Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mid Atlantic & NE Regional Barista Competition

If you can make it out to the Poconos this Tuesday - Thursday (you random folk who have those days off), be sure to make a stop in!

CC: Casa De Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Casa De Coffee
Location visited: Pitman, NJ
(28 E. Holly Avenue)
Free WiFi ? : maybe
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Few towns do I despise driving through more then Pitman. The whole center of town is a 25 mph speed limit and full of police more then happy to pull you over for the slightest infraction. Granted, I'm sure a great deal of careless motorists ruined the law enforcements' attitudes, but regardless of the past, a town's police should not strike such peril into the hearts of good natured motorists.

Ironically, having lived near Pitman some six years, rarely did I ever pass into Pitman with intentions of staying (downtown revitalization works slooooooowly in South Jersey), that would be until recently, when the town opened up it's first coffeehouse, Case De Coffee. I had heard of it from a friend, that it was a small operation that shared the building with a hair salon (my friend expressed a great deal of displeasure of the smell of hair while sipping his espresso...).

Needless to say, I set out with the woman (fiancee') to see for myself. Not bothering to take down directions, figuring that it would be smack-dab on the Main St, I found myself weaving all over the place to find it tucked away on a random, one-way street near the main strip (I even had to ask a native for direction!).

After finding random street parking behind the building, we headed over to the venue. The outside gave a quaint impression, all too well confirmed by the dark brown interior complete with petit tables and minimalist menu. The place gave an overtly open feel to it, mainly due to the cozy space and high ceiling.

The coffee comes from Crescent Moon Roasters, a phenomenal roaster out of South Jersey. The coffee at Casa De Coffee came from pump pots and tasted very fresh (constant replacement of coffee: a chore but a must). The espresso also sampled quite scrumptiously, with a buttery-chocolaty finish. Didn't observe the tea.

Aside from the good product, Casa De Coffee seems to have an uphill battle for visibility, parking, and return business due to its location. Hopefully, they can move onto Main St and give surrounding locals a good reason to risk the traffic ticket.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

CC: Bibo Coffee Company

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Bibo Coffee Company
Location visited:
Reno, NV
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

I never thought I would see Reno as a sight for sore eyes, not until I drove clear across Nevada from the little town of Wells (my co-driver had been driving beforehand) and as many of you road-trippers know, miles and miles of desert gets to you after awhile.

But before my ten companions and I embarked, I made sure to do some minor research as to whether Reno had any decent coffee. Fortunately, someone gave a recommendation on Coffeegeek for Bibo Coffee Company, to which I made a detailed note in my planner as to how to get there with ease (I was driving with a number of people, so "hunting" had to be minimum, or there would have been mutiny).

We arrived in Reno around lunch, so we first located Bibo (while we were in the car), then parked the car near the "strip" of Reno, grabbed a bite, and walked around the town (specifically the Truckee River Walk, which I found all too relaxing and scenic). Then after we had enjoyed a bit of down time, we decided to ready ourselves to head out.

Of course before we hopped back on the road, we hit Bibo. Located in the middle of what seemed the Reno suburbs we found the shop. We found convenient parking across the street near the houses and half of us headed in to check it out. The shop's decor was grand, full of bright yellows and whites, with a really sharp table layout and complete with a living room-esque room in the back.

The coffee came from two purveyors: most of their coffees come from a Lake Tahoe operation called Coffee Connection but their espresso and house blend come straight from Josuma Coffee, an Indian coffee importer/roaster that I have actually had direct dealings with in the past (specifically, a large-scale order of Devon Catimore).

The drip coffee at Bibo tasted decent, a pretty fresh cup that held a nice smoothness. The espresso, Malabar Gold, also had a very lovely full flavor to it, altogether refreshing. The tea, in jars along the back wall if I remember correctly, was all free leaf and appeared to have quality, though I didn't get a chance to sample it.

For a shot-in-the-dark coffee excursion, Bibo was a pleasant experience. I wish I actually had time to enjoy my java in-house, but as soon as I had ordered and finished a conversation with a fine math student of U of Nevada-Reno, my compadres and I were out the door on our way west. If you're ever in Reno or passing through, take the time to seek out Bibo. Make sure you get directions though; you never would "run" into it.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

CC: Spotted Horse Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Spotted Horse Cafe
Location visited:
Belgrade, MT
Free WiFi ? : maybe
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Urban sprawl back in the Northeast US usually appears to me as something that has happened; a process that took place centuries (usually decades) ago and only now do I see the effects of past urban and industrial centers. But out here in Montana, the population and spread of settlements sits still so sparse that such towns as Belgrade stands obviously as a dependent of "big city" Bozeman. Still thriving today as a "suburb", the town has a great deal of character, complete with the old-timey feel.

One particular place that seems frozen in time is the town's coffeehouse, The Spotted Horse Cafe, located right near the main intersection. Business has gone continually for 30 years now (if not longer) which definitely puts the original owners as ahead of their time. But despite their years of operation, it seems they haven't changed much since their inception (who charges $0.50 for cream?).

The venue has a saloon bar with a large mirror behind it, heavily dominating the pizzazz-less interior (granted they might be going for that old west, neutral color look). The largest detractor was that the place reeked of onions (they served a full menu, which brings it back to the age old question of whether a coffeehouse should do so with such risks...).

The coffee of their choice was Montana Coffee Traders and when brewed fresh, tasted decent (their brewing methods seemed up to par). The espresso was OK, but after taking an initial sip, I asked the barista for cream, to which she insisted on adding, and ended up diluting it heavily (sigh). I didn't catch the tea or chai.

To put it simply, the Spotted Horse Cafe may have been a pioneer in specialty coffee, but I would recommend they update some of their practices. It's one thing to have history, but it's another matter to not alter with the times. Nonetheless, if you're in the Bozeman area (especially if you fly into the airport), take a side stop to try out the java at the Spotted Horse in nearby Belgrade. If anything, it's a nostalgic cup of coffee.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

CC: Coffee Labs Roasters

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Coffee Labs Roasters
Location visited:
Tarrytown, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Updated 7/31/08

Few places are fun to navigate in the rain, but I would have to say that the area between Mahwah, NJ and White Plains, NY are currently my least favorite (purely for navigational reasons; I like the area for many other aspects).

One such rainy night, on the way to a romantic dinner with the girlfriend (later that night to become fiancee'), we passed through Tarrytown. Ironically, we missed our reservation and went to hunt out other fare in town (with no luck), but we found Coffee Labs Roasters open amidst a fairly dead Main St.

Still being ravenous and not wanting to dawdle too long before we headed out to find food elsewhere, I quickly stopped in to grab some java (we also had a long drive home afterwards) and being second nature, took some mental notes on the place.

As I walked up, I could hear the sounds of local talent, and realized it was an Open Mic. Undeterred, I waded through the crowd to the front counter. The shop was very small (at least it seemed so with all the teenagers crammed in) and very, very loud (one should not have to scream to order). The place had no real unique aesthetics and seemed kind of bland as far as the environment went. The icing on the proverbial cake proved to be the drum roaster that literally sat in the middle of the shop (granted it might have been the only place you can put it, but at the sacrifice of openness and flow?)

As given in the name, they roast their own coffee and seem to focus on single origin coffees (i.e. less blends). The coffee itself tasted a little bland in my opinion but since I was in a hurry, I can't really vouch for it either way.

The espresso tasted fair though the barista who pulled the shot definitely had little experience under her belt. No matter, the shots came out pretty tasty.

Taking two drinks to go, the girlfriend and I got back on our way to finding food (we ended up settling for Wendy's b/c it was getting late) and heading south. Coffee Labs provided a good beverage but I can't really say I was floored, as I had read such praise of them in many a past forum. Maybe the next time I cross the Tappan Zee, I'll give it a second try.

Updated 7/31/08

This update is actually one that was to be posted some time ago but due to an error on mine or Blogger's part, never showed up on this post. My bad for not checking my work...

I managed to make my second visit to Tarrytown on a beautiful warm afternoon and had a significantly better experience. The store was not packed out, the baristas were uber friendly, and the coffee faired much better. While I didn't take specific notes on this particular occasion (a rare occasion where I was without the implements), I noted later that the coffee was significantly better this time around and the espresso still displayed fairly amazing.