Friday, October 27, 2006

CC: Montana Coffee Traders

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Montana Coffee Traders
Location visited: Columbia Falls, MT
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

he state of Montana: land renown for its natural beauty and fossils, home to a dedicated breed of people who love the cold and/or downhill sports. Given the 7-9 month periods of cold (depending where you are in the state) and the natural progression of trends from the West Coast, Montana is slowly developing a strong coffee culture of its own.

One place that seems to be extending its influence throughout the state is Montana Coffee Traders, a 25 year old operation based out of Northwest Montana near Glacier National Park. I personally had heard of their beans but did not get a chance to visit a shop until recently running through the town of Columbia Falls. This particular location had a
restaurant paired with a coffee bar (I was happy to see that the two aspects were not merged, but that the coffee area was a distinctly separate chunk of the establishment). The interior had a TGI-Fridays-meets-hunting-lodge look (when in Rome?) with seemingly adequate seating (definitely not enough for the Sunday rush).

The coffee, to my chagrin, was fairly tasty. The medium blend hit the spot, though the dark blend was a little overdone (couldn't put my finger to whether it was brewed strong or if it had something else to it). They offer numerous blends and seem to be very dedicated to well-roasted, socially-responsible
(i.e. fair-trade) java.

The espresso was completely different; it tasted so burnt I nearly spat it on the floor. The beans seemed stale as well as a little too over-roasted. That paired with questionable barista skill(s) (maybe it was an off day?) definitely exposed a possible weak spot in a seemingly strong tank.

The teas came from Montana Tea and Spice, a company out of Missoula that's been around since disco. This tea I've seen in various Montana coffee locations though I have yet to sample it. It looks promising (I hope).

Regarding the various coffeehouse aspects, I'd have to say it was good, especially for a small town like Columbia Falls. If you're going to Glacier or you're of the few hardy folk who live in NW Montana, I'd say it's a good java option.

PS: the breakfast here is AMAZING (though not cheap)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

CC: International Coffee Traders

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: International Coffee Traders
Location visited: Bozeman, MT
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]
Hours: observe here

The town of Bozeman, a nice college town nestled in the mountains, has so many coffee establishments, it's almost ridiculous (keyword: almost). One of the few next to campus, though quite concealed behind a gas station, is International Coffee Traders (from here on in the post I will refer to them as ICT). I actually heard of them before I got to visit. I was told they were pretty good and a nice place to hang out.

Well, they were right about the hang out. ICT displays a very exotic, tropical decor with lots of green plants, tables made to look like they were straight out of South America, and numerous other tropical accents. The seating and tables are well-spaced and they even have two computer consoles free to customers.

But I wasn't as impressed with the coffee. Admirably, they roast their own coffee but they only know how to do really dark blends. Their light roast is about as dark as I can drink it and their dark roast is blackened to oblivion. The tang of over-roasted beans typically shadows the drip (and they don't do french press service either).

The espresso is not much better sadly. The shots have the same bitter, over-roastedness as the coffee. I'm no professional, but my taste buds definitely grab its jagged sharpness . The issue with the espresso could also just be that the blend/single-origin is not meant for espresso, but I think it's still more the roast profile.

On a positive note, ICT does have an intriguing way of doing iced coffee. They use a process dubbed "Cold Press", where
heavily concentrated coffee is extracted through a specialized filter, then added to ice and water/milk (depends on your preference). It comes off smooth and very chocolaty, but alas I have not had it in awhile b/c they either run out or the weather is not right for it.

ICT also has a fair offering of Numi teas, but nothing extensive. Regarding their sweeter/sugary drinks,
from what I gather they tend to hit the spot (though I cannot vouch for such beverages).

Overall, it's a great place to hang out or study, but not so great if you're looking for a great shot of espresso or a well-roasted cup of coffee. We'll see if that changes...

Monday, October 09, 2006

2006 East Coast Barista Jam

Finally a move in the direction of consistent Philly-wide espresso goodness!

Local coffeehouse Crescent Moon Coffee & Tea and NY coffeehouse Coffee Labs are putting on the East Coast Barista Jam, which according to the, is an event aimed to:

- Provide customers with higher quality espresso beverages

- Learn more about coffee

- Learn how to maintain your equipment for long lasting use
- Help your staff with customer service issues

- Help your business grow

From what I gathered from other sites as well, is that the event (mostly) targets currently established baristas and coffeehouse owners to better refine their skills so that the best coffee is not just a pipe dream for quality-famished customers.
They'll have several of the area's finest baristas doing Q&A and assisting in developing your finer skills, so it will prove to be most worth the time.
*note: this is not to say that if you're just interested in the finer things of espresso, you can't go. I would still definitely attend if I were you, as long as it's not too late to register.

The whole event falls in coordination with the Fresh Cup Roadshow, which doesn't seem to cost anything (?) though I didn't really investigate. But even if the roadshow does cost a little dinero, it would be worth it for most coffee fans.

Oh, and it's in Cherry Hill, an area with no decent coffeehouses (to my knowledge). Ironic, no?