Friday, August 22, 2008

CC: Creekside Books and Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Creekside Books and Coffee
Location visited:
Skaneateles, NY

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

ome would say that with every breathtaking vista one visits, it takes less and less breath away. To a degree, I would have to agree as the Appalachians seem small and lowly compared to seeing the Rockies, yet on the other side of the coin I do believe it's all about the way you look at it.

Thus, when I first made a trip to the wealthy picturesque finger-laked town of
Skaneateles I can't say I was too impressed. Sure the main street was bustling with folks, the lake beautiful, and some of the houses breathtaking but the majority of the shops were not of much interest to me and there was not one decent coffeehouse in sight. Consequently, after that trip I didn't think much of the locale.

But recently, I had a few conversations with a friend who knew the area and so when I was there the other day, I had a few recommendations as to what do and see in town including a coffeehouse off the main stretch called Creekside Books and Coffee. From what I understood, the coffeehouse/bookstore combo was a bustling haven for locals and actually served decent coffee.

Pulling up to the transformed house-now-coffeebookstore, I was surprised to see a spacious looking structure with two entrances and a parking lot on the non-street side. Walking in, you enter a foyer with the books to the one side and the coffeehouse to the other. The bookstore area reminded me of a library; a little too sterile for my tastes. The coffeehouse conversely was a beautiful loft-ish space with a nice stone tile floor, tan walls, and even a balcony-like second floor.

The coffee is roasted in-house in an odd looking Java Master roaster (the model 2002 air roaster). They roast a variety of different coffees, from blends to single origins. That particular morning, I had the Papua New Guinea which had a mildly earthy taste with shades of char; a good cup of coffee yet it had room to improve. The espresso was pulled of average quality. It had moderate crema and some heavy oil, but it did demonstrate a noticeable sweetness and fair body. The tea was Republic of Tea.

So in the end I did enjoy my visit to
Skaneateles more this time; besides the enjoyable trip to Creekside, I had a good breakfast and was able to relax from the business I had at hand that day. I do hope Creekside continues to thrive (and possibly also grease some of their rusty facets). If you're in town, make sure not to waste your time on lesser coffee on the main drag but make a stop a little further out at Creekside.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

CC: Shamballa Cafe and Coffee Roasters

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Shamballa Cafe and Coffee Roasters
Location visited:
Baldwinsville, NY

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

ocal musical and artistic talent can really enhance or destroy a coffeehouse. I've been to great coffeehouses with horrific musical acts that sent my ears pulsating and my coffeehouse experience lacking. Yet a good musical act can sometimes make the worst coffeehouse seem like a gem (though sometimes that isn't good, especially when a coffeehouse abandons their coffee passion only to be a music venue).

Anyway, I recently made a stop with my bride in a small upstate NY town called Baldwinsville and lo and behold, there happened to be a coffeehouse called Shamballa Cafe and Coffee Roastery open with some live music inside. At the time, we didn't have many other ideas of things to do so we parked and sauntered over.

The exterior of Shamballa consists of a small front with a few outside tables, with a front and back entrance (the back entrance leading to a parking lot). Walking in, the shop unveils as a long space with lots of tans, greens, and salmon colors as well as a curtain wallpaper (while a bit 3D-ish, also a bit tacky). The shop also has a moderate amount of tables, a couch area in the back, and the live music to the left as you walk in the front.

According to their website, Shamballa actually sprouted out of a home-roasting habit of the owners and apparently blossomed into the coffee roastery and cafe. I purchased a cup of the Ethiopian Standard, which provided a decent cup of coffee with a slight brightness but an underlying char.

The espresso operation seemed to be fair at best. While I watched the barista pour a fairly poor latte, the espresso accordingly was pulled not so badly (they had quite an interesting tamper) though a little long for my tongue. The espresso came off brightly with a smooth acidity, though also a bit sharp in taste. The tea is Republic of Tea.

Going back to the live music, the artist on stage while I was there was actually very conducive to the environment and proved to really enhance my experience.

In regards to Shamballa itself, I would have to say the coffeehouse shows some promise but at the same time, a bit of lack in a few arenas. Nonetheless, the coffeehouse definitely provides a welcome watering hole amidst the town so if you're ever in the area, make sure to pop in.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

CC: Caffe in Gamba

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Caffe in Gamba
Location visited:
Montreal, QC

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

rowing up in South Jersey/Philadelphia in a sea of steadfast drip (filtered) coffee drinkers, espresso always appeared to be a foreign concoction that only super coffee addicts and Europeans with a strong palate imbibed. Coffee made in a hot plate coffee pot was the people's brew and that's what normal people drank.

But even though things have changed in my life as well as somewhat in the Philadelphia area (most people still seem to see coffee served off a hot plate as superior), I still doubt that a no-drip-but-espresso-only establishment would ever survive. In fact, I had my doubts as to whether I would see a quality example outside of Seattle.

But on my recent trip to Montreal, I was surprised to stumble upon a popular local coffeehouse called Caffe in Gamba that served only espresso beverages. The venue was located right near Mount Royal (Montreal's big park) on a cute street lined with cafes and other little shops. The exterior displays a large outside patio covered by a lovely awning and large store front windows. The interior emanates a bright red interior accented by a few large chandeliers, with the left wall displaying a range of stellar espresso options from all over the continent.

The espresso being pulled that day was from Intelligentsia, a coffeehouse rooted in Chicago that is slowly becoming more of a household name. The barista, who happened to be very personable, pulled an amazing doubleshot with a beautiful sweetness and nice acidity. The place also serves a variety of food options such as paninis and desserts.

A traditional European-esque establishment like Caffe in Gamba has opportunities in North America but I can't say I have my hopes up to see such places popping up in great numbers. With that knowledge, I would have to say Montreal is lucky to have such a spot. If you're in town, make sure to make a stop.

Monday, August 04, 2008

CC: Brew Ha Ha

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Brew Ha Ha
Location visited:
Watertown, NY
(468 Coffeen St)
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating: 3+ [see key]

ree 411 services sure sound convenient, but aside from the million sales pitches you have to endure to get the information, sometimes the information isn't exactly categorized correctly.

Recently, going through Watertown, I was in dire need of a cup of coffee so I called one of the Free 411 numbers and searched coffeehouses. I was presented with two establishments: Different Drummer and Brew Ha Ha. Different Drummer sounded intriguing (plus only they answered their phone) but it turned out to be a hangout for those in the service that doesn't actually serve beverages (guess it's more a B.Y.O everything). Dejected and with no one picking up at Brew Ha Ha, I decided to just head back on my route.

But what do you know, on my way back to the Interstate I actually run right across Brew Ha Ha. It turned out to be a drive-thru coffee hut resembling a little fairy tale cottage on the corner of a bustling intersection. Naturally, I pulled into the driveway and up to the window.

The coffee served is out of Corning from a place called Soul Full Cup Coffeehouse. The coffee served was the House blend, a very earthy and smooth cup of coffee that really hit the spot at the time. Though I wasn't sure what to expect from the espresso as I've not had the best of luck with drive-thru coffee and espresso, it actually turned out to be fairly decent though a bit overpulled. I did not catch the tea.

While I think Brew Ha Ha could make a few improvements, it was a welcome stop that day. I'd have to say for a drive-thru cafe, it proved decent. So if you happen to be in Watertown and not looking to leave your vehicle to grab your java, give Brew Ha Ha a whirl.