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.