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.