Monday, June 29, 2009

From the Ground Up

Recently had the chance to check out the documentary From the Ground Up, a coffee documentary that does exactly what the title says; takes the viewer on a journey from cherry to peddled beverage.

As coffee documentaries go, it was decent. It had great footage of coffee picking, the wet process, drying, sorting, bagging, exporting and importing. If you've never seen it done, I imagine it would be somewhat confusing as much of the film had no narration and thus, one unfamiliar with what was going down could get lost. But even if you didn't know the lingo, the film made it all pretty easy to follow. Also, the film really makes one aware of the hard work the farmers go through for so little and thus indirectly pushes better conditions (the film is also directly dedicated for more than fair trade).

The only stabbing annoyance in the film stemmed from the soundtrack, which consisted of a singular old-timey song called the Java Jive (here it is performed by the Manhattan Transfer) played in spurts throughout the whole film. If you're one easily annoyed by such a song beaten to death, I would recommend putting the film on mute unless you see someone talking.

Overall, grab From the Ground Up if you're curious to how coffee gets to your local purveyor or you really wish to raise your awareness on what people go through so you can enjoy your morning cup.

Friday, June 26, 2009

CC: Simon's Coffee Shop

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

As much as I love Boston, I've never been good at navigating it. On my first trip there as "captain," I led my party of ten travelers quickly astray and ended up parking a good 20 minute walk away from our destination. Subsequent trips have proven better as I've gotten the layout down a bit more but ever still, I rely on my internal compass and divine intervention.

On my most recent trip, I had plans to make it up to Cambridge to give a hot coffee spot called Simon's Coffee Shop a try. But due to a little lack of reconnaissance on my part, I only gave myself 30 minutes to get from Brookline to Simon's before they closed, amidst a bustling Friday night with not a parking spot in sight. Fortunately, I made it (thank God, as my natural direction did not work as well as I'd hope) and I practically stampeded through their front doors with 20 minutes to spare.

The shop holds nice red walls, worn wood floors and a great deal of furniture (a few pieces outside and many pieces in). Simon's gets their coffee from Terroir Coffee, a company powered by the famed George Howell, as well as from Barismo. For drip I tried Terroir's Matalapa, a coffee that displayed the sweet flavors reminiscent of an apple and the subtle spiciness of tobacco, along with a smooth brightness that made for a grand cup. For the espresso, I had Barismo's Soma. The shots were pulled short with the a Sweet Tart-ish cherry up front and subsequent notes of unsweetened cocoa and black tea. The tea itself is free leaf.

With 1 minute left to closing, I hurried out the door happy for the fortune of making it in time. I would recommend stopping in, but for those not familiar with the construct of Boston, make sure to give yourself some extra time to navigate without pressure.

All in all, a nice gem to the area of Cambridge.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

CC: Gorilla Coffee

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

Brooklyn is yet another part of the greater New York City area I've long neglected (oddly enough), but I finally made a visit on a recent Saturday. The conditions could not have been better, as the wind blew just enough to offset the warm rays of the sun and the streets were only mildly populated. Amidst it all, my three companions and I meandered down Flatbush on our way to fantastic fare at the Burrito Bar (great burritos!) and then on to Gorilla Coffee a few blocks over.

Gorilla has long been a place on my list of spots to dock at, so when we finally arrived I was not surprised that there was a line out the door (though I thought many of these people had been before). My compatriots plopped down on their bright red benches out front and I passed into their medium-sized cafe with a busy bar (at least four Gorilla-ians scurrying about) and bright red tables full of patrons.

Gorilla roasts their coffee and as somewhat of a testament to the popularity, half the people in line in front of me grabbed a bag or three of coffee with their order (I'd never seen such volume purchased in 15 minutes!). I ordered their deep roasted Brazilian via drip, a coffee that had been roasted a little too dark for me but had lots of redeeming aspects, such as some pound cake on the front, a bit of noticeable spice like that of a fine cigar and a nice acidity throughout. The espresso fared well, as the shots were pulled short and had a sugary and tart cranberry taste with some decent flecks of vanilla and a decent texture. The tea is Choice Organic Tea.

Satiated, I retrieved my friends outside and we left to go to Junior's Cheesecakes (a place according to my Brookyln-born boss is unparalleled anywhere else and now, after eating their strawberry shortcake cheesecake, I would have to agree). I would say that despite my dark drip, I went pretty ape for Gorilla.

When you're in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, drag your knuckles down to Gorilla Coffee.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mugged: 100 Kona Coffee [Kona]


What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject:100 Kona Coffee
Coffee Mugged: 100% Kona
Rating: 5+ [see key]

ll of my short life, I've heard all sorts of things about Kona coffee. I've heard that "it's simply the best coffee...ever" and that no matter what the price, it's worth it for a pure Kona (i.e. certified to have no other kinds of coffee). And yet, I've also heard that it is the most over-hyped coffee and that similarly wonderful coffees can be found from other origins at a much cheaper premium.

But for what it's all worth, I never really gathered the appropriate impetus to push me to seek out a quality 100% Kona to put to the test. Then fortunately out of the blue, I recently received an offer from 100% Hawaiian Kona Coffee (part of C&C Specialty Coffee) to try out their 100% Kona, to which I heartily agreed to sample.

The coffee came in it's bright red bag with a golden seal of certification. The roast was of a light to medium roast and when I ground it up, the Kona produced the lovely aroma of bright floral notes and berries. When I first brewed it via french press, the aromas played out quite delectably in the cup, along with some watermelon and some massive brightness. The vacuum pot produced a deeper cup accompanied by a little more watermelon. The drip also produced a smooth beverage, with a pleasant brightness and delightful acidity.

While I felt that the coffee held up to the substantial hype of pure Kona coffees, I can't say I would make it an every week purchase (little pricey). So if/when you're looking to try out a good pure Kona, give 100% Hawaiian Kona Coffee a run for your money.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

CC: The Ground House

What's does "CC" mean?

The Ground House
Location visited: Pitman, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]


Often when I wander the streets of large cities, I relish the fact that by simple probability, a good coffeehouse could be nearby. Granted, my luck has not led to many random finds but the numbers still tell me that hope still exists.

Yet when I'm in small towns where I've already pegged two or three coffeehouses, I'm not really on the lookout for another (the probability does not exactly thrive). And on those exact moments where you look not for something, you often find it (such as in love and in suffering). So was the case in my most recent trip to Pitman, a small town in NJ that already sports two coffeehouses (one decent, one fair) where I was pointed to a third coffeehouse called The Ground House.

Naturally, I ventured over. The exterior is but a tan and maroon flat face with a window having the appearance of what I would deem a jazz club. The interior is a two room venue that reflected quite the dichotomy; the main room (the one with the food) holds a reddish decor with nice mood lighting while the adjoining room with their substantial stage is bright white and green with rather bleh fluorescent lighting.

As per the barista's heavy discretion, the coffee comes from "Millville," which from my basic powers of deduction means either they get their coffee from Kaffe Magnum Opus or a secret roaster untold (Millville isn't that big either). Either way, their house coffee (an Ethiopian) was concocted on a hot plate brewer and had some bright notes with some smoothness, but overall it proved boring and not too savory. The espresso lent similar effects, as it held some enjoyable elements of acidity though overall it lent more heavy char and made for only a fair cup. The tea comes from David Rio.

To say the least, I was happy to find the place even though some of the facets of their coffee seem to warrant small improvement. No matter, give the Ground House a try if you happen to wander the streets of Pitman looking for coffee.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

CC: Dames Coffee Espresso Bar

Subject: Dames Coffee Espresso Bar
Location visited: Jersey City, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

*Update 3/23/2015*
Changed location to new Jersey City
location. Different ambiance but still Counter Culture and still great coffee.

Until recently, most of my trips to the New York City vicinity involved simply a hike to Manhattan and not much else. But then my brother decided to move to Jersey City and then again to Hoboken, so the next time my whole family decided to visit I made sure to make use of the opportunity to also check out the local coffee.

After a look on cyberspace, I set my aim on what looked like a cute place called Dames Coffee Espresso Bar. The location fortunately proved convenient to a lunch stop in downtown Hoboken and thus, after a nice lunch we all marched down to grab some coffee.

Dames possesses a bright, blue brick exterior with an attractive custom awning that reminds me of a Greek restaurant (probably the font stylings). The interior is cozy; a nice white and blue decor scheme complete with nice chandelier light fixtures and few pieces of seating.

The coffee comes from Counter Culture Coffee, usually a good sign of quality in at least the drip. I purchased a cup of Ethiopian (not sure whether it was the Yirg or the Idido), which embodied a sweet rum taste with a nice acidity, though also a tid bit stale; a decent cup of drip. The espresso, pulled magnificently and short, had a nice white chocolaty taste up front and finished with a pleasant sour note reminiscent of rhubarb. I didn't note the tea.

Thus, the trip to Dames has provided yet another reason to visit the lovely area of Hoboken (as well as me brother). If you're in town, give Dames Coffee Espresso Bar a shot or two.

Monday, June 01, 2009

CC: South Jersey Java

What's does "CC" mean?

Location visited: Voorhees, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Not too long ago, when looking to kill some time while my wife attended a bridal shower, I made a mad dash to find any place to sit and read while I waited for the event to be over. Not expecting to find much new (I feel all too familiar with South Jersey), I was surprised in my research to find a new-to-me coffeehouse in Voorhees called South Jersey Java.

In looking for the location, I passed it four times before I finally saw it, as using my peepers to spot an address on a road that changes names three times in less than a mile proved ineffective. South Jersey Java sits in a small shopping plaza with a fair amount of parking. Walking through the front doors I first noticed the place had a unique arrangement, with an array of sharp furniture, a fire place and quality collection of local art. The second thing I noticed was the TV that blared all too distractingly in the front corner...

The coffee is roasted in-house on a countertop roaster in the back of the shop. The coffee available that morning was the Lighthouse Blend, a coffee that displayed low acidity but also some cardboard and overall held nothing distinct. The automatic espresso machine was actually down that day, but since 99% of all automatic espresso machines can't pull good shots (there might be one out there), I don't feel like I missed out. The tea is Stash.

After about an hour of sipping my coffee and reading my book (The Great Upheaval, which made for a good read ultimately, but I would have preferred a more coffee-related book like Driven to Espresso), I had to be on my way. While I think South Jersey Java possesses a few areas of improvement much like many coffeehouses, it seems to be a good place to hangout with some fair coffee and catch some local music.

Thus, if you're in Voorhees for such reasons, stop on in.