Saturday, December 27, 2008

CC: Coffee Mania

What's does "CC" mean?

Coffee Mania
Location visited: Cortland, NY
( Port Watson location )
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Growing up in NJ, espresso shacks were uncommon, so when I first was acquainted with them, I became enamored with the concept. But over the years, I've come to understand that most espresso shacks have decent coffee at best, and more often then not they only provide a convenient caffeinated jolt for the rushed commuter.

But on the few occasions where I run across a good one, the operation has a unique factor or two. My most recent brush with such a rarity was in Cortland, NY at a visually nonchalant venue called Coffee Mania. I had researched coffee in the area and found that while Coffee Mania was a drive thru, they actually roasted their own beans (they even use Cup of Excellence!).

Driving up to the Port Watson location, the drive thru displays a retro 1960s look, complete
with tan siding and a large winged roof. There wasn't much else to the property except that the parking lot has a spacious layout and made pulling up simple.

As mentioned above, they roast their own beans (though they roast under another name called Coffee Depot). The coffee on tap (drip) was a Mexican Chiapas that sampled smooth, earthy and nutty, although also a bit stale; a good coffee but not all that distinct. Looking to to the espresso, while it was served in a paper cup, the shots tasted surprisingly good: decent crema, low acidity, and a nice lemony sweetness with but a smidgen of char on the tail end. I failed to note the tea.

Driving away, I have to say that while the facilities could stand some visual stimulus, the coffee operation of Coffee Mania really left me impressed. It seems that the business itself is expanding and hopefully one day, they can fully realize their full potential. In the meantime, if you're in Cortland, give Coffee Mania a try.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Last Minute Gift Check-In

o, the Holiday blog post became quite a common thing on coffee blogs this year (I would recommend checking out the blogs on the left for some really great posts on gifts if you haven't already). But seeing as it's only a few days at the most til gift-giving time, I figured I would put up some basic, yet often overlooked tips to help you better affirm that you got/bought the gift you wanted (especially if you're a non-coffee fanatic buying for one).

Note, while I hold these opinions to be true, you may disagree and in the spirit of transparent peer education, please post your opinions of either affirmation or disagreement below.

Good Gift Signs:

1. Your travel mug has a stainless steel or ceramic interior (many plastics absorb odors).

2. Your coffee is whole bean, not oily on the outside (though some like it that way) and was roasted within a week of getting it.

3. Your espresso machine did not come from a department store (in most cases; I have yet to see a good one sold in the mall). Note that home espresso machines are wicked complex to find and if you have a good one, not easy to realize its full potential. As many espouse, don't have high hopes unless you're planning on putting a lot of work into finding and then using it, not to mention also possessing a good grinder, barista skills and good coffee.

4. Your free leaf tea is in a sealed, opaque container.

5. Your grinder has burrs (even better if it's recommended by a credible coffee fanatic).

6. Your coffee brewer does not have a hot plate (and if it does, make sure to not let it sit on it too long). Also, I would avoid a coffeemaker with a grinder inside; the grinder's probably not that good and it's one more thing to break.

7. Your french press is from Bodum (I have yet to find one made by someone else that I like).

8. The coffee is not in a sealed pod or the machine does not require them.

Also, feel free to add your own tips! Enjoy the happy chaos!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

CC: Gryphon Cafe

What's does "CC" mean?

Gryphon Cafe
Location visited: Wayne, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

A few years ago when I was first getting really obsessed with quality coffee and I was trying to think of things to do with my life, for some time I thought of starting a coffeehouse in a local college town. One of the places I considered was the adjoining towns to Villanova, but after a little research it seemed like there were a lot of coffee places and it wouldn't be a good area to set up shop.

Fast forward a few years and the passing of that particular stage in my life (it was for the best), I have had a few recent opportunities to better explore such adjoining towns as Wayne, PA and their local businesses. One particular business that caught my eye was a small coffeehouse called the Gryphon Cafe. The building seems to be an older structure, outfitted in a classic yet stylish architecture (I've never seen such large windows). On the inside, the venue is two floors. The lower level conveys a vibrant high-ceiling room with tall back windows, yellow walls, and nice wood floors. Upstairs, there's a small sitting room along with the bathrooms.

The coffee is from a Philly roaster called Torreo Coffee, a place I've heard of but have not had any interactions with until my visit to Gryphon. The coffee on tap that day was a Kenyan, a distinct coffee reminiscent of berry and a little bit of fig, with a hint of flowering grass in the aftertaste (i.e. pretty good). The espresso also ended up being tasty; a good pull resulting in a lemony sweet pair of shots with just a tad of char. The tea is free leaf.

While I did not expect to find a good coffeehouse near Villanova, it makes me glad that the town has a decent spot like Gryphon. It also makes me glad I didn't open up shop there; I wouldn't have liked competing with a quality place.

If you're close or driving through, swoop by Gryphon Cafe.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Community Seeks Coffeehouse: Elverson, PA

ager to start a quality coffee establishment but you're not sure where? Consider historic Elverson, but a half hour west of King of Prussia.

Recently, I received word from a lovely coffee lover of the town who recently bought a historic building in which she plans to put other commercial outfits, but in one space particular the community would like a coffeehouse. If this turns out to be truly legit (i.e. the people truly are seeking a local place to enrich), this could be a great opportunity (I mean how often do you get guaranteed customers?).

If you'd like further information, shoot Donna an email at

Monday, December 08, 2008

CC: Bus Stop Music Cafe

What's does "CC" mean?

Bus Stop Music Cafe
Location visited: Pitman, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 2+ [see key]

Though music venues, vintage music, and cafes are popular places for various people, I've never seen all three rolled into one spot.

That is not, until I stumbled upon the Bus Stop Music Cafe (henceforth referred to as the BSMC) in Pitman, NJ. I had heard from a friend that a new coffee location had arisen in Pitman and after a drive around, I deduced it to be the BSMC. On the outside, the venue looks fairly plain with a few outside tables. The interior is rather large, with records and CDs around the walls of the store, the cafe to the back right, and a large amount of seating in the front 3/5 of the store. Overall, a nice physical set-up for the three facets except for a fairly low ceiling for a music venue.

My admiration fell short at the coffee. The coffee comes from a decent roaster in Deptford, NJ called Talk N' Coffee, specifically their Black Cat as it's the only coffee BSMC serves. Served up off a hot plate coffee brewer, the drip proved a tad stale though also noticeably sweet and smooth. To be frank, the espresso scared me. Even though the barista informed me that he was new to this, he then filled the portafilter with pre-ground Black Cat out of an old Maxwell House can, left it untamped, and then pulled. The espresso consequently smacked of cardboard and bitterness. I do not recall the tea.

Granted BSMC is new to the cafe scene but it seems they have a lot of work to do with their coffee skills. Nonetheless, if you're looking for a local music scene, used music store and some fair coffee, then give the BSMC a try.

Friday, December 05, 2008

CC: It's A Grind

What's does "CC" mean?

It's A Grind
Location visited: Paoli, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

While I do understand the need for people to take the day off, it's quite a blow when there's not a single coffee place open for miles. The situation becomes even more interesting when it's a national holiday (like Thanksgiving) and you're driving several hours in the early hours of the morning.

It's on days as this that I will look to acceptable chains, the few that do exist (*bucks = I'd rather fast instead). Fortunately, there was a smaller chain open called It's A Grind that popped up this past year in Paoli near the paths of my Turkey Day travels.

It's A Grind rests in a quaint brick shack right on Rt. 30 with a nice array of stores within walking distance. The interior is arrayed in a nice lounge fashion, accented with portraits of music legends such as Bruce Springstein.

To my surprise, their coffee actually is quite varied and had quite a few brews available (only about 2/5 were flavored). I picked the Kenya AA hoping that it had some character and to my pleasure, it displayed some cherries and a smooth brightness; a modest coffee. The espresso was actually pulled from a semi-manual espresso machine (no automatic juggernaut here) and while it had noticeable oils, it also had hints of vanilla and caramel. I didn't observe the tea.

For a Hail Mary coffee pick, It's A Grind actually turned out to be a decent place. If you happen to be in the area, especially on a holiday, give It's A Grind a taste.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

CC: Progressive Coffee House


What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Progressive Coffee House
Location visited: Glassboro, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

*CLOSED as of 7.29.10*

Alma maters, no matter how aggressive their alumni office is for money, will always carry a spot in an alumnus' heart. The same I would say would go for the location of the school (with a few exceptions I'm sure).

Recently, I had the pleasure to visit Glassboro, NJ where I spent much of my young adult life at college. While I was there, the town sadly had not a single coffeehouse of worth (though there were a few tries) but now that the town is trying to revive the downtown, a new coffeehouse named the Progressive Coffee House decided to open their doors in the place of an old bakery on High Street.

When I first heard of it, I kind of had my doubts as to their motivation, mainly I wondered what did "progressive" mean (was it politically tied, environmentally entrenched, or just a coffeehouse that plans to move forward?) but upon further investigation, I saw no evidence of any of my guesses except that they liked their name (soooo much merchandise).

The exterior preserves the original look of the place, using an old marquee-looking projection to display their sign and they kept the windows simple and big. The interior was quite different from the old bakery, as it was awash with bright reds, oranges and yellows surrounding a spacious counter and a sea of red leather couches (they had tables too).

The coffee comes from Kaffe Magnum Opus, a coffee roaster out of South Jersey that I've had mixed experiences with (I also become suspicious of roasters that sell more flavored coffee than not). But putting all past experience aside, I gave Progressive's House Blend a try and found it, to my delight, to be a bright, smooth and earthy coffee. The espresso proved a fair pull, with char sadly overshadowing a citrusy-cocoa flavor (drinkable). Their tea is Mighty Leaf.

Given the future plans for the town of Glassboro, I am happy that the town finally has a coffeehouse of decency. I think with a little work, Progressive could progress very well but for now I think their challenge will be getting Rowan University students to walk off-campus (in my day, it didn't really happen). If you're in the area, I would recommend a stop.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Coffee Culture USA: A Documentary

I recently was sent the documentary Coffee Culture USA, what looked like an insightful look into the coffee culture, and so I hunkered down recently to see what they had constructed.

On the positive side, the film really captured a lot of small coffee-based businesses across the US, several of them with some very noble motives (to support positive teen interactions, keeping the family legacy alive, etc). Overall, the film seemed to accurately portray the commonly construed coffee culture of the US. And that dovetails right into why I didn't like the film.

The shared theme throughout the whole film seemed to be that people largely get into the coffee business for all kinds of reasons EXCEPT to serve amazing coffee (one coffeehouse actually went into business to lure people in using a cooperative bail bond business!). Sure the film also featured a (seemingly) bona fide Kona company as well as some pretty interesting thoughts from Alfred Peet, but everything else seemed to shove the coffee quite far from the point of the culture. Don't get me wrong, there can be other motives to starting/running a coffeehouse but you have to also serve a quality product (Alfred actually made a similar remark somewhere in the middle).

I gotta say this film made me sad. Maybe it's because the film captured a lot of what bothers me with the coffee world. Maybe it's also because it actually does somewhat accurately reflect the sad current state of the US coffee culture. Whatever the reason, I still stick to my hope that a lot of these troubling facets of the coffee culture will soon shape up.

Thus, check out Coffee Culture USA if you're looking for a taste of the current state of affairs in the coffeehouse realm. But if you're one deeply enamored with quality coffee and you're easily depressed
, you might want to hold off.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

CC: Kahawa Coffee House

What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Kahawa Coffee House
Location visited: Toronto, ON
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Kona coffee definitely sits in the mythological realm of coffee popularity. It seems that every person I get into a "what's your favorite coffee?" conversation, those that aren't as deeply obsessed as myself always play the Kona card. And while most of those Kona lovers have really never had true cup of Kona (most usally say they had a Kona "blend"), it just goes to show the effective publicity that Kona has laid down over the years.

Hence, whenever I see a coffee company or product with Hawaiian ties, I am skeptical. My most recent interaction with such doubt was with a coffeehouse up in Toronto called the Kahawa Coffee House. Located a bit northwest of Kensington Market, the quaint little coffeehouse not only sounds Hawaiian (maybe more Polynesian) but it also sports a very North Beach logo complete with a hyacinth flower. But I soon found out that the similarities halted there.

The exterior of the joint was nothing elaborate; just a bench, large window, and a very spiffy (and clean-looking) storefront. Inside, the coffeehouse was ablaze with orange and yellows amidst a handful of tables and a cute counter.

Kahawa actually roasts their own coffee in a compact homeroaster on the back counter. Knowing that small does not mean poor, I dove right into my Papua New Guinea drip (not literally of course; I'm too big). The coffee was a light roast, with a nice sweetness complimented by citrus and a tinge of grass; overall pretty good. The espresso on the other hand didn't bode as well, having a minute sweetness overshadowed by a strong dark bitterness. The tea is from Tea in the Sahara.

Finding the place very comfortable and not in cahoots with Kona mythology, I was content to leisurely take in Kahawa. Sure it seems that they could use some more skill in the barista skill realm but coffee-wise, they at least seem to have a fair foundation for the roasting. If you're in the area and looking for a vibrant place to sit and have some decent filtered joe, skip up to Kahawa.

Note: I have nothing against true Kona coffee, simply the blind love that people express having never had actually quality stuff. That's all really...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Don't Forget the Thanksgiving Coffee!

As the great American holiday rounds the corner, don't forget to grab a pound or two of great coffee for whatever events you plan to host or attend.

With that said, here's a few coffees (alphabetically-listed) that I've either heard a lot of good things about or I've had the pleasure of tasting myself. If you're really in a rough spot (you know of no good coffee nearby), shoot me an email as I would not wish such a fate on anyone.

Crescent Moon's Brazil Daterra Sunrise
Received a 92 from Coffee Review recently and from what I hear, this year's crop produced a tremendous coffee. On a direct recommendation, one of my recent favorites is the Raccoon Creek Blend as it was recently reworked and has become even more glorious.

Gimme Coffee's Nicaragua Linda Vista Cup of Excellence
While any Cup of Excellence Coffee is a good choice, Gimme usually has a tremendous track record in my experience of great CoEs.

PTs Coffee's Ethiopia Limu - Gomma Organic
An amazing light coffee I've had the distinct pleasure of imbibing, give this or a number of PT's other coffees a whirl.

And here's a few holiday blends (I've heard nothing on these but it sure is good marketing):
Counter Culture Coffee's Holiday Blend
Intelligentsia's Celebration Blend

If you have any others, feel free to leave them in a comment below.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

CC: Java's Cafe

What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Java's Cafe
Location visited: Rochester, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

It always seems that the local places (especially the good ones) hide, tucked away in spots off the beaten path and not really conducive to a multi-event evening (a stellar coffeehouse near an amazing culinary venue stands as a rare sight). Yet occasionally, a coffeehouse manages to find a nice place to roost.

One such well-placed coffeehouse is a rather large place called Java's Cafe. The coffeehouse sits in what seems to be a rather nice part of the city adjacent to the Eastman Theatre. The outside of the cafe possesses a clean look with not much in outside seating at the time (since it was cold, they retracted it) and nice front windows. The interior gives the impression that the place once was a pub of sorts as it has a central counter, a large amount of dining space, and a downstairs complete with two billiards tables (mind you, beware of the steps needed to reach them; they're a bit steep). And not only did the place prove full of character and local love, but they even have a lunch counter/deli and a whole wall dedicated to free leaf and coffee off to the right of the shop.

The coffee comes from Java Joe's Roasting Company, a coffee roaster out of Binghamton, NY. I had their Kenya AA (brewed on hot plate brewers...yucker), a mellow sweet blend that had potential but since it had been sitting, I couldn't get at it. The espresso, though pulled a bit long (barista skills were half decent), had a nice acidity and smacked of cocoa, all with minimum char. The tea is free leaf.

While the coffee and espresso weren't bad (could use a bit of improvement), I'm sure the convenience of the facility (and maybe the food too) probably really strengthen business. If you're in the proximity, give Java's a try.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

CC: Spot Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?

Spot Coffee
Location visited: Buffalo, NY
(Delaware Ave location)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Over the past year or so, I have really met a lot of people from Buffalo. Some described their city in fair terms, others in sullen woes of a not-so-exciting city. Whatever Buffalo is, it is not a city that sells itself well, as when I've visited I really didn't see much that impressed (I am willing to give the city the benefit of the doubt).

But one thing that seems pretty plain through other conversations and research is that Buffalo does not have a lot of promising coffee places. Locals had told me about Spot Coffee, that it was the local place to get coffee, but beyond that I had not heard much.

So without many options in a recent visit, I made my way to Spot. The coffeehouse looks behemoth walking towards it, like a two-story warehouse with a bright purple awning. The inside proved to have the high vaulted ceilings of a warehouse, but much more warmth and lots of fancy vintage furniture.

Spot self-roasts their coffee, with blends ranging from light to oily-dark. I sampled their Panama coffee, which had a smooth body and a share of candy-ish notes, but it turned out to be tremendously overshadowed by staleness (i.e. it had been sitting). The barista produced a bit of a lackluster espresso; sweet but with definite components of cardboard and char. I did not observe the tea.

Sadly, it seems Buffalo really does not have much of a coffee scene (as further evidenced here) but that's not to say that there's no hope. Spot has the facilities and capabilities to take it up a notch so with some time and effort, hopefully a return trip back to Buffalo will be met with such great news.

If you're in Buffalo and in need of fair coffee (or coffee at all given the lack of alternatives), get a spot of coffee at Spot.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

CC: Balzac's Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Balzac's Coffee
Location visited: Toronto, ON
(Distillery District location)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Naming a business after a historic figure seems like a gamble. Obviously, there can be disputes of trademark and copyright but do historical figures have constituents to watch out for that kind of stuff? For example, what if you decide to name a seedy bar Harriet Tubman's Bungalow? Or a big & tall store Napolean Bonaparte? And even if people complain, does anyone really have the right to legally dispute?

What conjured up this thinking was the simple fact that I've been to a number of places named after founding fathers, Greek philosophers and the like. Some good experiences and other leaving much to be desired. My most recent example is a place called Balzac's Coffee, named after the French novelist, playwright and coffee nut Honore' de Balzac. Granted, their website shows that it has some decent popularity amidst the publications of Toronto but much of the praise did little to show the actual quality of the coffee.

Naturally, a visit to the location in the Distillery District (a neat historical spot, though a bit overrated for all the hype)
helped clarify. The cafe sits in an rejuvenated warehouse-ish building, beautifully restored on the outside with a lovely open stone patio. Inside, the cafe relays stunning decor, with a huge chandelier and a loft behind the coffee counter complete with a small balcony overlooking the lower level (where you can sit!).

Balzac roasts their own coffee, having a fair selection of blends and single origins. I had a Peruvian single origin that proved smooth yet a bit charred, and as it had been definitely sitting, proved pretty stale. I found the espresso pulled long, sweet with hints of chocolate but also a tad cardboardy; not horrible or wonderful. The tea is of the bagged variety, though I did not note the brand.

In my reflections back, I would have to say that it would be a toss up of whether Balzac would appreciate his name used for this cafe. On one hand, Balzac was known more for his excessive coffee consumption (the man practically lived on it) so therefore, I would think he would care more of the hours of the cafes versus the quality of the beans. But then again, Balzac lived in a different age; had he lived today I think he would demand a higher quality for his name.

However you look at it, I think that Balzac's Coffee has a lot of the right groundwork laid and has but a few quality tweakings to be made in order to best honor the old Frenchman. If you're a fan of Balzac or you happen to be sequestered to the Distillery District, give Balzac's Coffee a whirl.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Mugged: Higher Ground [Bolivian Caranavi]


What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Higher Ground Roasters
Coffee Mugged:
Bolivian Caranavi
Rating: 5+ [see key]

ometimes I really wish first impressions weren't so powerful. You can patch things up with old friends but if you scare off a newfound acquaintance, chances are you might not see them again. And while I now find it easier to give people the benefit of the doubt, I have a much harder time doing the same when I have a bad coffee experience.

One such lackluster experience was my first with Higher Ground Roasters at the oddly similarly named Philly coffeehouse called Higher Grounds Cafe. The coffee was not necessarily bad but along with the espresso, it barely registered as decent coffee. Yet wanting to be fair, I left my conclusion that the coffee quality has a lot of factors that affect it (i.e. the weakness of the cafe, poor barista skills, etc.).

So when the Coffee Roasters Club sent me a pound of Higher Ground's Bolivian Caranavi (third of three), I was truly intrigued as to the coffee's mettle. The roast level was of a medium level and I had the opportunity to sample it via drip, french press, and vacuum press. The vacuum press produced a rich dark chocolate taste followed up with a meek sweetness and a very noticable spicy aftertaste. The french press further confirmed the dark chocolate and had an even stronger accent on the spiciness. The drip produced a great cup but not as tasty as the french or vacuum press.

Many would say a single interaction that demands future ones is always a good exchange to have had. In this case, I consider myself fortunate to be able to have had a better second interaction with Higher Ground per this particular lovely Bolivian. I definitely hope to have more.

Whether you join the Coffee Roasters Club or buy direct, definitely give Higher Ground a sample.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Beautiful Burlap Bags


While rarely do I wander into the arena of fashion accessories, I was taken back by this NJ native's creative reuse of coffee burlap sacks into very slick-looking bags. You can take a look at the various bags by Javagaldesigns whether you're in the market for a new bag or you know someone with an upcoming birthday/gift-giving holiday

Mugged: Metropolis Coffee [Colombia San Rafael]


What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Metropolis Coffee
Coffee Mugged: Colombia San Rafael
Rating: 4+ [see key]

olombia always will have the image of Juan Valdez burned into my cranium. While some would see the association as negligible, I would say my early interactions with his approved coffees made me think less of coffee from Colombia (mass-produced lesser fare). Fortunately over the last couple years, as I've become more and more immersed in the coffee world, my love of Colombian coffee has been rekindled through some good single-origin batches.

One recent batch I had the opportunity to sample was a Colombian from Metropolis Coffee via
Coffee Roasters Club (one of the three coffees sent). Having been to Metropolis in Chicago, I already had high hopes of splendid coffee as I ripped open the bag, smelling the sweet bold aroma of the beans. First brewing the coffee via french press, I was pleased with the smooth body and the strong earthiness. The vacuum press and drip proved extremely similar, with the vacuum pot providing a little more sweetness in my mug.

Overall, the San Rafael proved to be a good Colombian that I'd be up for trying again even though I can't really say it had a whole lot of amazing flavors to it (maybe my impressions of Juan Valdez are flaring up again). Either way, if you're looking for a decent Colombian I would recommend giving San Rafael a try for thy self.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mugged: PT's Coffee [Ethiopia Lima - Gomma]


What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: PT's Coffee
Coffee Mugged: Ethiopia Lima - Gomma
Rating: 5+ [see key]

trong credible publicity is all to hard to come by but when you get it, it really makes a difference. Take central US coffee roaster PT's Coffee; for a year or two now I've been dying to try their coffee and I can't say I really know why (some would say that good publicity has that exact effect).

Regardless, I was elated when newly launched Coffee Roasters Club sent me a pound of PT's Ethiopia Lima - Gomma (as well as 2 other coffeess - reviews to come!) to try.

Cracking open the bag (always a glorious experience), the coffee beans appeared lightly roasted, a nice light brown/dark caramel color. I was able to sample the coffee via french press, vacuum press, and drip. The french press twas my first undertaking and it produced a wonderful cup of coffee; a coffee that proved indeed very light but had a nice mellow brightness to it. Although there proved slight notes of chaff (common in lighter coffees), the occasional hints of fruity acidity really compensated. The vacuum press further brought out the sweet tastes of the coffee, taking the fruity accents a bit further (little hints of blueberry showed up in this mug). The drip also proved pleasant; though not nearly as vibrant as the other two brews, the drip still delivered a very sweet and bright coffee.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this light Ethiopian coffee from PT and the success of this batch makes me all the more interested in PT's other coffees. Thus, it goes to show that good product in itself can be the best kind of publicity.

What does "Mugged" mean?

"Mugged" posts deal with coffee or tea purely from a cupping perspective, but more actively tested in the everyday realm of my mug. When I "mug" a coffee , I use such methods as french press, vacuum press (siphon), and drip (paper-filtered, usually via a pour over). With tea, I simply steep it as recommended.

Rating Scale

As for how it is rated, the Mugged posts use the same 1-6 scale as CC posts (reviews of coffeehouses). But of course, in terms of rating a single coffee or tea, I realize that the 1-6 holds a different connotation than when I assess a business. Thus, in order to create some ease in understanding what 3+ or 5+ mean, I created a rough comparison to Kenneth David's "Overall Rating" scale over at Coffee Review since the system has such prevalent recognition in the industry (though this likening is not meant to be an exact match of course, more of a ballpark, and like any system, it has its weaknesses).

1+ = poor (below a 60)
2+ = ok (60-70)
3+ = decent (70-80)
4+ = good (81-87)
5+ = very good (88-93)
6+ = stellar (94-100)

Want to send something? 
If you are an entity that wishes to send me something to review, know that I will review it honestly (without bias, as if I paid for it) and will disclose the sending party in the review. This is in order to keep with current FTC standards*.


*Note that some posts prior to 10/11/09 may have been supplied to me without charge but I assure you that my reviews stand as purely objective; I firmly believe that the ethical and trustworthy nature of a blog is one of the few core pillars that makes a blog like this worth reading. So in order to maintain a greater transparency in the future, all posts after 10/11/09 labeled "Mugged" will have full disclosure of how I obtained the product within the post.

*Updated 01/28/13

Thursday, October 23, 2008

CC: Espressit

What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Espressit
Location visited: Haddon Twp, NJ
(18 Haddon Ave)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

*Update 5/18/09 at end...

Ever walk down a street and think to yourself "For the love of Peter Pumpkin Eater, why is there not a coffeehouse here?!" ? I sure have. Heck, I've screamed it into space more than once (well, maybe not verbatim but you get the idea).

Haddon Avenue in South Jersey at many points is one of those streets. In Collingswood and Haddonfield, a coffeehouse or two occupy the street but in much of the space in between, there sat nothing until recently with the opening of a new place called Espressit.

Espressit sits beautifully nestled in a strip of shops, the coffeehouse itself having a beautiful black exterior complete with a gorgeous sign, nice patio furniture, and nice assortment of potted plants. Inside, the place was arrayed in beautifully lavish furniture and a very calming decor.

The coffee is La Colombe, an ok coffee roaster out of Philly. The coffee proved typical La Colombe; not horrible but nothing distinct. The espresso, pulled long, tasted fairly decent with some decent sweetness, though still a bit of char in the cup. I failed to note the tea.

While Espressit definitely has the coffeehouse look well nailed down, I would venture that the coffee experience could stand to escalate. Nonetheless, if you're looking for an eye-pleasing coffeehouse with acceptable coffee, take a stroll over to Espressit.

*Update 5/18/09
Went back recently and had another shot at the espresso (no pun intended) and it really took the benefit of the doubt off the table. The espresso was fair with a nice mocha flavor but the back end produced an oily, harsh aftertaste (somewhat to the credit of La Colombe and the rest to the barista performance). Hopefully they switch up their roaster or something soon...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Design Your Own Blend?


The genius of some ideas stems simply from the obvious nature of them.

I got an email from the folks at The Roasterie
to inform me of their new program called my Blend, a process that allows you to create your own coffee blend. The way it works is that you answer a series of specific questions that helps you identify your favorite flavors in a cup of coffee, to which they can create a blend to match.

Granted you have to buy a minimum of 48 oz. of said blend, but when you think about it, they're roasting a whole batch to your specifications.

Honestly, I'm curious to see how well this works. If you've made your own blend, please either comment below or shoot me an email.

Friday, October 17, 2008

CC: Bulldog Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Bulldog Coffee
Location visited: Toronto, ON
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

or one reason or another, I have never noticed how much people love to eat outside until a couple years ago. Maybe it was because growing up, my family never really had AC and a trip to a restaurant with AC meant we were sitting inside, no questions asked.

Despite the past, I now greatly enjoy the prospect of sitting outside, especially on secluded patios full of beautiful plants. Oddly enough, some of the nicer patios I've found have been in winter-heavy Canadian cities such as Toronto and Montreal (seems they really know how to enjoy the nice weather when they have it), even extending to normally non-patio establishments such as coffeehouses.

One patio in particular that came as a surprise was at a place called Bulldog Coffee, a small cafe on a side street in Toronto. The place proved a little difficult to get to (weird one way streets) but after a little tenacity and a convenient parking spot, we found it. Upon first sight, I thought the place charming and well-placed as it sat handsomely on what seemed to be a residential street, complete with a nice patio area. Strolling through the doors, the coffeehouse is constructed wide; tables and chairs along the large front windows and the large counter along the back monochromatic wall.

Bulldog Coffee only serves espresso-based beverages, espresso that comes from a local roaster that roasts only for Bulldog and has no name. The shots were well-pulled, had a sweet fruity flavor, and provided a nice hang. My americano was ok; a little bland but my guess is that adding the water before the shots was the issue. The tea per their website comes in five varieties.

After finishing up my espresso on their vibrant patio, I meandered away with my americano content with my Bulldog experience. If you're in Toronto and up for a small hunt for a decent coffeehouse with a nice patio for a fair weather day, set your course for Bulldog Coffee.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

CC: Cool Beans Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Cool Beans Coffee
Location visited: Haddon Heights, NJ
(615 Station Ave)

Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 1+ [see key]

ulti-faceted businesses have an odd attraction of getting the best of multiple experiences at once. Take for example a combination barbershop and bar, MR of San Francisco. It seems like a great idea to grab a shave and a beer while watching a game with friends as it takes the social barbershop experience to a new level (even though alcohol and a blade seems like a bad combination).

But not all combinations work out for the best. Take a local coffeehouse in NJ called Cool Beans. I'd driven past it multiple times over the years, noticing the striped white and red awning as well as the simple attractive sign in the window. A recent lunch out with my wife and female in-laws (mother and sister) provided an opportunity to finally stop by. As I approached, I noticed they had videos on the wall and instantly thought "Hmmmm, video rentals and coffee...not a bad idea" and then, I walked in and noticed things seemed a bit out of sorts. Besides the video-lined wall not looking like it had been updated in some time, the shop was set up a tad unorthodox (i.e. dim lights, couches congregating around a central television, and only two tables at the front near the windows).

Still intrigued as to the workings of this shop, I stepped up to the back counter and placed my order. The coffee turned out to be La Colombe, and although my drip was fresh (I waited while they brewed it), the coffee predictably turned out a bit bitter and none too wonderful (most likely a bean problem). The espresso proved even worse, with a pair of really strong bitter shots that made me wince. The tea consisted of assorted bags.

As I was saying up top, not all combo businesses work out. In a brief conversation with the barista, it turns out Cool Beans is in the process of getting out of the video business (guess it's hard to compete with the big boys these days) and focusing on the cafe. And while the convenience of grabbing a latte and a flick has a fair ring to it, it's definitely best to recognize when the combo isn't working. Hopefully in the days to come, the cafe has a bright future of massive improvements (better coffee and better interior) in the single-facet coffeehouse business.

If you're in town, give it a gamble.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

CC: Manic Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Manic Coffee
Location visited: Toronto, ON
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

or the past few weeks I have been going crazy, feeling crushed by an unrelenting sluggishness. Though my routine has been no more difficult, for some odd reason I just feel lethargic. Some would say it's the onset of a cold; others would say that it is the changing of the seasons. And while it could have something to do with the first two (I did have the sniffles recently), I have deduced that it has something more to do with being in a slight directionless spot in my life (i.e. I feel like I'm not hearing/seeing God's directions). Sure it happens, but what confounds me is that despite knowing that I still need to press in/on, I am not making the effort.

Recently though, I caught the winds of some positive change on a trip to Toronto. The weather proved tremendous and the trip allowed for some quiet spiritual discussion as well as some great bonding with the wife. And while it would've seemed wise to avoid anything with a hint of association with mania this trip, I had in my sights anxiously set on a promising coffeehouse called Manic Coffee.

The coffeehouse sits nondescript amidst several other establishments on a main avenue of the city. The exterior is minimalist with a single sharp-looking bench in front of large windows. The interior is long and inviting, with a host of tables and very mellow green walls.

The coffee comes from Intelligentsia and 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters, both well-known, excellent roasters. That day I had the Ethiopian Sidamo via drip, a delightfully lucent and fruity brew. I also observed as I was sipping my drip that they had a "free" Clover, a most welcome sight these days (most of the others are enslaved now to Starbucks...). The barista expertly pulled a doubleshot using 49th's Epic Espresso, a decent espresso that produced flavors ranging from hints of a dry red wine to bittersweet cocoa; overall nice but a tad too dark for my tongue. The tea was free leaf and assorted.

Looking back, I actually left Manic Coffee with a little less mania. All goes to show the power of good coffee. Make sure that if you're in Toronto that you give Manic Coffee a visit.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Mugged: Escazu Coffee


What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Escazu Coffee
Coffee Mugged: Costa Rican
Rating: 4+ [see key]

nly a handful of coffee roasters would I call "bewitching", mainly because if I have realized anything, it is that roasting coffee is not easy. But I would now have to say that I have found a coffee befitting of the label "bewitching" purely for namesake purposes.

Recently I was introduced to Escazu Coffee, a coffee roaster out of Long Beach that roasts coffee only from Costa Rica. The company name comes from a spot in Costa Rica apparently renowned for its witches (as escazu means witch) and since the owners have ties of sorts to the locale, they adopted a witch as their name and logo.

Their coffee comes from Naranjo, Costa Rica and consequently they only sell a single kind of coffee (a unique approach, as most roasters have at least three types). Compliments of Escazu, I was able to try out the coffee recently in the space of my own domicile. The beans were a tad oily but not so much that it looked defective. I sampled the coffee through drip, french press, and vacuum press. French pressed, the coffee tasted nutty with a nice caramely sweetness though a tad charred on the back end. Vacuum press provided a similar experience; caramely with some hints of earthiness. The drip on the other hand produced a slightly more noticeable char in the cup but still, a pretty decent experience.

Escazu's coffee proved sumptuous though not completely entrancing. What I can say is that of all the Costa Rican coffees I've sampled, Escazu takes the cake. Thus, if you're looking for a decent Costa Rican coffee to take home, give Escazu a try.

Monday, September 29, 2008

CC: Mugs Coffee House

What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Mugs Coffee House
Location visited: Swedesboro, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

ew Jersey definitely holds a lot of people, as it is the most densely populated state in the union. And yet, if someone were to blindfold you and haul you to certain remote places in NJ, you would swear someone kidnapped you and took you across state lines (on a side note, always obtain consent from a person before blindfolding and carting them anywhere).

But dense or not dense, one thing is consistent with my home state; the signage and locations of things can be downright absurd. For example, I was recently driving around looking for a small coffeehouse in a small town called Swedesboro, and not only did Google map plot the address way outside of town but I drove through the town of Swedesboro twice and did not see one single sign announcing its existence. And I'm a native (I can't imagine the stress for someone from afar...)!

Anyways, I did finally find the coffeehouse above, a little place called Mugs Coffee House. A recent sprout on the coffee scene, it resides in a converted house on the main stretch of town. The exterior boasts a sharp-looking front porch complete with several tables and chairs. Walking in, you enter a long foyer that leads to the counter in the back of the house. The dining area to the right holds a series of comfy-looking chairs (though the color scheme of purple, orange and green has never hit me as pretty) as well as traditional table seating.

The coffee comes from Jersey Shore Coffee Roasters, a distant North Jersey coffee roaster that I don't think I've had before. The coffee served twas a Costa Rican that left me indifferent; a nice sweet note in the front followed immediately by a burnt blandness that made my tongue despair. The espresso had a twinge of potential, as it had a nice fruity acidity, but the shot was overall empty and flat (I didn't see the shots pulled, but my guess was a bad pull and possibly a mediocre espresso blend). The tea was Harney and Sons and they serve a full menu.

While I would say that Mugs would benefit from better coffee practices and/or better coffee (can't say I was thrilled with Jersey Shore), overall it seems the place provides a good hangout for locals and decent fare for the hungry. Thus, if you happen to be going through the town, give the coffeehouse a whirl; hopefully, you'll have better luck with signs.

Friday, September 19, 2008

CC: Funk N Waffles

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Funk N Waffles
Location visited: Syracuse, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

*Updated 9/27/09*

Some words you rarely see together but when they combine, they sound kinda good. Chocolate and sonata, anarchy and shutterbugs, or even fruit and fireworks (this last one I personally enjoy). Similarly, it wasn't until I ran across a small wafflerie near Syracuse University that I first heard the words 'funk' and 'waffles' in the same breath.

As the waffle and coffee trend seems to be on the rise, I was curious to see how the musical stylings of funk played into the equation of Funk N Waffles. The wafflerie stands in what appears to be a back alley called Campus Plaza between Marshall St. and Adams St. Walking in, you must first head down a treacherous set of steps in order to access the underground lair of Funk N Waffles. The shop opens up into an eclectic venue with various types of furniture and eyebrow-raising art along the walls, with the stage off to the back for when they have performances (which is frequently).

The coffee hails from Ancora Coffee Roasters, a Wisconsin coffee company new to my ears. The coffee brewed usually is the House Blend, which comes off with a slight bit of char and not too much flavor (seems to be a bean problem). The espresso is also not so hot despite baristas who seem to know what they're doing. The espresso usually tastes strongly of bitter oils, albeit slightly sweet with a nice hang (also a bean issue?). The tea is free leaf and from the looks of the menu, the waffles look amazing.

Granted the coffee aspects of Funk N Waffles seems like they could improve a bit (maybe change coffee roasters), but the business seems to be a thriving hangout and
music scene for student and local alike. Thus, if you happen to be in Syracuse and looking for either a place to groove to some local tune-age or a good place to grab a waffle and fair cup of coffee, head to Funk N Waffles.

*Update 11/22/08

Funk N Waffles recently swapped over to Equal Exchange. A depressing move in the wrong direction (can't say that Equal Exchange coffee has ever been anything but over-roasted). Maybe they'll change again soon?

*Update 9/27/09

They upgraded this past summer, this time to Gimme Coffee. The espresso has definitely improved a little bit due to the change in bean but it given use of good beans, the shots could still use some refinement. And while the drip is also Gimme, it seems to be very much the darker Gimme Coffees which I can't say I care for.

So, improvement with the coffee roaster but I assume that they're still adjusting.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Comical Corporate Coffee Conspiracies

Got an email from the author of
National Darkroast Day, what seems to be a humorous novel about a giant coffee company bent on a sinister plot (so unrealistic :) ). The synopsis shows what could be an interesting read.

If you've read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

CC: High Point Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: High Point Cafe
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
(602 Carpenter Ln)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

hiladelphia's Fairmount Park system is one that I feel gets a lot of bad rap. Sure some of the park areas don't seem too safe after the sun sinks below the horizon, but almost all parks have an element of danger after dark (especially when the park is the only open space in a large urban environment). But given a nice sunny day and agreeable companions, a trot through most parts of Fairmount Park can prove enjoyable.

One recent weekend, a couple of friends and I planned part of our fun day around Fairmount Park off Lincoln Drive. We had a nice picnic lunch and even a brisk walk through some woods (though some of my compatriots were not big on a sporadic hike due to the staunch heat). All in all, a pleasant time.

But after a bit of time outside amidst the natural, we decided to go seek out some coffee at a little known (at least to me) place called the High Point Cafe in the Mt. Airy region off Lincoln Drive. The coffeehouse sits amidst a cute little downtown complete with a co-op, bookstore, and environmental design shop. The tiny exterior of High Point stands welcoming with its red and green colors, decent outside seating, and overall clean design. Within the venue, the coffeehouse looks long with a fair amount of seating towards the front but mostly room for the line where the counter imposes. The animal art on the wall and the calm decor of orange and turquoise breathed a relaxing yet industrious environment.

The coffee comes mostly from True North, a coffee roaster out of Seattle, though they also serve a few Equal Exchange coffees (bleh). That day, I had a 3 bean robusta (True North) that tasted a bit dark but also had hints of caramel and a nice acidity; overall, a decent coffee. The espresso seemed to be a strength, as the barista definitely knew her coffee and definitely pulled a decent doubleshot, with nice crema and a bright chocolaty sweetness. The teas were free leaf and they also had a very alluring menu.

After sitting for a while, my friends and I headed out to play some chip and putt, but before we left one of my buddies mentioned that High Point was a good choice for the coffee stop. I have to say I agree (though I think if they tried a little harder, they could really reach their high point). If you're in the area, make sure to drop in.