions (and the concept of how a square works) makes my life billions of times easier.

But despite the simplicity of the grid, Salt Lake City must have consisted originally of very malicious people who wanted people to never find anything.

As is commonly known, SLC was the original all-Mormon settlement built with their temple smack dab in the middle of town. So to denote the significance of the temple, they made every street on each side 100 st (100 N, 100 S, etc). Now add the direction the street is of the temple (i.e. if you're east of the temple on 700 North, you're on East 700 North) and you're pulling your hair out.

So this crazy road system made what would be a simple morning coffee run into an excruciatingly complicated crawl. I had heard of a place called Cafe d'Bolla in some research prior to arriving and figured since it was relatively close to the Temple Square (the area where I ended up staying), that I would make a walking trip before I left. I checked Google Maps to verify the location of the address (249 East 400 South), I called to get verbal confirmation (with no answer any of the 12 times I called), and finally decided to just wing it. Needless to say, Google Maps ran me astray and Cafe d'Bolla would not answer their phone.

So I gave up and began heading back to my hotel. I grabbed coffee at a far less impressive place (Salt Lake City Roasters), breakfast, and just when I thought I was done with SLC I stumble right onto Cafe d'Bolla (which upon examination, turned out that Google Map sent me to the inverse of the address).

The outside was a nice modern, well-constructed exterior that really made you want to sit down at one of their outside tables. The inside was a long shop, with a decent number of seats inside but mostly space to wait in line.

The coffee is roasted in house and from their single origin offerings, it looked like they had a nice selection. But even though they serve french pressed coffee normally, they were completely out of coffee that day (which to me is ludicrous)!

The espresso is where they garnered their strength. Not only was the barista fun to converse with, she was also very skilled in pulling shots. My espresso was decent though it had a bit of a sharp of a taste as well as some char. The tea was Rishi Tea.

Overall, Cafe d'Bolla was a nice stop (after finding it) with a lot of good practices plus a good deal of potential for improvement. Especially in a city where coffee is hardly promoted (Mormons aren't big coffee fanatics), they're making some headway. If you manage to master the SLC streets, I'd make a stop in.