Thursday, February 28, 2008

CC: Premium Steap

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Premium Steap
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Tea has always been a second love (drink-wise of course; overall it's fourth as God and wife obviously trump coffee and tea) and for many people, a first. Yet it isn't often that you run across a tea establishment, at least not in the Northeast.

Thus, Premium Steap was a lovely surprise to stumble across one night while meandering around Philadelphia. The shop from afar blended in with the rest of the 18th St venues but when one stood in front of it, the store displayed a beautiful storefront complete with a very sharp awning. At the time it was closed, but I could see that the shop had numerous canisters of tea and from what it looked like, a bar from which to sample the tea.

But it wasn't until about a month ago that I actually got to stop in and try it. It was a blustery afternoon and I was with friends who graciously allowed me to stop in real quick to check the place out. The interior was nice, a bit messy, and the woman (the owner) was definitely amidst a flurry of activity. Also while browsing the teas, for the first time I noticed the complete lack of places to sit and realized the shop was more of a tea and accessory emporium then a sit-down-and-sip-your-tea shop (plus the website touting the former name of the "Wayne Tea Salon", definitely seems to spell out "store").

The owner was helpful (though I couldn't help but feel like she was vibing the "buy something or get out" message as I browsed). She showed me a handful of teas and I ended up taking a cup of black tea to go (which sampled wonderfully; not too tart and with a beautiful body).

While I do want to go back and give some of the other teas a go and maybe take some home, I really can't say I had a great experience (in taking a moment to think about it, I really have to attribute it to the owner's flustered countenance as well as the slightly messy interior). But given the product had nothing to do with the negatives, for now I'm going to chalk it up as a bad day for the owner. The next time I make a stop in will hopefully be a better time; either way, I'll write about it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

CC: Joe Coffee Bar

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Joe Coffee Bar
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Car trouble has a whole lot of negatives but every now and then it has a noticeable silver lining. Recently, my faithful steed (car) decided to stall near Jefferson Hospital in Philly and instead of getting upset, I decided to park my car and take a walk. Lo and behold when I turn the corner onto Walnut, I glimpse one of the coffeehouses on my list to try; Joe Coffee Bar.

I remember first seeing it and initially pegging it as a cafe that served as a watering hole for those needing a quick cup of mediocre coffee. But then I had heard some positive things from people who worked in the area and ever since, had scribbled it onto my list. The interior has a very open feel and decent ambiance, complete with a nice array of local art adorning the walls and their very own ATM. Not to mention they have quite a unique niche (as advertised on the website) that you can rent out the store for 2 hours during their off-hours (wonder what the fee is given the location...).

My initial assumption of their product angle was a strong emphasis in fair trade and organic products, which was pretty well-confirmed by their coffee offerings from Equal Exchange and Torreo (both I've had experience with and neither wows me). The coffee sampled was a medium-roast Guatemalan that tasted decent yet left me feeling very one-dimensional. The espresso was pulled decently and had a nice crema, but at the same time was stiff and presented nothing grand. Didn't catch the tea.

In the complete experience, it seemed Joe Coffee Bar has a lot of the right stuff not very well utilized. Seems like they'd be sitting pretty if they tweaked a few things behind the counter, gave the shop a good spit shine, and spruced up the website. For now, yet another Philadelphia coffeehouse to add to the long list of average coffee establishments.

Friday, February 15, 2008

CC: Ithaca Coffee Company

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Ithaca Coffee Company
Location visited: Ithaca, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

It really comes as a surprise to me how much influence pretty architecture, decor, and design has on my bearings when I come across businesses, especially (and obviously) coffee establishments. It's always refreshing to see a local, regional, or even national establishment put creativity and pizazz into their decor. Not to mention that a business that puts you to sleep with its drab walls or eye-burning decor needs to spend a little time rethinking the importance of first impressions.

So when I pulled up to Ithaca Coffee Company, I was very used to the flat brick exterior as there's not much one can (cheaply) do with the outer face; it's the inside that should shine (though they had very nice red awnings). Yet when I walked in, I was a little perplexed, as the sign said "Ithaca Coffee Company" but the coffee establishment in my midst said "Cafe Quik-E Mart." The place was very much filled with all kinds of products, even beer towards the back of the space. Upon further inspection of the company, it seems they produce a whole lot more then coffee so consequently the space serves dually as a cafe and store (at first, caught me as weird but now it seems to be a wise service of convenience). To their credit, the place has a decent look and moderate seating, but I think it could use a bit more design love.

Onto the product, ICC roasts a number of varieties of coffee, with a good handful that look pretty promising according to their website. In-house, the coffee sampled nicely with some floral and berry accents in the coffee (I recall it being the Ithaca blend). The espresso was also not bad, as it possessed a nice fruitiness in the cup and a barista that seemed to have qualified skills. I failed to note the tea.

After leaving, I gotta say I kind of envy Ithaca. They not only have Gimme! but on days where they want something different, they have ICC; especially if they need to grab a some cheese and a 6-pack.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Valentines Coffee

Many of us out there struggle special occasion to special occasion to come up with something creative and original to do for the one we love. Any more, the individual that shows up with a box of chocolates and a dozen roses is better off to come a calling with a crazed badger in tow and a rusty rake in hand (the badger and the rake will at least generate a story).

To alleviate such stress, I personally try to keep my thinker (brain) running year-round so to generate some random ideas for such occasions as the upcoming February the 14th. But since my wife sparingly sips from the tankard of coffee (she's more into tea), I decided I'd post a couple ideas for Valentines Day involving coffee that would otherwise go to waste.

One obvious similarity in all of the points is that you use quality coffee (I will make some specific suggestions but if you're at a loss for a substitution/similarity, hopefully you're not to far from a coffee-wise peddler). Remember, thoughts count but don't ever try to woo with something pre-ground out of a can...

Anyways, here's what I got:

1. The age-old breakfast in bed, but take it up a notch. Read up on some food blogs on how to make a good omelette, where to get the right berries to top some waffles, and of course concoct some good coffee. Depending on tastes, I'd go with a full-bodied medium coffee (Crescent Moon in Mullica Hill has an Ethiopian Amaro Gayo that has a beautiful fusion of strong flavor and beautiful berry tones that would make an excellent morning brew).

2. If you're in charge of the dinner plans that evening and you decide you're staying in, try your hand at coffee pairing. Many coffees mesh beautifully with different foods (this past edition of Imbibe had a very enlightening article on the subject) so why not pair some homemade treats with a cup of exquisite coffee? If you have a french press or vacuum press, make sure to utilize it; the ensuing coffee will hold flavors that otherwise would have been left behind. Also note that it's always safer to pair coffee with desserts then with non-desserts, so unless you're feeling confident don't do coffee and dinner (experiment with pairing at a time of less pressure).

3. Surprise him/her at work with a thermos of coffee you just brewed moments ago or with a cup from their favorite place that's nowhere near work. Heads up: if you work at the same time, you will need to figure out how you're escaping from work in order to do this.

4. If you have a significant other that only likes the smell of coffee, grind up some coffee and place it around your domicile in small bowls
right before they arrive.

5. Try cooking a meal with coffee as the common ingredient. I stumbled across this free e-book (in this case over 100 coffee recipes in a pdf) though I've seen plenty more recipes out there (depends where you look and what blogs you read).

6. If you're sweetie is a huge coffee snob, why not go with him/her to a coffee cupping? Chances are you're near a coffee roaster that cups every Friday (Crescent Moon, Gimme!, Counter Culture, etc). For a longer list, try the Coffee Geek World Regional Forums.

7. If you know/have access to a coffee roaster or if you/your honey home roasts, name a coffee blend (make sure it's good) after him/her. And for the love of donuts, give it a good name too; something that incorporates your snookie wookums (for example, if you affectionately refer to your better half as "Helga", try a name like "Helga's Hair Straightener").

8. If you have an espresso machine and you know how to do latte art, make him/her a latte or cappuccino with a cute heart atop.

9. Coffee beans make great decor and accent pieces. Make a coffee heart on the table or accent your chocolate-laced parfait with a crush coffee bean topping. If throwing coffee beans on your furniture is all you have planned for the coffee you buy, you can go with the cheap stuff (avoid oily dark roasts though; lots and lots of residue).

If you have any of your own, feel free to post them in a comment.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

CC: Bunbury's Coffee Shop

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Bunbury's Coffee Shop
Location visited: Piermont, NY
(460 Piermont Ave)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

New York definitely comes across to me as a funny state. Growing up in NJ, "New York" was used more to refer to metropolitan area across the Hudson. But now having traveled numerous miles across the gargantuan state, I can say it's definitely a melange of environments.

Piermont is one of the more interesting New York towns I've visited, a boating hot spot situated right on the Hudson at the bottom of "Upstate" New York (does it really start being Upstate once you get north of NYC?). Having stopped in nearby Nyack before, I was very familiar with Piermont's treacherous roads before I arrived so navigating down the hillside settlement proved elementary. Once I got to the harbor area, I began seeing some cute shops as well nice areas to walk around in warmer days.

Bunbury's Coffee Shop sits with the shops on the main stretch of town. It has an adorable exterior enhanced by large windows with an inside that matches, complimented by narrow yet oddly functional seating packed with locals.

The coffee came from Coffee Labs, a roaster closeby in Tarrytown that usually produces a decent cup of coffee. Bunbury's coffee (a Columbian that day) proved to be consistent with its supplier, having a decent flavor and body. Sadly, the espresso inversely twas poorly pulled and tasted pretty bleh. The freeleaf tea was stored in cute silver bins; I failed to sample any.

For a lovely harbor town, Bunbury's has found a good niche but they seem like they have a couple areas to refine. Granted I haven't been by in some time, so in the event that things have improved, I'd like to hear such encouraging words. But for now, give Bunbury's a try to see how they fare in your esteem.