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.