Friday, January 26, 2007

CC: Joe the Art of Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Joe
(formerly Joe the Art of Coffee)
Location visited:
Manhattan, NY
(9 E 13 st)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

*Update 3/17/09

I think cities scare most people. The traffic is horrible, people seem to have a bit more of a bite to them, and navigation can be not so much fun when you're unfamiliar with the surroundings. Even though I now feel quite at home in the urban environment, I confess that even I struggled with the unease of walking in such a concrete behemoth (especially when you're the one in the group with the best bearings of where you are...).

Oddly enough, I think the wonder and unique aspects of NYC manages to outweigh peoples' trepidation for the urban environments. Maybe its the superior public transit or the overwhelming options awaiting people, but whatever it is, NYC does not lack a heavy flow of non-city dwellers.

On one particular trip, I arrived with my darling to run various errands and check out a couple of other things. One place in particular I wanted to visit was a place called Joe the Art of Coffee (which from hence forth in this post will be referred to as JTAOC), mainly because they had earned a reputation of boldly laying down a quality coffee and espresso foundation in a previously inept land of java-ignorance.

After making a quick cut through Washington Square and NYU we made our way up to 13 St to find the place, which I found easily b/c I had the address (you could see that all the way from the corner whereas the signage you had to be on top of to see). The exterior was nice but the interior was something else. The decor was very bright, the furniture quite compact, and the seating on all kinds of levels (to fit more of the masses, of which there were many, I assume). The coolest part of the whole place was the fire ladder the staff take to get to the offices.

The coffee came from a New England coffee supplier called Barrington Coffee Roasters, which when in the hands of JTAOC poured a decent cup of coffee (though try not to ask too many questions when they're busy; one or two of the baristas can be a bit short). The espresso was also a pleasing treat, with some of the barista skillty being among some of the finest I'd seen in Manhattan.

Overall, I like the outfit a lot though I wonder what their influx of crowdedness looks like on a daily basis. If anything, that would deter me regular trips if I lived nearby (it's no fun to be rushed, though I understand they need the business). If you're in lower Manhattan, definitely keep a sharp eye out for a JTAOC (they have 3 locations).

*Update 3/17/09
Joe the Art of Coffee has shortened their name to Joe and changed their coffee to Ecco Caffe.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

CC: Moore Perks Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Moore Perks Cafe
Location visited: Wenonah, NJ

Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Updated 6/20/09: Moore Perks Cafe is CLOSED for good :(

Decent coffeehouses sprout up about as often as they photograph live giant squid, so it was to my great delight when I heard of one opening up last fall in lovely downtown Wenonah. Unfortunately, due to being away most of the fall, I was unable to finally visit until recently.

The location stands out nicely, right on the main strip of Wenonah where the train tracks intersect (very convenient parking, unlike most Main St operations). Opposite of the typical cream exterior, the inside exudes more life and a cafe-ish look complete with decent seating and what appeared to be a couch/lounge area in a side nook.

The coffee is from Crescent Moon, a local up-and-coming roasting outfit who produces some of the best java in the Philadelphia region. More Perks served the coffee well (I don't recall if they used pump pots or not) as the drip tasted very fresh.

The espresso was another situation. Given that the owners of this outfit had no prior barista knowledge before they made the decision to open More Perks (I think Crescent Moon trained them), my first two experiences were a little unsettling. When I ordered my first americano, the barista seemed a little unconfident (the guy asked waaaaay too many questions of what I wanted) and two days later my latte was quite tepid (they didn't steam it enough). But giving them the benefit of a bad week, I came back a week later (my fiance' lives nearby, so it twas an easy side-stop) and I was satisfied with the subsequent espresso drinks from then on.

On a side note, More Perks also has a full menu deli besides the usual coffeehouse items (I wonder what generates more business). Yipee? (I still don't know where I stand with this issue. Sure such food generates more revenue, but will it take focus off the coffee quality? You decide...).

To summarize, even though the cafe was a little rough at first, I think the place has a good future (though I don't know what kind of promising revenue Wenonah holds...), as long as they stick to aspirations of quality and being willing to learn. If you're in the area, I'd give it a try.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

CC: FireTower Coffee House and Roasters

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: FireTower Coffee House and Roasters
Location visited: Helena, MT

Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

I recently noticed that a road trip length holds a bit of a dependency to where you're living. For example, when you live in NJ, a trip from Philadelphia to NYC is about a 2 hour excursion and seems to take forever yet when you live in a state like Montana where substantial towns exist about an hour apart, a 2 hour trip feels like a quick grocery run.

Hence when I went from Bozeman to Helena, the trip went by comparably quickly (especially since I still had four more hours to go) and allowed for a small chunk of time to hunt down some decent coffee. After romping all around the quite unsightly uptown (I mean c'mon people, this is the capital?!), my fellow passengers and I found the (mostly) better kept downtown and (fortunately) found a decent coffee joint on the first run through.

We parked in a very small yet convenient parking spot and ran (it was precipitating) to shelter within the newly located coffee establishment, FireTower Coffee House and Roasters. Located right in an old Main St-ish storefront, the place had nice big windows on either side of the door and a handsome exterior. The inside came across throroughly warm and comfortable yet also somewhat rag tag (needing a bit of an interior design update as well as a powerwash).

I slowly approached the counter, studying the menu as much as I could before I ordered. I asked to try the coffee, which they kept in airpots parallel to the counter (behind me, for you visual folk). With the title "roaster" in their name, I'm praying they know what they're doing and to my elation, the coffee came across smooth and tasty (and not stale, which seems to be a problem with people who use airpots).

The espresso on the other hand wasn't anything to "yippee kai-yay"(sp?) about. Their barista skills were mostly good and but I do remember staring at oily beans in the grinder and grimacing because of the horror those beans had gone through (and how that horror made its way to my cup). In other words, the espresso tasted so so.

Their tea was a Adagio, a new brand to my peepers that looked fairly decent. Sadly, we were in a rush and I didn't get to sample.

Straight up, if you're in the town of Helena it's a great place to pop in and grab some coffee (and maybe espresso). I didn't get a chance to scout anymore of the town, so it may also stand as the only place to grab decent java in town. And if that's the case and you don't like FireTower, you'll have to head to Butte, Bozeman, or Missoula. Fortunately, road trips don't seem to take that long in MT.

Monday, January 08, 2007

CC: The Daily Grind

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: The Daily Grind
Location visited: Mt. Holly, NJ

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

Heading back from an early morning breakfast rendezvous with a good friend of mine, we decided to stop and get coffee at a venue in Mt. Holly that I've heard a bit about but have never managed to find. With a bit of a heading from the eloquent cashier at the local diner, I set off on a hunt. Whether it be the directions or just a day where the sign was better illuminated, I found it (turns out it stood right next to a tavern I had been to for an open mic two years ago).

Stuck right on the strip of High Street with not too much to set the shop apart to passing motorists, it made sense why it had eluded me before. Fortunately, the interior held a little more effect in visual aesthetics then the outside, yet nothing stunning. Though my friend and I agreed the place came off quite barren, I personally enjoyed the small mom-&-pop feel of the place.

The coffee itself came from Barrie House Coffee & Tea, a seemingly large vendor of coffee, tea, and related products out of New York. Though their website seems to toot the "horn of excellence", I can't help but feel it's playing a tune it can't hold (i.e. they're more talk then they are walk. Call me fanatical, but what respectable coffee company sells their coffee like this?).

Accordingly, the coffee at Daily Grind was decent but not too impressive. The espresso also tasted ok but carried a harsh and empty tang. Whether it was the espresso blend or the mediocre barista skillty (were they new or just improperly trained?), I couldn't really tell.

The tea and chai I didn't recollect at all (my bad).

To sum it up, The Daily Grind seems to hold a bit of potential but they have some progress to make before they get there. Granted, they are holding strong in a barren land so for the area's sake I'm hoping they get their feet on the right path. To end on a positive note, if you're in the area of downtown Mt. Holly, stop in to keep the place going, plus you won't find anything better nearby.