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.