Monday, June 30, 2008

CC: Sacred Grounds Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Sacred Grounds Coffee
Location visited:
Scranton, PA
(3 W Olive St # 108)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 2+ [see key]

Old friends coming to visit from far away not only provide a nice respite from the normal routine but also a wonderful chance to catch up. And if you're a friend is a coffee lover, it's also a good chance to take them by a few favorite spots.

So when my wife and I met a good friend in Scranton, we made sure to factor some good coffee into the equation. We had a nice cup of coffee from the Clover at Zummo's Cafe despite one of the employees having quite a cranky demeanor about telling us it was closing time (and what's up with the weird hours as of late?). So since we were thus driven from one coffee spot, we decided to try out another down the road called Sacred Grounds.

After a little seeking, we found the coffeehouse in a bland looking shopping center off of Olive Street. The coffeehouse boasted a fluorescent sign with a California Raisin/Coffee Bean hybrid accompanying the name. The interior was a bright mix of orange and black accompanied by tropical plants and a decent amount of seating.

The coffee comes from a roaster called Barrie House though the day I stopped by, they were brewing a different coffee (I believe it was Mayorga but the barista was very quick in flashing the bag). The coffee was smooth and none too harsh, but I can't really say it had any distinct flavors to it. Still, not bad.

The espresso proved a little disturbing, as it resulted from the barista only adding enough coffee to fill a fraction of the portafilter and was then pulled so long that my doubleshot was about 8 ounces (it filled half a large mug!). Needless to say, it proved to taste like a bitter cup of strong coffee.

The tea was Wagner's Tea.

Though the experience at Sacred Grounds proved somewhat off, the day was still well spent with a good friend (she was very thankful for the two stops too). But given the level of training and seeming lack of coffee passion, I don't think I'll be going out of my way to stop in again. But if you happen to be in the shopping center or the adjoining ice rink waiting for someone, give a go for yourself.

Friday, June 20, 2008

CC: Freedom of Espresso

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Freedom of Espresso
Location visited:
Syracuse, NY
(various locations)

Free WiFi ?
: yes

Rating: 4+ [see key]

Giant corporations bullying small businesses seems to happen so often, especially in the coffee world. One prime example was when a small coffee business opened in Syracuse, NY called Federal Espresso. The story goes that soon after Federal Espresso's inception, package goliath Federal Express takes them to court basically because their name sounds similar and after extensive litigation, Federal Espresso changes to Freedom of Espresso.

So for anyone who's heard or read of this debacle, it's only natural to visit Freedom of Espresso when in Syracuse. FOE has several locations (three in Syracuse and one in nearby Fayetteville), all of which I've had the opportunity to visit. The Franklin Square location is by far my favorite, set in a lovely location with decent parking and a sharp dual level loft-ish interior (though the purple-ish ventilation pipe looks way out of place). The other three locations either possess a somewhat drab interior or challenging parking/exit options.

FOE roasts their own coffee and seems somewhat bullish on blends (not a bad thing if done well). Of the many blends, I've had the House Blend and the African Blend most often. The African tends to be darker with a nice sweetness while the House demonstrates a subtle bright smoothness overshadowed by darkness. Neither are a favorite but better then mediocre. On a side note, they do have a few single origins such as the ever popular Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.

In my experience, the espresso usually delivers somewhat disappointing. My most recent visit produced the best doubleshot to my recollection; the shots were pulled decently, tasted fairly sweet, and possessed a velvety texture but the back end had a good deal of char. Overall, nothing fantastic. Of their tea, they serve a variety of bagged teas.

Overall, FOE does a decent job as a local coffee operation but with all of the initial Fed-Ex publicity and multiple locations, it really seems like the business could be so much more of a quality and cutting edge coffee operation then it is
(I mean, they don't even have a website!). Maybe I'm missing something, but I can't say that I'm too impressed.

Whether your curious to try some coffee from the coffeehouse that took on Federal Express or your looking for a halfway decent place in Syracuse to grab some coffee, give Freedom of Espresso a sampling.

Friday, June 13, 2008

CC: Ebenezers Coffeehouse

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Ebenezers Coffeehouse
Location visited: Washington DC
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Breathing new life into old structures, especially in an urban area, almost always comes off as a welcome sight. Not only are you being sustainable, but in most cases you're preserving a piece of history from days gone by.

Tis one of the things that I had heard about of a coffeehouse called Ebenezers located right near Union Station in DC. The building had prior been a diner for early AM passengers but in years since had fallen into neglect. Then recently, a local church bought it and renovated it into a coffeehouse and meeting space.

Standing outside it on a sunny day, Ebenezers stands out as a gorgeous stone corner property complimented by a beautifully bustling patio. The interior also stands out as a nice work of interior design with warm colors, some nice furniture, and a large amount of free space for traffic.

The coffee comes from a Fair Trade-centered roaster called Larry's Beans. The Mocha Java wasn't half bad; a bright honey flavor though it had bit of underlying char. The espresso was a sad story, as not only does Ebenezers not have any ceramic cups (important for espresso) but they also operate an automatic espresso machine (where's the love?). The espresso hence had some nice acidity but little other character. The tea was Mighty Leaf.

While I really like what Ebenezers has done with the place, I would say they still have some renovation to do on their coffee practices. If you happen to be near Union Station and in need of a place to meet people or to grab some coffee, give Ebenezer's a heave-ho.

Monday, June 09, 2008

CC: Spruce Street Espresso

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Spruce Street Espresso
Location visited:
Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

*UPDATED 1/29/14*

Location is CLOSED

Like a spoiled, sugar-driven child that impedes normal social interaction, so was the heat this past weekend. Lots and lots of soupy steaming air sure made me thankful for air conditioning (though I'm not at the point yet where I wish it was winter again). But as it was one of the free weekends in June, the wife and I made sure to utilize the most of it despite the oppressive heat by meeting up with some friends to grab lunch in Philly.

We found reasonable parking north of Market and after some brief indecision, settled on Profi's Creperie at the Reading Terminal Market (my one friend seems to love crepes almost as much as she loves her husband, but that's another story). The market was bustling with patrons but no matter the volume, it's always lovely to stop in. My crepe was by far one of the better I've ingested, though I felt the sauce in mine just a touch too rich.

After lunch, we logically decided to go get coffee. I suggested a new place that had sprung up a few months ago called Spruce Street Espresso. My compatriots agreed to go only if they had iced coffee, so I assured them if for some reason the place lacked that I could acquire them some speedily (the area has a good deal of coffeehouses).

When we arrived outside of Spruce Street Espresso, I realized that I had been to the spot a year prior when the space was another coffeehouse called Mochasmo or something like that. The exterior was much more inviting then it had been, with a nice blue sign and open blue-trimmed windows complimented with four tables to recline at amidst the heat. Walking inside, the place was well-organized and decorated for such a tiny space, though at the time an air conditioner would have made the place a little slice of heaven (I guess they get good cross breezes).

They serve Counter Culture (what seems to be a growing trend in Philly) and seem to be sticklers for the basics (i.e. they have a small traditional menu and take cash only). Given the extreme heat and the barista's recommendation, I ordered an iced coffee instead of the usual drip (also because I've had Counter Culture several times; I don't need another cup of drip to assure me it's good coffee). The iced brew was definitely made a la Japanese, a method I had just tried a couple days before in my own kitchen with similar positive results. The coffee was bright with a tinge of earthiness and proved very refreshing.

The espresso was also a wonderful beverage. The espresso was pulled well, provided a super-sweet chocolatey crescendo, and was served with a glass of water (usually one must ask for one). The tea is of the free leaf variety.

Looking back on the day, Spruce Street Espresso provided a wonderful accent to the day. After we left, we took at leisurely walk through LOVE park where we encountered an old friend of mine who told me about an event she was spearheading called Swing for the Cure (swing dance with a live band to support breast cancer research) that sounds like a wonderful time. We parted ways (she gave me a million fliers to pass onto friends) and the wife and I made our way to my sister's graduation party. Now that I think of it, Spruce Street Espresso made the rest of my day possible (my family still buys pre-ground grossness).

If you're in the area of Spruce and 11th, give SSE a stop.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

CC: Misha's

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Misha's Coffee Roaster and Coffeehouse
Location visited:
Alexandria, VA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Dinner in a really nice town rarely seems to bode well, especially when I am with family or friends. Why you may ask? Well besides no one ever springing for reservations, I would have to point out three factors that I always notice: indecision (shall we eat here, what about there, or let's do three more hours of searching and then we'll decide), fear of crowds (there's always one, even if he/she doesn't pipe up), and the ever-so-common virtue of impatience. That formula, contributed from all sides mind you, seems to always equal a mediocre dinner at a place that no one really likes anyways.

A recent dinner
in Alexandria had similar luck, mainly due to a tight schedule and a wicked over-saturation of folk near the water. Yet despite a quick dinner of half-decent Asian cuisine, spirits were still high as we walked back towards the metro. At about 3/4 of the way there, we halted and lo, there we beheld a coffeehouse dubbed Misha's sitting on a perpendicular street.

Needless to say I took advantage of our high spirits and we walked on over. The exterior was sharp; a white brick building with the name neatly emblazoned across the front in black script. As one walks in, a gargantuan counter and a menu of magnet letters greet you along with at least three baristas. In almost every direction, one finds a colorful orange and yellow space as well as a decent amount of seating, especially on either end of the establishment.

Misha's roasts their own coffee (the drum roaster sits in the seating area to the right of the counter) and they seem to have a wide spectrum of shades in which they roast, ranging from light to super uber-dark (or as they say on their site, "oily oily oily").
Discouragingly, I noticed the coffee is brewed and stored on a fleet of hot plate drip brewers (the ones you see in 7-Eleven or WaWa) which either means they're able to really move their coffee and they dump the remaining brew every half hour, or they let the coffee burn...

I happened to have a coffee called Caravan, a lighter roast that sampled deliciously sweet and chipper, with a small hint of berry. The espresso inversely seemed over-pulled with a harsh though sweet taste with the distinct hang of cardboard. The tea was from Stash Tea.

Overall, my Misha experience didn't really keep my spirits up, nor did it so for my patiently waiting friends. I did enjoy my cup of drip coffee and with such a large number of coffees (they had what seemed to be about 30 or so), I'm curious as to what the other coffees hold (minus the ones labeled "oily oily oily") and to see how they utilize their hot plates.

If you pop in (especially if you're a regular), I'd be curious to get your thoughts.