Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mugged: Hartmann Honey [Novo Coffee]


What does "Mugged" mean?

Novo Coffee
Coffees Mugged: Hartmann Honey
5+ [see key]

ome time ago, when I was heading through Colorado on a bit of a cross country road trip, I stopped south of Denver to stay with a friend in Littleton. Prior to my arrival, I asked him if there were any things to do in Denver, as I had a few hours to kill, to which he assured me there was no reason to set foot into Denver, and Boulder would be a better use of my time.

Looking back now, I am glad I got to see Boulder but in skipping Denver, I bypassed going to Novo Coffee (instead I picked another spot on my list that sadly ended up closing soon after).

Thus I will visit Novo's cafe one day but for now, I'll settle for distant encounters with their coffee east of the Mississippi. One such occasion was on a recent partially compensated GoCoffeeGo order (this is the 2nd of the 3 coffees to be reviewed), whence I received 3/4 lb of Hartmann Honey, a coffee from Volcan, Panama that looked very enticing.

I received the coffee fairly quickly (3-4 days) and dove right in, subjecting it to three different styles of infusion: french press, drip and siphon. I pressed it first, finding to my astonishment that the coffee actually had a strong taste of honey (most coffees only offer hints of such flavor), more akin to a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios (it even had whole grain sweetness!), as well as little fig and a light body.

The drip turned out much lighter, this time with less honey, more nut (like peanuts) and with a stronger, wheaty/grassy sweetness coupled with a bit of dark cocoa.

The vacuum pot produced a little more nuttiness in the front of the cup, still the noticeable honey similar to the drip (i.e. still had the honey nut cheerio taste) and minor facets of wheat grass. A little heavier body was produced.

While I know that this coffee is no longer offered by Novo or GoCoffeeGo (sometimes GoCoffeeGo has different coffees than the roaster offers), Novo does have a coffee from Volcan (as of today, at least) that seems similar to this. If said coffee produces such a quality brew as Hartmann Honey, I would strongly recommend a purchase.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

CC: Spro Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?

Spro Coffee
Location visited: Towson and Baltimore, MD
Free WiFi ? : yes

6+ [
see key]

*Updated 3.25.11

I never thought that I would pass by an alleged amazing coffee stop three times before I finally stopped at it. But sure enough, several trips brought me past Jay Caragay's Spro Coffee in Towson, Maryland with either circumstances that demanded I push on with no rest or with promises that we'll hit it on the way back (which we didn't).

Finally, on the way home from a great trip in Baltimore (great, except for my coffee fortunes that is) I got to stop into the Towson Library where Spro's initial flagship store resides (there's another one opening in Baltimore soon). Parking proved interesting but on a slow side street my steed came to a rest and my wife and I walked over.

The Towson Library is a gargantuan public biblioteca in a very oddly-shaped building. Spro itself sits on a bridge off to the left when you first enter the main portion. Spro's set up is definitely minimal and a little bland (but there's little that can be feasibly done in such a space). Spro is basically a long counter and a group of tables off to the side in a spot where one couldn't ask for a better visibility.

Spro Coffee definitely seems to have a nice rotating selection of various coffee roasters (just check out the list for their new Baltimore location under the 12/12/09 post on Jay's blog) but they seem to stick pretty close to
Origins Organic Coffee. Despite the option of vacuum pot, I ordered a filtered cup of Java Kali Bendo from Origins, a smooth coffee that demonstrated milk chocolate, a bit of blood orange and a tinge of nougat; a good coffee to pair with a dessert as I really had a hankering for sweets while I ingested the brew. The espresso, pulled short and expertly, had flavors of sugar cane, a bit of a lemon, cocoa and a nice flavor of cloves. As for tea, they use Rishi.

While I could see the downsides of operating in a public venue such as a library, I can't help but think how much more reading I would do if there was such a splendid coffeehouse in my library. If you're in Towson, especially if you are looking for a great place to have some coffee while you read, make sure to bookmark Spro.

*Update 3.25.11

I made out to the Baltimore location and I must say I was further impressed. There were many options for coffee infusion (I believe there were 6) and the coffee and espresso were delightful. The cafe is also cozy and a nice addition to the Spro name.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

small pause

Just wanted to explain the lack of a post this week: I am running around like a mad man to prepare for this hectic yet festive weekend!

For some reading, you can check out this MSN article that Pure Coffee was so graciously featured in!

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mugged: El Salvador Las Mercedes [Klatch Coffee]


What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Klatch Coffee
Coffees Mugged: El Salvador Las Mercedes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

When I was in LA some months ago, there was a coffee operation in San Dimas called Klatch Coffee (or Coffee Klatch; your call as the website states both) that I had really wanted to stop at but given distance and lack of time, I unfortunately missed out (most heinous).

Yet the opportunity to sample their wares ended up landing on my doorstep with a partially comped order from quality coffee purveyor GoCoffeeGo. To put in my two cents about GoCoffeeGo, they definitely have a great selection, great service and good delivery as the coffee arrived quickly and also directly from the roaster (in this case, Klatch Coffee). Thus, all was swell and the only thing that tore my opinion was that it came straight from the roaster; a great thing for freshness, but a bad thing for shipping/carbon foot print when you order three coffees from different roasters like I ended up doing (usually, the allure of such companies is the one bulk price for all one locale).

Anyway, I ended up picking Klatch's El Salvador Las Mercedes Pepinal 1 Micro Lot, a nice direct trade, lightly roasted coffee that has been Cup of Excellence worthy in past years.

I brewed the coffee in the typical gamut of methods: french press, drip and siphon. The french press produced a sweet coffee with the flavors of
wheat grass, sweet nougat, a little tinge of pomegranate and a bit of lager. The drip provided an also sweet cup with a little more earthiness and more of a wheat taste as well as more of a sweet cherry sauce and a bit more of an oolong-like body. The vacuum press, brewed a little later in the time of my possession (like 4 days out), made a much more of a nougat-ey coffee with only subtle hints of wheat grass and the pomegranate, plus a tinge of sweet wine and noticeable spice cake; a pleasant development.

To encapsulate, the coffee was a grand addition to my daily ingestion and I feel slightly less sad about not getting to visit the cafe of Klatch Coffee when I was in LA (especially since they apparently have the World's Best Espresso Blend).

If you're looking for a grand El Salvador coffee, take the Las Mercedes of Klatch Coffee for a spin.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

CC: Spoons Coffee Cafe

What's does "CC" mean?

Spoons Coffee Cafe
Location visited:
Baltimore, MD
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Baltimore is a lovely city but it strikes me silly that I cannot find a single recommendation for decent coffee in the city limits with the exception of an upscale restaurant called the Woodberry Kitchen. Thus in an effort to increase my pool for a recent trip, I decided to try out some places that were off the radar but looked promising.

And that's how I landed at Spoons Coffee Cafe in the Federal Hill area on a bustling Sunday afternoon before a Ravens Game. The cafe seemed to have some promise, as they roast their own coffee as well as some decent latte art on the website. And since I found nothing better around the harbor, my beautiful wife and I bounded for the door of Spoons amidst the masses of Raven fans.

Given the game, Spoons was plenty full that day. The interior is a warm, multi-level structure that accomodates quite the dine-in crowd. Looking only for the usual, I made my way to the front counter. The drip was their East Timer blend, a bright coffee with the flavors of grape, chocolate milk and a subtle hint of sweet grass; a fair coffee. Not so much fortune did I find with the espresso, as it was a decent pull that had decent crema but I was hit with a really bitter, dark taste with flecks of pepper. The tea is Rishi Tea.

Even though I can't say I'm surprised I didn't find a hidden gem in Baltimore (coffee geeks mine them out well), Spoons Coffee Cafe wasn't a half bad spot. If you're in Baltimore, try Spoons out for yourself.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

CC: Hub Bub Coffee


Subject: Hub Bub Coffee
Locations visited: Philadelphia, PA, various
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Updated 12.30.13 (see below)

Philly's newest coffee development has finally brought the city a true mobile coffee venue. Hub Bub Coffee, a coffee truck that just drove onto the scene in October, serves up the all-too-popular coffee of Stumptown and even before the initial opening, the operation had accrued quite a bit of publicity.

Since the truck often parks on 38th and Spruce on the weekdays, I tried making a stop on a recent Friday but unfortunately, my plan failed. So I tried a Saturday, tracking Hub Bub's location via twitter since the truck wanders to different spots on the weekends. And after walking a few blocks on a windy day of shopping and merriment, I caught sight of the big red coffee machine.

The truck is beautifully simple enough; menu and order window on the passenger side with a shiny metal interior full of all the necessary coffee tools (fastened to the counter I believe).

I requested a cup of the day's drip, Stumptown's Guatemala Finca El Injerto. The coffee had a pleasant earthiness with notes of bourbon (fitting, given it's a Bourbon Varietal), sugar cane and a little sweet cigar and black tea. The espresso, unavoidably served in a paper cup (the mobile coffee truck that can solve this dilemma should get an award!), was pulled well and had a good showing to boot; good crema, dark body with pleasant chocolate and lime flavors ending with a sweet whiskey-esque bite. The tea is Republic of Tea.

On the whole, I thoroughly dug my trip to Hub Bub. If you happen to be near U Penn on the weekdays or you're looking for a weekend treasure hunt, go to Hub Bub.

*Update 12.30.13*

In the recent past, I've made it to their Logan Square and Spruce St locations. Both bring the Hub Bub quality to the gorgeous brick and mortar structures the city so richly loves.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

CC: Java Mamma's Coffee Shop

What's does "CC" mean?

Java Mamma's Coffee Shop
Location visited: Reisterstown, MD
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

xtra time can occasionally be a blessing, such as when you show up to an engagement 45 minutes early and in efforts to kill time, you find what could be a good coffeehouse.

This happened to happen in a recent trip to Reisterstown, Maryland when I stumbled on a place called Java Mamma's. The coffee shop sits in a converted brick house with a huge gated patio and plenty of metal furniture. Inside, the cafe becomes two distinct rooms, with a cute seating area in the front and the counter in the back.

The coffee comes from Orinoco Coffee & Tea, a Baltimore/DC area coffee roaster new to me. I had a cup of the house blend that turned out to be fairly good; notes of juicy caramel apple, butter and an overall nice brightness. The espresso, pulled medium-to-long in volume, proved OK but despite a nice sweetness and decent crema, the espresso had a strong bite of char and bitterness. The tea was from the Eastern Shore Tea Company.

At the end of my time killed, I felt the side trip to Java Mamma's fair; sure there could be some improvements but for a random stab, it was better than I had hoped.

If you're in Reisterstown, give Java Mamma's a sampling.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

CC: Cafe Fixe

What's does "CC" mean?

Cafe Fixe
Location visited: Brookline, MA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

*Update 12/20/09

ou know you have a pretty good boss when she lets you make an off-the-route stop for a much needed good cup of coffee.

On the way home from some business in New England, we had about 5 hours ahead of us and I was hurting for a decent cup of coffee to fuel the remaining drive. Fortunately, my fellow travelers (boss included), allowed me to make a bee line for Brookline to make a drop into Cafe Fixe.

Cafe Fixe hangs out on Beacon St in a beautiful tan brick building with a pair of matching tables guarding the front door. The interior folds out into a cozy shop with lots of light woods, a back counter and a fair amount of seating.

Fixe purveys Stumptown, a new sight for the Boston area these days. I ordered the Honduras, a nice light, floral coffee with subtle berries, pomegranate and cocoa; a really great cup of drip all in all. The espresso, a coffee called Bar Gold (never heard of it nor can I find it online), was pulled splendidly, had a nice crema and possessed flavors of chocolate, bell pepper and a tinge of bitterness on the end. The tea is free leaf.

This lovely stop at Fixe truly made out to be the stop I needed. If you're in or around Boston, drop by Cafe Fixe.

Update 12/20/09
HA! I figured out why I had never heard of Bar Gold coffee before; it's simply because I foolishly decided to use short hand instead of writing out the word Barrington. Thus, to correct my above ridiculous error, they served Barrington Gold as their espresso blend (a delicious coffee from Barrington Coffee Roasters) upon my visit.

Also, note that the coffee may not always be Stumptown, as several people have commented below that Barrington Coffee Roasters are a frequent flier and have other roasters as guests on occasion.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Mugged: Newhall Coffee


What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Newhall Coffee Micro Roasting Company
Coffees Mugged: California, Patriot and Decaf
Rating: 1+ for all [see key]

ne thing that really causes me to twist my face in confusion about the coffee industry is the variation in assigning roast levels. What I mean is that one roaster's light roast is another roaster's medium roast and one coffeehouse might call something a full city roast with another designating the same shade of coffee the title of medium roast. Why can't we all just agree on a simple means of describing a coffee's roast level?

One example of two different views was when I was sent three coffees to try out from a California company called Newhall Coffee Micro Roasting Company. They sent me a medium roast (Patriot Blend), something called a specialty roast (California Blend) and the token dark roast (French Roast). But when I opened them up for sampling, despite minimal differences in shade, all three coffees were basically really dark (i.e. very prominent surface oils) and did little to resemble the differences between a medium and dark roast that I'm used to.

In trying these three coffees out, I did my usual battery of brewings: drip, french press and siphon. And predictably enough, as with most darkly roasted coffees, the results were all pretty similar.

The California Blend I broke into first. The siphon proved best, with a dark brew with bits of pear. Both the drip and french press held little else besides the darkness of the coffee, with only the drip displaying a bit of nutmeg.

The Patriot Blend came next. As a medium roast, I expected this to be the least reminiscent of a dark roast but alas, it was dark through and through. The only other detectable notes were that the french press and drip had a slight sweetness and the siphon had a tinge of cayenne pepper.

The French Roast, as the darkest, came last. Much like the other two blends, the French Roast definitely pumped out lots of bitterness and taste of surface oils. As for positives, the siphon held some spice and sugar on the end.

Alas, the coffees from Newhall did not really impress at all and if not for the compulsory nature of reviewing a free product, I probably would hold off on posting such critical opinions (I really don't like making people feel bad). At the least, I hope such feedback is helpful.

If you have had a differing experience with Newhall, I'd be curious to hear it.

note: coffee was provided free of charge and the above review is objective feedback.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

CC: Caffe Vero Coffee Roasters

What's does "CC" mean?

Caffe Vero Coffee Roasters
Location visited: Lake George, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

f all of the frequent parts of my childhood, I remember vacationing in Ocean City, NJ almost every summer for the first 18 years of my existence. While I immensely love the
natural draws such as the beach, the fresh summer air and the ocean, the man-made attractions such as the boardwalk, salt water taffy, caramel popcorn and various amusements inhabit my really vivid memories.

But boy howdy how Ocean City differs in the winter, as typical for a resort/vacation town. Nothing is really open, the streets are barren and the only thing to do is polar bear swims (I am currently at 21 separate swims). Yet aside from visits to such towns along the coasts (at least in NJ and Oregon), I can't say I've been to many non-coastal resort towns that don't hold at least two seasons worth of tourists.

Lake George is probably one of the few exceptions. I've been to the town twice in my life, the first for a Geology field trip in October as a college freshman and then as a recent stop on a trip to Lake Placid; both times the town has been practically empty (even the McDonald's was closed for the season!). But aside from the lack of bustle, there was still one draw for me.

Word had it that a place called Caffe Vero Coffee Roasters was doing some good things with coffee and espresso. Delighted to find a possible good coffee stop in so barren a coffee area, I practically sprinted out of the car and through their front window (ok, maybe I wasn't that extreme, but it felt like it).

The interior had a nice long counter up front and in the back, a seating area arrayed in mountain lodge style with plenty of old wood seating amidst a roaring hearth. I stepped up to the counter and ordered their house blend (a medium roast) and an espresso. The drip proved good, as it reminded me of root beer, ginger, a touch of earthiness and as it cooled, a tinge of cream. The espresso, a dark blend extracted by skilled hands, demonstrated bitter and dark but had some nice flavors of chocolate and citrus (had the blend been different, maybe lighter, the espresso would have been better). The tea is free leaf.

So, though Caffe Vero had a few disappointments, the place seems to hold tremendous promise. If you happen to be in Lake George for either summer vacation or a winter pit stop, give Caffe Vero a go.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Holiday Gift Post


It's that time of year again when people swarm the malls and people all over wait to the last minute to give adequate thought to giving amazing gifts.
Thus, of the coffee and tea world, here's some ideas I would recommend for someone in your life that loves coffee or tea:

I. Whole Bean Coffee
A simple gift, yet too often people either fear to get this because they know not where to start or they shop for something they would drink. So, before you attempt to buy whole bean coffee for someone, please do the following homework:

- Are you going to be able to get your gift to the Gift-ee fresh? Coffee has at worst a week of peak freshness and at best, will stay good for at least two weeks.
- Do they like a certain kind of roast? I personally find most dark roasts overpoweringly bitter and no good (as do many) but some people really like that taste (for some reason).
- What is important to them about their coffee? Taste is usually a given, but many people drink exclusively sustainable coffees (i.e. direct trade, fair trade, organic, etc.) or they really like a certain kind of coffee (geography, type of blend, etc).

Once you have the above information, than you should make sure you go with a good coffee roaster. If you have one nearby, you are superbly fortunate. If not, here's some amazing roasters I've had recently, listed alphabetically also with their roasting locations (in case you want to cut down on the carbon footprint of the shipping):
- Caffe Vita (Seattle)
- Counter Culture Coffee (Durham, NC)
- Crescent Moon Coffee & Tea (Mullica Hill, NJ)
- Gimme Coffee (Ithaca, NY and NYC)
- Intelligentsia Coffee (Chicago and LA)
- PT's Coffee (Topeka, KS)
- Stumptown Coffee (NYC and Portland, OR)
- Terroir Coffee (Boston area)
- Wicked Joe (Brunswick, Maine)
- Zoka (Seattle)

II. Tea
Good tea is something amazing that, much like good coffee, needs to be fresh and of good quality. Fortunately, tea that is stored air tight and out of light will keep for about a year.

Tea also has a much more recognizable versatility than coffee, as tea is broken down into the categories of white, green, oolong, black, red and herbal. You can also buy tea free leaf (much better) or pre-bagged (a bit of a crap shoot).

Thus, if you have little knowledge of what you can get, than it's a good idea to go to a knowledgeable tea purveyor nearby, you can try one of these places below (also alphabetical) or check some of the coffeehouses above as many also sell tea:
- Golden Moon Tea (Virginia)
- Peli Teas (California)
- Q Trade Teas (California)
- Rishi Tea (Wisconsin)
- Teas Etc (Florida)
- Tea Beyond (NJ)
- Teavana (many retail locations all over too)

III. Espresso Stuff
This here category is possibly the most daunting unless you were given a specific item from the person you are shopping for. So, I would highly recommend not buying someone an espresso machine on a whim as a really good espresso machine requires a really good grinder, skill and a lot of dedication.

take the easy way out by getting a pod espresso machine, an automatic machine or basically anything easily obtained at a department store UNLESS you know that's what the person wants. I can't even begin to mourn over how many of these machines are returned or destroyed by coffee fanatics each year...
You can check out some of the following resources to help in determining a good buy:
- CoffeeGeek Espresso Forum
- Coffeed Espresso Forum
- Espresso Parts (more a commercial resource)
- Home

IV. Grinders
An essential item in any coffee fanatic's kitchen, whether for espresso or regular drip. For non-espresso, you have either blade grinders (cheaper but less consistent in grind) or burr grinders (the more consistent the grind, the more expensive). For espresso, you absolutely must have a good burr grinder.

This topic also is fraught with many selections, so if you're simply looking for a grinder for your Mr Coffee, than most burr grinders will do. But if you're looking for a quality grinder, check out the following:
- CoffeeGeek Grinder Reviews
- All the above links under "espresso stuff"

V. Coffee Makers
Also a very diverse topic, as there are many ways to make your morning cup. Instead of rewriting a lot here, check out Sweet Maria's page on coffee brewers.

VI. Coffee Roasting
A great hobby for any coffee enthusiast, you'll need a roaster and green beans. Once again, this can be a good gift if the desire is there, but don't just randomly buy someone a coffee roaster and 20 lbs of green coffee (I personally use my oven, so less is more to some of us).
So if this happens to be a wise gifting path, here's some resources to aid in your selections:
- Sweet Maria's (look around, as they have a lot on the topic)
- Coffee Project
Note that many coffee roasters will sell you green beans as well.

VII. Mugs
What good is drinking coffee from a boring cup? While I can recommend such brands as miam miam and Lux-Delux (as seen with Gimme), I would also recommend checking out your local ceramic studios (many Universitiy art departments have mug sales around the Holidays) as well as a few random cup rankings (such as here, here or here).

VIII. Gift Cards:
Sure it's impersonal, but if you can't make a good decision, most people won't mind. Aside from the above, you can do a favorite local coffeehouse, a coffee roaster, a coffee club (like Coffee Roasters Club or Go Coffee Go) or tea house.

I hope this was helpful. If you happen to have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email at !

Sunday, November 22, 2009

CC: The Coffee House

What's does "CC" mean?
Location visited: Geneva, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

hough I always hope for the best, I constantly recognize that life, especially with travel, never pans out the way I expect it. This little axiom never seemed more true than on a recent trip through the Finger Lakes. Many of the small towns possess some nice attractions, and going on a loose recommendation, my wife and I decided to check out Seneca Falls.

And that flopped like a lead pancake. While Seneca Falls has lots of history (Women's Rights) and is allegedly the town that It's a Wonderful Life is based on, we ran out of stuff to do in forty minutes. So, we decided just to continue on to the town of Waterloo, the birthplace of Memorial Day, where we found even less. Finally, determined to find something substantial, we ended up making a final gamble on Geneva, where we finally struck aureate dirt.

Passing by a lovely vista of Seneca Lake, we made our way into the lovely old town with lots of interesting prospects for a nice stop. Among the possibilities, my wife pointed out The Coffee House, what looked like a decent cafe with a nice gated patio. Always curious, we wandered over to find a much warmer, more enticing interior with plenty of classy seating and historical area art.

The Coffee House also happens to roast their own coffee. I ordered a cup of the Pulteney Blend, a fair brew that exhibited hints of vanilla and a minor nuttyness but sadly was a bit stale and too dark. As for espresso, the barista pulled a decent short/medium cup with nice crema and though a little too bitter, produced some nice flavors of cocoa and cherry. The tea is free leaf.

Much like my travels that day, The Coffee House ended up being worth the gamble. I hope to return to the area soon too, as I found quite a few other gems close by, so hopefully The Coffee House keeps up the good work (maybe, even get better!).

If you happen to be in Geneva, drop in at The Coffee House to try it out for yourself.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CC: Bard Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?

Bard Coffee
Location visited: Portland, ME
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

aine. Land of LL Bean, lobster and luxurious woodsy vacations. Before this recent trip, I had only really been to Maine once to take in Acadia National Park and neighboring Bar Harbor but I was about 15 at the time, so I've since salivated to wander back in.

Which brings us to this recent trip, a quick drive to the north during some free time one Saturday morning. Albeit adequate (for now), I was afforded only a drop into Portland with enough time to stop by a local coffee newcomer and all star, Bard Coffee.

Bard Coffee sits in an aged section of Portland in an old red stone bank (I believe). Yet the fancy building, delightfully high ceilings, pleasant
lighting and overall warm interior provide the icing to what was to be a stellar coffee experience.

Bard serves Wicked Joe (probably because WBC judge Bob Garver owns them both). I ordered their
Colombian via pourover and found it for the most part light and leafy; flavors of earl grey (even the orange), fragrant grass and sweet spinach followed with a nice earthiness as well as a little grape nut and sunflower seed. The espresso, pulled short and with expertise, had a nice crema and displayed club soda with lime as well as hints of cocoa, ending with a nice sour zest and a bit of juicy berry. The tea is free leaf.

And to top it all off, the baristas proved to be zealous conversationalists on the wonders of coffee, but alas, I only had a short time to live my Bard experience.

If you're anywhere near Portland, give Bard Coffee a try.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

CC: Port City Coffee Roasters

What's does "CC" mean?
Location visited: Portsmouth, NH
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

hen at conferences, the prospect of finding good coffee even moderately close by is low. But nonetheless, I have to search (it's in my blood).

Traveling the city of Portsmouth didn't offer much hope as I had received no recommendations amidst the beautiful city, but I still clung to hope. Finally, I ended up settling on a cozy-looking place called Port City Coffee Roasters located in a shopping center a little off my beaten path.

Strolling in, the cafe struck me as a basic place and somewhat deli-esque in feel (flourescent lights, not much seating, etc). I ordered their Bed and Breakfast blend, a smooth medium roast with the flavor of Ovaltine and in totality, not a bad cup. The espresso was pulled long (almost a tiny americano), served in a paper cup and possessed little else besides a milkshake-ish head and a bitter bite. The tea is Tazo.

Getting out into Portsmouth proved nice but Port City Coffee Roasters did not add as much to the trip as I had hoped. If you're looking for a fair coffee in Portsmouth, stop by Port City.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

free drinks in Portland, OR on 11/24


I usually don't put up stuff regarding free drinks on a certain day, but I really admire the mission of the p:ear barista school (a collaboration between p:ear and Caffe Vita to equip at risk youth with excellent barista skills) and wish there were more operations like this.

Thus, if you live in Portland, or you happen to be there on 11/24, stop by between 830 - 1130 AM to the p:ear gallery to
to get your morning cup of coffee on them! The promotion is to both introduce the p:ear barista school program and further train the p:ear barista school students.

The p:ear gallery is located @ 338 NW 6th Ave., Portland, Oregon 97209.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mugged: Schwan's

What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Schwan's
Coffee Mugged: Medium, Dark and Decaf
Rating: 2+ for Medium and Decaf,
1+ for Dark [see key]

o put it bluntly (and inadvertently snobbishly), I normally don't drink pre-ground coffee, mainly for the fact that better coffee is (almost) always found in freshly ground.

But when I got an email from Schwan's, offering to send me some coffee to try in order to get my two cents, I guess I was in a rush because I did not bother to ask whether it was whole bean. So, on my doorstep I found a humongous Styrofoam cooler with three bags of their ground coffee packed in ice (apparently standard operations).

Being a man of my word, I gave it a try. I kept each one frozen until I knew I was going to mug it. I tried the medium roast first via drip and french press (their grind was a little too fine to bother with the vacuum press). The drip tasted fairly smooth, with hints of cherry and pepper with a slight stale taste and a bit of a dark bite. The french press was similar, with less pepper.

Next up was the dark roast, also surveyed via drip and french press. Both produced a bitter cup reminiscent of darker coffees, also a bit old in flavor.

Lastly was the decaf, sampled in drip and french press forms as well. The drip actually produced an OK cup, with a touch of honey amidst a mild bite and a little age. The french press produced similar, but oddly much less pronounced flavors.

While the coffees from Schwan's did not amaze me, I can't say I was as put off as I thought I would be drinking pre-ground coffee (as arrogant as that sounds). But much like a person who loves fresh apples would not consider dried apple equal...

Anyway, if you already order (or you want to order) from Schwan's and you're looking to try fair ground coffee, go for it.

note: coffee was provided free of charge and the above review is objective feedback.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

CC: Ultimo Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

rban planning has become something I've grown tremendously interested in over the years. I love taking a retrospective look at how a city formed and than trying to gaze ahead to the many possibilities for its future.

Marrying my love for coffee with my interest in city evolution, I occasionally like to postulate the role of a coffeehouse in a community. One (relatively) new place that I find quite intriguing is coffeehouse called Ultimo Coffee. Located in South Philadelphia, Ultimo sits in a section of the city that attracts far less visitors than the sections to the north. Plus the coffeehouse exists in what seems largely residential, a plus if the neighborhood likes you and a death knell if not.

But regardless of the why, I was personally drawn by the what; a coffeehouse receiving some strong acclaim for their attention to quality.

One sunny afternoon, I pulled up to their corner establishment with its big open windows, including a big glass garage door (they probably open it on warm days). Within, the place held a lot of character: a simple decor, plenty of vintage wood furniture and a bunch of supermarket fridges that house a nice array of beer to go (an unorthodox but genius facet to the traditional coffeehouse model).

Ultimo offers Counter Culture Coffee, a more and more common coffee around Philly. I ordered a cup of Finca El Puente via pourover, which featured a buttery and saucy cup with hints of cigar, dark cherry and a heavy taste despite a light body. The espresso, shots of Espresso Aficianado pulled well, proved bright with touches of bittersweet chocolate and blackberry, complete with a velvety sweetness on the end. The tea is Rishi.

Given the lovely experience, I'm very curious as to the future (and hopefully success) of Ultimo. Good coffee can do great things.

If you're passing by, I would recommend making the detour for Ultimo.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mugged: El Salvador [Golden Valley Farms]

What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters
Coffee Mugged: El Salvador Santa Teresa Bourbon
Rating: 3+ [see key]

ell-roasted coffee that gives back in some way is the best kind of coffee. Sadly, too often coffee roasters that mean well can't roast and so, many buy lousy coffee in the name of social justice.

Yet decent coffee that possesses sustainable components do exist. One particular new one to me was a coffee sent to me from Golden Valley Coffee Roasters out of West Chester, PA. Golden Valley has a strong Bird Friendly push and recommended their medium roast El Salvador, so I was thrilled to give it a try.

I brewed the coffee via french press, vacuum press and drip. The french press delivered a fair brew with the taste of buttered bread and some nice sweet notes followed with a little spice. The drip cranked out a similar cup with a little more bitterness. But the vacuum press really drew out the sweet notes, reminiscent of berries, plus the buttery aspect and a bit of spice; overall, the best cup.

To put it in a nutshell, the El Salvador proved decent. If you're looking for a fair coffee that's good for the birds, try Golden Valley Farms.

note: coffee was provided free of charge and the above review is objective feedback.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

CC: Muddy Waters Coffee House

What's does "CC" mean?
Location visited: Geneseo, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

riginating from a dense area, I love to occasionally wander about small town New York looking for recreation and occasionally a splendid cup of coffee. Lots of rich history and state parks dot the landscape but sadly, good coffeehouses are rare in the Empire State.

Yet despite the odds, I remain optimistic and try to see what turn out to be poor coffee stops as pit stops. And sometimes, the need for a pit stop trumps even the urge for coffee, such as one particular trip through the local town of Geneseo where my entourage found reprieve at a cafe called Muddy Waters.

Geneseo seems to have a single main street and Muddy Waters exists as one of its several cute shops, with a deep purple exterior and a bordered row of outside tables. And while the outside is nice, the real attention to decor shines inside, as the two-leveled shop has pleasant lighting and an overall rich atmosphere.

The coffee comes from Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters, a favorite in the area. I ordered the Organic Guatemalan, a decent coffee with a smooth taste but little other flavor. The espresso was pulled decently and demonstrated both bitter and bright with hints of vanilla, ginger and an overall sugary sweetness. The tea is free leaf.

Given my experience, I would say that Muddy Waters clearly gave a decent showing. If you happen to exist near Geneseo (or in Rochester near their other location), take a dip in Muddy Waters.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

CC: Northampton Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?
Location visited: Northampton, MA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

very time I pass through central Mass, I get to unearth something pleasant. This trip, I got a chance to explore the lovely town of Northampton amidst some beautiful fall foliage. The nice weather amidst the flowing streets and unique stops (like Thornes) really made my day boom.

On top of all that, there's Northampton Coffee, a coffeehouse that turns out to be the sister/parent coffeehouse of lovely Amherst Coffee. After a hearty lunch with some colleagues at the Northampton Brewery, we waltzed down to Northampton Coffee's doors and inside, I found a cafe layout very similar to Amherst's (so maybe more like a twin sister), though Northampton had no alcohol and more seating.

The coffee comes from Massachusetts's own Barrington Coffee, a roaster that has shelled out tasty coffee in my several experiences. I had the Sumatran, a nice sweet cherry nectar with a little nutmeg and a bit of darkness. The espresso was a quality short pull that smacked of almond, cocoa, mango and had an overall velvety mouthfeel. The tea is free leaf.

Much like Amherst Coffee, Northampton proved to be a wonderful coffee stop. When in town, try to land thyself at Northampton Coffee.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Old SCAA Exec Imprisoned

Got this interesting news of justice from the SCAA:

The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) announced today that former Chief Operating Officer, Scott Welker, has been sentenced to federal prison for embezzling in excess of $465,000.00 from the association. Welker’s sentence includes a 33 month jail term to begin in January, 2010, three years of probation following release from custody, and a restitution order of payment to SCAA of $467,665.73.

You can read more on the SCAA blog.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CC: Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters

What's does "CC" mean?
Location visited: Farmington, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

ittle detours for coffee on common routes can really add the necessary pizazz to make it a worthwhile expedition.

One trip in need of such spice was a small day trip to Letchworth State Park. I-90 can suck the moisture out of your eyes with boredom, so I managed to isolate a possible decent place called Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters. Since I had sampled their coffees in other locations with varying stats, I traveled with a tinge of promise of a good stop.

This location of FLCF exists in a strip mall right off of 90. The bright red letters on white exterior overshadow a basic exterior with three nicely shaded tables. Upon entering the cute, high ceiling-ed store, I noticed first the assaulting aroma of vanilla-flavored coffee and then more subtle details such as the many coffee vats along the wall and the overall mountain lodge feel.

I chose their Peru La Florida, an attractive single origin available via pump pot. The coffee didn't do much for me, as it held a nice sweetness but otherwise was too saucy, stale and seemed fairly bleh. The espresso didn't start off well as the small/medium pull came to me in a paper cup; it threw out some cranberry and deep cocoa as well as some strong bitterness on the end. The tea was Numi.

Fortunately, Letchworth balanced out the trip with some wonderful vistas (though it never ceases to disgust me at how NY truly left little pristine to their State Parks. I mean who thought iron gates all over the trails was a good idea?!). If you're looking for fair coffee, stop into one of Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters many locations.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

CC: Lovers and Madmen

What's does "CC" mean?
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

he University City district of Philadelphia has always been a cool place to walk around, especially the U Penn area (Drexel is getting better). But despite the old charm and variety of things to do, the area has always lacked a great coffeehouse...until recently.

Word reached my ears that a coffeehouse
serving Counter Culture Coffee called Lovers and Madmen had alighted on 40th St. Such news called for a quick side trip to confirm, so the next time I had a free day, I took the wife and a few friends out for a short field trip.

Lovers and Madmen possesses quite an noticeable street presence, as the cafe is painted a very bright blue with a stripe of red across the top. On the inside, the cafe continues the blue theme with compliments of brown and a silver ceiling. Together with the color scheme, the open windows and nice array of furniture truly makes for a nice place to hang or work.

I ordered Counter Culture's Moka Java via French Press. The coffee proved surprisingly dark with hints of cherry, Riesling and lemongrass. The espresso, pulled short, had the flavor of vanilla and cinnamon, with a milky texture and a slight bit of dark bitterness. The tea is free leaf and from what my friend claims, their chai tasted marvelous.

So, the good news of good coffee west of the Schuykill is true. Give Lovers and Madmen a try if you're nearby.

Monday, October 12, 2009

CC: Breaking New Grounds

What's does "CC" mean?

Breaking New Grounds
Location visited: Durham, NH
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

n a time where people trust web content over verbal endorsements and a useful web page can be created by a toddler, it still amazes me that many companies and organizations lack websites. This realization becomes even more frustrating for me when I seek good coffeehouses on the web and a coffeehouse holds no legitimate web presence.

The lack of a website would be one reason why I passed over Breaking New Grounds in my initial New Hampshire research. Fortunately, I met a coffee-savvy local soon after rolling into town and he pointed me back to the NH coffee shop.

Breaking New Grounds' Durham location resides on a cute main street outside the University of New Hampshire. With their simple-yet-sharp outside furniture and proximity to a good bike rack, I really thought the spot perfect for a soothing read on a warm day. Inside, the venue is long in orientation, with seating in the front and back of the shop (even right in the front window) and lots of local art.

Breaking New Grounds roasts their own coffee, with many to pick from on their back wall. That morning they had their El Salvador available so I sipped on the lightly-roasted coffee with flavors of of sweet pear, flowering grass and caramel. The espresso was pulled short/medium with fair crema, a milky texture and flavors of sugar cane and chocolate; a decent pair of shots that with a few tweaks could have been amazing espresso. The tea is free leaf.

Once again, experience has retaught me not to rely purely on coffee operations with decent websites (no matter how easily everyone could have one). If you're in Durham or near the other location in Portsmouth, consider Breaking New Grounds for a short stop.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

CC: Peregrine Espresso

What's does "CC" mean?
Location visited: Washington DC
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

ot commonly do good things come of poor decisions, at least not entirely. Silver linings do exist in the heavens and a negative happening can often be seen as just the necessary action to spark a greater good, but it's usually the sad or negative that catches our eyes.

So when Murky DC went down, there seemed little promise for a replacement. Yet it turned out that this particular cloud had a silver coating, as a former Murky employee decided to snatch the place up and open Peregrine Espresso.

Many days elapsed since Peregrine opened to cosmic acclaim and finally, I found some time to visit. The cafe sits in a line of stores and cafes near the Eastern Market with a nice gated patio full of patrons buzzing away on their laptops. The cavity inside is a long cafe with a beautifully calm decor with nice green and wood tones.

The coffee is Counter Culture Coffee, an obvious pick given the owner also used to work with them. I had the La Goladrino via a pourover. The brew possessed a sweet asian pear taste with a light body and a tinge of honey. The espresso, pulled short by trained hands, lent a tart, sugary and bittersweet flavor with flecks of cherry and nutmeg as well as solid crema. It should also be noted that on top of their traditional coffee drinks, they had a nice array of cool specialty drinks (my friend ordered one with coriander which was amazing). The tea is Rishi.

Overtly pleased was my level of satisfaction with Peregrine and I couldn't help but think how fortunate DC is to have such a stellar coffeehouse. Needless to say, stop at Peregrine Espresso if you're in the Capitol.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

SCAA Upcoming Events


I've been getting a lot of word lately about such things as the Mid-West Barista Competition and so I took a gander at the SCAA Events Page and it turns out it has quite a few cool events coming up.

Check it out if you're curious and/or looking for a little coffee development.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Mugged: Tanzanian Peaberry [Flat Black]

What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Flat Black Coffee Company
Coffee Mugged: Tanzanian Peaberry
Rating: 4+ [see key]

s I previously wrote, a coffee's freshness really sells a coffee. And while the previous coffee I received from ROASTe proved flavorful despite possible age, the Tanzanian Peaberry did not fair as well.

The first warning was that this coffee did not have much of a dry aroma, as when I first opened the paper bag, it smelled only like bag. I prepared the coffee in a french press, vacuum press and via drip. The press tasted sweet with tastes of Asian pear and a bit spicy with hints of cardboard. The vacuum press fared better, with a more balanced cup with similar notes of pear and spiciness. The drip produced nothing that the other two did not.

Thus, though I would say this coffee from Flat Black holds some promise, I would like to give it a try a little fresher. If you get a chance to try it, let me know how it works.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fair Trade Not So Promising...


Saw this article in Time about Fair Trade and how it really seems to have hit the limit of good it can do. Seems as if direct trade (direct transaction between farmer and grower) stands as the only really lucrative alternative for the farmer...

CC: Modern Times Coffeehouse

What's does "CC" mean?
(inside Politics and Prose)
Location visited:
Washington DC
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

The bookstore and coffeehouse combination is one that has such familiarity anymore that when I walk into a big bookstore, I'm surprised not to see at least a coffee cart. Yet rarely do these intra-bookstore coffee operations have promising practices, either serving well-marketed swill or showcasing the latest in automatic espresso.

So I can honestly declare that I hit the first bookstore and coffeehouse duo that had a promising looking set-up. In DC, the spacious Politics and Prose Bookstore has a basement coffeehouse called Modern Times Coffeehouse. As one walks down the stairs, the cafe is tucked away in a cozy yet surprisingly accommodating space with a nice flow of natural light and a mellow collection of furniture and art.

They serve Righteous Bean Coffee (warning: website has music) a fair trade and organic coffee that seems bullish on social justice. I ordered the Costa Rican drip, which sampled balanced and a little bright, though sadly it tasted pretty bland and a bit stale. The espresso was of similar caliber, with a medium pull that demonstrated a tinge of caramel, darkness and a little cardboard. The tea was free leaf.

Thus, while Modern Times Coffeehouse didn't blow my bookstore/coffeehouse paradigm out of the water, it did give me hope that books and good coffee can get along.

If you're looking for a good book and a cup of coffee, stop by Politics and Prose.