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.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

CC: Tryst

What's does "CC" mean?

Location visited: Washington DC
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Everyone loves a fun, trendy hangout. Whether it's a brunch location, a swanky pub or occasionally a pleasant coffeehouse, such places provide the venue for social construction.

Yet rarely do such places also provide good coffee (if they provide it at all) so news of a hopping place called Tryst that serves Counter Culture Coffee made my ears perk up. It didn't take much to see that the place was popular as the open cafe front displayed wall-to-wall people. Tryst offers table service (with a healthy line out the front that day) as well as the usual full coffee bar where people on the run can order their coffee and jet.

The coffee I had was the Tryst House 4 Bean blend, a dark grape-ish coffee with a buttery texture and a really dark essence (a decent drip). I got two trys at the espresso, as when the barista saw me wince at the first (involuntarily, as it was sour), to her credit she offered me another pull (the second was much better). The second pair of shots were pulled short and were sweet, chocolatey, with hints of cashew and a nice creaminess; overall not bad espresso. The tea is free leaf and they also have a full bar including beer on tap.

While I didn't get to hang out at Tryst (the line persisted the whole time), the place really seemed like a nice place to socialize and enjoy some fair coffee. If you're in need of such a place in DC, give Tryst a try.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mugged: Ethiopian Harrar [Flat Black Coffee Co]

What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Flat Black Coffee Company
Coffee Mugged: Ethiopian Harrar
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Coffee, like most food, has an optimal window of consumption. Many gadgets and techniques have been created to keep it fresh, but time is a fierce foe.

So when I get coffee from a roaster, I look for signs of age. I look for roast dates (uber handy), I look for CO2 valves, I look for good packaging and a good smell off the beans. But sometimes, even when all of the above don't happen, the coffee can still turn out well.

When I got a package from Roaste, it had an Ethiopian Harrar from Flat Black Coffee Company in a simple paper bag and not much of a dry aroma. Usually this tells me this coffee is going to be rough, but compelled to not judge a coffee too harshly before I tasted it, I pressed on.

And press I did. I french pressed my first batch and was delighted to have a small explosion of berry off the start, followed with deep chocolate notes and a light, tea-like body. The vacuum press had a little less luster, with similar berry effects and a hints of pineapple and an oolong-ish taste on the back. The drip was very similar to the first two, but even more subdued.

In my final deductions, it seems this coffee was a little older than optimal but nonetheless a great coffee despite it. I'd be curious to try this coffee three days fresh out of the Flat Black roaster to compare.

If ye happen to order with Roaste or straight from Flat Black, give the Ethiopian Harrar a try.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

CC: Harbour Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?

Harbour Coffee
Location visited: Williamsburg, VA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Colonial Williamsburg has been a fond source of pleasant memories. Growing up in a family of history gurus and roller coaster afficianados, the area had something for almost everyone in my clan (except my one brother who didn't like stuff more than 5 miles away from our house; he was hard to please).

After about a decade of absence, I was delighted to return and discover that much of my favorite spots still existed and a few new things had popped up. One such new thing was a place called Harbour Coffee in New Town Williamsburg, a random coffee place turned up on a regular internet search that seemed to hold some promise of quality.

The place sits in the back on New Town, in a rather huge stand-alone building with some nice outside seating around the well-gardened perimeter. The inside opens into a tropical, super shanty theme with a really nice decor that makes you feel like your in a beautiful South American warehouse with plenty of seats amidst the nice air conditioning.

Harbour roasts their own coffee, with several choices available via pump pot. I decided on the Guatemalan, a brew that came off saucy with notes of pear and coriander, and sadly was a little stale. The espresso, a medium/long pull, had decent crema and a slight oily mouthfeel with the flavor of an almond croissant. An all together decent coffee experience just in need of a little refinement. The tea is free leaf.

Thus, it seems that Williamsburg now has even more for me to come back to. If you're in the area, give Harbour Coffee a stop.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

CC: Hyperion Espresso

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

Virginia trips tend to produce long stretches of distance between good coffee stops. Many years ago, before I really got into coffee, I remember going the whole stretch of Interstate 81 through Virginia without one drop of coffee. Ever since, I've tried to make the gaps between coffee places (especially on such huge states as Virginia) a little smaller.

One surprising find was in the city of Fredericksburg, a place called Hyperion Espresso. The area has a lot of history and I had to go right through it on a small road trip, so the prospect of good coffee seemed too good to be true.

Strapped with hope, I careened into Fredericksburg looking for lunch and good coffee. I decided upon Castiglia's for a good meal and than made my way to the large red awning of Hyperion. Along the large paned windows sat a couple metal tables and wood benches with several patrons merrily drinking their coffee. The merriment extended inside to Hyperion's two-level cafe; the top portion mostly seating and the bottom, an oval-shaped room with a non-functioning balcony around the perimeter and a hopping counter.

The coffee comes from
Batdorf and Bronson, a skilled roaster out of Atlanta and Olympia. I had their Costa Rican that fine afternoon, a coffee with a little bit of a wheaty taste, hints of pear and croissant as well as a small flare of a spicy jalepeno on the end. The espresso, pulled fairly well, was sweet and bright, with touches of caramel and choc milk and a bit of blood orange on the front. The espresso did seem a little dark but overall both the drip and the espresso were good. The tea I failed to note.

Having found joy in another good coffee find, the road between Washington DC and Richmond seems much more enticing. Whether Fredericksburg is a destination (good stuff to see by the way) or a detour, give Hyperion Espresso a stop.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

CC: Big Bear Cafe

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

*Update 6/22/11

Large crowds have a power that few other mediums can harness. Many books have been written on mob mentality, the power of large third party movements (like blogging!) and even the fickle nature of popular opinion. The crowd always demands at least an inspection of what it lends its attention to.

Hence when I came upon the small mob congregating at the Big Bear Cafe in Bloomingdale, I could not help but be a bit more intrigued by the apparent popularity (a local cafe with bustle usually means they do something right). The cafe sits in a nice tan brick corner space off R Street with a beautiful garden, a spacious patio as well as beautiful doors and windows. The crowd as well as the asthetic appeal continued inside, with a nice wood floor, plenty of tables (all packed) and a nice stream of natural light.

The coffee comes from Counter Culture, a common staple of the DC area these days. I had the Ethiopian Shakisso via drip, a nice grassy coffee with hints of granny apple and a smooth light body. The espresso had a nice tang of raspberry, the sweetness of chocolate milk, a pleasant acidity and a nice finish of honey. Overall, a great pull of espresso and splendid drip. The tea is Rishi.

While the crowd might have been there for a host of reasons, I would like to believe that many of them were there for the superb coffee (but since I didn't do any qualitative collection, I can only guess). If you're around DC, lumber into Big Bear Cafe.

Update 6/22/11

After looking over this review again, I realized I underscored this place as a 5+. It was definitely a 6+ visit (i.e. I had no real hang-ups with it).