Friday, February 27, 2009

CC: Kaffe 1668

What's does "CC" mean?

Kaffe 1668
Location visited: Manhattan, NY

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

Not every day do I get an actual good lead or corroboration on a new-to-me coffeehouse from personal contacts. Most often people will throw me something I've been to or have heard often, but not always do new or forgotten tips pour forth.

But just this past week I was talking to a new acquaintance and he reminded me of a place I'd heard of but had escaped my radar, a place called Kaffe 1668. With my memory freshly jogged, I made my way over soon after.

Kaffe 1668 is located a block or two north of Ground Zero on Greenwich St in a nondescript building with floor-to-ceiling windows and a simple street sign outside. The inside blew me away with an almost complete contrast, as the interior was possibly the best decorated cafe I've ever seen, with beautiful furniture (even a beautiful banquet table) and just an overall well-construed ambiance that made me want to redecorate my apartment.

The coffee comes from Intelligentsia and Plowshares Coffee Roasters, as well as a guest espresso from random roasters (this time, it was from Ecco Caffe). I had the Bolivian (didn't ask who roasted it, though I'm pretty sure it was Intelligentsia) via a Clover machine. The coffee came out beautifully, displaying hints of flowering grass and an overall taste of pomegrante. I had the guest espresso, an Ethiopian single origin from Ecco, which by far was one of the best espressos I have had in a long time; the front of the shots were crowned with the flavors of vanilla ice cream, following with some orange and semi-sweet chocolate. The tea is free leaf and organic.

Walking away, I thanked my lucky stars that Kaffe 1668 made it back onto my map as the experience was one I shant forget. If you are anywhere near Manhattan, give it a hearty try.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ICC and Illy's Coffee Expert Class


his past Monday and Tuesday, the International Culinary Center in NYC and Illy Caffe held the first class of Coffee Expert: From Plant to Cup, a class aiming to educate both "devoted coffee lovers and industry professionals" on the ways and correct techniques of serving superior coffee.

Looking at who was putting on the class, it seemed that the hosts possessed some strong credentials; the International Culinary Center holds a strong culinary reputation and Illy Coffee, though a large producer of what I would interpret as sub-par coffee (pre-ground and coffee pods), has a strong legacy of quality and a strong claim to the form of espresso as we know it today.

So when an invitation to attend landed in my inbox, I decided to
clear my schedule and experience the class.

I arrived Monday morning to a small lecture hall in the ICC, complete with two large La Cimbali espresso machines (Illy customized) and a large host of people ranging from local cafe owners to coffee enthusiasts. The main instructor was Moreno Faina, a formal professor of Universita del Caffe', the backbone of the class. The other instructors were Giorgio Milos, a well-seasoned barista who has claimed many awards, and three ICC instructors: Chef Candy Argondizza, Karin Endy and Alexis Kahn.

The class went much the same both days; lecture and coffee tasting throughout the day and the last two hours of both days were focused on letting the participants try their hands at making quality espresso and cappuccinos. Lunch was also provided.

In the end, my impressions were as follows:

- Illy really seems to know their stuff when it comes to history, technique, and processes. I would have to say I learned a few things about espresso machines, barista skills and agriculture.

- Giorgio demonstrated amazing barista wisdom and skills. I learned most from the basic tips and wisdom he offered as well as his outstanding performance.

- Lunch was amazing both days.

- The coffee tastings were a great introductory excercise for those not accustomed to looking for detailed characteristics in their coffee (I found it a welcome refresher).

- While the presenters really knew their stuff, they hailed the Illy espresso pods and pre-ground coffee as acceptable practices in a business. Yes I know that Illy is a business that needs to make money and of course they recommended fresh ground coffee and manual espresso machines as better, but recommending low quality products as acceptable is never acceptable.

- Illy is obsessed with blending and the importance of blending coffee for espresso became a point all too emphasized. Sure blending for espresso is a tried and true means of producing consistent espresso, but single origin espresso holds great potential (not to mention sway!).

- The coffee background was extensive yet also a little shallow in my opinion. Granted I've studied my coffee textbooks, but I feel that for an introductory course there were some things that could have been trimmed down and other things that could have been expounded.

- The session seemed too specific to Illy culture, as there was little American coffee wisdom in the session. What I mean by that is that the session focused on what Illy holds as acceptable and while Illy shares a good deal of overlap into the American coffee scene, there are some differences, which most of the session attendees will encounter. I feel that if they pulled in a non-Illy guru (preferably a true coffee expert with minimal corporate ties), the class would be much more well-rounded.

- To follow the last point, the Illy influence was overall too much. There were marketing gimmicks left and right, there were account representatives and a lot of the information was Illy specific. Subtle marketing would have gone down much smoother.

My final word would be that the session was an overall decent experience. I would recommend it for anyone just getting into coffee, a cafe owner/restauranter absolutely sure they want to use Illy as their coffee roaster or someone looking to emulate Italian coffee practices down to the smallest detail.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

CC: Groundwork

What's does "CC" mean?

Location visited: Hollywood, CA
1501 N. Cahuenga Boulevard)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Walking around Hollywood was surprisingly calm, even the week before the Oscars. I guess being an east coaster, I kinda equate large metropolitan areas with raging torrents of focused people. Yet Hollywood showed me a lovely day of easy parking, serendipitous sidewalks and pleasant people.

To stretch my legs and enjoy a (hopefully) good cup of coffee, I stopped at a local Groundworks. The coffee establishment has numerous locations in the greater LA area and has a close to 20 year legacy, so when I got a recommendation to stop in I figured it a good opportunity.

The Hollywood location sits on the corner of N. Cahuenga and Sunset, a light brick building with lovely tan awnings and shiny outside seating. The inner cavity displayed a cafe of decent size with a good amount of seating, including a large viking-size banquet table complete with benches.

They roast their own coffee at Groundwork, and they seem to brew half of their offerings each day as there were 8 pump pots of coffee to choose from. I began pumping their Peru when it ran out after two pumps, but not wanting to just chuck it, I figured I'd give it a sample; it proved bright and very floral, with some hints of berry. Then I had their Brazil, a darker blend that held little distinction; just char and a moderate smooth texture. To note, they also had pour overs towards the back but they didn't seem to be used much. The espresso gave a good showing, as it was pulled short, had decent crema and had a lemony tang up front complimented with a good body and only a small bit of char on the end. The tea is free leaf.

After a good deal of leg stretching and coffee, I moseyed out onto the civil streets of Hollywood a refreshed man. My overall impression of Groundwork was of a decent cafe with a few minor areas to further streamline. If you're in town, treat yourself to some Groundwork.

Go Green Expo

I'm not sure how much coffee-related stuff there will be at each location, but the conference sounds like it would be a good opportunity to peruse the latest in sustainable/eco-friendly efforts.

Check it out here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

CC: La Mill Coffee

*Update for May 27, 2013*
Subject: La Mill Coffee
Location: Baltimore, MD
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Baltimore's inner harbor is a great destination that, for a long time, only seemed to be lacking a great coffee joint. Thankfully, the harbor is now home to the first east coast location to La Mill Coffee, a Los Angeles blockbuster receiving all too many accolades for great coffee and great service. Keeping with their illustrious reputation, LA Mill managed to find a home in the Four Seasons right in downtown.

Swinging by one lovely morning, I found the familiar La Mill sign not far from the hotel entrance. Walking in, I found a gorgeous open shared interior with the hotel tavern that was chock full of various seating, large windows and beautiful design. For my coffee, I ordered a pourover of a Guatemala and an espresso of their Bliss Espresso blend. The Guatemala pourover smacked of sugar cookie, sassafras, wheat, malt and nutmeg, proving sweet with a nice malty finish. The espresso, pulled short with a brown crema, tasted of herbs de Provence, cocoa, salt, milk, lemon rind, grapefruit and a little pepper.

As I had hoped and longed for, this expansion of a westerly gem retained all of its luster. If you're downtown or around the harbor, stop by the Four Seasons for a great cup of coffee at La Mill.


*original post from February, 2009*
Subject: La Mill Coffee
Locations visited:
Los Angeles, CA 
Free WiFi ?
: yes
6+ [see key]

There is nothing like a nice warm respite in the warmer parts of the country in the dead of winter. But there is also nothing worse then getting there and finding it cold and rainy. Alas, my fate was somewhere between those two maxims in a recent trip to LA; warmish weather with spells of torrential rain. Fortunately I had some wonderful coffee prospects to keep my spirits soaring.

One particular gem I've had my eye on for some time was a ritzy establishment called La Mill Coffee. It had developed a reputation for taking the coffee experience to new heights, with table service, exquisitely-skilled baristas and higher end products.

Needless to say, I wasted no time in getting there. I arrived on a sunny morning, seeking parking on the crowded streets of Silver Lake. To my surprise, La Mill had it's own parking lot despite being on a crowded thoroughfare. Walking up to the front, the cafe stands out from the rest of the street with it's glaring red store front and beautiful windows. Inside the red continues into a well-decorated interior full of beautiful art, chandeliers and a large array of upscale dining areas.

The coffee is their own, consisting of four coffees that day. I decided to try their Nicaraguan, brewed on their Clover. I usually am not visually affected when I first sip coffee, but this one made my eyes roll into the back of my head and caused me to take a deep breath. This coffee tasted like a smooth light roast and had distinct flavors of toasted nut and chocolate. The espresso was pulled really short and demonstrated similar amazing-ness; smacks of honey, super velvety texture and light acidity. The teas were free leaf and La Mill also offers what looks like a decadent full menu.

On the whole, I left La Mill walking on air. I would say that this place needs to be a detour if you're visiting the area and a common hangout if you live nearby.

Friday, February 13, 2009

CC: Boulder Coffee Company

What's does "CC" mean?

Boulder Coffee Company
Location visited: Rochester, NY
(Alexander St location)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

While I am tremendously aware that good interior design is hard to come by, I still find it a bit depressing to find so few good examples of it in coffeehouses. Sure, other things factor in (location, economy, etc) but with so many resources out there for the design-challenged (like IKEA and blogs like Apartment Therapy to start), it just seems so wrong to sit in a boring white wall cafe adorned with Walmart art and coffee puns.

But recently I stumbled upon a swanky coffee pad in Rochester called Boulder Coffee Company. The place sits in the downtown area of Rochester in a rather large brick building. The inside opens up into a beautiful facility with high ceilings, candle-lit tables,vintage furniture, a ceramic-tiled stage for performers and a beautiful collection of eclectic art. And judging by the website and nice stage, it seems that a lot of local talent go through their doors.

They roast their own coffee and seem to have a fair amount of offerings. I had the Boulder Blend, a fair coffee with hints of honey but with strong shades of char, not to mention a little stale; can't say I was thrilled with it. The espresso actually proved slightly unique in a good way; the shots were pulled long and the closest thing I can pin the taste to is like chocolate milk with a nice acidity and only a hint of char. Besides the coffee and tea (the tea I forgot to note), they also serve wine, beer and a full food menu.

While I can skim little from the actual intended coffee practices from the website, I feel that Boulder seems on the right path. I definitely would like to give Boulder another try the next time I'm in town. If you're nearby and looking for decent coffee and a beautiful place to sit, give one of Boulder's locations a try.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Specialty Coffee in Atlanta!


Ever wanted to network with some of the best in the coffee and tea industry? If you're in the area of Atlanta (or you wish to be) on April 16 - 19, you definitely should stop by The Specialty Coffee Event SCAA 2009 (i.e. the SCAA's 21st Exposition)

Events will include the World Barista Competition (there's still some regional competitions going on if you'd like to get into some local amazing-ness) and some other amazing workshops.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Product Review: FortePromo's Cafe Set


Coffee House Cafe Set
3+ (translates to "good")

offee and tea are only good if they can be enjoyed correctly. What good is coffee if you cannot brew it, espresso if you have not the proper machine or grinder, or tea... well, if you have not a cup full of close-to-boiling water (let's face it; it doesn't take much to enjoy tea).

Consequently, quite often we beverage geeks really pay a lot of attention to equipment. So when sent me their cafe set to try out, I was interested to test out the quality.

Though I've personally not had much experience with, it seems the company has a great deal of background in personalizing products for promotional purposes (which is also easily deduced in that you need to buy 24 sets for the low price of $25) and also produces what seems to be pretty decent products.

The cafe set arrived in a nice black box. The set includes a 1 cup french press (around 18 oz) and two small mugs fashioned in likeness to the french press (i.e. glass in a wire frame). As I've noted in my explorations, the lid and plunger really define the set and thus, I noted that the lid is a basic two-layer plastic (there's a separable white plastic dome under the lid) and the plunger is a plastic and mesh composite.

After a couple runs, I felt that I really got the full experience of the set. To start with the less complex, I found the cups to be quaint and of decent quality. The only detraction was that the coffee residue (the fine grinds that always sneak in) looks a whole lot worse in a clear cup.

The french press proved overall decent. The glass pot seems to hold up under the wear-and-tear of use, the frame proved durable, and the plunger did a good job of holding back the grinds. My only dislikes were that the plunger's only rest position was in full plunge (i.e. the plunger was not wide enough to stop at various degrees of altitude), which made keeping the lid on between the initial mixing and 4 minutes later a bit difficult.

In the end, I found the set to be decent (especially for the price!) with but a few drawbacks. I would get this set for someone who's just getting into coffee, someone looking for a press for travel, someone who has a good coffee marketing idea, or someone who has dire need for a lot of reserves.

If you're in the market for a regiment of french presses, give a try.