Sunday, November 12, 2006

CC: Old City Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Old City Coffee
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
(at Church St location)

Rating: 4+ [see key]

Growing up in the South Jersey suburbs, my parents often took me and my siblings to the various sights in Philadelphia. We went to Independence Hall, all of the museums, the zoo, and other various places. I remember as a kid liking it all but really wanting to go out to eat afterwards. As a place of various foods, I do find it funny that my parents never took us young children to the Reading Terminal Market, one of the most historic and iconic fixtures of 20th century Philadelphia (actually, my parents did make good on the trip by finally taking my siblings and I there about two years ago, but why did they wait so long?).

As many know, the RTM is full of many various vendors and styles of food (I love the Amish diner in the back). Fittingly, Old City Coffee holds as the purveyor of coffee in the densely packed market. A coffee presence since 1984, they now have two locations: the original on Church St near N 3rd Ave and the RTM.

I ran across the RTM site some years ago (never made it to the Church St one), kind of pegging them initially as just a mediocre company trying to iron out a decent dollar in the crazy atmosphere of the RTM. The booth is very small and not too different then the other stands, though admirably they house a huge roaster (they roast their coffee for both locations there) as well as other necessary amenities of a reputable operation, including doublesided serving capabilites (they're on a corner in the market).

So having dropped in several times, I have to say that I never really found their coffee all too flavorful. I mean it was good but there was something off about it. Whether it be over-roasted or just bad batches I can't say since it's been some months since I've had their drip.

I do vividly remember the espresso not being so good; it just came off way too sharp and bitter. I tried it both straight and with milk to no avail.

[As Old Coffee holds two locations, I will have to make a trip to the Church St venue to make a proper diagnosis of whether their coffee and espresso just don't sample well at the RTM or if it's an universal matter.] *see update below*

I don't remember the teas though according to their website, they have lots of tea. Yet oddly, they seem to place a bit of favoritism on green tea on the website, leaving the other four categories a bit neglected (black, oolong, red, and white). I know they serve them all at their locations, but I guess the webmaster really likes green tea.

Overall, I greatly honor Old City Coffee for their 20+ year commitment to decent specialty coffee in Philadelphia (a member of the SCAA since their advent) but as of yet, I have not had a tremendous cup of java there. Still, if you're in the Reading Terminal or down by Church St near N 3rd, I'd stop in and give it a try for yourself.

* Update 12/17/06
As promised, I made it finally to the Church St location. I was (amiably) surprised to find a very quaint, uniquely-shaped cafe full of locals (they had not the slightest hint of tourist to them at all). The coffee on tap was a dark blend, and as most coffees heavily roasted taste, it sat with a bitter harshness on my tongue. So, nothing new with the coffee (especially with a bit of visual confirmation of some drenched-in-oil, dark-roasted beans (why roast to Starbucks depths?)).

The espresso was a small surprise, with very clean and well-pulled shots and a tasty americano. The 6 bean espresso blend (with also visual inspection) wasn't as dark as I remembered it, and so it seemed, of fair quality (i.e. a change from my RTM experiences; must have been off days for myself or the resident baristas).

Overall, I am better assured with their espresso skillty, but I can't say I'm thrilled with some of their roasting outcomes (who really likes to drink beans so dark?).

* Update 6/12/07
New picture


Jessica said...

I just had coffee from that exact spot a few days ago. It was bitter and yucky.

Jack C. Treatman said...

Wow- I was a little surprised by your impression of Old City Coffee. We are an "old school" coffee brewer/roaster as in the early days of Alfred Peet in San Francisco, Gerry Baldwin from Seattle and George Howell from Boston. Our green coffee roasted is always new/current crop from great coffee farms. We roast in tiny batches in an antique Probat L-12 roaster every day. Maybee we don't agree on your preferred taste profile?
Our 6 bean espresso is on the delicate side-perhaps our Barrista had a bad day or again-you have different taste-than we? Let's talk about this! Fascinating.

Jack-General Manager, OCC

Anonymous said...

I drank the coffee at OCC in the RTM (what an acronym-using insider I am!) every day for the better part of a year, while attending school nearby.

I agree, lots of days the coffee was dark and pretty bitter. Maybe I've grown accustomed to that flavor though? As I never really minded it.

There were a few days inparticular when I had amazing amazing light cups from central america, or just more full-bodied cups with really good flavor (not just blackness!)

Don't give up on 'em, is all.