Monday, April 28, 2008

CC: Professor Java's Coffee Sanctuary

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Professor Java's Coffee Sanctuary
Location visited: Albany, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Frequently the area around airports has always seemed desolate, without a nice place to wait for someone to arrive except for the shoulder of an off-ramp (especially in Philadelphia). Maybe I've not had much luck in my travels but it seems a watering hole would do well to spring up within five minutes of baggage claim.

It wasn't until recently that my wife and I stumbled upon our first real example of a near-airport oasis so long winded-ly dubbed Professor Java's Coffee Sanctuary. The stand-alone coffeehouse happened to not only be located near the Albany airport, but also right across the street from a few airport hotels.

With very convenient parking in the rear, we made our way in the rear entrance into what appeared to be a converted house. The many rooms with ever so many colored walls and various furniture made for a very eclectic and slightly warm interior. The interior also had enough room for three counters; one for free leaf tea, one for whole bean coffee, and the third for the cafe items (which seemed a little disheveled and messy).

The coffee is roasted in-house (there's a drum roaster in the back) and the professor boasts a decent-sized selection. I had a cup of Monsoon Malabar which sampled smooth with an elegant bright sweetness. The espresso on the other hand was a little rough and sharp, though not bad. The tea is free leaf.

All in all, I'd have to say I was mildly impressed. Professor Java's definitely has the location down and fairly decent drip coffee, but it seems they could do a whole lot more with their products and presentation. I'm no business guru, but a coffeehouse with long hours near a big airport only has areas to improve.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

CC: Octane Coffee Bar and Lounge

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Octane Coffee Bar and Lounge
Location visited: Atlanta, GA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

While I love unearthing shops unheard of, it's always delightful to visit places that have already attracted a good bit of credible attention. The promise of good coffee comes as a welcome change when traveling to far distant lands (such as Georgia).

The promise of good coffee also makes a 2 mile walk a little easier to rationalize in one's head, which happened to be the distance between my hotel and the exposed gem of Octane Coffee. The small operation has received a great deal of hype (
such as this lovely write-up here) and made for a suitable finish line during two different outings with some of my colleagues.

The exterior of the building is a low brick structure to the west of the Georgia Tech campus. There's a nice array of outside seating and what appears to be a club house on the roof (I don't know if it's theirs or even functional but it looks nifty). The interior of the place was quite large with concrete floors, a seemingly large amount of seating (most of the seats were taken on my second visit), and lots of local art.

The coffee hails from Counter Culture, almost always a great cup of coffee in my experience. I had the La Trinidad as it was their french press on tap (they brew large quanities and put it into a pump pot, a strategy I've only seen in Crescent Moon in NJ) which turned out to be very smooth and sweet, though a bit underwhelming/tad watery. To sum up the espresso, it embodied a pleasant euphoria; good pull by the barista resulting in a beautifully sweet taste and full lucious body. I recall the tea being free leaf but not much else. Might I add they also have an extensive beer selection complete with several on tap.

While I definitely earned a blister in the 4+ miles of walking to and fro, I really felt it worth it. Octane seems to have a great following and a qualified staff. I'm convinced by what I've read and witnessed firsthand that this is a coffee company that could go places. When in Atlanta, definitely give them a visit.

Friday, April 18, 2008

CC: Dancing Goats Coffee Bar

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Dancing Goats Coffee Bar
Location visited: Decatur, GA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Georgia has definitely never been a state I had been dying to visit. I had passed through the Atlanta airport, my sole experience with the peachy state, and remember it being stuffy and huge (lots of walking). Plus I had never really heard of a compelling reason to go for recreational purposes.

But recently, I had to go to Atlanta for work and hence began scouting out what the area would be like. And the more I scouted, the more I wanted to get there quicker. The city not only has some beautiful neighborhoods (like Decatur and the Georgia Tech area) but some fairly interesting attractions (an aquarium with whale sharks).

But the coffee is what won my heart over. One place in particular that I had the luxury of hitting twice was Dancing Goats Coffee Bar in lovely Decatur. The establishment has a large blue awning under which sit ample chairs and tables to best aid in enjoying lovely Atlanta sunny days. The interior was even grander, with a huge open floor plan (some would argue too open) with a very eclectic variety of seating, the whole space bathed in calm colors such as tans and light greens.

The coffee is their own, though called Batdorf and Bronson (rolls right off tongue), which is roasted locally in Atlanta. They serve coffee via drip as well as on a Clover. Both visits I had coffees off the Clover, to which I must say that the coffees didn't really fully utilize the machine (or visa versa) but nonetheless, both brews still sampled tremendously well. The Kenya AA was described to me as having a dried fruit and Cabernet taste to it, but I only really got a hint of the fruit. The Java Estate also sampled smoothly but I couldn't really pick out too many distinct flavors, just that it was good.

The espresso was pulled very well and tasted spectacular. The doubleshot was really sweet with cocoa flavor and what seemed to be a nice floral bloom as it hit my tongue. The tea was Harney and Sons.

I must have idly said "boy do I wish there was a shop like this closer to home" at least four times during my visit to Dancing Goats. The place is definitely popular with the locals and is only a short distance from the Decatur MARTA stop, so there's little reason not to prance yourself over when you're in town.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

CC: Milkboy Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Milkboy Coffee
Location visited: Bryn Mawr, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Proven effectively by the picture above, I need a new camera. The blasted contraption decides to not work at inconvenient times, for example when I try to take the picture above and I have to use my low pixel camera phone instead.

But a broken camera didn't dampen my spirits after a trip to Milkboy Coffee. I had heard that the west-of-Philly company served a good cup of joe, so after a dinner at the relatives-in-law, the wife and I began our hunt.

After a tad more driving then expected we arrived at the Milkboy Acoustic Cafe (i.e. the smaller Bryn Mawr location). The cafe is seemingly part of a large theatre, which really emphasizes the cafe's focus on entertainment (note that good coffee and solid entertainment do not always go hand-in-hand). The interior of the cafe is long; there's a stage in the window for the acoustic performances, a decent amount of bohemian seating in the middle, and an elevated platform with the coffee in the back.

The coffee is Counter Culture, a once rare commodity north of the Mason-Dixon Line until recently. The coffee twas a delicious Honduras coffee that had a good floral body with nice sweetness. The espresso seemed well-pulled and tasted fair; a nice caramely sweetness though it seemed to have a slight bit of char. The tea is Divine Tea and the menu also seems to have decent lunch/snack options.

While I still have yet to visit the Ardmore location, Milkboy seems to be pretty stand up operation (no entertainment pun intended). I'd be curious to see how the place works during performances (if the same quality is there) but all in time I suppose. In the meantime, definitely give it a go for yourself.

Friday, April 11, 2008

CC: Smart Monkey Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Smart Monkey Cafe
Location visited: Ithaca, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Completely organic establishments seem to be hit-or-miss in my experience. I've hit some that reek of the pungent smell of vitamins and others that have prices that are way beyond reason for most people making less then $200K a year. Yet once in a while I will discover a place that smells nice, has moderate pricing, and actually has appetizing food (that's a killer trio!).

While driving the streets of Ithaca, my wife spotted a sign that said something to the effect of "coffee this way"; we had other plans for the time being but we figured we'd check it out before we left town. A couple hours later, we pulled into their somewhat confusing one way driveway, parked, and made our way in. At first glimpse, the cafe seems to be part of a larger structure but upon entering I realized that the cafe was actually the whole structure. The interior was a massive open atrium (with space in the middle large enough for a giraffe to jump in), decorated Rainforest-Cafe-style, and complete with drive-thru.

As you may have guessed, the initial standout feature of this place was that Smart Monkey serves only organic fare. As for coffee, they use local Gimme! coffee (only the organic ones I guess) which boasted the normal Gimme! quality though my particular cup was slightly stale. The espresso was pulled fairly decently; it possessed a nice tangy sweetness yet also a little sharpness. I didn't note the tea (though I'm pretty sure it is organic free leaf of sorts). The cafe also has a very full menu for all three meals, including alcohol and sit-down service for dinner.

While I did find the Smart Monkey as a tremendous example of what an organic cafe/coffeehouse should look like, it seemed that a couple of areas in their coffee operation could be spruced up (such as I can't say I was sold on their passion). Nonetheless, if you're looking for a nice open space to get some work done or a place for (what seemed like) a nice "natural" meal, drop in on the Smart Monkey.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

CC: Kick Butt Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Kick Butt Coffee
Location visited: Austin, TX
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Updated 4.16.08

or as much as I love some spontaneity in life, I really don't like hunting for hotels, especially when looking for a reasonable room amidst a basketball game in Austin. But after three hours of hunting and finally nailing down an overpriced Super 8 room (with no WIFI!), it was time for an overdue dinner.

Looking to stay cheap, my wife and I made our way to a nearby Wendy's anticipating a greasy dinner and quick return to our well-furnished hole-in-the-wall. But as we exited the parking lot, my wife spotted a coffee place across the highway that actually looked open. So even though neither one of us were really in the mood for coffee, we went to check it out to see if it was worth a morning trip.

As we roll closer, we notice the name is Kick Butt Coffee with a karate-kicking gent on the logo. Thinking it just a clever logo implying the caffeinated effects of their coffee, I was proven wrong after moving past their outside seating. Inside was a coffeehouse decorated in a dojo fashion complete with weapons on the wall and a Wii area in the back (what dojo doesn't have a Wii?). The place looked very new as little of the varied seating had much wear.

Kick Butt serves Republica Coffee Roasters, which upon some web research apparently seems to be located in Australia ( I later found out, as seen below in the update, that I was mistaken).
As it was evening, I decided just to have espresso, which was pulled fairly well with hight sweet notes and a nice acidity though it was a bit silty in composition. My wife and I did end up coming back the next morning, where I grabbed a cup of their Ethiopian Harrar that displayed smooth and full-bodied. I didn't catch the tea (I think it was free leaf); they also serve beer and wine.

Kick Butt's creative approach to the coffee business and decent product seem to be good signs for this budding business. While I am unsure of the Aussie coffee (how do they get it to Texas while still fresh), I would definitely encourage a stop by if you're in Austin.

Updated 4.16.08
Turns out that Republica Coffee Roasters is actually in Austin, TX! Thanks to a helpful comment, I did a more exhaustive search that turned up the simple one-page site. My bad!