Sunday, December 29, 2013

CC: Cake and the Beanstalk

Subject: Cake and the Beanstalk
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Certain retail spaces seem to be perpetual coffeehouses, as if the space can harbor no other type of business. One such place is a shop on Locust between 11th and 12th that over the years has held at least two shops prior to the current tenants. Chalking up the past cafes' failure to poor quality (the coffee was swill as I remember in both cases), the current resident coffeehouse seems to be a place looking to serve quality products, a place called Cake and the Beanstalk.

Wandering over one overcast day, I found C & the B running full tilt, with a house full of chipper regulars and an atmosphere ever-bubbling. The brightly decorated cafe straddles two rooms, with the bar in the first and the seating in the second, with the seating room feeling immensely more open and airy compared to the first.

As for coffee, they offer Counter Culture staples, that day the Farmhouse for drip and the Toscano for the espresso. The Farmhouse tapped out cherry, shredded wheat, caramel, almond and a little malt ball, proving sweet with medium body. The espresso, pulled short with a light brown/blonde crema, smacked of cocoa, a little lemon and some sage, making for a slightly astringent pull that could be slightly tweaked, but was overall pretty good. I feel its also necessary to mention that true to their name, they have various cakes-by-the-slice for sale.

Thus, it is one of my prayers that the beanstalk thrives and that it continues to grow and refine its technique. If you happen to be in neighborhood (a lot of traffic seems to be for the copious amount of hospitals that are nearby), climb up the beanstalk for some coffee and cake.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mugged: Guatemala and Nicaragua [Coda Coffee]

Subject: Coda Coffee Co.
Coffee Mugged: Guatemala Batzchocola and Nicaragua Bella Aurora
Rating [see key]: both 5+

Colorado has been in the news a ton lately, sadly not much of it super positive. But one chipper piece that caught my ear came from the heralds of Roast Magazine, when they recently bestowed upon Denver's Coda Coffee Company the honor of 2014 Macro Roaster of the Year. Not a title given away flippantly, it's a distinction that recognizes Coda for it's hard work and accomplishments (I'm particularly impressed with the coffee carts in the Arizona Cardinals stadium).

Recently, I was honored to have two of their farm 2 cup coffees stop by my abode to spend a little quality time in my belly. They sent out their Guatemala Batzchocola, a coffee from the A'achimbal community, and their Nicaragua Bella Aurora, a former Cup of Excellence coffee. Both I sampled via pourover, french press and siphon.

Going alphabetically, I started with the Guatemalan beans. The pourover smacked of kavo syrup, smoked peanut, strawberry, oats, sarsaparilla and hazelnut with a medium body, proving multifaceted with a various sweet flavors and touch of smokiness. The french press contained smoked peanut, Nutella, strawberry, oats, root beer and caramel popcorn within a medium body; superbly sweet, with rich, sultry flavors. The siphon capped this fine coffee off with hazelnut, roasted peanuts, asian pear, lemon pepper, chicken, spinach and root beer, demonstrating some odd bed fellows but nonetheless, still a sumptuous coffee.

The Nicaraguan proved similarly complex. The pourover doled out heavy chocolate, habenero, smooth cream, seaweed, toasted walnut and noticeable fig. The french press sampled of chocolate, grapefruit, bran, corn tortilla, skim milk and nutmeg, with a medium body and grainy aftertaste. The siphon bellowed out chocolate, noticeable cream, seaweed, peanuts, fig cookie, slight brocolli and biscuit. Overall, the multiple infusions held a diverse and sometimes odd harmony of flavors, but each cup proved delicious.

Thus, if you happen to be near a coffeehouse that serves Coda or you wish to shop online, try out the orange juggernaut of the southwest.

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

Mugged: Kenya AA [John Hancock]

Subject: John Hancock Coffee
Coffee Mugged: Kenya AA, Roast Level 1
Rating [see key]: 4+

Roasting stands as one of the great final hurdles to a coffee. If roasted correctly, a good coffee will display its natural character with clarity and gumption; if roasted poorly, the flavors will be under-extracted or completely cloaked by burnt, bitter oils. Hence, like most things that take a lot of skills, most people leave all the details of roasting to the hands of skilled professionals.

But a few coffee roasters are letting the customers of all skill levels run the show. The only change to the game is that when someone orders a coffee, the purchaser chooses whether sir/madam wants their coffee roasted light, medium or dark. One coffee entity to champion this method is John Hancock Coffee, an online roaster that specializes in customization, both of coffee to come as light or as dark as you wish, but also in customization of some elements of packaging. To try it out, Hancock asked me to pick a coffee and a roast level, to which I picked their Kenya AA roasted light (Roast Level 1).

The coffee arrived in a white packaging, with the standard label (no need to customize packaging for me). The beans were their lightest roast, but definitely were closer to second crack in color/form. As far as infusing the beans, I sampled the coffee via pourover, french press and siphon. The pourover radiated notes of raspberry jam, light cheddar, blue corn, malt and oats in a medium body, coming off sweet and thick. The french press proved a bit lighter, with notes of oats, blue corn, some cocoa, wheat and light jam. The siphon also held notes of cocoa, blue corn, wheaty cereal and milk with a nice, creamy medium body. All in all, a flavorful coffee with a noticeable wheaty aftertaste.

Thus, while my Kenya was fairly delicious, I must say I don't know if I trust myself to regularly pick the roast level of a coffee I've never met prior. Much like I don't want to be in charge of telling a Michelin chef how to cook my scallops, I usually would rather skilled professionals take the burden of figuring out how to best roast my coffee (unless I'm roasting at home, which is another conversation). But for people who like to take the reigns and run the whole show, check out John Hancock Coffee.

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

CC: Lamplighter Roasting Company

Subject: Lamplighter Roasting Company
Location: Addison St. Cafe, Richmond, VA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

It's not too often I get to roll south to Virginia these days, but currently having a sister residing well within its borders makes future trips a bit more likely. Ten years ago, the prospect of traveling many leagues of Virginia would have been a sentence to wander a great coffee desert, but now the oases are a bit more prevalent. One such beacon of refreshment stems from Lamplighter Roasting Company in the lovely city of Richmond. With two locations, I was able to stop at their Addison St. Cafe one gloomy Friday for a brief respite. Located in an old gas station, the space utilizes the lot well, with a vast array of outside seating filling the patio, a reclusive and enclosed side patio with a huge chalkboard and lastly, a cozy interior with fixed ironing board tables.

Taking two of their coffees for a spin, I ordered an espresso of their Stylus blend and cup of their Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Kochere via drip. The espresso, pulled short/medium with a light brown crema, held notes of milk chocolate, vanilla, limade, orange, basil and slight Mr. Pib, proving bright and sweet with lots of pleasant flavors. The Kochere drip doled out blueberry, raisin, bean sprouts, little nutmeg, a bit of wheat grass and some birch beer, making for a juicy, succulent coffee.

Exceedingly pleased with Lamplighter, I left their Addison St location a happy man that day. If you happen to be in Richmond, give them your money.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Impress Coffee Brewer

Recently, I had some old friends over for a small Christmas soiree and they commented on the number of gadgets on my coffee shelf (about 8 I keep displayed). The funny thing I told them is that there are quite a bit more and that these days, there's more variations on coffee brewing than there are things you would do for a Klondike Bar.

One of the latest incarnations in coffee preperation is the immersion brewer dubbed Impress. A contraption birthed from the loins of the Gamila Company, with some help from Kickstarter, the Impress was designed to have a similar workflow as a french press, with coffee brewed in a large, double-walled metal cylinder and when three or so minutes have concluded, a smaller metal cylinder outfitted with a rubber seal and removable metal filter fits snugly in the larger container, pressing down and trapping the grinds securely at the bottom of the cup. Then, you can drink straight from the Impress with the aid of the rubber lid or you can transfer to another cup.  

Thanks to the laborers behind the Impress, I was able to try it out first had. First impression showed a solidly-constructed device, with everything made of either stainless steel or rubber. The thickly insulated outer shell that, despite holding boiling water, passes little heat onto one’s hands. The mesh cup also fits snugly into the larger insulated receptacle, with a rubber fitting at the base to ensure no grinds sneak past.

In playing around with the Impress, I found that there were really two ways to brew: the recommended way of pushing the grinds to the bottom (pictured above), and the more adventurous manner of pulling the grinds out. The endorsed method of pushing the grinds to the bottom worked great, unless you wanted to use the Impress as your mug as well, in which case you must resign your coffee to a slow over-extraction with the grinds working their magic trapped beneath the filter.

The other method of pulling the grinds out and using the outer cylinder as a mug was much more attractive. Basically, one just needs to invert the mesh filter, brew the coffee in the inner cylinder (which of course is sitting in the outer cylinder) and when ready, pull the inner cylinder up to leave the coffee behind. All in all this proved effective but I would only recommend it only to those with a steady hand and patience, as the potential for burns is very real. The thin outer rim of the inner cylinder had little to grab and the rubber seal made the pulling a bit of a tricep workout, ending with spilled coffee if you were too quick/forceful. But for all the adventure and hazard the pull method offers, it does allow for one to extract the grinds from the outer cylinder, allowing for it to be used as an insulated mug, which comes in handy especially when out of town. Also, if you're looking to filter your coffee through a paper filter, the pull method allows for use of an Aeropress paper filter on top of the Impress metal filter, so you can have sediment-free coffee if ye wish it.

Speaking of sediment, both the pull and push method (no paper filter of course) produced the usual silt I would find in french press, so I can't say there was much improvement to the metal-filtered style of immersion brewing. Also, cleaning up was a fairly simple process of just pounding the grinds into the trash, much like you would knock a portafilter, though rinsing was necessary to clean it thoroughly.

In totality, the Impress definitely improves on a few aspects of immersion brewing, mainly with its versatility, efficiency and ease in transport. And while I (along with the designers) would not extol it as a travel mug, it's a great device to bring on trips (especially if you check your bag) for simple immersion brewing. Thus, if you're looking for a sturdy device with a lot of potential uses, get yourself an Impress.

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tea of a Kind

The concept of fresh-brewed tea is a concept all but bereft from packaged goods. Sure you might pick up a bottle of iced tea that reads "freshly brewed" from your local 7-11, but the idea is somewhat incredulous that the brew sitting in the container is similar to what you could make at home with the same ingredients (minus the fancy chemicals of course).

But some companies don't see the barrier of a freshly brewed iced tea as something impossible to the bottled beverage concept, and said companies have undertaken some heavy R&D to make it a reality. Take Tea of a Kind, a bottled tea company currently only sporting three bottled tea products. But these three teas hold a distinct difference over other beverages in that the bottle only contains reverse osmosis water, with the other ingredients being stored in their patented Gizmo closure within the cap. When the cap is twisted to open the bottle the other ingredients erupt into the water to create a fresh infusion of tea.

Curious to the potential of this ingredient delivery system, Tea of a Kind sent me out their three flavors to try: Peach Ginger Black Tea, Pomegranate Acai White Tea and Citrus Mint Green Tea. All three came in sleek, curved plastic bottles filled with (what looks like) simply water.

Upon twisting the cap, the tea and other ingredients shoot out like a squid ejecting ink, making the once clear solution darkened with the sudden infusion. After about three seconds, I did a little shake to further mix the ingredients and then it was ready to ingest.

Since all three contain Stevia, each drink had that flavor of artificial sweetener that made the otherwise tasty flavors lack luster. The teas otherwise tasted similar to their names and were fairly refreshing.

All in all, the Gizmo means of delivery made for an extremely interesting beverage. I would be curious to see how it would work in an unsweetened beverage or with a beverage using sugar, as the Stevia version made these three Tea of a Kind flavors a bit off in flavor.

Thus if you're looking for a bottled iced tea with true means of fresh infusion, try out Tea of a Kind online or in a store near you.

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

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Mugged: Chania Estate and Mirador Finca La Bolsa [Tweed Coffee]

Subject: Tweed Coffee
Coffee Mugged: Guatemala Mirador Finca La Bolsa and Kenya Chania Estate
Rating [see key]: Guatemala 4+ and Kenya 5+

One of the great facets of the current coffee world is the many choices one has in coffee roasters. Gone are the days where you had a few choices as to where one obtained good beans; now, like wine and other beverages, quality variety has become extensive.

Many of the new faces in roasting have come from the expansion of coffeehouses into microroasters. It almost seems to be an inevitable progression, that if a shop excels at slinging spectacular coffee, eventually the siren call of roasting will be but too strong to resist. One of the more recent to take up the mantle of roasting is Tweed Coffee Roasters, the relatively new roasting operation calved from Houndstooth Coffee of Texas fame. I was fortunate enough to receive a package from them some weeks ago with two coffees to try out: their Kenya Chania Estate, a dry processed coffee from the area of Thika, and their Mirador Finca La Bolsa from Guatemala. Each I sampled via pourover, french press and siphon.

Starting with the Kenya pourover, the coffee demonstrated a medium-bodied brew of fuji apple, sea salt, unsweetened cocoa, rosemary, chicken broth and a bit of black tea. The french press proved less salty and richer in flavor, with strong notes of apple juice, pie crust, vanilla, white chocolate and snap peas. The siphon drew out salty caramel, fuji apple, white chocolate, snap peas and some malt. All together, a rich coffee with lots of sweet and sumptuous flavors, only proving just a tad salty.

The Guatemalan proved a touch heavier and heartier. The pourover doled out notes of berries, croissant, chorizo, apple cider, whole milk and cinnamon. The french press held croissant, apple cider, whole milk, wheat and a touch of cinnamon, all together proving lighter and sweeter but still a little spicy. The siphon proved the deepest, with notes of raisin, apple, cola, cream and nutmeg within a medium body. A sweet and deep coffee with some nice flavors and noticeable spice.

Thus Tweed arrives on the scene with some great beans and many years to further hone their craft. Check out their website to order a bag or if you happen to be in Texas, swing by one their Houndstooth affiliates.

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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

CC: OQ Coffee

Subject: OQ Coffee
Location: Highland Park, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

In my younger days, I used to have some friends in New Brunswick attending school at Rutgers. During visits to their abodes, we would go out and feast at the grease trucks then walk about campus. Sadly, in that day, no coffee establishments worth frequenting existed, so coffee was never a source of excitement during my visits.

But now the New Brunswick area much like a lot of the central NJ area is starting to spurt out some decent establishments. One gem that has been a long time in the works is a local roaster that in the past year finally opened their own cafe, a fine establishment called OQ Coffee. Located across the river in Highland Park, OQ has a cozy shop and roastery off the main drag of Raritan Avenue/Route 27. In the area one dreary afternoon, I made a stop by their skylighted lofted space for a cup of coffee and espresso.

The espresso was their Espresso Archimedes and the coffee a pourover of an Ethiopian. The espresso, pulled short with marble brown crema, expressed raspberry, pink lemonade, some yogurt and a little basil; all around a bright and delicious spro. The Ethiopian sang of cocoa, blueberry, sweet corn, rye bread, roasted peanut and beef broth, a hearty and succulent brew.

Thus, especially compared to my former years in the area, OQ Coffee provides a beacon of gloriously great coffee in an area typically overrun with chains and sludge. Whether you're shopping nearby or you're attending classes at Rutgers, drop by OQ Coffee for some quality beverages.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Geo Lid

It's hard to believe that the disposable coffee lid only traces its roots back to the 1970's. Granted that for many coffee drinkers (including myself), that's all we've known: the American culture where coffee is something you usually drink while traveling. And if you think the history of the disposable lid is probably boring, you are wrong; check out this fascinating Smithsonian blog article on the history of coffee lid patents.

The overarching theme of the lid evolution is that as time marches on, so do improvements to the lid's concept. Currently, the newest to challenge the current Solo Cup Lid (aka reigning lid king) is the Geo Lid, a plastic lid that takes a bit of a different approach to the to-go experience. Instead of a single nipple-like spout, it has little vents all around the perimeter of the cup, allowing for the consumer to drink from whatever side of the cup they so fancy. The additional holes also allow for a more natural drinking process as well as a simpler exchange of air in the drinking process, meaning less explosions when sipping and jostling.

Curious if the hype would hold up to a road test, the Geo Lid-ites sent out a prototype and I took it out and about with me. While I have honed my forearm muscles over the years to walk vigorously and keep a full uncovered mug of coffee full, I let the cup jostle freely and was pleased to find little spilled with the Geo Lid. Plus, with the vents going all around the cup, drinking is indeed more fluid and involves a lot less subtle investigative sucking (aka that initial sip where you're not sure that it's cool enough to drink, so you go real slow and despite your caution, it's lava hot and you're tongue tip is scorched useless). But on the flipside, for someone use to the spout, I found myself encountering a chin dribble occasionally.

To wrap it up simply, the Geo Lid allowed for safer transport and a more natural drinking experience (aka less like sucking a bottle and more like drinking from a big boy cup). I have no idea when the Geo Lid will hit the streets, but keep an eye out for it. 

note: lid and cups were provided free of charge and the above review is objective feedback.  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rok Espresso Maker

Making espresso at home is a topic of great depth and complexity for folks who take their espresso seriously. Aside from the need for a quality burr grinder with the ability to make finite adjustment to particle size, the question that plagues most at one point or another is what machine to buy. You can easily drop thousands of dollars on a machine, and many folks don't drink spro enough to warrant such a meaty purchase. Thus for the espresso-phile of yore, if you weren't willing to invest the coin into a quality set-up, than you were usually ok either relying on your local coffeehouse (if you're fortunate to be near one) or putting more faith into your pourover.

But the past couple of years saw the advent of manual espresso machines that used simple physics to create the necessary pressure to extract espresso. Everyone knows of the Aeropress, and for all of it's wonderful aspects, the effort needed to create 130 psi in pressing down the plunger is quite herculean and somewhat risky, given that you're pressing that pressure additionally onto a ceramic mug. The other manual, non-electric machine out there is the Rok (formerly Presso) Espresso Machine. It's dual-levered construction allows for the necessary 9 bars of pressure, though all of that depends on how you use it. This video below is from the designer of the Rok, and aside from the recommendation to get your coffee pre-ground (c'mon folks, just shell out for a good grinder), it gives a decent overview on how to utilize it:

Recently, the fine people of Whole Latte Love sent me out a Rok to take for a spin and here's what I found. Overall, since the machine depends greatly on coffee grind size, water temperature and user skill, it's a machine that will take some practice. Aside from the wisdom in the video above, some quality tips I found were to:
  • Keep it hot. To keep the portafilter and the water chamber heated to aid in better extraction, I had the portafilter resting in a saucepan of simmering water (do at your own risk; the handle is plastic so if you forget it there, you may need a new one) and by running off-boil water through the system prior to the first infusion.
  • Use fresh, quality coffee. This is obvious, but it needs to be said as some folks will tell you that you can get great shots from a giant barrel of preground darker-than-charcoal espresso blend. Buy good beans.
  • Get the fine grind right. You will need to tinker with this, and hence this is one of many reasons why you should have a quality burr grinder (the folks at Baratza make very affordable ones but check out the CoffeeGeek reviews if you want to see a larger breadth). As any barista will tell you, the process of dialing in will take time and practice, especially if you're new to the game.
  • Don't be afraid to press down. The machine is greatly dependent on technique and hence, you determine the pressure per square inch. And while accidents are always possible no matter how unlikely, the Rok's construction makes it pretty hard to hurt yourself.
  • Buy a tamper. The machine comes with plastic scoop/tamper but you really would do well to purchase a tamper; it will tamp better and look a lot cooler. 
The only other thing to remark is that while the system does come with a milk frother, folks that want steamed milk (or something close) will need to seek another apparatus (I explored that subject on this post).

Thus, I found the Rok to be a great tool for making espresso. It's got a 10 year warranty and with it's simple construction, it's easy to maintain. The folks at Whole Latte Love have a great deal going on that includes a tamper and free shipping, so for $199 it's one of the best deals in the world of home espresso.

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rip Van Wafels

I usually stay away from blogging on baked goods, as they usually have no real relation to coffee or tea aside from being deliciously scrumptious (and oh how there are many to sing of). But recently I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Rip Van Wafels, a delectable little waffle that you put over top your coffee whilst it becomes cool enough to safely enjoy (a delicious Dutch tradition that also makes a good bit of sense). As the coffee cools the waffle becomes warm and gooey, a gorgeous example of symbiosis and a great testament to patience.

I had the chance to try a few out at a few of Rip's wafels recently and all glorious suspicions were confirmed. The waffle was delicious in flavor, like a warm, caramel pastry that slightly resembled an oatmeal cookie, and the warming process provided a fun little routine.

If you seek a great pastry to simultaneously enjoy with your hot beverages, try out Rip Van Wafels.

note: waffles were provided free of charge and the above review is objective feedback. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mugged: Los Altos Micro-Lot, Fincas Mierisch [Handsome Coffee]

Subject: Handsome Coffee Roasters
Coffee Mugged: Los Altos Micro-Lot, Fincas Mierisch, Laguna Verde, Jinotega, Nicaragua
Rating [see key]: 6+

A great coffee is truly a work of art; there are a lot of steps in the process that need to be done well in order to get a great final product. And like any crop, the magic of a great coffee is partly thanks to the hard work of the farm that produced it. This large role is a credit that much of the world has only begun to concede to the coffee producers of the world. For many hundreds of years, the consumer looked at their coffee as just something simple and ubiquitous, like a caffeinated version of sugar cane. It wasn't until the past decade or so that people have started to understand that coffee farming is extremely complex and multifaceted.

With the growing appreciation of the craft that goes into growing and processing coffee crops, trips to origin have become increasingly popular. No longer just a business trip for coffee importers, a jaunt to coffee regions and farms has emerged as a new type of tourism.

One touring outfit set on socially-responsible and coffee-specific tours is a company called Detour. They have two trips to Nicaragua coming up and to raise some awareness of the region they're heading out to, they sent me out a bag of Handsome Coffee Roaster's Los Altos Micro-Lot Fincas Mierisch to take for an objective spin. I tried out the coffee via pourover, french press and siphon.

The pourover yielded some intense honey, caramel and molasses right off the bat, followed with some cumin, spiny melon and shredded wheat. A syrupy, sweet brew with a medium body.

The french press continued the trend, blasting out honey, heavy caramel, brown sugared oatmeal, spiny melon and some wheat in a medium body.

The siphon came through sweetly again, with notes of honey, caramel, shredded wheat and apple, proving slightly piquant with a luscious mellow sweetness.

I can say with confidence that if the coffee on this upcoming Nicaragua tour is going to be this tasty, I'd be happy with that alone. Fortunately, it seems like the trip Detour has arranged holds beaches, lots of sights and some time in the coffee fields during the height of their harvest. But if you can't get away for what looks like a great trip, seek out some coffee from Fincas Mierisch and/or Handsome Coffee Roasters.

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

Chick-fil-A and Thrive Coffee

There's nothing like a stop at a top-tier coffeehouse for a cup of fresh, quality coffee. But sadly, this luxury is often something restricted to city centers and random caffeinated oases. Suburbia is all but devoid of good coffee outfits.

Thus, many a coffee geek has often been stuck in a bind where fast food or gas stations are but his/her only recourse for a cup of joe, a choice that often results in settling for "meh" coffee at best and, barely digestible swill at worst.

But how the tide seems to be changing. Chick-fil-A, a fast food eatery barely known to even carry coffee, recently began a partnership with Thrive Farmers Coffee and S & D Coffee to bring direct trade coffee through the chicken-driven giant. Apparently working also with a few big names in the coffee industry like Tracy Allen, it seems Chick-fil-A was actually doing their due diligence to make sure that well-sourced coffee didn't end up losing the battle in the roasting and brewing processes.

Only launching this new coffee today in a few test markets throughout the country, I was fortunate enough to live in one of them (Philadelphia/NJ) and hence, I got a call from a local marketing director to try out the coffee before it hit the streets. Showing up one afternoon, my eye caught a Wilbur Curtis pot brewer (was either a CBHS or ThermoPro G4) set up with digital timers set to expire after an hour of brewing (at which point, they dump the old coffee, clean and rebrew). While any tool can be misused, the equipment at least has potential to continually make good coffee.

Center stage in this roll out is Chick-fil-A's new drip coffee. There was little information on the specifics of the origin that comprise the blend (region, farm, etc) but the fact that it's all Thrive Farmer beans at least narrows the scope. Coming piping hot in a sleeved paper cup, the drip coffee (after it cooled a bit) smacked of chocolate nibs, Oreos, sugar cookies, heavy cream, pretzel and slight basil, all within a medium body. The brew surprised me exceedingly, as it was bursting with sweet, luscious flavors and barely had any bitterness or displeasing aftertastes (a firm 4+ in my book).

In addition, they are offering a cold brew iced coffee. Coming pre-concocted, simply needing to be diluted, the concentrate can be made with adding water or adding milk. Only wanting to try out the coffee black, I asked they just use water in making my iced coffee. Once again, I found myself impressed. Prominent notes of malt, vanilla and cream dominated this brew, with only a slight offset of romaine lettuce, proving overall smooth and rich.

At this time, Chick-fil-A is leaving the question of espresso to another day, a move I find admirable, given the flippant attitude most other fast food giants give to the art of 'spro. And with the rich quality and flavor that they have in their new drip and cold brew coffee, I think they need not rush.

Thus, starting today, if you're in one of the test markets for this new brew, you can add Chick-fil-A to your list of places that serves decent coffee. Sure my preference is always for a cup of joe from a local, highly-reputed coffee establishment (i.e. those would be the 5+ and 6+ on my blog) but it's comforting to know that when I wander the coffee deserts of the country, Chick-fil-A has my back with responsibly-sourced and actually enjoyable coffee.

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

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

CC: Leotah's Place Coffeehouse

Subject: Leotah's Place Coffeehouse
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Sometimes wandering around the streets of Philadelphia turns up a few gems. One day while I was in the neighborhood of Fishtown, I happened upon a corner cafe called Leotah's Place Coffeehouse. While at first cautious due to my unfamiliarity with the place, a quick perusal of their coffee showed promise, as they use local Green Street Coffee Roasters.

Walking into the cafe, I felt very at home in the inviting, bohemian environment. I ordered the Colombia, Granja La Esperanza for my single origin espresso and a drip of the Mexican Oxaca. The espresso came out tasty, smacking of raspberry, green apple, ripe cherry tomato, with a a touch of basil, pepper and sage on the back end, proving bright with a bit of a bitter accent on the end. The drip of Mexican reverberated smooth and lively, with notes of caramel, corn, romaine drenched in a sweet balsamic, birch and some date. Both infusions were delicious with only minor improvements that could be made in their execution.

For a mid-afternoon gamble, I was pleasantly surprised with the great assets of Leotah's Place. If you happen to be in the area or looking for a warm shop in which to sup, seek out this corner coffeehouse in Philly.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Mugged: Kenya Lenana AA [Barnie's Coffee Kitchen]

Subject:Barnie's Coffee Kitchen
Coffee Mugged: Kenya Lenana AA
Rating [see key]: 4+

Orlando, Florida used to be a place fairly devoid of great coffee, whether you sought a coffeehouse or even just a roaster located in the area. Fortunately that all seems to be changing, with a growing presence of coffee establishments who seem to be taking more and more care of their coffee quality.

One long-standing coffee entity that's held a spot in Orlando since 1980 is a place now called Barnie's Coffee Kitchen. Going through some evolution along the way, Barnie's is a place where you can grab a cup of coffee and a quality meal. Not having been there myself, I was fortunate to have them send me out their Kenya Lenana AA to try out in my home laboratory, specifically through pourover, french press and siphon.

The pourover doled out notes of malt, pretzel, pear, pepper, romaine hearts and walnut amidst a medium/heavy body.

The french press proved a bit lighter and sweeter, with notes of chocolate, lemon grass, malt, pretzel, walnut and a little nutmeg.

The siphon tasted of pretzel, almond cookie, chili, seaweed, tootsie pop and slight corn accents, proving hearty and heavy.

All in all, the coffee proved pleasant as a heavier and full-bodied African coffee. I do wish the juicy qualities had been a tad more prominent and that there had been a little less malt, but the sweetness proved to be this coffees saving grace. Seek out this Kenyan if you're looking for a sweet and deep coffee with juicy accents.

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

Mugged: Washed Yirgacheffe [Bird Rock]

Subject: Bird Rock Coffee Roasters
Coffee Mugged: Washed Yirgacheffe
Rating [see key]: 6+

Of all the coffee roasters in the nation, few exist in a climate as pleasant as Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. Gorgeous San Diego is one of the few places in the nation that I made it to long ago, prior to Bird Rock's inception in fact, and for years I've watched and yearned for the beautiful weather and delicious coffee of SoCal.

Recently I was blessed with getting Bird Rock's coffee sent east to my coffee station. The beans were their Washed Yirgacheffee, sourced from the Kochere region of Ethiopia (currently a highly-praised geography). I sampled the beans via pourover, french press and siphon.

The pourover trumpeted out emphatic notes of chocolate, sweet honeydew, Twix, fresh corn, a bit of wheat cracker and tickle of lettuce within a light/medium body.

The french press sang a similar tune, with flavors of rich chocolate chip cookie, caramel, corn on the cob, wheat and a bit of blackberry all in a smooth, luscious infusion.

The siphon finished out strong, showing up with chocolate, caramel, blueberry, lemon cake and touch of fig in a voluptuous body.

This was a tremendous coffee with really rich sweet notes and a pleasant brightneess all held up solidly throughout. And to top it off, this is a coffee that one could sip while watching a Padre's game, as Bird Rock is one of the few quality operations to actually have a presence in a MLB stadium. All in all, whether you're in lovely San Diego or to the far east, give Bird Rock a go.

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

Thrillist Coffee Roaster Ranking

Check out this Thrillist Coffee Roaster ranking of 11 top US roasters as voted upon by "super-serious coffee nerds." It looks like it was a pretty solid consensus and I was happy to be a part of the nerds contributing.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mugged: Unsweetened Tea [Herbal Mist]

Subject: Herbal Mist Teas
Tea Mugged: Unsweetened Tea
Rating [see key]: 4+

Unsweetened iced tea often suffers a poor reputation. For many, the idea draws an image of bland black tea usually needing the sweetening of a lemon or sugar packet; something folks get at a diner when they don't want a soda and they seek something a little more sassy than water. And sadly that same dull iced tea is probably the exact same concoction one would get at the diner down the street.

Such is the wide road of coffee and tea, slandered with poor representation by the many facets of the food industry. Despite the work that many coffeehouses and tea shops employ in helping folks understand how a quality, whole leaf tea fresh brewed and then iced makes for such a better tea than other more common options, it seems the world has a long way to go in practice and philosophy.

Thus, one can only imagine the popular opinion of prepackaged unsweetened ice tea. Most of the time, it's impossible to find outside of specialty shops or large markets, as I've been too many a gas station where I was unwilling to try the coffee and an exhaustive search of their fridges yielded no unsweetened options. Alas, for the few prepackaged unsweetened iced teas that exist, they don't seem to attract a whole lot of buzz.

This all brings us to Herbal Mist's Unsweetened Iced Tea, made with yerba mate. Recently they sent me out a few bottles to try out and having had varying experiences with yerba mate, I was curious how it would all play out as a prepackaged brewed tea. After chilling, I consumed the bottles over the course of two weeks (there were only three bottles, so it was spaced appx one every four days). The flavor was nothing cosmically different from your standard bottled iced tea; notes of cola, green spinach, some light apple with a smooth profile. The tea proved none too bitter (as strong bitterness can be a problem with yerba mate) and while it was not as vibrant and multifaceted as a freshly brewed iced tea, it was still a pleasant and flavorful iced tea.

Therefore, if you seek an unsweetened iced tea on-the-go and you're fortunate enough to have options, grab an Herbal Mist Unsweetened Tea.  

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

Monday, October 14, 2013

CC: Jersey Java

Subject: Jersey Java and Tea
Location: Haddonfield, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Haddonfield contains tons of rich history, ranging from it's gorgeous colonial architecture to the discovery of the first almost complete dinosaur in 1858. And with the manner in which New Jersey constantly seems to wreck and redevelop, the town has fortunately maintained a picturesque stratigraphy of the past few centuries.

In regards to coffee history, for as long as I can remember, the town has always had a local coffee spot on Haddon Avenue, just outside the main street. In elder days it was called 3 Bean, but for the past five years it has been known as Jersey Java and Tea. The building itself is a gorgeous single-level establishment with a fantastic patio, huge bay windows and a cute fireplace, but Jersey Java has also made excellent use of the space, equipping it with a fancy array of furniture and color.

The coffee comes from Square One Coffee out of Lancaster, a roaster becoming more common in the regional coffeehouses. In my most recent trip, I ordered an espresso (I believe it was a custom blend) and a drip of Burundi Teka. The espresso, pulled short with a light brown crema, distributed notes of ginger, beef bullion, birch beer, a little sage and some pipe tobacco, proving to be hearty, bright and a touch sour; overall not a bad pull. The drip blasted out blueberry, caramel, slight minestrone and nutmeg amidst a medium body, proving to be a lusciously rich and juicy coffee. 

Jersey Java has certainly been a coffeehouse growing in forward progression, having developed greatly in quality through the past five years. As one of the only good coffee spots of the southern portion of NJ, definitely make a stop in when you're in the area.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Mugged: Crosshatch and Colombia [Path Coffee Roasters]

Subject: Path Coffee Roasters
Coffees Mugged and Rating [see key]:
- Crosshatch 5+ (1st batch), 4+ (2nd batch, from 2014 update)
- Finca Potosi, Colombia 4+

*Updated 1/30/14* (below original post)

Once a land full of mediocre coffee productions, the land north of New York City is now really beginning to blossom not only with good coffeehouses, but with good coffee roasters. One new entity to the area is Path Coffee Roasters, located in Port Chester, NY along the sea near the Connecticut border. Working what looks like some great coffee, they offered to send me some to take for a spin, which I did via my pourover, french press and siphon.

The first up was from a farm in Colombia called Finca Potosi. The pourover produced notes of cherry cola, corn on the cob, a little curry, fried green beans, pears and a little toffee; an overall smooth and tasty coffee. The french press came out a little fuller and heavier-bodied, smacking of merlot, collard greens, lemonade, beef bullion and poundcake. The siphon, more akin in flavor to the drip, delivered cherry cola, corn, cooked cabbage, some toffee and a little curry. All in all, a coffee with some noticeable deep spice, a slightly thick body and some rich sweet flavors.

Next up was their Crosshatch, a blend of South American and African coffees. The pourover rocketed in with sultry notes of chocolate, rice krispy treats, figs, little butter, portobello and nougat amid a perfect medium body. The french press continued with additional rich chocolate and also fig, pear skin, honey, romaine lettuce and slight cantaloupe. The siphon sealed the deal with chocolate, cracker, honey, dates, white wine and a little thyme. All together, the Crosshatch blend proved exceptionally rich and full of flavorful facets throughout.

Based on these two coffees, Path had me yearning to try out more of their coffees. If you happen to be looking for some coffee for home and/or work, or you hit a coffee joint slinging their coffee, check out the fine joe of Path Coffee Roasters.

Update 1/30/14
Path sent out another batch of their Crosshatch blend. While the coffee still held a lot of the same characteristics, it definitely sampled a bit heavier. Still existing were the great flavors of rich chocolate, pear, toffee and butter, albeit many of them more muted. Some of the new reoccurring notes were of malt and slight hints of pipe tobacco, making for a smokier profile, darker hue and more subtle a sweetness. While still good, this batch of Crosshatch lacked a bit of luster that the first batch had, and hence I would rate a 4+.

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

Sunday, September 29, 2013

CC: Downtown Credo

Subject: Downtown Credo
Location: Orlando, FL
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

While the coffee world is gradually becoming more altruistic in its dealing, to find a coffeehouse working as a "donations only" operation is a rare sight. Yet Downtown Credo is such a coffeehouse in downtown Orlando serving direct trade coffee with the goal to not only provide coffee farmers a good price for their coffee, but also to invest into local charities and causes.

Wandering over one rainy afternoon, I found Credo in a cute yellow brick building with a large black sign perched above the entrance. Stepping inside, I found a lovely space with a nice mixture of furniture, white walls and large front windows. As for my coffee, I ordered an espresso and a pourover of their Guatemala Cafe de la Esperanza. The espresso, pulled long with a light brown crema, smacked of nougat, vanilla waifer, a little beef and light pepper, proving a bit over-extracted but still a tasty infusion. The pourover alternately smacked more of honey, milk chocolate, cherry and a slight hefeweizen, proving much lighter and more rich.

All in all I thought Credo a great concept with tremendous potential. If you pass through Orlando, give Downtown Credo a moment of your time.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Can you steam without the wand?

Milk steaming/frothing is not something the average consumer does a whole lot at home. Since many coffee drinkers do not own an espresso machine with a steam wand, relatively few folks devoid of the espresso machine have forayed into the world of steaming milk at home.

Over the last few years, especially with the advent of cheaper means of making espresso (or espresso-like coffee), it seems the demand for stand-alone milk steamers and frothers have also been on the rise. But milk frothers rarely do more than create lots of foam, if they even heat the milk at all. And other means of heating milk usually consist of warming it over a flame or microwave, each having their own unique effect on the taste and texture of the milk. It seems that if you're looking for well-steamed milk with silky microfoam, nothing compares to a steam wand.

Thus if you want the ability to create steamed milk, the most surefire way to do so is to purchase an espresso machine with a steam wand or a stovetop device with a steam wand (like the Bellman Steamer featured below). Most steam wands will provide you with the tools to make great microfoamed milk at the correct temperatures. For more on this topic, CoffeeGeek has a great guide on how to make the most of what you got.

But the question has been raised, what if I just wanted to get somewhat close to the quality of a steam wand; is their a method out there that does a decent job of producing steamed-quality milk? Many folks have attempted to find a way, and if you check out your local internet forums, you will hear of a myriad of answers and/or shortcuts. Some sound a little more credible than others, ranging from nuking and then shaking in a milk carton to carefully pan heating the milk and then using an immersion blender. The main things with these "short cuts" are that you shouldn't heat the milk above 150 F and that at some point you will need to introduce air in order to get foam. 

One of the more recent steaming alternatives to my ear is Lifstyl's Electric Milk Frother. Unlike most milk frothers, this apparatus also heats the milk in addition to foaming it up. Having an opportunity to try it out at home, I checked it out to see how it fared in the producing of heated frothed milk.

The design of Lifstyl frother is convenient, with the only human-dependent step being the pouring of cold milk to the appropriate fill line (the high one is just for heating (in which you take the frother out) and the lower fill line for heating and frothing). The low fill line accommodates about 4-6 ounces of milk, so if you want a larger beverage, you'll have to do batches. Once you've filled in your milk, you press the button and after about a minute, the process finishes. During the process, the temperature reaches about 140 F at peak and the milk foam gets a bid sudsy (aka dishwasher bubbles). So while you won't be pouring latte art with milk from this frother, the quality for someone looking just to add foamy hot milk to their coffee is probably just on par.

So if you're a coffee fanatic and you need to steam milk for your beverages, you should probably get a steam wand. But if you're not so concerned with high quality and you're looking for a tremendously convenient way to heat and froth your milk, check out the Lifstyle Milk Frother.

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

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Danish Coffee - North Festival


These days, a growing number of folks know that a well-roasted batch of coffee needs nothing added to it in order to make it delicious. This fact seems to ring true amongst the people of Denmark and their ever-blossoming coffee scene, home to such entities as the Coffee Collective and Sigfreds Kaffebar.

But like all cultures, every culture seems to have at least one coffee recipe that involves a litany of other ingredients to compliment (at best) or mask (at worst) the coffee. In leading up to the North Festival Oct 2 - 7 in New York City, since I couldn’t make it over to Denmark to grab a bag of quality Danish beans or sample their cafe culture, I sought to find a coffee recipe that gave a solid (as possible) nod to the Danes and their coffee.

Thus after some research, two coffee cocktails emerged, and of the two I went with the one more commonly found and that seemed similar to other coffee recipes in the geographical neighborhood. Named simply ‘Danish Coffee’, it’s definitely a perfect drink for a brisk autumn day, even without the rum.

A couple things I would note:
  1. The original recipe called for cooking the ingredients for two hours, a step that would have obliterated the coffee. So I did some experimenting and made a better way.
  2. Use a fresh, quality light/medium - medium roast coffee. I used some Mexican beans from roaster Crescent Moon Coffee and Tea that presented a beautifully rich coffee with vanilla sweetness and a full body. I would avoid darker roasts (any beans with exterior oil) as the cloves and cinnamon in the recipe do enough to darken the flavor of the drink.
  3. Cloves are potent and since I actually like to taste some of the coffee, I reduced the original recipe by a third. This was also why I sought out a dark rum that wasn't spiced.
  4. In making the coffee, I found adding sugar to be an optional step (I liked it without it). Use as needed.

Danish Coffee
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 4 cups of water
  • ½ cup dark rum
  • 56 grams of freshly ground coffee
  • Sugar (if desired)
  1. Pour the water into a pot; add the cinnamon and cloves.
  2. Simmer the mixture for 45 minutes, brewing a potent cinnamon and clove tea-like concoction.
  3. At the 45 minute mark, bring the mixture to a rolling boil and then remove from heat.
  4. Using a pourover coffee brewer (like a V60 or Bonavita) or a french press, pour the cinnamon and clove concoction into the coffee grounds, brewing as normally directed (check Brew Methods for some good methods). When finished, pour the coffee into a carafe if not already brewed into one.
  5. Making sure your rum is at least room temperature (heating it a bit will reduce the amount of heat lost to the overall drink), add it to the coffee.
  6. If desired, sweeten with sugar to taste.

Win Castello Cheese Tasting

Learn more about Nordic cuisine at the NORTH Festival 2013 in New York City. This post is a collaboration between the blogger and NORTH Festival 2013.

Monday, September 09, 2013

CC: Styer's Garden Cafe

Subject: Styer's Garden Cafe at Terrain
Location: Glen Mills, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

*Update 11/09/16:
In subsequent stops over the years, their quality has not really been maintained. Sadly, they also changed coffee roasters from Counter Culture to a darker selection of roasts from La Colombe. Still gorgeously decorated though if you're coming only for the ambiance.

Garden centers and nurseries are some of my favorite non-coffee haunts. As a man extremely fond of horticulture and the smell of flowers, I am very careful to watch my wallet when April rolls around and it comes time to plan my botanical exploits for the upcoming growing season. But with the ever-evolving nature of nurseries, I am finding that it's not only the plants that I have to watch my money around.

Take the extremely trendy garden stronghold of Terrain, owned by the folks behind Urban Outfitters and Anthropologies. The place not only has a tremendous assortment of plants, pots and soil but it also boasts a chic variety of home accessories, all with a strong emphasis on design and aesthetic. While there were one or two things I saw as an odd omissions, such as a seeming lack of local items, there was one aspect that stood out like a gorgeous rain cloud to a drought-ridden farmer: their in-store cafe and restaurant. Housed within what looks like an old barn and greenhouse, the establishment is actually separated into a coffeehouse in the front with a top-notch restaurant in the back.

Not being interested in a meal that day, I sauntered up to the cafe counter to find they use Counter Culture Coffee for their drip and espresso. I ordered the Farmhouse Blend via drip and the Toscana via espresso. The farmhouse doled out notes of raisin, sesame, black tea and a little malt in a medium body; a delicious though slightly muted infusion of the Farmhouse. The espresso, pulled short with a brown crema, made for a great beverage, smacking of milk chocolate, lemon, sage and sassafras.

Needless to say, I was delighted to find not only a cafe in a nursery (a long overdue marriage) but a quality coffee joint in a really creatively utilized garden wonderland (I personally love the outdoor seating amidst the garden items and the sporadic fire pits in the colder months). Stop by Terrain if only for a decent coffee stop in an area all too bereft of them.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mugged: Garbanzo Nunez Estate and Los Vecinos [Thrive Farmers Coffee]

Subject: Thrive Farmers Coffee 
Coffees Mugged and Rating [see key]:
- Garbanzo Nunez Estate, Tarrazu, Costa Rica 5+
- Los Vecinos, Genaro and Trinidad Double Estate, Intibuca, Honduras 4+

As many people know, Fair Trade coffee is sometimes not as fair as consumers would like. The concept conjures up farmers getting a great price for their coffee but many times, Fair Trade programs don't end up paying much to the individual farmer.

Hence, Direct Trade has become the gold standard for socially progressive coffee sourcing. Farmers maintain direct relationships with the end retailer so that their cut becomes much healthier. One operation pulling direct trade relationships within a co-op like system is Thrive Farmers Coffee, a business entity that sells different farmers both green (unroasted) and roasted beans, sending back healthy profits to its growers. Thrive recently sent me out two coffees to try out, their Garbanzo Nunez Estate, Tarrazu, Costa Rica and their Los Vecinos, Genaro and Trinidad Double Estate, Intibuca, Honduras. Both coffees I tried out via pourover, french press and siphon.

First up was the Costa Rican. Through a pourover infusion, the coffee produced a vibrant brew rich in dulce de leche, prune, Yoo Hoo, carrots, shredded wheat and a little oregano. The french press doled out a slightly smoother cup, with notes of vanilla caramel, sugar wafers, a little marinara, cream and shredded wheat in a medium body. The siphon finished off with also a great cup, full of caramel, yoo hoo, shredded wheat, cream and a little prune. All together, a really richly-flavored coffee full of sweet, creamy nuances and syrupy sweetness.

The Los Vecinos also proved appetizing. The pourover rang of root beer, lemon pepper, raspberry, blue corn chips and a little wheat grass amidst a slightly thick body. The french press had more flavors of cocoa along with notes of corn chips, lemon, pepper, wheat grass and malt. The siphon proved the smoothest of the three infusions, with notes of milk chocolate, graham cracker, raspberry, malt and corn. In the end, a malty, slightly bright coffee with a minor wheat flavor.

If ye seek great coffee that puts a lot of money into coffee farmers' pockets, check out the coffees of Thrive.

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

Thursday, August 29, 2013

CC: Porchlight Coffee

Subject: Porchlight Coffee and Records
Location: Seattle, WA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

If there is one hobby I wouldn't mind picking up, it's buying records. I love the sound quality (especially of older, original albums), the huge disc shape and the seemingly undying surge of record collectors. If anything, it's purely the abundance of other stuff in my life that keeps records at bay.

Yet despite my lack of record keeping, I still love record shops and I love it when the concept of a record store fuses with that of a quality coffeehouses to create a megazord like Porchlight Coffee and Records. Residing on 14th between Pine and Pike, the coffeehouse has a pleasant muted exterior that funnels into a simple cafe, with white walls, large open windows and two namesake porch lights dangling from the ceiling near a rare Seattle skylight that does a good job of pulling in the limited rays.

As for coffee, they sling local Herkimer Coffee. As I perused the records that fine morning, I grabbed an espresso of their Espresso Blend and a drip of their Drip Blend.  The espresso, pulled short with a brown crema, smacked of a delicious blend of lemon, roast chicken, rosemary, cocoa, salty caramel and a little seltzer amidst a deep body. The drip proved a little too smoky for my liking (had a minor flavor of tobacco on the back end), but it still made for a tasty cup with notes of wheat, cashew, sage, spinach and some olive oil.

Except for the drip (which was still good and could have very well been a fluke that day), Porchlight made for a convenient quality coffee stop, whether you seek records or not. Make your way over when you're in town.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Mugged: Colombia, Tanzanian and Costa Rica [Lowest Price Coffee]

Subject: Lowest Price Coffee
Coffees Mugged:
- 100% Colombian Coffee
- 100% Costa Rica Coffee
- 100% Tanzania Peaberry
Rating [see key]: All 4+

One of the most common objections people give me as to why they still drink cruddy coffee is that quality coffee holds too high a price tag. And while I would agree that the best coffee out there will always be $12+ per pound (and such great coffee is worth the money), there exists good coffee out there for less.

One such company blatantly striving to offer flavorful, fresh coffee at bad coffee coffee prices is Lowest Price Coffee. A new-to-my-ears roaster, they offer 12 oz. bags for a ridiculously low tag of $5.99. They recently funneled out to me their Costa Rica, Colombia and Tanzania Peaberry, each of which I sampled via drip, french press and siphon.

I started off with the Colombia, not sure exactly what to expect. The drip doled out notes of cocoa, curry, spring melon, cream, tangerine and a little wheat cake amidst a medium body. The french press gave off chocolate-covered pretzel, Flemish Red, thyme, pie crust, cream and a little cinnamon also within a medium body. The siphon was closer to the drip with cocoa, red curry, almond milk, tomato, nectarine and a little sage. All in all, a multi-faceted coffee with some great sweet and spicy notes.

The Costa Rica also proved intriguing. The drip smacked of Corn Pops, sesame bagel, Whoppers candy, fig and a touch of root beer in a thick, medium body. The french press tasted of a little different, with notes of Frosted Flakes, sesame seeds, caramel, Whoppers candy and a little cayenne pepper. The siphon was surprisingly similar to the french press, staying steady with the Frosted Flakes, sesame, and whoppers candy, though also adding cocoa and a little basil. Throughout this was a sweet, wheaty coffee with flecks of malt, dark fruit and zest.

The Tanzanian finished off the trio of coffees with a similar delicious performance. The drip held out flavors of honey, almond butter, carnitas, caramel pretzel, some grape leaves and blueberry cobbler amidst a medium/heavy body. The french press held honey, nuts, rye, blueberry Pop Tart and wheat cracker within a medium body. The siphon proved a bit on the wheaty side, with notes of croissant, sweet shredded wheat, almonds and flecks of blueberry, honey and maple syrup. In totality, a sweet coffee outfitted with sugary sweetness, a smooth nuttiness, touches of wheat and some interesting accents. 

For such low-priced beans, these coffees turned out pretty tasty. In fact, the beans were such a bargain that I can't imagine the folks at Lowest Price Coffee can afford to keep them this low for long (I mean they must have thin margins!). So if you find yourself settling for lesser coffee due to price, get your coffee at Lowest Price Coffee while you can.

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

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mugged: Du Hamman and Des Moines [Le Palais des Thés]

Subject: Le Palais des Thés
Teas Mugged: The du Hammam and The Des Moines
Rating [see key]: 5+

When many folks think of French cafes, they think of small bistros where patrons sip espresso-based beverages and coffee. But the French like their tea too, and Le Palais des Thés with its numerous locations and bountiful online offerings seems to sate not only the tea lust of its countrymen, but also the appetites of other places like Israel and the US.

As a man always up for trying new things, I agreed to take for a dance two of their signature teas, The du Hammam and The Des Moines. I steeped each tea according to standard brew directives for the type of tea.

The The Des Moines is a black and green tea mixture with calendula petals and vanilla pods, making for an extremely aromatic tea. Brewed, the tea gives off expected notes of vanilla but also lavender, rose, ginger, lemon rind and a little spinach. Overall a vibrant tea with lots of sweet, floral notes.

The The du Hammam is a green tea mixed with assorted flower petals, the dry tea mixture gives off a pleasant aroma of fruit juice. Brewed the tea smacks of apricot, ginger and a little jasmine, proving refreshing and smooth.

In the end, these two teas proved to be a delicious change-up from my normal forays into different types of pure tea. If you're looking for floral, juicy tea blends, give Le Palais des Thés a browse.

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

Monday, August 12, 2013

CC: Dollop Coffee

Subject: Dollop Coffee Buena Park and Lakeview
Location: Chicago, IL
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: Both 6+ [see key]

Rarely in my travels do I get to hit two (or more) different locations for the same shop on a single trip, but sometimes I stumble upon such luck. While walking through Chicago, I first came upon Dollop Coffee of Buena Park one sunny morning and then the next day, I found myself loitering by the Lakeview location. Both serving Metropolis Coffee, I was able to capitalize on the opportunity to try out two Dollops in one trip.

At their original Buena Park location, the run-of-the-mill brick exterior does a fair job cloaking the beautiful interior, with its swanky wood furniture and decor, gorgeous layout and warm lighting. For my libations, I ordered an espresso of the Red Line Espresso Blend and a drip of La Callandrina. The espresso, pulled short with a dark brown crema, delivered notes of bittersweet cocoa, cumin, blood orange, buttermilk and a little pepper. The drip proved equally delicious, with flavors of honey, wheat, pistachio, snickerdoodle and sesame seed amidst a medium body.

Heading south to the Lakeview location, a relatively recent shop acquisition from former Kickstand Espresso, it is a little smaller than Buena Park though it lacks none of the charm. In regards to the coffee that afternoon, I had the Red Line for the espresso and the Good Soldier blend for the drip. The espresso proved well-liked, with bits of dark chocolate, deep citrus, vanilla, cumin and malt, showing an overall dark but tasty infusion. The drip held out smatterings of challah, tomato, molasses, cucumber and nutmeg among a medium body, confirming a similarly toothsome 
filtered infusion.

With a highly-praised third spot in the Streeterville neighborhood (which I did not make it to), Dollop seems to be a great shop to visit, no matter the location. Give Dollop a dollop of your time next time you're in one the aforementioned Chicago neighborhoods.

Monday, August 05, 2013

CC: Kava Cafe [NYC]

Subject: Kava Cafe
Locations: Lower and Mid Manhattan, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

UPDATE 3.13.14
Finding a NYC coffeehouse with a beautiful courtyard full of outside seating is a rare find. Sure, outside seating is only worth something half the year in the fair land of Manhattan, but every time I find such a cafe owning the novelty, I still find myself wanting to take full advantage of it (unless it's deluging, but otherwise I'm outside).

Stumbling upon once such coffee joint that not only sported a great courtyard but also slings Annapolis' Ceremony Coffee, I found some lower Manhattan gold in Kava Cafe. Located off Washington St, I trotted in from the bright morning sun inside to the mood-lit cafe that gave off a vibe of a swanky rendezvous fit for 007. The cafe doesn't have a ton of room for sitting inside (it's Manhattan) but as I mentioned, if the weather is with you there happens to be plenty of seating on their back patio.

As for my coffee that day, I had an espresso of Destroyer and a drip of a Brazil Daterra. The Destroyer, pulled short with a brown crema, sang of vanilla, lemon, whole milk, cola, a little soy sauce and a touch of kale encapsulating a well-balanced, scrumptious spro. The Brazil also proved spectacular, with notes of nuts, birch, pear, a little almond butter and a smidgen of beef stock in a medium body.

If you are in need of some great coffee and an airy respite in the Meatpacking District, head on over to Kava Cafe.

UPDATE 3.13.14

Made it out to the midtown cafe on 42nd Street recently. Same great coffee in a much more spacious and gorgeous spot, with the same vibe and a full bar.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mugged: Colombia [Handsome, via Moustache]

Subject: Handsome Coffee Roasters
via Moustache Coffee Club
Coffees Mugged: La Plata, Huila Colombia
Rating [see key]: 5+

I remember back in the day about ten years ago when LA was a byword in the coffee world, with little as far as places offering great coffee. Now, the fortunate opposite is true with so many great shops and roasters swelling in numbers every day.

One newer coffee entity out of the fair land of So Cal is the Moustache Coffee Club, a coffee curator service that sends its customers coffee in 6 or 12 ounce quantities at various chosen frequencies. Recently, I had the fortune of trying out a great Moustached shipment from the LA coffee powerhouse Handsome Coffee Roasters, specifically their offering from La Plata, Huila, Colombia. Taking it to task, I sampled it via pourover, Espro Press and siphon.

The pourover doled a delicious array of raisin, unsweetened cocoa, rosemary, whipping cream, birch root, some gala apple and a pinch of habenero. A great tasting coffee with a medium body and a dry finish.

The Espro Press delivered an even richer infusion bordering on syrupy-sweet, with notes of raisin, dark chocolate, mead, lily florals, caramel, oatmeal w/ brown sugar and a little wheat, all within medium body.

The siphon I decided to brew a little lighter to see what it would do to the profile and I was tickled with the result. Tasty qualities of cornflakes, caramel, honey, oatmeal w/brown sugar and a little wheat emerged amidst a lighter-bodied coffee that would be a perfect addition to any breakfast table.

All together, if all of the Moustache Coffee Club's offerings are this delicious, I would give a hearty huzzah to any bloke looking for such a wonderful service. If you need beans, give Moustache, or Handsome for that matter, your money.

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

Sunday, July 28, 2013

CC: Axum Coffee

Subject: Axum Coffee
Location: Winter Garden, FL
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

When it comes to theme parks, there seems that there's no rival to Disney World. Even for the folks who have never been, there are few people (especially in the States) who cannot describe the wonders of the kingdom. I personally have been fortunate enough to have visited at least five times in my life, with three of them occurring after the time I became particular about my coffee. And while this might seem like an odd (or obvious) thing to say, it is important to note that despite places in the park (like Epcot) having great cuisine, it's still incredibly hard to get a good cup of coffee in or around the parks.

Thus, if you were foolish enough not to come packing or you just like driving, you will end up venturing out to seek out good coffee in the surrounding areas. One place of promise that came up in my research was Axum Coffee in Winter Garden, about 25 minutes north of Disney and 25 minutes west of downtown Orlando. One early morning apart from the entourage, I made my way over with hopes of finding delicious results.

Pulling into the lovely downtown of Winter Garden, I quickly found Axum Coffee's inviting storefront, with its open windows and vastness of outside seating in the adjoining alley (though it was far to nice to deserve the name 'alley'). Inside the decor was warm and inviting, with splashes of bright colors and chic furniture, all pulling together the open space nicely.

Of course the main reason I was drawn to this place was it's coffee, having numerous offerings from Batdorf and Bronson out of Atlanta. Since a dreamy experience at B&B's Decatur cafe Dancing Goats back in the day, I was stoked to try out this distant Florida outpost. I ordered the Dancing Goats espresso and a pourover of an Ethiopian Harrar. The espresso, pulled to a medium volume with swirled brown crema (and infused a tad too hot), demonstrated notes of dark cocoa, birch, anise, vanilla wafer and cola within a heavy body, all in all seeming to more closely emulate a traditional Italian-style espresso, leaning a bit bitter, though in totality not a bad pull. The pourover of Ethiopian seemed to also have a bit of a dark bite, as the coffee had glorious notes of blueberry, walnut, mild banana, shredded wheat and arugula but there was a powerful quality of basil as well as some bitter characteristics that seemed to overshadow the natural positives. It should be noted that the water quality of Winter Gardens is quite sulfur-y, and thus the tasting notes of the above coffees could have been influenced by said criteria (i.e. if there was no water filtration, the water definitely played a huge role).

Alas, my experience at Axum proved less grand than I had hoped, being that the coffees I sampled came out a little less optimal than I had expected. Nonetheless, it did seem like Axum had their proverbial ducks in a row (good roaster, seemingly well-trained baristas, etc.), so in this case it might have been an anomaly. Thus if you're in the neighborhood of Winter Garden, roll by Axum Coffee to try them for yourself.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bonavita Scale, Stand and Brewer

For folks immersed in the coffee industry, it's a well-accepted fact that the best way to measure out appropriate amount of coffee grounds is through weight, not volume. Long gone is the trust in the coffee scoop and all stock has been invested into accurate digital scales.

Fortunately the great folks at Seattle Coffee Gear offer a Bonavita pourover brewing solution fit for a barista. Not only does it include a gorgeous water resistant digital scale able to weigh out 12.5 lbs and be accurate to a 0.01 of a gram, but the included brewing stand and brewer also fit perfectly atop the scale for easy simultaneous use.

Below is a video they released regarding the equipment:

Being fortunate enough to get my hands on a such an apparatus thanks to Seattle Coffee Gear, I was able to try it out in the course of my coffee routine.

Regarding correct function of the scale (what good is it if it wasn't calibrated?), I did a quick check of the scale using fixed weights to ensure it was fully operational and accurate. I did find the scale to be consistently short by about 0.2 grams, but given the consistent nature of the offset, I wasn't worried about the -0.2 g (it was also interesting to note that the tolerance of +/- 0.01g seemed intact, though not fully verifiable since the scale only goes into tenths (0.1 g)).

Moving on to use of the digital scale in the realm of brewing, it proved accurate in all of my coffee measurements (ounces, grams and pounds), with the scale having just the right amount of sensitivity (aka not so sensitive that air caused fluctuations but sensitive enough that it adjusted based on small adjustments of grinds/water added). As expected, the zero/tare button proved invaluable in using the scale during brewing as it allowed real-time measurement of the coffee weight during the infusion. Also, the utilization of a built-in timer for infusions like french press was a handy feature. And although I did not dunk the scale to determine its level of water resistance (it's not a cheap scale), the scale did not seem to be worse for wear after some moisture exposure. Overall, I only have praise for the scale.

Regarding the stand and the brewer, I found them to be a solid addition to the scale. Initially my main concern was stability, as the porcelain brewer seemed a bit heavy to put atop the stand without any means of securing it to the adjustable-height O ring (I have children, so safety is huge). But in my trials, I really had no issues with instability. The O ring never budged under any weight and was very easy to adjust during any part of the brewing process. And due to the way the stand sits snugly on the scale, there's little danger of toppling due to top-heaviness, especially when a mug/vessel sits on the stand adding some extra weight (of course it should be noted that it's not space-travel-steady or Sesame-Street-safe, so like any coffee stand use caution and keep it out of reach of children).

Another aspect of the brewer that's worth pointing out is the hole size on the bottom of the brewer. If you're used to a chemex or v60, you would be wise to note that the Bonavita has a much smaller opening, which means that the coffee will naturally drain out a bit slower. I found the slower rate of escape a positive and with a few tweaks in grind size and quantity, the brewer made great coffee.

All in all, I found the Bonavita scale, stand and brewer to be a great combination for home use, not to mention for utilization in the hands of a skilled barista. If you happen to be seeking a digital scale and/or pourover stand, check out Seattle Coffee Gear.

Note: Use of equipment was provided free of charge and that the above review is completely objective.