Tuesday, April 29, 2014

CC: Charmington's

Subject: Charmington's
Location: Baltimore, MD
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

When guiding a large entourage of people through the country, most people are content to frequent the many interstate truck stops for some vending machine coffee and a little rest. And while it's very fitting for time efficiency, a rest area nestled right off of America's asphalt arteries smacks of a dull, hollow excuse for refueling and leg stretching. If the opportunity allows me to take my large entourage briefly off the beaten path to break at a quality, local establishment, than so be it.

This is how I and two twelve-passenger vans found ourselves at Charmington's. Needing a break in the vicinity of Baltimore, I noticed in my preplanning that the physical location of Charmington's was but 15 minutes off the path we were traveling. And with what looked like a spacious interior, this spiffy-looking coffeehouse seemed like a perfect spot for my enormous gang to take a quick coffee break. 

Located in a large, brick building, Charmington's boasts a substantial venue with gigantic windows, two long rows of tables and a warm atmosphere that definitely gets some glow from the friendly staff. As for their menu, they serve Counter Culture Coffee and a full offering of food ranging from sandwiches to sweets. Starting off the ordering for my two vans, I got an espresso of Toscano and a drip of the Buziraguhindwa Burundi. The espresso, pulled medium with a light brown crema, dished out notes of lemon, chocolate cake, can sugar, sage and sugar cookie, proving well-extracted and flavorful. The Buziraguhindwa trumpeted out delicious bing cherry, wheat cracker, pound cake, a bit of spinach and thorough milkiness within a medium body, making for a great cup of African coffee. On a side note, I was impressed with the calm demeanor and consistent quality in which they handled the entirety of my group.

When the time came for us to bid adieu, I felt a touch of remorse that Charmington's could only be a brief respite. Hence, if you are ever in Baltimore north of the harbor and seek a great cup of coffee within a great location, check out Charmington's of the corner of W 26th and Howard. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mugged: Guatemala Huehuetenango [Passion House]

Subject: Passion House Coffee Roasters
Coffee Mugged: Guatemala Huehuetenango
Rating [see key]: 6+

Every time I turn on my internet surfer, it seems the number of coffee roasters has swelled even larger. Like a growing wave, the expanding number of coffee roasters makes my heart leap with joy that more and more people are coming to patronize worthy roasters, but conversely I know that any growth, while healthy, does mean an increased competition for constituents.

But one thing is for sure: with a constantly growing variety of coffee roasters, you will need curators to highlight the glorious. One such coffee entity is Coffee Kind, armed with a litany of great roasters as well as coffee equipment and brewing wisdom. Recently they extended to me a coupon so I could test out their services, and without wasting much timeI took the opportunity to order a delightful-looking Guatemalan from Passion House Coffee Roasters.

Passion House is a pretty new-to-the-scene roaster, based out of Chicago infused with what seems like vats of zeal and coffee skills. Of their many offerings, I ordered from their Ambient Genre the Guatemala Huehuetenango, a blend of various beans produced from the Huehuetenango Highland Coffee Presidium esteemed for their high quality and traceability.

After the coffee's prompt arrival, I sampled the coffee via pourover, french press and siphon. The pourover slung notes of honey, ice wine, cracked wheat, nougat, cashew and a touch of roast fowl, making for a delectable nectar with a cocoa-esque followthrough. The french press also pressed in sweetly, with nougat, cracked wheat, cashew and sweet tea dominating amidst a light body. The siphon rounded out the three with buttered cracker, nougat, cashew, cream, a bit of roast chicken and a basil hint, making for a sweet and dessert-packed coffee.

Few coffees have been as easy to decimate as this fine Guatemalan from Passion House. Coffee Kind proved a valuable presence in the coffee choosing process and with numerous great roasters and gear, they'll be more than happy to help you narrow down your decision.

Next time you seek beans, check out Coffee Kind and Passion House Coffee Roasters.

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

Sunday, April 13, 2014

CC: Budin

Subject: Budin
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Access to coffee roasters across the ocean has been something of a head scratcher in the past. Very few shipping and parcel services could economically get you coffee from one continent to the other well within the window of peak freshness. But recently, things have changed in the equation so that certain roasters are able to get their coffee over the pond from Europe to the States for, by comparison, what seems like a song. 

These new shipping realities, as well as the genius of bulk purchasing, have allowed for new swaths of frontier in US coffeehousing. One of the more interesting and recent openings of the past year is Budin, a coffee bar in Brooklyn serving only Scandinavia's finest coffee. Having received publicity from the local press for their unique coffee roasters, their slightly higher-than-domestic-coffee prices and their stylish nordic merchandise, I could not resist a trip to the shop.

I arrived one overcast afternoon to the unassuming, brown-framed shop with a large glass window that peered out into the calm, city street. Inside, the shop is quite voluminous; a long layout easy on the eyes that accommodates a long bar and plenty of tables, complete with the many Scandinavian wares and a patio in the back. For my coffee, I decided upon an espresso of Colombia Tampana from Norway's Tim Wendelboe, and a pourover of Brazil Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza from Sweden's Koppi. The espresso, pulled short with brown crema, relayed orange, grapefruit, wheaty beer, hazlenut, cocoa and little barley broth, making for a deliciously bright and sweet extraction. The pourover also bedazzled my tongue, with potent flavors of cherry, Cabernet Franc, dark chocolate, honey, elderflower and rye amidst a mellow, light body. 

Delighted with my coffee and the extremely friendly staff, I left Budin satisfied that I had received my money's worth. If you're looking to try out some great coffee from abroad, make your way to Brooklyn's Budin. 

Monday, April 07, 2014

CC: Cafe Stella

Subject: Cafe Stella
Location: Norfolk, VA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Making my way through lovely Norfolk, I was impressed to find more options for feasting than I had heard prior. Since I was only in town for a smidgen of time, I was forced to take my choices and whittle them down to pick two. The first was a grand sanctuary of southern flavor called Handsome Biscuit, which despite its quaint size was bubbling over with eager customers and made for a grandiose course of chicken and biscuits. 

The second was my coffee stop for the morning, a place that suited my companions in its geography and tentatively suited my qualifications with its foretold reputation. This coffee entity was none other than a brightly arrayed venue dubbed Cafe Stella. Situated on Colonial Avenue with a nice outside patio flanking the central door, I walked in to find a vaulted space full of eclectic furniture and vintage flare, occasionally dotted with intriguing art and populated by what seemed like a never-ceasing bustle of patrons. 

Looking to sip some of their self-roasted coffee, I tried out their espresso blend (the barista gave it no name) and a pourover of their Kenyan. The espresso, pulled short/medium with a brownish crema, ricocheted notes of milk, black pepper, butter cracker, lemon zest and spinach making for a fairly tasty infusion with only minor areas left for improvement. The Kenya held out a vibrant bouquet of Frosted Flakes, blueberry, sweet cream, tomato gravy and lemongrass, making for a syrupy sweet brew with a light body. 

After spending a little time at a wide circular table, my company and I bussed our dishes and walked out satisfied. If you happen to be in Norfolk, stop by Cafe Stella for a cup of coffee. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Mugged: Black Medicine

Coffee Mugged: Black Medicine
Rating [see key]: 5+

The prepackaged iced coffee craze seems to be at full tilt. More than ever a thirsty iced coffee seeker can find a bottle, growler or keg of iced coffee at a local coffee purveyor so to grab their favorite chilled java for consumption at a much later date.

Yet despite the growing trend amongst great roasters, I have not had a lot of great bottled iced coffee. Many times the bottled brews are something that demands the aid of ice, and sometimes even ice does little to disperse a repugnant aftertaste. Thus when I heard about a bottled iced coffee from California called Black Medicine, I can't say I had high hopes for great flavor when they offered to send some out for review. But of course, I put my thoughts aside and put on my objective lenses to give each of the three bottles a thorough assessment.

It turns out that this blend of three different light-to-medium roasted origins (currently two Ethiopians and one Guatemalan) brewed hot-then-cooled made for an ice coffee that is hard to beat. The Black Medicine actually tasted great, with flavors of oatmeal stout, lemon, orange peel, roasted peanut and a touch of banana, making for a smooth and bright coffee with no funky aftertaste. To be fair, the coffee does have "added Vitamin C" so it's not really a truly pure coffee and so it's hard to say how much of the brightness comes from the additive. Nonetheless, the coffee goes down sweet whether one prefers to sip it over ice or drink straight from the bottle.

While there's tons of prepackaged iced coffee out there, take confidence that there are a good chunk of great options like Black Medicine. Grab a bottle at your participating retailer (especially if you're out in their neck of California) or online.

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