Monday, December 31, 2007

Treehouse Coffee Shop For Sale

Having not stopped in Collingswood for awhile, I was very unaware that the former owners of the Treehouse Coffee Shop have decided to sell the long-running coffeehouse in order to pursue other dreams. While this is very sad sad news, as they have proved to be a constantly improving outfit, one can only hope that a humble, cunning entrepreneur is on the move to buy and reopen the place as a venue of quality coffee and espresso.

If that person is you, please take your time and do it right (I've seen too many shops race to open without even trying to understand the business).

To the former owners, all the best.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

CC: Zummo's Cafe (Electric City Roasting)

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Zummo's Cafe
Location visited: Scranton, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

nthracite coal mines have oddly made up a lot of study in many of my classes, both in secondary and higher education. The social dynamics of mining, the geologic fundamentals, and how it made a large impact on mid-Atlantic state formation (mostly Pennsylvania). As a result, I'm extremely curious of the history around mining and the towns around them.

So of course anyone enticed by or curious of coal mining will head to Scranton, home to one of the larger and more interesting coal mine displays/tours this side of the Mississippi, called the Lackawanna Coal Mines. Only once to my recall have I done the tour (maybe twice) yet I have since then driven past the mines and have longed to revisit. One day soon...

But what has been newly unearthed to me is decent coffee in Scranton. One such place that I caught wind of was a place operated by Electric City Roasting called Zummo's Cafe. The place is a little off the beaten path for a non-Scrantonite though not hard to find with good directions. The exterior is two very different-looking houses joined together by an extension on the first floor. The interior is a huge space, with an ample front counter, extensive seating, and a warm, open decor.

The coffee is their own, and in my experience has been a breath of fresh air to my taste buds (though they roast a little too dark on a few roasts, a seeming 2/3 of the coffee is of a good shade and wonderful flavor). The coffee is brewed into either pump pots or into the ever-glorious Clover
(which paired with their coffee, brews a wonderful cup).

The espresso holds its own but I can't say it stood out, as it had a bit of a charred blankness to it. I would say overall it's something they could work on in refining barista skills and/or their espresso roast, but generally speaking they seem to be on the right path of good espresso.

The tea is Mighty Leaf, of which my wife loves the silk tea bags most of all (followed in suit by the tea itself).

Thus, I would definitely recommend a stop at Zummo's Cafe if you're in or driving through Scranton, as it's not far from 81, parking is usually very available in front of the store, and it's a great spot to refuel and reminisce of your coal mining experiences (if you had just wrapped up a day at the mines, of course).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

CC: Everyman Espresso

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Everyman Espresso
Location visited: Manhattan, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

An odd thing I've noticed about Manhattan; no matter the day or time, the coffeehouses always seem packed to overflowing (well, at least the good ones). I've waited in lines with over 15 people ahead of me, something that I rarely do in a coffeehouse, but I guess since it's good java in a city of Starbucks misery, my subconscious never made it an issue.

And so was the case with my first visit to Everyman Espresso, a once second location for Ninth Street Espresso which was sold apparently to a former employee. The place is right down the street (in the eastern direction) from a Joe the Art of Coffee location on E 13th S, and hence was very easy to find. When I arrived, I noticed a beautiful sign and a large store front of windows, though there seemed to be two doors (I later found out the facility is shared by the Classic Stage Company and hence, another door). Inside, the place was very open with small tall and short tables alike all clustered to the right and as mentioned before, a line almost out the door.

They get their beans from Counter Culture but for one reason or another, they didn't have coffee available so I didn't get get to sample drip or press. But the espresso, oh what a delightful sweet chocolaty smoothness it held. Wonderful. Don't think they sell tea.

Overall, no disappointment here (even though I didn't get to try the drip or press, I've had Counter Culture before and it tends to sample very well). If you're in the area, definitely meander over to Everyman Espresso and as is the case with all Manhattan coffeehouses, don't let the line scare you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

CC: Gimme! Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Gimme! Coffee
Location visited: Ithaca, NY and Manhattan, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

4.11.08 - Upate follows original post

ome say the key to a successful operation is just having a good product while others expect that a well-hyped and deliciously packaged product is the goal. And while I do know a couple places that do thrive on just one of those criteria, obviously a business that masters both is going places.

In my opinion, Gimme! Coffee must be the Northeast poster child of such dual success. I've seen more plugs/ads/publicity for Gimme! coffee (they roast their own) and espresso (apparently they have some strong mastery) then any other nearby operation, and for seemingly good reason as I've heard nothing but positive things from lots of credible sources. The only negative thing I read was that they really like to roast dark, which could be good (if they know what they're doing) or bad (if they purvey nothing but charred oiliness).

Obviously hearing so many pleasant things about a place so relatively close (in NYC area as well as Ithaca), I made it a point to stop by the first chance I was near a location. Ironically, the first time I was near Ithaca, I hit a closed sign by a mere 8 minutes (drat was I disappointed) but a month or so later, I made a day trip to Ithaca plenty early so to make a day of the town (Ithaca is gorges!).

The first store I made it to was State St, a location tucked into a block of various small Ithaca businesses with an all but too quaint, flat brick face. The outside had some exterior seating with a very inviting appearance complimented with a very warm (orangy-red!) interior filled with patrons. The only odd thing about the inside was the overwhelming smell of celery or minestrone (it lingered in my nostrils like an angry hornet). The coffee was a stellar brew (I believe it was a Bolivian) with a beautifully smooth body and a floral accent. The espresso held a full, chocolaty sweetness and was pulled wonderfully. The tea is Harney and Sons, a tea I've found all too wonderful at other establishments.

The other store was their Cayuga St location, seemingly placed on a very random corner near what appeared to be a canal or irrigation channel and some local residences (what a nice place to live). The outside was a beautiful store front with large windows and exterior seating, while the inside was a high-ceilinged narrow store with the counter smack in the middle of the place with seating orbiting around it. This place was also packed. The coffee, espresso, and tea here were of similar superb quality with some talented baristas working the machines.

I must say that my visit to the Gimme locations lived up to the hype, as they were extremely professional in their performance and product. But as they are a roaster and purvey to various establishments, I've also had some truly poor Gimme roasts from other vendors (some really really dark coffee that I don't think was meant to be brewed) but what can you do? Make a point to give a visit to one of the Gimme locations in either Ithaca, Trumansburg, or the NYC area (I do believe there's a Manhattan location forthcoming on top of their Brooklyn establishment, but I could be misquoted).

*Update 4.11.08

Visited the new Mott St Manhattan location. While a very small space, the coffee and espresso still hold to the same quality. Make sure to give it a stop.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

CC: Kuhlman's Koffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Kuhlman's Koffee
Location visited: Nixa, MO
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Ever wonder what it takes to make good business? Well, I don't know the full formula (I know making money is in there somewhere) but I would think being able to find your location of business would be key (unless you're a speak-easy or an exclusive operation). Putting a rental car place far from a major road and opening a coffeehouse in a hidden shopping center seem to be both bad moves.

While I've had no dealings with hard-to-find rental car agencies (yet), I've had a couple interactions with camouflaged coffee establishments. The most recent one was when I was down near Springfield, in the small town of Nixa. I was staying close by with family and as usual, was on the hunt for local brews. Google kicked up one intriguing place called Kuhlman's Koffee apparently right down the road. Normally, I would have just put my computer down and drove right over but since I was with family (who have much less patience for coffee stops) I figured I would need to incorporate it into our drives.

I drove past it 4 times in my searches.

Finally on the 5th and final time, I found it next to the place we had breakfast the day before (I didn't even see it then!) tucked away in a truly small structure in a strip mall. The outside looked very nice with a decent color scheme. The inside was pretty cozy (bout the size of a small trailer), with a central bar and some other seating options about.

Kuhlman's roasts their own and from the looks of the shop and website, they look pretty dedicated. The drip I sampled was ok, with a so-so flavor. The espresso was kinda bland, though it had a nice tang on the back end. Didn't glimpse the tea.

Outside of their seemingly secret location, Kuhlman's looks like it has a bit of promise to it. If you're in town, get directions online as well as the phone number so you can make sure to not miss it.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Craig LaBan: Home Espresso Wisdom

hile I have occasional skepticism of most food critics' knowledge of coffee-related things, as I've seen foodies recommend some pretty rough places and products, Philly food critic Craig LaBan just put out a really nice article on the purchasing of a home espresso machine. He definitely did his homework and the article is worth the read even if you're not in the market for an espresso machine.

As far as places he recommends grabbing an espresso, I hands down agree with Chestnut Hill Coffee and have put Osteria (apparently a fancy pizza joint on Broad) on the "try" list.

Give the article a gander here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

CC: Slow Down Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Slow Down Cafe
Location visited: Hightstown, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

n all of my days in NJ, I've only once heard of a coffeehouse by name consistently from various people, that place being tucked away in downtown Hightstown (right off the the NJTP) called Slow Down Cafe. I passed it many times (mostly at non-business hours) before I made some stops to try their goods.

The exterior is situated in a very visible spot with plenty of parking around it. The building is an old brick retail establishment, very reminiscent of a city. The inside is pretty cozy, with very eclectic decor and seemingly poor lighting (it always seems dark when I go in). To my understanding, SDC has been around for many days too (some credit for being ahead of their time).

The coffee is roasted in house, with the drip coming off unexciting and fairly bland. The espresso, while seemingly pulled decently, samples charred and none too wonderful. The tea is Tazo, a mediocre selection, but a decent tea.

The poor product coupled with some other observations makes it seem that this pioneer in the center of NJ hasn't kept up with the times or has just lost their drive altogether. I'd say SDC has a lot of potential to make amends, I just pray they do so before they hit hard times. But at the same time, if you're traveling the NJTP, get off at Hightstown and take your coffee break there; tis better then going to a turnpike rest stop.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

CC: Mudhouse

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Location visited: Springfield, MO
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

n the couple times I've encountered Springfield, every time has involved a stop at the locally fabled Mudhouse. First time I was escorted by Springfieldans, as I think it was the only local coffee joint at the time. Then it was but a mediocre establishment but now it seems to be a vastly improved operation.

The Mudhouse consists of a beautiful shop in the middle of downtown Springfield with large store windows and a warm, open interior chock full of prime seating and intriguing art. Locals and out-of-towners of all shapes and sizes fill the seats constantly.

The coffee is roasted in-house and as aforementioned, has grown in quality over these past years, with their drip on my most recent visit having a nice body and smooth flavor. The espresso was decent with a sweet tang but overall, nothing that great. To note the tea, it's free leaf.

While Mudhouse is no longer the only local coffee establishment, it seems like it has a good track record and history within the town. If you're ever nearby, make sure to give it a whirl.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Old Post Updates

any times after I write a review, I go back and update them for various reasons. Here's two I added substantially to as of late:

11.26 - Crescent Moon review update of information (expanded offerings)

11.25 - Brew Ha Ha! review update of information (went up in quality!)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Clover: Map and Article

uite possibly one of the biggest (and more expensive) new machines to hit the realm of specialty coffee is a machine called a Clover, that many (including myself) attest to the wonderful cup of coffee that it produces.

Anyway, here's two things Clover-related that I ran across in the past week:

1. There is a Clover map on the website, which allows you to find a Clover near you (and if there is one near you, you really need to go out of your way to try it). Take a gander at the map.

2. Clover recently appeared in The Economist, an article that largely speculates the possibility of Clovers taking off nationwide. At this time, having seen Clovers in action, I don't see most businesses dropping $11,000 on a coffee machine never mind use it to its full potential. But weirder things have happened...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

CC: Kind Coffee Company

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Kind Coffee Company
Location visited: Syracuse, NY
Free WiFi ? : maybe
Rating: 3+ [see key]

bandoned warehouses turned into cool chic venues must be one of my favorite looks. The recycling of an old building for a new purpose (given of course that it's still structurally and environmentally sound) makes so much more of a statement (not to mention sense) then tearing it down and erecting another, usually pre-fab, structure.

So looking at Syracuse, NY with its abundant supply of abandoned warehouses, I grew excited when I stumbled across Kind Coffee Company near downtown Armory Square in what looked like an old industrial building. The spray paint making up the majority of the signage and the rich red exterior impressed upon me that it was indeed the makings of an intriguing establishment.

To say my initial intrigue was satisfied when I walked in would be putting it lightly. As I entered through the front door, I am greeted by the perplexing sight of a barely rejuvenated warehouse with barely any artificial light (not to mention natural sun) and some truly mysterious furniture. Don't get me wrong; I love the bohemian look to coffeehouses, but Kind took it to the level that I was not comfortable sticking around.

The coffee is roasted in-house fresh every weekday, with the coffee darkness escalating as the week goes on (i.e. you want to come in Monday or Tuesday if you want a light roast and Friday if you want it dark). He roasts in an industry culinary oven of sorts (which you can do at home in your basic kitchen oven) that seems to give roasts with varying shades (not a bad thing, just a factor from experience that makes roasting a little harder to predict).

The coffee in-house wasn't bad, both cups full-bodied but both were coffees that were roasted day-of, as Kind does not keep coffee past the day its roasted (and coffee doesn't reach maturation until about three days after roasting). I also took a pound to go and to my distinct pleasure, it proved to possess decent quality.

The espresso on the other hand was shady, coming from a machine that looks like it's seen a couple wars. As far as skill, the shots were definitely over-pulled. Didn't catch if they had any tea.

Needless to say, Kind is quite a unique establishment and could hold some promise for future improvement. For now, I would only recommend Kind if you're in the market for a pound of coffee or quick cup of drip coffee to go.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Men Get Their Coffee Faster?

I was flipping through the morning e-papers and found an article from last weekend in Slate about a study performed in Boston about how women wait an average of 20 seconds longer to be served then did men.

I'm guessing the large majority of the eight coffee establishments polled were chains such as Starbucks and such, but I wonder if the same holds true for local places? Realistically, it could very well be a Boston thing or some other factor, but I can't see how or why any barista would have such a dichotomy in service between genders (unless there's a subconscious mechanism at work?).

Monday, November 12, 2007

CC: InFusion Coffee and Tea Gallery

What's a Coffee Commentary?

InFusion Coffee and Tea Gallery
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
(Bella Vista location off Carpenter St)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

City life has always appealed to me, though I cannot say entirely why. The parking problems, the smells, and the proximity of your neighbors are all things that have never allured me but they seem to be minimized by being so close to everything, the eclectic culture, and the idea of being able to wake up and take a stroll to my favorite haunts.

InFusion Coffee and Tea Gallery seems to have that "favorite haunt" feel, having heard lots about them via various Philly food sources (nothing from my coffee resources) and further confirmed by their homey (and heavily residential) surroundings.

I arrived with the wife on a day in the city, purposefully out of the way of our usual stops to get my morning coffee from InFusion. The place is in a mostly residential area with a nice store front and it's overtly colorful logo prominently displayed on its gray walls across from a very well-kept city park. The inside of course reflected a much warmer, friendlier tone (though very compact) that you can observe better via this video they sent me last week.

As far as their coffee offerings, they offer Torreo and Equal Exchange. I have had Equal Exchange before in several places and it tends to be a heavy-roasted coffee with some rough screams of bitterness. No real experience with Torreo.

The coffee they served me was a dark roast which wasn't so bad, but nothing great either. The espresso was decent, with a nice acidity yet nothing to write home about (unless home reads my blog, and then I guess it is?). The tea is free leaf.

In the end, I don't think I'd be satisfied if I lived by InFusion, as I feel it would be satisfying as a local haunt but not as a place I'd drink my coffee (often). Yet another coffeehouse of mediocrity in Philly...

Friday, November 02, 2007

CP's Top Picks

While I rarely agree with "Best of" articles put out by local papers and periodicals, I usually refer to them to see who was "honored" this time around. But I think I fell in love with CityPaper's truly clever rendition that came out Wednesday, with such categories as "Greatest Advancements in the Field of Mussels" and "Worst Haunt for Nonsmokers." The ones that applied to the coffee and tea arena I've listed below.

Best New Stay-At-Home Dad Destination: InFusion Coffee & Tea Gallery

Greatest Place to Grab a (Yerba) Mate: Premium Steap

Best Suburban Sandwich Stop: Elcy's Coffee House

Most Charming Soy Chai Latte: Walnut Bridge Coffee House

Tastiest Iced Coffee: Beauty Shop Cafe

While I'm always a fan of clever writing, I'm even more of a fan of accurate reviews (!!!!). Though I've only been to one of the places above (InFusion) and attempted to go to another (Premium Steap (can never get there when they're open)), the things they're "best of" are believable unlike the oh so typical "Best Coffeehouse EVER" designation that after a good while loses it's meaning when you give it to such a random assortment of places that have little in common with their best-ness.

Take a gander at the article for yourself!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

CC: Sweetwater Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Sweetwater Coffee
Location visited: Dillon, MT
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Small towns have a certain charm to them, but growing up in the crowded East, I don't think I ever really got to truly see a small town until I went west, where in some places in New Mexico and Nevada there stands only one main road through all of town and you can take the tour in about 10 minutes.

Of all the west, Montana is the state that I have by far visited the most small towns, some of them more like a NJ rest stop then a town while others do hold a bit of charm. On one particular road trip through the lovely state of Montana south to Idaho, a colleague and I stopped in one such described-charming place that's home to some mutual good friends, a town called Dillon.

Arriving in town early in the mid-morning, Dillon qualified as a good coffee stop, especially because my one friend raves about one specific establishment called Sweetwater Coffee. And as any good friend would, I made a bee line for the venue in the heart of Dillon (it's near city hall, I recall).

To say the the least, the outside failed to blow me away, with a very industrial, bleh-looking building with but a small (by comparison to the backdrop) circular sign. The inside fortunately was a whole lot warmer and enticing, with very bohemian, mis-matched furniture as well as some interesting local art. The place seemed to be a local hangout for people of all ages (even though not many people seemed to be around at 10 AM this particular Thursday).

They serve only espresso (only americanos for the usual drip/press coffee drinkers) with their espresso blend being Montana Coffee Trader's French Roast. The doubleshot I had was a bit sharp with an ok acidity, but nothing amazing. The barista, who was very amiable, seemed to know what she was doing but as I was a bit scatterbrained that morning, I failed to note her skills. Also, didn't note the tea but I did observe that they do offer hot lemonade (new one to me), and though it was tempting, I didn't want to leave on a sour note (haha, get it?).

Overall, Dillon proved favorable and Sweetwater satisfactory. I would say my friend gave a fair recommendation as Sweetwater may not be the best coffeehouse EVER, but for a small town it's a nice operation. For those in Dillon or passing through: if you try the hot lemonade, let me know how you like it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

CC: Le Petit Outre

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Le Petit Outre
Location visited: Missoula, MT
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating: 5+ [see key]

*Update 7.6.11

I am a hard sucker for mountains, and one of the prettier drives I've driven was a drive from Bozeman to Kalispell. I traveled with three companions (two from over the ocean) and at a non-snowy period where everything is green (go between May and July for best results), there's few places that can compare.

And of course, no road trip would be complete without a good coffee stop somewhere in the middle, which going the long scenic route, Missoula falls smack in the middle. Ironically, the place that got the most legitimate hype in my research was actually a bakery, Le Petit Outre (I tried an online translator to guess the name's meaning and it came out to roughly "the other little one").

The location is right near the old downtown of the city, on the corner of a side street with perpendicular parking. The exterior to my recollection was nothing fancy, a standard barn-esque structure with a really beautiful sign. The interior was a huge bakery warehouse of sorts with a large rack of bakery delights as well as a small coffee counter behind the register. Basically, the place was much more of a grab and go then a sit and study.

They serve Espresso Vivace out of Seattle and much like Vivace, strictly stick to espresso. They seem to be huge fans of David Schomer (the barista sang me his praises and recommended to me his book) and judging from the shots pulled and the quality taste, they know a good deal about pulling shots. No filtered coffee here (to my recollection), so grab an americano. Don't remember if they had tea or not.

On a less common side note, since they're known more as a bakery, I did grab an almond croissant which was out of this world, so I would also propose grabbing a baked item to complement your drink.

Thus, if you ever find yourself in Missoula in need of a French pastry and an espresso, give Le Petit Outre a go, especially if you're there in the winter; you'll need something to warm you up.

*Update 7.6.11

Alas, I have not been back but in looking over my posts I realized that a 4+ did not aptly describe my experience and that Le Petit Outre demonstrated a 5+ for sure (I think it had to do with a past, now-debunked opinion that a place that doesn't serve non-espresso was inferior to a place that served both (2007 was a long time ago for me in coffee knowledge)). I hear that the place is still going strong (and ironically enough, now seems to serve non-espresso coffee).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

CC: Cafe Kubal

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Cafe Kubal
Location visited: Syracuse, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Update 8/7/08

After just having a talk with a good friend of mine about the sad state of affairs with the Philadelphia coffee/espresso scene (the fact that 90% of the shops are operating off poor skills and inaccurate knowledge), it really made me appreciate the good places that really know what they're doing.

But whenever I travel to new places, I rarely get my hopes up for the prospect of hidden gems. Almost always, the coffee geeks of the world mine and expose them quickly so that if you haven't heard of them shouted from the rooftops, there's not much hope.

So on my first trip to Syracuse, I had only heard a yell from a porch (figuratively) about a local joint called Cafe Kubal that by all means of their web page looked legit, but how appearances can deceive. But what good are tips if you let them sit...

I arrived one sunny morning to find the shop in a strip mall in an extremely small space. The outside is all storefront windows with some outside seating (surely only useable 4 maybe 5 months out of the year) and a nice neon sign. The interior is a very efficiently and effectively used space with a couple seats by the windows.

Kubal roasts all of their own coffee in a truly old school roaster dating back to the early 20th century. As I've been back to Kubal several times now, I've had mixed experience with their coffee. In-house, it's superb with a real nice acidity and a good flavor. But I also bought a bag for home use only to find it rather oily and very gross. From what I observe, they roast dark and so my guess on the oil is that it's hard to control with the old roaster. But old roaster or no old roaster, exterior oil = angry mob down the digestive highway.

The espresso is truly where they won my admiration. The baristas really know what they're doing and the espresso comes out beautiful with good crema and a full, fruit-esque flavor. Wonderful!

The tea is mostly free leaf and it looks good, though I haven't tried it.

So as far as gems, I'd say Kubal is currently a fine sapphire in need of some shaping (mostly the dark coffee). I hear there are plans in the works to have a second shop in the downtown area of Syracuse, which if true will be a nice accent for the revival of downtown Syracuse. Final words: give it go, try the drinks there, but be wary of taking your beans to go.

Update 8/7/08

Cafe Kubal has definitely improved in several areas since I last scrawled this. First, I've had a couple coffees that were splendid such as their Indian Sitarra, a 100% robusta that has a lot of unique flavors to it. They have also extended and really spruced up their front patio area as well as upgraded their website. Also, I have learned that the while the roaster is a beautifully restored antique, the roast level still can be easily controlled by a knowledgeable roaster.

New final word: give it all a go.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Iced Coff-tea

In some coffee perusing, I ran across this odd recipe for an iced coffee and iced tea hybrid. Granted summer is almost over, but it's something to give a try before the heat leaves altogether.

I would think most coffee/tea combos could produce a decent product, but I would avoid using very distinct teas (such as the smoky Lapsang Souchong) or a coffee that's over-roasted (but you don't need Cup of Excellence coffee to make a good iced coffee).

Thursday, September 06, 2007

CC: Rojo's Roastery

Subject: Rojo's Roastery
Location visited: Lambertville and Princeton, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Updated 5/22/14 after original post

Realistically, I must say there's nothing like getting to spend a Saturday meandering around a town of fond memory. These days, weekends are so full of wedding planning, driving, and other tasks that the luxury of window shopping and taking in a nice lunch in an old haunt feels like a sweet chunk of heaven.

I couldn't have picked a better spot to unwind recently then Lambertville and New Hope. Though neither
really hold much history for me (I've only been there about two hands worth of fingers), I have had a lot of good family and friend time there as well as in nearby Washington's Crossing Park (ps: the PA side is better).

Back to the day of unwinding, it was an early Thursday afternoon as a pal of mine and I were making our way through lovely Lambertville after just finishing lunch. We had dined at local Caffe Galleria which was mighty scrumptious though a bit small portion-wise (I'm much more a quantity vs quality guy when it comes to meals). After lunch naturally comes coffee but I sadly knew of zero good places in the area.

Once again, internet to the rescue as when I was doing my homework on the area, I had found that there was a local shop that roasted their own called Rojo's Roastery. We walked all the way north deep into the narrow one way streets and random little shops. Finally, just when the street was about to end we found the place tucked into what appeared to be an office building.

The exterior held a very professional crispness with some nice creative elements, but it came across very sterile (like a hospital) probably because of the color choices. The interior on the other hand opened into a vibrant, beautifully transformed loft-esque space with a really nice service counter to the right, some really chic tables and decor, and the drum roaster/beans/all supplies organized to the left. Though to the studious eye it had a lot of stuff going on, it was tremendously well orchestrated.

Since I had never heard of this place I was truly expecting crappy coffee. Imagine my surprise when not only was it good, it was extravagant! Upon further inspection of the coffeehouse, they really seem to know what they're doing, with their coffee offerings, the right language, etc.

The espresso also knocked my proverbial socks off. The barista knew well and good what she had to do to pull a good doubleshot. The espresso tasted a little blunt at first, but then came across with a real sweetness and a beautiful finish.

Rojo's really managed to make that day of Lambertville meandering that much better for me. I must say that though the entire expanse of Lambertville and New Hope may be devoid of any good coffee or espresso, you can definitely find a nice java repose at Rojo's. It's worth the walk or drive, believe me.

Update 05/22/14

My visit yesterday to their Princeton location prompted a look back at this vague post from 2007(!) which was in dire needs to updating. Rojo's now has three locations (Lambertville, Princeton and Hopewell) and has been continually rocking the socks of their patrons. In the past years, I have had countless great experiences with their well-selected and expertly-roasted coffee, including a top notch espresso program that has consistently managed to impress.

Friday, August 31, 2007

CC: Infusion Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Infusion Cafe
Location visited:
Sacramento, CA

(1628 K St)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Though my fiancee' doesn't believe me, I really hate being late to things. Well that is I hate being late to things I know I shouldn't be late to like weddings, funerals, business appointments, and speaking engagements. But when it gets to things like conferences, who cares when you get there?

Well apparently the people I tend to travel with (but fortunately all of them are very reasonable). While I was staying in Sacramento area, I and several more laid back compatriots decided to skip the morning sessions of a conference we were attending in favor of recuperating from a fairly crazy week of running around, while we let those set on going to the morning sessions go ahead of us.

This new window allowed for a nice coffee stop at Infusion Cafe, a Sacramento coffeehouse that little blue birds had sung several positive melodies about (i.e. I had heard good things). So on the way to the conference, we find it fairly easily in a very neighborly section of Sacramento. The entire structure that houses Infusion really catches your attention with its bright colors and attractive design. The inside further elaborates your senses, with beautiful designs, furniture, and even an illustrious fish tank.

The coffee comes from Zoka out of Seattle, a fairly widely-used roaster who manages to usually produce a stellar coffee (sadly, I had a friend bring me back a bag of Zoka from Seattle earlier that year, and it tasted so-so and a little over-roasted). The coffee in turn sampled well, though if I recollect correctly it did taste a little stale (foul on the barista). The espresso also came out tasty, though I can't remember being wowed as I had expected to be (maybe my expectations over-sensitized my tongue?). The tea was free leaf and while I didn't try it, it looked decent.

Infusion goes on the list of places I want to go to again to give it another go, for I don't think I caught them at their best. If you stop by, let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

CC: Mishka's Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Mishka's Cafe
Location visited:
Davis, CA

Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

The other day I was thinking of how much I miss California and how I would love to take a trip back soon. A couple months back I had visited some friends in Davis, CA and while in the area made several trips to nearby Sacramento and San Francisco. But I must say for what Davis lacks in skyscrapers, it sure makes it up in coolness. Never in all of my days have I visited as nice a town (and college) as Davis. I don't know if my perception was jaded due to the lovely weather and wonderful company, but I do plan on revisiting.

Like any cool town, Davis has its share of coffee establishments and cafes. But in all my time there, I really heard absolutely no recommendations for any place besides Mishka's Cafe, a rather odd-sounding name for a coffeehouse but eh, the more eclectic the better in my mind.

After scouting it out, I found a bright orange awninged shop looking a little old school in that we-know-it-looks-tacky-but-we-like-it manner with scattered outside seating to take in that lovely Cali weather. The inside was something else all together, as it looked more like a high school experiment to pack as many laptops as possible in the space available (talk about efficient seating).

According to their website, the coffee is roasted in-house on "an
old and finicky Diedrich roaster." The coffee sampled decent; nothing amazing but not bad either. The espresso was similar in that it had a nice taste but definitely was lacking. The one sad aspect of their espresso was that besides offering their own espresso roast, they also pull shots of Illy, a mediocre Italian coffee that fails to give props to its rich national heritage.

Looking back, Mishka's does a good job in satisfying most of the locals but as far as California coffeehouses they have much work to do (especially with Temple and Infusion so close in Sacramento). Nonetheless, if in town and you're in need of a decent cup, hit Mishka's up.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

CC: Metropolis Coffee Company

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Metropolis Coffee Company
Location visited:
Chicago, IL

Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Whenever I visit Chicago, it feels like I rush through city. Always rushing back and forth to see things or in this specific case, to grab lunch and show my good pal of mine a broad glimpse of the city (in the end, we saw most of the tourist spots under 3 hours...).

But as any serious coffee lover knows, you don't go through Chicago without making a coffee stop. My last time through, I hit Intelligentsia (always a good cup) but this time I wanted to pop in at Metropolis Coffee Company, a roaster/coffeehouse that has received much acclaim for their coffee as well as their espresso (a sweet-smelling melody to one's ears).

So, in order to make our time well-spent, we parked up near Metropolis in the far north of Chicago, which actually turned out to not be metered! We got there early and so hit the place before we began our whirlwind tour.

The shop is long, with some outside tables and a clean modern exterior. The inside blew me away with the square footage of the space, the nice art, and how every single piece of furniture was occupied by someone (obviously some local love).

As mentioned, they roast their own and (wo)man do they do a good job. Since they offer drip as well as french press for coffee, I figured I'd try the press. The coffee was beautiful, with a buxom body and just the right acidity (I forget which coffee it was, *tear*).

The espresso also knocked my socks off, with a really sweet tang that hit my tongue with sniper precision. The baristas, who were excellent in delightful service, had stellar skills in pulling the shots well.

I failed to note the tea (but I bet it's good!).

The fact that Chicago has such a gem really made my day. If you're ever nearby, make sure to make a side trip to sample Metropolis.

Friday, August 10, 2007

CC: Brew Ha Ha!

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Brew Ha Ha!
Locations visited: Philadelphia, PA (now closed) and all of Delaware
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

*Updated 1/30/18*

Walking the city on a cool summer night tends to be a very relaxing activity (though my fiance' would tell you otherwise; she doesn't like wandering). Yet what Philly boasts in serene walks it lacks in evening business hours, especially in coffeehouses. Now, you may exclaim "Who drinks coffee at night!?" and I will tell you that many would rather gather at a coffeehouse for decent java then a noisy nightclub. But I digress.

Brew Ha Ha! is one of those places that I always managed to pass at night, when it was closed. I never really came in the area any other time, but I figured one day I'd hit it when it was open.

That day came one recent, humid summer day when I had some time to kill one Friday afternoon as I waited for a friend. I was walking along 12th St, looked up and there before my eyes it stood open and buzzing with customers. The shop is in an old building with beautiful front windows and a nice exterior paint job. The inside is very expensively and stylistically designed, with really nice furniture and some beautiful pieces of art.

But the pleasantries stopped there. The coffee was La Colombe, a tedious cup of joe that constantly fails to serve up to its hype. The espresso was pulled rather well, but the espresso itself came out jagged with a charred finish and a bitter aftertaste (I deduce it was more the espresso then the barista or machine). I failed to note the tea.

While Philadelphia has many coffeehouses, Brew Ha Ha! joins many other Philly coffee establishments in the realm of mediocrity (can't say I'm surprised, as its West Chester location faired no better). If you're looking more for a place to hang out with friends during the day and not so much a stellar espresso, try Brew Ha Ha!.

Update 8/16/07
Turns out that the West Chester location (Cream and Sugar Cafe) is no longer a Brew Ha Ha! branch. My mistake!

Update 11/25/07
Soon after writing this post, Brew Ha Ha! shot me an email to notify me that they were dropping La Colombe because of poor quality and picking up another East Coast roaster, Caffe Pronto out of Annapolis. When I heard this, I jumped clear out of my seat (figuratively) as Caffe Pronto not only has a reputation for knowing what they're doing but I've had the good pleasure of sampling some of their coffees at Doubleshots on nearby Strawberry and 2nd.

Just recently I made my way over to their 12 St location to see if indeed the news was true. To my distinct pleasure, I saw the big bags of Caffe Pronto sitting behind the counter and the new coffee offerings prominently displayed. The coffee was a house blend (endemic to Brew Ha Ha!) which surprisingly blew me away with a variety of flavors and fullness (many times the house is a so-so breakfast blend). The espresso, pulled decently, also tasted so much better with a glowing acidity and wonderful body.

Needless to say, Brew Ha Ha! just moved from a coffee company of mediocrity to heavy promise. It's amazing what a better roaster can do...

Apparently, some time this past autumn '08, Brew Ha Ha! began roasting their own coffee. I decided to stop at their Limestone Rd location to try out the new beans and sadly, the experience left me in want. The drip of their Kenyan had some nice notes of bright acidity and berries, but the coffee had the overpowering bite of over-roasted beans. The espresso fared no better, as the shots were pulled a medium length with little crema and embodied some heavy bitterness, though there were slight redeeming shadows of peanut and vanilla.

Overall, I have to say this experience left me a little depressed, as the place had a lot of promise as per my last visit. Hopefully this was just a really bad day and things are not as bad as they seem.

It has been some time since I have updated this post! In the past 9 years, Brew Ha Ha! went from a one-trick pony to a multi-faceted organization. Now using their compatriot coffee roaster Brandywine Coffee Roasters, the many Delaware Brew Ha Ha! locations are at various stages of "good." Their Greenville and Dupont St, cafes deserve all the laud of top-notch shops, with excellent individual brew options and plenty of great menu items, all within some of the best atmosphere in the region. Some of the other cafes do not boast the same brew options and tend to sport a good deal more on the dark roast options (not a plus in my book). Thus all in all, I strongly recommend Brew Ha Ha! but note that not all locations are created equal.

CC:Calder's Coffee {Memorium}

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Calder's Coffee
Location visited:
Littleton, CO
Free WiFi ? : no longer
Rating: 5+ [see key]

It's always a tremendous shame when a great coffee operation closes. I have only witnessed a handful of closures in my time, but it makes it even worse when the place closes because of reasons such as location or personal matters (if you have inferior product and you didn't have the humility to listen to criticism, it's much less sad).

So seems the case with Calder Coffee right outside of Denver. I made a visit there this summer while on my way through. The place had not much outside appeal but it had a really nice interior full of cute little tables and functional discussion areas.

The coffee was roasted in-house and the espresso was expertly pulled. I must say I truly enjoyed my experience. It makes me sad to see the place go but sometimes, circumstances extend much further then our reach allows.

To the prior owner and his family, all the best.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

CC: Cafe d'Bolla

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Cafe d'Bolla
Location visited:
Salt Lake City, UT
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Grids must be the one thing I love about major cities. The ease of getting around with nothing more then mediocre directions (and the concept of how a square works) makes my life billions of times easier.

But despite the simplicity of the grid, Salt Lake City must have consisted originally of very malicious people who wanted people to never find anything.

As is commonly known, SLC was the original all-Mormon settlement built with their temple smack dab in the middle of town. So to denote the significance of the temple, they made every street on each side 100 st (100 N, 100 S, etc). Now add the direction the street is of the temple (i.e. if you're east of the temple on 700 North, you're on East 700 North) and you're pulling your hair out.

So this crazy road system made what would be a simple morning coffee run into an excruciatingly complicated crawl. I had heard of a place called Cafe d'Bolla in some research prior to arriving and figured since it was relatively close to the Temple Square (the area where I ended up staying), that I would make a walking trip before I left. I checked Google Maps to verify the location of the address (249 East 400 South), I called to get verbal confirmation (with no answer any of the 12 times I called), and finally decided to just wing it. Needless to say, Google Maps ran me astray and Cafe d'Bolla would not answer their phone.

So I gave up and began heading back to my hotel. I grabbed coffee at a far less impressive place (Salt Lake City Roasters), breakfast, and just when I thought I was done with SLC I stumble right onto Cafe d'Bolla (which upon examination, turned out that Google Map sent me to the inverse of the address).

The outside was a nice modern, well-constructed exterior that really made you want to sit down at one of their outside tables. The inside was a long shop, with a decent number of seats inside but mostly space to wait in line.

The coffee is roasted in house and from their single origin offerings, it looked like they had a nice selection. But even though they serve french pressed coffee normally, they were completely out of coffee that day (which to me is ludicrous)!

The espresso is where they garnered their strength. Not only was the barista fun to converse with, she was also very skilled in pulling shots. My espresso was decent though it had a bit of a sharp of a taste as well as some char. The tea was Rishi Tea.

Overall, Cafe d'Bolla was a nice stop (after finding it) with a lot of good practices plus a good deal of potential for improvement. Especially in a city where coffee is hardly promoted (Mormons aren't big coffee fanatics), they're making some headway. If you manage to master the SLC streets, I'd make a stop in.