Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CC: Corning Museum of Glass Cafe

What's does "CC" mean? Location visited: Corning, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes

5+ [
see key]

Gorgeous museum layouts truly capture my admiration, and the Corning Museum of Glass did surprisingly that. I showed up expecting a warehouse-ish display of fancy old glass containers only to find an engaging collection of history, art and practical knowledge.

And the surprises did not stop there. As I walked into the cafe to get a glass of water, I noticed that they had a two group lever espresso machine, specifically a Mirage Idrocompresso, a machine I rarely see in serious coffeehouses never mind a museum cafe. I asked the barista if she knew how to use it, to which she confidently assured me she did, so I indulged and ordered an espresso.

Using Gimme Coffee's Piccolo Mondo (surprise number two: a museum using good coffee!), I must say I was floored. The barista not only handled the machine with grace but she pulled a delightful, short pair of shots with good crema and flavors of whiskey, sugar cane, chocolate chip cookie and but a smidgen of bitterness on the end. The single downside was that she only had paper cups.

The cafe also offers three drips; a medium roast, a dark roast and a decaf of Gimme Coffee. While I didn't go for any drip this trip, the pump pots seemed often replenished and I can at least vouch that Gimme's medium roasts are usually quite delicious (not a fan of their dark roasts and I don't drink decaf enough to recommend). I did not note the tea.

Walking away, I got my last surprise in that the barista told me that the museum plans to make this experience even better (I think that included ceramic cups) when they reopen their coffee bar in the near future (apparently it is closed for winter).

Putting it all together, I have to say that of all my cultured experiences, this is one of the few times where good coffee practices found a way in. If you're around Corning, even if you don't go into the museum, give the cafe or coffee bar a visit.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mugged: Artisan, Medium/Dark [Aduro Bean]


What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Aduro Bean Micro-Roasters
Coffees Mugged: Artisan, Medium/Dark
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Little nuances in how coffee consumers control their coffee have become interesting trends as of late. Specifically, I speak of the "make your own blend" and "select your roast" trends. While it gives the customer the proverbial steering wheel, I'm curious how customer satisfaction usually ends up panning out (i.e. you might not be happy with what you thought you wanted).

I received some coffee to try out from one such roaster, a Fort Worth coffee roaster called Aduro Bean Micro-Roaster (a roaster I had heard of mind you from the Texas Coffee People). While Aduro sent me their recommended roasts, they normally allow for patrons to select their own roast prior to ordering (Aduro makes their own recommendations of course).

The first coffee I tried out was their Artisan roast, their house blend roasted at their recommended medium/dark level. I sampled it in the usual three methods of drip, french press and siphon.

The french press produced a honey and jersey corn sweetness on the front, plus a bit of grain as well as a
harsh bitterness and pepper on the back end. The body was medium and somewhat smooth.

drip turned out a more subdued cup. Still had the corn and honey-like sweetness and a tinge of whole grain as well. The body was much heavier but also much smoother, as the bitterness and pepper were more confined to the aftertaste.

The siphon still had the same sweetness as well as a similar bitterness and pepper to the french press. Like the drip, there was a fairly heavy body but not as smooth. One unique facet was a guest appearance of grape in the middle of the cup.

Oddly, I wonder now that if I had the option of choosing a medium roast of this same bean that it would have proven a better cup. Only time (or $10.50 + shipping and handling) will tell.

If you're looking for a decent med/dark coffee, try out the Artisan blend of Aduro Bean.

note: coffee was provided free of charge and the above review is objective feedback.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

CC: The Sweet Life Bakery

What's does "CC" mean? Location visited: Vineland, NJ
Free WiFi ? : no

4+ [
see key]

Albeit coffee and sweets are natural friends, I have not seen many bakeries that serve good coffee, never mind good espresso. Usually, it's just an aging pot of coffee sitting next to heavily-iced cakes.

Yet things seem to be swinging around at some confectioneries, places where the coffee quality has begun to take an appropriate spotlight.

One such example would be the Sweet Life Bakery in Vineland, NJ. The bakery has received some decent acclaim for their baking exploits (apparently they have the best muffins in South Jersey) but it was a trusted friend endorsing their coffee prowess that made me stop by on a recent trip through the deep south of NJ.

The Sweet Life sits on a side street off East Landis Ave (despite having the address of said street) in a small yellow building next to a very convenient public parking lot. The inside of the bakery is cozy and simple; a few tables right near the front counter where all of the baking and making happens.

The coffee comes from nearby Kaffe Magnum Opus, a decent local South Jersey roaster. I ordered their featured drip, the Havana Nights blend, a coffee that offered a fairly bright and balanced cup, featuring hints of pear, a slap of bitterness and a trailing sauciness (overall, not bad). The espresso, a quality short/medium pull from a one group Nuova Simonelli, displayed a buttery, bitter flavor with flecks of cocoa and a nice milky aftertaste; an overall pretty good espresso. The tea I did not catch.

While I definitely could see this little bakery ascending to great heights, I can say that they at least stand ahead of many bakeries due to their coffee aspirations. If you are looking for a good cup of coffee in Vineland, stop by the Sweet Life.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mugged: Costa Rican Tarrazu [Uncommon Grounds]


What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Uncommon Grounds
Coffees Mugged: Costa Rican Tarrazu Fair Trade and Organic
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Even though I expect it, mid-January always hits me with its lack of fun weather and as of late, excessive deadlines. Usually within these times it's the little things, such as a decent coffee new to my tongue, that seem to have a greater, much-more-appreciated oomph.

Given this fact, it was a nice surprise to have received a pound of Costa Rican Tarrazu from a recently reviewed coffee roaster and cafe, Uncommon Grounds. The coffee came in a large paper bag, filled to the brim with a medium roast edging on dark. I brewed the coffee via drip, siphon and french press.

The drip, brewed first, birthed a brew rich in dark chocolate and with hints of pumpkin and cloves. A bit of dark bitterness emerged as the cup cooled, having a moderate effect of making the cup less sweet and more peppery.

The french press also presented a nice dark chocolaty cup with chipper notes of spice and a developing bitterness. The french press seemed to have a much more deep and earthy taste to it.

The siphon had the least bitterness of the three yet it was more one dimensional as well, with all the spotlight on the rich chocolate and only small cameos of earthiness and bitterness. The siphon consistently produced the smoothest body of the three methods.

Though I can't say this was the best Costa Rican coffee I've ever had, it proved to be among some of the better. Whether you frequent the cafes of Uncommon Grounds or you're looking for a decent Costa Rican online, give this one a try.

note: coffee was provided free of charge and the above review is objective feedback.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mugged: Pu-Erh [Tea]


What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Golden Moon Tea
Coffees Mugged: Pu-erh
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Much of my love for tea has been overshadowed greatly by my love for coffee. Granted, my love for tea developed out of my love for coffee and I definitely drink a lot more coffee than tea, but palate still holds great love for tea.

Yet "tea review" opportunities are few (and tea reviewers seem in great numbers), so I jumped at a recent chance to try out some of Golden Moon Tea's Pu-erh.

Pu-erh is an odd kind of tea. It's history is much like most teas in that Pu-erh is the name of a town in the Yunnan province, the only province that makes true Pu-erh. Pu-erh is a tea that not only has geographic limits but it also varies in that it is an aged and fermented tea, though the difference in age and quality can drive prices into the tens of thousands.

So going simply off the price tag, the tea from Golden Moon clearly was not the highest level but I went into the various muggings with high expectations. The tea arrived in a free leaf form (Pu-erh is also found in compressed cake form), sealed in an air tight tin.

As I mentioned, I mugged the tea multiple times and also made sure to do multiple steepings, as unlike coffee, many teas can be reused for several infusions. Below follows the average results.

1st steep: the tea produced a smoky aroma as well as a smell similar to spices used in Thai food (some would also liken it to a slightly fishy smell). To encapsulate the oral experience, it had a bit of teriyaki, a nice smokiness, strong earthiness, a nice jalepeno after taste and a surprisingly smooth body.

2nd steep: the aroma remained pretty constant (smoky and thai spices) but the taste had much more jalepeno and pepper in this cup. Unlike the first cup, there was a little sweetness in this cup akin to jasmine.

3rd steep: the aromas remained strong and the flavors still had a smoky and spicy taste. The sweetness and other flavors were much less present but overall still good.

Overall, I really liked this tea. While it's not a tea for the average tea drinker, I would recommend it for someone who likes strong, aromatic teas with nontraditional flavors (kinda like lapsang souchong) and/or a person who likes to try something different.

If you're looking for a decent Pu-erh, give Golden Moon a try.

note: tea was provided free of charge and the above review is objective feedback.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Mugged: Panama Elida Estate [Verve Coffee Roasters]


What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Verve Coffee Roasters
Coffees Mugged: Panama Alto Quiel Boquete Elida Estate Dry Process Catuai
Rating: 5+ [see key]

The Bay area is one chunk of California I long to return to, as much has transpired since I have been there last in early 2007. Coffee has taken off quite rampantly, with lots of promise and interesting prospects (you can see a sampling of such things in many Bay-based blogs such as Man Seeking Coffee or The Shot).

Yet once again, I am tided over until I can make such a trip with some whole bean coffee from afar; this time, 12 ounces from Santa Cruz's Verve Coffee Roasters.

Verve's Panama Elida Estate happened to be
the third coffee from my partially debited GoCoffeeGo order and was definitely a coffee I was looking forward to. Not only has Verve won quite a few hearts with their stellar roasting and exceptional cafe operations, but the description of this particular Panamanian coffee truly had my mouth watering.

I received the coffee roasted-to-order from Verve in a simple brown bag (one of very few quality roasters that strays from the CO2 valve) about four days after ordering. I mugged the coffee in the usual three methods of french press, drip and siphon.

The french press initially exploded with a fusion of raspberry and date, followed by a little lemon grass and following in the caboose was a tinge of smokiness. I was tremendously pleased with not only the flavor but the smooth body of the coffee.

The drip also produced a strong, sweetly sour berry flavor with the subtle taste of date, but the cup had much more of a smoky flavor. Overall, there was a nice sweet and sourness to the whole cup and still a nice smoothness.

The siphon stood out with a still beautifully berry-licious cup of coffee, though there was much less of the strong sweet and sourness and more of a light, tea-ish body. This cup was also much earthier than the other two.

As I neared the end of this coffee, I really wished I had more of it to go around. If you're looking for an amazing, flavorful Panama, definitely try out this particular crop from Verve while you can.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

CC: Uncommon Grounds

What's does "CC" mean?

Uncommon Grounds
Location visited: Saratoga Springs, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes

3+ [
see key]

How I've overlooked Saratoga Springs all my life, I do not know. To me, it meant a distant race track and some mineral water, but a recent trip into town illustrated a more copious sampling of opportunities than I thought probable.

Of course, I was also pulling blindly for a good coffee experience, this time from a place called Uncommon Grounds, what seemed like my best hope in town after much dead end research.

My entourage and I pulled up in front of the shop amidst a bustling Saturday morning crowd. Uncommon Grounds resides in a large white brick building with a large awning and alcoves ripe for outside seating in nice weather.

The interior was quite behemoth in scope; a large space with a faux-courtyard (or faux-house depending on your view) in the middle with lots of seating in and around it. I made my way to the crowded counter off to the left and ordered a drip of their house blend (they roast their own coffees) and an espresso. The house blend was birthed out of one of their many pump pots; a slightly old, slightly bitter coffee that had bits of tart berry and a relatively smooth body (i.e. mediocre cup). The espresso, pulled of a medium volume had a lot of crema, a chocolate milkshake-ish taste and consistency, followed by a tiger-sized bite of bitterness on the back end. The tea was free leaf.

Before I had ventured to Saratoga Springs, I read on a forum somewhere that given the beauty and draw of the area, Saratoga Springs needs a great coffeehouse. I would venture that given some overhaul, Uncommon Grounds could be that place. If not, the field seems ripe for a savvy newcomer.

If you happen to be in town, try out Uncommon Grounds.