Saturday, July 22, 2006

CC: La Colombe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

La Colombe Torrefaction
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA (19th St and about Walnut)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key] 

  *Updated 1/10/09* 

Quite a few people in Philadelphia love and rave about La Colombe, that it saved Philly from bad coffee. Granted I've only been a conscious coffee imbider these past 6 years, so I can't vouch for the improvement. What I can vouch for is that La Colombe always tastes the same, whether it's a good coffeehouse, a bad coffeehouse, or the very frequented La Colombe shop on South 19 St in Rittenhouse Square. Consistency is a good thing, but the thing is that I have never had a cup of La Colombe (coffee and espresso) that I stepped back and said "Wow, that's really good!", kinda more like "yep, that's La Colombe."  

They espouse their claim to "excellence" is blending coffees, the art of mixing together different coffees to result in a better coffee. But these days, I think blending is overdone; it's a misleading sign of sophistication. Some amazing coffees should not be blended and hence offered as single-origin (unblended). La Colombe offers only 5 blends (1 is decaf) and while they might know how to blend, the results never knocked my socks off. 

But my experience at the main store really impacted my feelings on the company. The baristas were hardly friendly, actually more bordering on rude. The espresso machine looked a little run down (though still trucking). And the decor was kinda bare; nice and spacious, but definitely crowded and noisy. The tea was very basic (can't remember the name) and I didn't try the chai. 

But in the end, I really have to side with those that think that La Colombe is way over-hyped. For the pride they espouse on their website, I would expect better. 

Updated 1/10/09 
Was walking around late one evening and decided to stop in to see if the espresso scene had improved (from my samplings at other spots, the coffee itself had not). My shots were pulled long, had only a bit of crema, and while it demonstrated a pleasant sweetness and tinge of cocoa, it also smacked of char on the back end. In the end, decent but still no where even close to an excellent espresso.


Unknown said...

I have never been to La Colombe without the friendly staff doing what they do best; making a fantastic noisette (double espresso macchiato). Having lived in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy, I have learned to appreciate a good espresso. At La Colombe, it's all about the coffee, not necessarily the café. I like it that way.

In my opinion, it is the only European style café in Center City. I chuckled to hear a woman once order a non-fat, decaf almond latté only to hear the barista reply with "Coffee! Espresso, filtered, decaf." I appreciated the wit and the dry humour, typical of baristas in Trieste, Sevilla, Athens and Porto.

The coffee afficionados are a mélange of people from all over the globe and often times loud, and that makes for great eavesdropping. On occasion, I like to zip in, drink my espresso at the bar, notice if there is an art collection on the wall, and go. If you like coffee in a simple, European style environment, this café is the place to go to. No frills, just coffee. Egalité! Fraternité! Café! La Colombe.

Bill said...

Do you work for la colombe? I mean who ends their post with the slogan of a company?

I would whole-heartedly agree with your statement that it's all about the coffee, not so much the cafe. The above post is all about how La Colombe lacks the attention to good coffee and espresso.

As for your witty observations...

Peter said...

La Colombe was the first place in Philadelphia where you could get a decent espresso. Not great,but decent.Since then, there have developed a number of great coffee places in Philadelphia and even a couple of great roasters.

La Colombe is sort of like Starbucks for Philadelphia. They raised the bar but didn't evolve further.

Bill said...


Well said. I could not agree more.