Sunday, December 26, 2010

CC: Heart Roasters

'
What's does "CC" mean?

Subject:
Heart Roasters
Location visited: Portland, OR
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating:
6+ [
see key]




We all like a good heart. Whether it be a cut-out valentine, everyone's favorite cardiovascular muscle or even the new, hip verb form (I use it to denote a degree of admiration below "love"), I have yet to meet someone who does not like hearts.

In traversing Portland, I found yet another Heart to love. In the lovely neighborhood of Kerns resides one of Portland's newest coffee roasters called Heart Roasters. In deciding where to visit while in town, word was that they were doing spectacular things with their coffee and with needing little other reason to visit, I dropped by.

Heart's cafe is all together pleasing to the eye. The shell is a simple black face with a large garage door that opens in the nice weather. Inside, the mix of vintage furniture and creative minimalism sets the mood at an oh so inspiring calm.

At their spacious coffee bar, they boast two espresso machines, a halogen siphon bar and pour overs. I settled on their Ethiopian Sidama via pour over, an infusion that threw out notes of bright blueberry, sweet hibiscus, mellow fig, lemongrass and a smooth body. This coffee was delicious by and large.

For my espresso, I settled on their Kenyan. Pulled short with good crema, the shots lent the flavors of dark lemon, mango, ginger and cocoa. A good balance of flavors and a great single origin espresso.

The tea I failed to officially note but I'm pretty sure its free leaf.

To put it simply, I definitely hearted my experience at Heart. If you are in the vicinity, dock it.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

CC: Town Hall Coffee Co



Subject: Town Hall Coffee Co
Location visited: Merion Station, PA and Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]


Updated 12.29.13 (see bottom)


It is all about patience. Things always seem to happen slowly but if you can wait it out, usually your fortitude will win out. This particular view has helped much in watching the Delaware Valley area develop a quality coffee scene. Back in 2006 when I started this blog, there was literally nothing great in Philadelphia and only one decent place in NJ (Delaware still has nothing stellar!).

But almost five years later, the region has greatly blossomed, with the latest flower being Town Hall Coffee Co. Opening their doors in the beautiful area near St. Joe's University, Town Hall exists as a moderately-sized cafe with gorgeous Edison bulb light fixtures, various seating and an overall pleasant aura.

The coffee offered is highly varied, with coffee from Ritual, Old Queens, Counter Culture, New Harvest and Intelligentsia. They offer most of their coffees brewed via pour over, so I went with Ritual's Costa Rican Halsar de Zacaro. The coffee delivered notes of honeydew, cherry wheat, caramel, graham cracker, a touch of cinnamon and a little milk chocolate; a simply surreal coffee as far as rich flavor and smoothness.

As for my espresso, I went with the current offering of Gimme Coffee's Brazil Santo Andre. Pulled short with a blondish, marbly crema, the 'spro produced notes of root beer and cocoa, a little ginger, some raspberry and a deep body. Overall, a scrumptious infusion.

The tea is Premium Steap as well as others.

Needless to say, if you happen to be in the area, Town Hall Coffee Co is worth the detour.


*Update 12.29.13*
Recently visited their new Philadelphia location. Same great quality in a very spiffy shop on Chestnut. Definitely worth a stop.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

CC: The Coffee Plant

'
What's does "CC" mean?

Subject:
Coffee Plant
Location visited: Portland, OR
[downtown location]
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating:
5+ [
see key]



Downtowns rarely seem to have good coffeehouses. Blame it on the rent, but of the many cities I've had the pleasure of visiting, only a handful sport decent coffee.

Naturally, Portland is one of such exceptions, sporting quite a few within the downtown vicinity. My most recent Portland downtown encounter was a place called the Coffee Plant. Operated by dedicated locals to provide a coffee oasis amidst the downtown bustle, this cafe has been going strong since 2003.

I blew in one blustery afternoon to their oasis. The cafe has a mini-mall entrance as well as a street entry, both leading to their two story interior, speckled with an old tile floor and arrayed with a nice assortment of seating.

Coffee Plant uses local Stumptown for their coffee. That afternoon I ordered shots of Hairbender and a drip of Honduras Finca El Puente. The drip held notes of deep cocoa, honey, wheat, tobacco a tingle of granola and a smack of whiskey; a swell coffee though it was a bit stale that day. The espresso, pulled short with nice crema, blasted dark chocolate porter, paprika, lemon, almond and a smudge of black cherry (all together, great). The tea came from Stumptown and Mighty Leaf.

Aside from the freshness of their drip that day, Coffee Plant proved the refreshing watering hole they aim to be. If you're in downtown Portland, take root at the Coffee Plant.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

CC: Cupcake Royale/Verite Coffee

'
What's does "CC" mean?
Location visited: Seattle, WA
[Pike St location]
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating:
5+ [
see key]



Personally, I have never been a big fan of cupcakes. In my youth, they were the cheap and easy-maintenance solution for birthday parties or classroom festivities. Sure I never turned one down, but I never had one that made me crave another.

That changed with my visit to Cupcake Royale and Verite Coffee in Seattle. Always curious of venues doing more then the normal coffeehouse routine, I slotted the dynamic duo of cupcakes and coffee for a pleasant after-dinner treat one fine Saturday eve.

Sauntering up to their neon-lit storefront, I peered in through their huge windows to the bustling interior. The cafe consists of a large, white counter smack in the middle, with seating and nifty portraits surrounding.

The coffee served is Stumptown, with both the espresso and the drip that night being Hairbender. The espresso, pulled short with nice crema, had flavors of sweet cocoa, whiskey, cherry, a little saltiness and a little tobacco (overall a good showing). The drip was a little stale but still provided a decent cup, with notes of honey, beef broth, black tea and a bit of tobacco. I did not note the tea but as I hinted above, my cupcake sent ripples of euphoria through my nervous system (I would have had another, had I the strength).

To put it mildly, I relished my cupcake and coffee experience, with the staleness in the drip being my only criticism. If you happen to be in Seattle and in need of a cupcake and coffee, stop in to Cupcake Royale and Verite Coffee.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

CC: Lazy Bean Cafe

'
What's does "CC" mean?


Subject:
Lazy Bean Cafe
Location visited: Teaneck, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating:
4+ [
see key]



Driving around the choked land of the coffee chain, the northeast seems to occasionally daunt my hopes of finding a decent place in my travels. But even when the skies seem the darkest, a good place is always just over the horizon.

In the land of Teaneck, I learned of a local outfit who sported a Clover ("they" don't have them all...yet). Granted, I heard little about Lazy Bean's roasting or skills, but a place willing to put out close to $10K for a coffeemaker hopefully has something to showcase.

So with a little navigational trouble (when the letter "R" is dashed on the back of a street number, it means it is located in the rear), I found the cafe on the back end of a supermarket. Inside, the cafe is rich in purples and grays, sported a nice wood floor and all together, had a pleasant atmosphere.

Lazy Bean roasts their own coffee, leaning towards a darker roasts as evidenced by their beans on display. I ordered an espresso as well as their Panama (a medium roast) via Clover. The Panama produced flavors of natural yogurt, caramel, a bit of grass, bran and cinnamon. The brew proved smooth and overall, a delicious coffee.

The espresso unfortunately wasn't as pleasant. The shots were pulled short but the crema was really milkshake-ish, headlining with a strong bitterness and a burnt flavor up front, followed by notes Dr. Pepper and tobacco. Looking at their grinder, the beans were a little too dark and combined with what seemed like less-then-optimal preparation, the espresso had little to offer. The tea is Tazo.

In the end, it seemed like Lazy Bean has decent potential (and the right equipment) to become a mighty coffee contender; just a few tweaks in a couple of areas could be all the difference. But who knows what the future holds.

Regardless, if you are looking for a decent coffee in Teaneck, give Lazy Bean Cafe a whirl.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Life Enhancement


To one and all, I apologize for the lag in content. We just got a wondrous new addition to our family and it's been a long week of adjustments.

I plan on posting early this week. Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 19, 2010

CC: Water Avenue Coffee



Subject: Water Avenue Coffee
Location: Portland, OR
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

While I consider myself a big outdoors person, I really savor old, industrial areas within cities, especially ones that have been revitalized to serve a residential or commercial purpose. One of my top picks is Portland's Southeast Industrial District, not just because it's a pleasant place to stroll but also because it has great coffee.

The coffeehouse I refer to is Water Avenue Coffee. A relative newcomer, having just opened their doors only months ago, their venue initially bedazzled me with their gorgeous wood counters (made from a local, reclaimed tree), huge neon sign (inside) and open space.

With quite the qualified staff, I was practically chomping at the bit to try out their coffee. That particular day Water Ave had their El Salvador as both their espresso and french pressed coffee, and even though I'm a fan of variety in my coffee selection, I'm also pretty flexible, so I went with the flow.

The espresso, pulled short with a nice crema, held tart apple, a smattering of cocoa, a little lemon candy, some whiskey and a bit of peach (very good). The french press had similar sweetness, but more akin to honey as well as some earthy notes, flecks of wheat grass and glazed walnuts. I would agree with their claim on the website that denotes that this coffee has a "versatile profile." The tea was not noted.

Yet another gem in Portland's coffee crown. Make Water Avenue a stop on your route.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mugged: Kopi Luwak [Cat's Ass Coffee]

'

What does "Mugged" mean?


Subject:
Cat's Ass Coffee
Coffee Mugged:
Kopi Luwak

Rating: 2+
[see key]





K
opi Luwak, the only coffee lucky enough to enjoy a trip through a civet, is a coffee that I have long sought to try. Sure it sounds gross to drink a coffee that has been defecated out of the jungle equivalent of a raccoon, but with a price tag in the hundreds for a single pound, who wouldn't be curious?

But my long abstinence came to an end when Cat's Ass Coffee offered to send me out a sampling. Completely flattered, as this coffee is not cheap, I readily accepted with hopes of trying something different.

I received the coffee one sunny day and opening up the coffee, I noticed that the beans were big, plump and extremely black (the darkness from being really over-roasted). I brewed the coffee in the usual three infusions of drip, french press and siphon.

The french press was my first endeavor. The brew produced a really dark coffee with overpowering notes of bitterness and campfire followed with notes of butter, cocoa, a little wheaty ale and a syrupy texture.

The drip delivered a similar result, with primary flavors of bitterness and a little curry along with some flecks of rum, apple, wheat, a little nut and a heavy body.

The siphon proved a little better, as I purposely brewed it a little weaker to compensate for the uber dark roast that emerged in the first two. The result was still a dark coffee with a potent body but much more cocoa, nuttiness, wheat as well as bits of rum and apple.

All three brews displayed little initial reaction with the water, displaying a flat brew common to stale beans (my deduction).

Alas, my first interaction with Kopi Luwak proved not as great as I had hoped. The coffee proved too darkly roasted to enjoy the other flavors and as mentioned above, it seemed pretty old (quality control?). Overall, there was little in this coffee (sadly) that would make me buy it for the price of normal coffee, never mind the price tag of Kopi Luwak.

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

Monday, November 08, 2010

CC: Herkimer Coffee

'
What's does "CC" mean?

Subject:
Herkimer Coffee
Location visited: Seattle, WA
(Greenwood Ave location)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating:
6+ [
see key]



It's still a rare find these days to see coffee roasters focus exclusively on coffees that are environmentally and/or socially responsible. But slowly enough it seems, such practices are becoming more and more common.

One Seattle coffee operation that seems to hold a healthy outlook on their products is Herkimer Coffee. I had caught wind of them due to their reputation for serving quality beans but upon a little more investigation, I was impressed to find their aims for quality extend into the ethical arena (organic, fair trade, etc).

I paid my visit to Herkimer's Phinney Ridge location one lovely weekend morning when the streets were flurried with activity and their shop full of patrons. The entire cafe has a lovely wood construction that makes it seem rugged yet dapper, not to mention the splendid accompaniment of gorgeous lighting, complimentary decor (especially the animal art) and extensive seating (both inside and out).

Of their coffee, I sampled their Colombian via drip and an espresso (which utilizes their espresso blend). The filtered coffee marched in a honey-sweet, grassy coffee with a nice earthiness, a little bright Belgian ale, some bourbon chicken and a subtle darkness that did not hinder the other flavors, but shadowed them well. The espresso espoused bitter cocoa, lemon, glazed doughnut and some dry-roasted peanut all rolled in a well-pulled short shot with robust crema. I did not note the tea.

The glory of Herkimer proved all it was foretold to be. I tip my hat to their tasty products produced responsibly. When nearby, go Herkimer.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

CC: Southside Coffee

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



Making it into Brooklyn for coffee is never easy for me. Despite knowing better, I always figure the subway to take a fraction of the actual travel time and when I finally do arrive at my stop, I realize I only have a small bit of time to enjoy my coffee.

So of course, to make sure I have more time for coffee, I briskly walk to my targeted coffeehouse, Southside Coffee on the corner of 19th and 6th. Having caught wind of some local praise and journalistic favor, my unexpected exercise was fueled by high hopes of finding a genuine gem.

Southside sits on a tranquil corner, with outside seating gated off from the sidewalk. Inside, the environment emits a decent coziness amidst orange walls and more tables then usual in a NYC coffeehouse.

Serving up Intelligentsia, I ordered a cup of their House Blend via french press (pre-brewed in a pump pot) as well as an espresso of Black Cat. The House coffee provided sweet honey, a little pear, orange juice, wheat, nutmeg and a bit of almond. The brew had a lot of sweetness to it and despite being a french pressed coffee, it didn't have a lot of sediment. The espresso also proved delicious, with flavors of lemon, peppercorn, cocoa, cane sugar and a touch of Merlot. I did not note the tea.

To put it simply, Southside satisfied my curiosities splendidly. They displayed decent skills along with good coffee to make me one happy camper. I just wish I had given myself more time.

When in South Slope (or nearby), stop by Southside Coffee.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mugged: Cascara [Counter Culture]

'
What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject:
Counter Culture Coffee
Cascaras Mugged:
Finca Mauritania, Finca Kilmanjaro, Finca Los Alpes

Rating: 5+
[see key]



A
s a big fan of coffee and tea, I was very intrigued when I first heard of cascara a few years ago. A tea brewed from dried coffee cherries, cascara has been a beverage of coffee-growing cultures for some time.

Recently, my friends at Dean & Deluca and Counter Culture sent me out three Cascaras from El Salvador to sample. Having never really had Cascara before, I wasn't interested in comparing it to other cascara but more to see how it stands up as a tea.

In sampling, I brewed it according to the explicit directions on each package (5 g per 8 oz of tea) and each batch sampled similarly. Each had some kind of apple flavor and some noticeable juicy-like sweetness as well as its own flavors.

Finca Mauritania: Held the flavors of spiced apple and sparkling cider, bits of fig, date and sassafras. The body was distinctly that of a light tea but very potent.

Finca Kilimanjaro: Provided sparkling cider with notes of oolong, pumpkin seeds and a little black cherry. Also a nice light complexion with a syrupy punch.

Finca Los Alpes: The brew showcased apples and champagne, as well as some bubblegum and a fresh white grape. The body proved light and sweet.

All together, the three cascaras proved delicious and something fairly unique to my tea knowledge. I would say that as teas go, cascara demonstrates a naturally-sweetened option that not only is sustainable (farmers can get money from the coffee cherries!) but is also pretty satisfying as an after-dinner drink or refreshing morning beverage.

Go grab some cascara.


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

Monday, October 25, 2010

CC: Public Domain

'
What's does "CC" mean?

Subject:
Public Domain
Location visited: Portland, OR
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating:
6+ [
see key]




A well-decorated shop really goes a long way. I am all about the quality of the coffee but a cafe should breathe life and purpose to the the cafe. On the flip side, when a coffeehouse induces yawning and fringe comas (at worst disgust or horror), it's not only hard to be in the space but in a lot of ways, slightly depressing.

In the land of Portland, they seem to have an abundance of nice venues but by far, the one that really caught me was a little downtown operation called Public Domain. Outfitted in a corner space with splendidly open windows, Public Domain uses its extensive coffee operation (a pair of 2 group espresso machines and 6 grinders) to showcase like a culinary display. The cafe has seating along the windows mostly, the room feels huge amidst a room full of woods, whites and dark grays all lit by well-distributed lighting.

And though the cafe proved gorgeous, the coffee is always where my heart rests, and Public Domain propped my blood pumper up high. PD roasts their own beans (apparently every barista gets a crack at it) and from their selections, I chose their Peru San Ignacio for my espresso and the El Salvador Las Delicias in a french press. The espresso, pulled well with a nice crema, held notes of dark cherry and strong lemon, a little oregano, bittersweet cocoa, a pinch of cinnamon and some white chocolate (a good display of flavors with little detraction). The french press fired off bullets of honey, grass, mint leaves, hops and a dot of chick pea (a lighter coffee with lots of good quality). I did not note their tea.

Though I was able to spend little time in PD's posh shop, I will remember my experience well, given the many pleasantries. If you happen to be downtown, saunter over to Public Domain.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CC: Trabant Coffee and Chai

'
What's does "CC" mean?
Location visited: Seattle, WA
(2nd Ave location)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating:
6+ [
see key]



How the bustling cityscape calms to a lucid tranquility on weekend mornings. Especially in a city like Seattle, there is almost a ridiculous impetus to forgo any type of late sleeping in order to best take advantage of the urban peace.

Naturally, I also had my drive to find a good brew in the great coffee-tropolis, and hence I found myself standing at the front doors of Trabant Coffee and Chai first thing on a Saturday morning. The coffeehouse had just opened and my pal and I were the only souls present aside from the lone barista. The cafe is cavernous, with an open yet extremely well-constructed seating arrangement with vintage globe lighting.

I ordered a cup of Guatemalan Finca El Jaibal via their Clover, as well as a shot of Epic Espresso (both coffees from 49th Parallel). The El Jaibal produced nuttiness with a croissant buttery-ness, chocolate chip, some oolong and grain; a great balanced Guatemalan coffee. The Epic demonstrated well, with some cocoa, whiskey kick, pepper, sweet raspberry and a little smoke, all of which was embodied in a short pull with good crema. The tea is free leaf.

The tranquility of the early morning paired well with Trabant's wares. But even if the streets were overburdened with people, I would still make my way back. Get on down to Trabant if ye be in Seattle.

Friday, October 15, 2010

CC: Saint's Cafe

'
What's does "CC" mean?

Subject:
Saint's Cafe
Location visited: State College, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating:
5+ [
see key]




Central Pennsylvania has always been greatly overlooked in my travels. I have driven across it many times but aside from the scenery along the turnpike, there was little else I managed to see.

That sad trend met its end when I found my way to State College. The quintessential college town, State College surpassed my meager expectations with its bustling streets full of alluring stores and eateries (unlike some other college towns that shan't be named).

But what put my delight into hyperdrive was the presence of Saint's Cafe. Serving up Intelligentsia, Metropolis and Counter Culture, this coffeehouse was the first cafe I had heard of between Philly and Pittsburgh that knew about good coffee (never mind served it).

Parking in the metered lot across the street, I walked over, into their busy yet open cafe full of whites, greens and tans (all influenced by complimentary lighting). The space had an overall warm environment as well as plenty of seating.

I ordered an espresso of (Intelly's) Black Cat and a Clover-brewed Rwandan (also from Intelly). The espresso was pulled pretty well, appearing with a great crema and the flavors of creamy chocolate milk, lemon rind, clove and a bit of pepper. The shots seemed a bit off from normal Black Cat but the quality still proved splendid. The Rwandan displayed mild hops, caramel, wheat grass, raspberry yogurt, a tinge of tobacco and a small measure of fig (i.e. a delicious coffee). The tea is free leaf and Republic of Tea.

My experience with the cafe left me pleased, as the service and product both boded well. Along with Penn State's world-famous creamery (which was practically bursting with fervent customers that day), Saint's Cafe easily produces a good reason for making State College a place to hit soon.

Friday, October 08, 2010

CC: Dose

'
What's does "CC" mean?

Subject:
Dose
Location visited: London, UK
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating:
6+ [
see key]




Making my way through the bustling streets of London made me cherish the less crowded areas when I found them. One nice walk in particular was near the Museum of London on my way to a coffee operation called Dose.

Dose first gripped my attention from a video documentary of a coffee crawl (who was in this video or where you can view it, I failed to write it down). What attracted me was their use of guest coffees (aside from their usual roaster of Square Mile) as well as the ambitious push to be "the best coffee in London."

The cafe exists as a simple yet sharp white building with two windows flanking the main entry. Inside, the space is small with efficient seating to either side and a snazzy magnet letter menu.

I started with an espresso from Square Mile (not sure which blend), a short pull with great crema that displayed lemon candy, bitter cocoa, hints of cherry, nutmeg, rum and seltzer. After (smiling and) washing that down with a glass of water, I moved onto an aeropressed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe full wash (also SM)
. The coffee delivered blackberry and blueberry preserves, wheat grass, grape, a little vanilla and a body similar to french press. Both coffees were delicious and in my euphoria, I forgot to check the tea.

In a nutshell, Dose provided a good dose of great London coffee. While I wouldn't be qualified to designate their rank in London's coffee scene, they are certainly somewhere at the top. Give them a shot for sure.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

CC: J'eet

'
What's does "CC" mean?

Subject:
J'eet
Location visited: Pittsburgh, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating:
5+ [
see key]




Needing a decent coffee stop on my way out one morning, I checked my coffee list for nearby coffeehouses and an intriguing place called J'eet showed up. I had not heard much of them except that they splendidly purvey Commonplace Coffee, a roaster of nearby Indiana (that at the time, was in the midst of setting up their own Pburgh cafe in Squirrel Hill).

Always up for the adventure, I made my way through the AM congestion and found a parking spot right before the bright red-and-black, snack bar-esque front window of the cafe. Walking in, I was greeted by a cheerful barista sitting in a long shop that seems built for expediency (inside and outside serving windows) but also had a good amount of seating and a separate sandwich counter in the back.

Said chipper spro slinger served me up a cup of Ethiopian (drip) and an espresso. The Ethiopian lent some flavors of bright blueberry, tart hyacinth, sunflower, a little grass and a bit of molasses (pretty good). The espresso, pulled short with fair crema, held bitter cocoa, lemon, sugar, some pepper and a little whiskey with a dark bite on the end (also pretty good). The tea I did not catch.

To encapsulate my endeavor, I would remark that J'eet not only peddles Commonplace Coffee well, but exists as a fine establishment in the neighborhood. Do make a visit.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CC: Barista

'
What's does "CC" mean?

Subject:
Barista
Location visited: Portland, OR
(Pearl District location)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating:
6+ [
see key]



Finally. That was the word that plowed into my mind when I passed into Portland's lovely city limits for my second trip ever, this one outlasting my last Portland trip which was no more then a late night Sunday pit stop.

First stop on my stops was Barista. I confess that since their opening in early 2009, I have wished to pass through their arches and experience what sounded like a great coffee experience. Barista had such appeal largely for their unorthodox-yet-beautifully-obvious approach to coffee, such as having many coffee roasters offered in their shop (the number was around 9 when I arrived) and having 3 rotating featured espressos every day.

I arrived tired but eager. I walked up the steps, onto their porch full of tables and inside to what looked like a lobby. Barista existed mostly to the left in a small shop with beautiful woodwork (I later found out that one guy does many of the gorgeous coffee bars for the city) and plenty of coffee (a whole wall is just whole bean bags for sale), but the shop spills into the lobby with big black tables that make the place exist in so much greater a space.

I ordered Stumptown's Kilimanjaro El Salvador as my espresso and a french press of Ristretto Roaster's El Salvador (no theme planned; just worked out that way). The espresso proved velvety in texture, ripe with a sugary lemon with vanilla kick plus an infusion of strawberry and blood orange. The shots were superbly pulled, short in volume, capped with great crema and overall, proved to be delicious. The french press had a beautifully bright introduction, with twangs of caramel, fig, honey, a little tapioca and chai; a very smooth coffee with a great profile. The tea I failed to note.

Of the coffeehouses I wish I lived near, I added Barista to my list that day. Stop in.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

CC: Third Rail Coffee

'
What's does "CC" mean?
Location visited: Manhattan, NY
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating:
6+ [
see key]




Though Jersey is right next to Manhattan, I hold the opinion that there's no such thing as "popping in." No matter how many different methods I try, it always takes at least a half hour, even when I am right across the river (circumstances never seem to favor my speed). But I guess you can rationalize the time taken for the reward on the other side.

One recent end of a business day, I was driving down the NJ turnpike and hit a massive parking lot of traffic. Not wanting to sit and also having a rare free evening (the wife was to be with friends til late), I decided to park the car and take NJ Transit into Penn Station, grab some dinner and coffee and then head home when traffic had dissipated.

The plan mostly worked. I didn't end up finding as great a dinner as I had hoped but I managed to finally make it to Third Rail Coffee near NYU. In the midst of the evolving NYC coffee scene, Third Rail has won strong accolades for good coffee (NY Times gave some love) and seems to have strong attention to detail. The cafe itself is typical of NYC in that its low on space but every ounce is optimized amidst the exposed brick, wood floors and wall seating.

Third Rail serves up Intelligentisa and Stumptown and per their offerings that day, I got a Black Cat espresso and Stumptown's Costa Rican Don Mayo Reserva via Chemex. The Costa Rican brought earthy notes, hints of wheat, rum, oregano and corn; a smooth cup that proved delicious. The espresso, pulled short with pretty crema, had flickers of lemon, bittersweet chocolate, cloves and raspberry within a nice velvety texture (a good showing of Black Cat). The tea is free leaf.

Especially with the friendly banter from the baristas, Third Rail choo choo-ed sweetly into my heart. If you happen to be in the city, rally to their doorstep.


Monday, September 20, 2010

developments

You might notice some changes but fear not! We are just going through some changes in design.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

CC: Bea's of Bloomsbury

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



Afternoon tea is something I wish America embraced. Around 2 PM every weekday, I would love to stop working, break out the tea (or coffee) apparatus (not to mention tiny sandwiches) and simply relax. Some may argue that we have "coffee breaks" but that's like saying that AstroTurf feels like Kentucky Bluegrass.

Wanting to roll in the proverbial grass, I did my utmost to fit a true afternoon tea into my recent London exploits. I did a good chunk of research and after sorting through my options, the cafe that looked most smashing was a placed called Bea's of Bloomsbury. According to their website, they were not only Square Mile's first customer (hip hip for tea AND espresso) but they also offer one of the best (and most affordable) tea times in all London. Check and mate.

Bea's gets a lot of traffic so I actually was blown away when I found an open interior table on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The cafe has a gorgeous layout with black and lavender walls, an open kitchen in the rear and a fluidity that makes the space seem twice as large. I ordered up a Square Mile espresso (an espresso only place) and a pot of lemon verbena tea. The espresso was pulled short by trained hands, producing a bright coffee with notes of tart cocoa, grapefruit, fig, mint, almond and nutmeg. The tea was steeped well, had a balanced lemony flavor (like lemon grass) and a subtle natural sweetness. Both the espresso and tea provided exemplary experiences.

It should be noted that Bea's does some amazing things with food and bakery items (if you get a meringue, pace yourself because they are huge). All around Bea's met all of my high expectations for a good British tea time experience. You should go.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

CC: Tazza D'Oro

'
What's does "CC" mean?

Subject:
Tazza D'Oro
Location visited: Pittsburgh, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating:
6+ [
see key]



So many times little things brighten my day. A small baby making a forceful rolling R sound, a tiger spraying a heckler at the zoo or a correctly-executed high five all tend to put a shimmy in my step.

One moment of late that really perked up my afternoon was a coffeehouse in Highland Park called Tazza D'Oro. I had not been sad or down prior to arriving that fine day but the day had proven rather warm and I was a little worn out.

Noting the shared name to the Roman cafe of fame (though, having just visited Rome, I wouldn't say I was impressed with it), this Pittsburgh cafe is no cheap knock-off. I had heard from many credible palates that the coffee and skill was truly great, and I could feel optimistic (metaphorical) dragonflies lifting my weariness as I walked past their charming outdoor area into their lovely innards.

Standing amidst the stone tile floor, exposed wood beams and nice lighting, I settled on a Costa Rican for my drip and an espresso of (what I was told was) a custom blend, both from Verve Coffee Roasters out of CA. My drip delivered a bright, earthy coffee with the presence of mango, paprika, nougat and a darker body (the last characteristic could be more from time in the pump pot, but I emphasize that it did not taste stale). The espresso, pulled short with beautiful crema, popped with a cocoa, almond, molasses, lemon candy and rum. Both coffee extractions were well-prepared and delicious. The tea is free leaf.

As you may have deduced, my day got another ray of sunshine from my coffee but not from the caffeine (ok...maybe a little), but for the excellent flavors showcased. If you happen to be in Pittsburgh, stop at one of Tazzo D'Oro's locations.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

CC: Aldo Coffee Company

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



Lackadaisical Saturday mornings go hand-in-hand with coffee at a fine establishment. I speak no great epiphany, but since my Saturdays are often lightning-paced (and when they are not, I sleep them by) I lament that I rarely get to enjoy the pleasantry of a Saturday morning brew out.

Yet vacation changes everything and being in Pittsburgh on a gorgeous Saturday, my entourage and I made our way to Aldo Coffee Company. A bit of a local coffee hero, Aldo has been in the lime light on more then one occasion with their quality barista skills and coffee practices.

Aldo sits on a main street south of downtown Pittsburgh in a brick building with an orange, red and black (Halloween!) awning. Inside, the structure reflects two small shops merged, with the bar on the right, seating throughout and an overall low-lit joint decked out in Italian decor.

The coffee hales from Stumptown, Intelligentsia and La Verdad (a coffee roasted by Aldo). That morning, they (oddly) had Stumptown's Hairbender and Intelly's Black Cat as filter coffees (waiting in pump pots); the prospect of either wasn't really appealing as both are great for espresso but not really other infusions. But since they were pulling shots of Black Cat that AM, I went with the Hairbender for my cup of drip. While I can't say my hair bent, the brew produced a little brightness similar to lemon, hint of pepper, some pear, oregano and a little nuttiness. The coffee also proved a little saucy (due to what seemed staleness) but overall, was fairly good.

As for the espresso, the Black Cat possessed notes of dark chocolate, lemon, nutmeg, a bit of hibiscus and some zesty vanilla. The shots were pulled short, had a good head of crema and proved pleasant. The tea is free leaf.

While I can't say I would agree with Aldo's drip selections that day (they had so many others to choose from!), I would say the experience overall gave my Saturday morning a nice bit of pep. When you're in the area, give Aldo a heave ho.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Mugged: 2010 Reserve [Mañana Madera]

'
What does "Mugged" mean?


Subject:
Manana Madera Coffee Estate
Coffees Mugged:
2010 Reserve

Rating: 5+
[see key]



A
good cup of coffee always starts from outside the continental US (of course, Hawaii represents as our lone coffee grower state) but usually I am not too familiar with trying out coffee roasted on-farm. I guess the idea makes a lot of sense and the only real headache is shipping.

I had the delightful opportunity of late to sample the 2010 Reserve crop of Manana Madera Coffee Estate out of Panama. The coffee seems to be their singular offering for a small farm that also seems to offer coffee tourism opportunities (only $80 a night!).

The coffee was sampled in the infusions of drip/filtered, french press and siphon. The drip displayed a nutty, strawberry flavor with hints of wheat grass, milk, honey graham cracker and a smidge of cocoa. A very even and sweet coffee.

The french press delivered a nutty cup, with more noticeable wheat grass, honey and cocoa notes, as well as hints of triscuit and cream amidst a full body. This cup actually smacked more of honey as it cooled and overall, proved terrific.

The siphon was the least distinct, still holding nuttiness, triscuit, honey and graham cracker but it had more of a bourbon kick and much less sweetness. Still good coffee though.

Though the price tag (shipping) makes it a pricey cup, the 2010 Reserve is a coffee I would not shy from (i.e. I liked it). If you are looking for a coffee truly all from Panama, then try out Manana Madera's 2010 Reserve.

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

Monday, August 30, 2010

CC: Skaneateles Bakery

'
What's does "CC" mean? Location visited: Skaneateles, NY
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating:
4+ [
see key]



Finger lakes hold some wondrous scenery if you hit them at the right times. The cold winters usually deter much merriment and the summer can get sweltering, yet a nice day amidst the nature and culture of the region stands as a lasting euphoria.

Personally, my favorite lake is Lake Skaneateles due to its crystal clear waters and the quaint town of the same name at the top. Granted the town can be pricey but aside from the surrounding nature, the town has a few great deals. One of them is the Skaneateles Bakery, located on the main stretch of town. This bakery serves up sweet small town treats with a modern flair and has been raved of by many a friend.

What drew me to the bakery one lovely day was less baked goods and more of good coffee rumors. Upon arriving on their doorstep, I spotted the Gimme Coffee sign in the window, which given the possibilities,
it was a step in the right direction (Gimme has many great coffees but many times the local shops only buy the cheap stuff). Inside, the counter holds plenty of baked items and to the side and back is a blue-and-brown space with a healthy amount of seating.

They did indeed serve Gimme, and thus I ordered a cup of their Asobargi via drip and an espresso. The drip coffee produced flavors of spicy mango salsa, tart cherry, a whiskey kick, a little earthiness and a heavy body touched with a tinge of bitterness on the end. The espresso, pulled short and with fading tan crema, held notes of bitter chocolate, graham cracker, sesame seed and a tinge of brightness. The tea is Harney and Sons.

Given the coffee source being Gimme, I'm positive that this bakery could do better but if nothing were to change, they do a pretty decent job with their coffee (oh, their chocolate chip cookies were amazing too). When in town, stop by the bakery.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

CC: Taylor Street Baristas

'
What's does "CC" mean? Location visited: London, UK
[New St location]
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating:
5+ [
see key]


London is one crazy town during weekday rush hour. Granted New York City is just as crazy but somehow, I half expected the crazy rush of rush hour to be a little more relaxed on the other side of the Atlantic.

Amidst the wanderings of the morning rush hour in the realm of London's financial district sits a very well-placed coffee venue called Taylor St Baristas. One of five locations, this Aussie-founded operation was created to give Londoners a good cup of coffee in their everyday comings and goings. The New St location I visited couldn't have been better located, as the masses literally spilled off of Bishopgate right past Taylor St's front door.

As for doors, the cafe has an efficient entrance and exit worked out, with the line filling the majority of the interior. From their multi-barista machine they churn Union Hand-Roasted coffees in both filtered and espresso forms. I ordered a cup of Ethiopian Sidamo via a pump pot of drip, a light coffee with a little caramel, grass, bit of pear, some oregano, pepper and a slight taste of cardboard and staleness (I guess drip was not popular that day). I also got myself an espresso that was pulled short, had decent crema and tasted of lemon, milk chocolate, sugar and nutmeg (a good showing). The tea is East India Tea House.

Sadly, a sailor in rough waters has not time to enjoy the scenery (it was too busy to enjoy it fully) but though I didn't have time to linger, I would add that the bustle did not seem to phase the cheer of their employees (always good to have a smile with my coffee). Aside from a little stale drip, the entire experience was delightful.

Stop into a Taylor St Baristas location when you're in London.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Coffee in Italy

'









Italy. One country that is venerated to a true place of honor in coffee contributions. Espresso, though only one manner of coffee infusion, pretty much began from popular Italian culture and the art of Italian espresso has helped sculpt the modern quality coffee world.

But despite the inspiration, the current coffee culture of Italy seems to differ from that of the many other countries it could claim to have inspired. I had heard it from many firsthand sources, such as from The Shot's wisdom and from World Barista Champion
Giorgio Milos per a coffee class I covered (which also featured the knowledge of Illy man Moreno Faina) as well as from his diagnosis on American coffee (which is an article made into a great discussion by the comments). All in all it seems that some would say the non-Italian culture is inferior (this seems to be mostly Italians) and others would say it's just different.

So I decided to check out Italy myself. I recently had an opportunity to travel through Rome and Tuscany, so I had decided from the beginning to make some cafe stops and write up some reviews on the coffee. I scored some great recommendations (many from The Shot as well as some from internet research) and planned to make several cafes a must on the tours of the day (I even marked up my maps!).

Yet after going through a couple cafes, the differences in their product really seemed pronounced. My research told me that there were many cafes doing decent espresso but few serving great. This might sound blasphemous to some but of all the espresso I had in Italy, not one shot really stood out as amazing. I deduce that this seems to come down to the fact that espresso in Italy (traditionally) requires either sugar (straight espresso) or milk (cappuccinos) and I was drinking straight "cafe." As for taste, the espresso I had, at best turned out balanced (little bitter or sour notes) with flecks of citrus, tobacco and cocoa, or at worst bitter and lacking in other flavors.

And believe me when I say I sought out numerous cafes. I hit a bunch of big-name cafes, such as Sant'Eustachio (with the added sugar part of the initial espresso preparation) and Tazza D'Oro (with some really dark and oily beans prepared extremely poorly) in Rome as well as some in Florence, like Caffeteria Piansa, Pasticceria Robiglio and Caffe Giacosa Roberta Cavalli. All of these supposedly excellent cafes (according to the Bar d'Italia) but all of them produced only decent espresso. And also true to the earlier statement, the random other cafes I patronized had fairly decent espresso as well.

Thus, after several experiences, I decided not to write up reviews of the cafes I attended.

Why you may inquire? Well, the first reason was that I saw little point. One of my goals is to identify good coffeehouses so people don't have to drink bad coffee, but that proves difficult given that most coffee in Italy hovers around average-to-decent and the cafes exist everywhere (literally, you can't go 500 feet without seeing one in the cities).

The other reason has to do with different standards. An Italian espresso is meant to be consumed with sugar or milk (according to many, including Giorgio) and thus, it would be of little value to measure Italian espresso according to my non-Italian tastes (and my tastes look for an espresso that can bust a move all on its own).

Some would argue that Italy clings to tradition with their espresso and that as a result, many other countries' cafes have made greater strides with it. While I can't claim to know what country is best with espresso, I can say that I have had better espresso in America and the UK than in Italy. Blasphemy? Only if you hate constructive criticism.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

CC: Beaver Falls Coffee and Tea



Subject: Beaver Falls Coffee and Tea Company
Location visited: Beaver Falls, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

The drive between Pittsburgh and Erie is not one populated with many well-known pit stops, unless you like stopping to experience nature (fortunately, I do!). Sadly, this is usually the case with many stretches in the middle of the country.

But fortune shines every once in awhile, and in this case fortune lighted my attention on the town of Beaver Falls and a coffeehouse called Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea Company. The tales told of well-roasted coffee and espresso slung out in a most satisfactory nature. Such news made the coffeehouse a natural pit stop on my route.

BFC&TC sits on a main stretch of road in a converted house. While I've seen my share of converted houses-to-cafes, this one seems to have little conversion on the outside (no additional structures added for seating or ambiance) or on the inside aside from the addition of the coffee bar in what would have been the living room. Nonetheless, the interior is very warm and has the nifty feel of home with the wondrous convenience of a barista five feet away.

I ordered a cup of their Malowi Light via pourover, which held notes of nuts, grass, honey, carrot, sauce, a tinge of hops, agave and a little caramel. I found it a light coffee that held a delicious array of flavors. I also ordered an espresso, a blend composed of African and Brazilian coffees, that was pulled short/medium, had nice crema and paraded the tastes of lime, sugar cookie, mint, cilantro, a little dark cocoa and some almond on the end (good espresso). The tea was free leaf.

All together, their coffee operation seemed of good quality. The operation definitely seems to be one that is still growing in skill but given their good results, I think that further improvements will truly endow Beaver Falls with a nice cafe. If in town or passing by, stop by Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea Company.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

CC: Nude Espresso in Rapha Cycle Club

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


Many people have noted that serious bicyclists tend to be avid coffee drinkers. I don't know if there is a true correlation, but it certainly seems to be more then a small coincidence in my relations, observations at coffeehouses and in the admitted habits of some in the coffee community.

While in London, I stumbled upon a venue that took the biking and coffee marriage up a notch. The Rapha Cycle Club was a temporary open-to-all-club that sold merchandise, organized bicycling-centered events and had its own cafe. Of course, the cafe was what drew me in, especially with the emblazoned name of Nude Espresso on the sign (a popular coffee roaster and purveyor) since visiting their official cafe was a probable no-go on my trip due to time restrictions.

The interior of Rapha was a huge space with a mammoth common table amidst merchandise in the front two-thirds. The cafe portion consisted of a small counter with dual baristas in the back corner. Given the emphasis on espresso alone (no other coffee infusions available), I ordered an espresso which held really bitter chocolate, lemon, heavy cream, nutmeg, a little cherry, oregano and fig. The shot was pulled well and the crema was of a good thickness and color, though the shot was a little too bitter for me. I did not see any tea.

As I mentioned above, Rapha was a temporary institution and hence, does not exist as of the end of July. But, despite of Rapha's end, I felt this information could be useful since this was my only experience with Nude Espresso in London (albeit an unsure one as I am not sure if the baristas were Nude's employees or Rapha's people). Thus, give Nude Espresso a try and keep an eye out for more bicycling-coffee hybrids.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

CC: Big Dog Coffee

'
What's does "CC" mean?

Subject:
Big Dog Coffee
Location visited: Pittsburgh, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating:
5+ [
see key]



I have a negative association with the product line of Big Dogs. Everyone is entitled to their own tastes and mine never favored the hackneyed phrases and witty(?) dog pictures. Yet sadly, every time I hear the phrase (or a variation) of "Big Dogs," I think of the clothing line.

Fast forward to a nice evening at Pittsburgh's Hofbrauhaus (try the Oktoberfest Schweinshaxe if you like good pig and have a herculean appetite) when a leisurely stroll and some nice coffee was needed to work off a Germanic food coma. Lo and behold my party stumbles on Big Dog Coffee. I had heard of it before but I hadn't expected to hit it in my trip to the city given that our travels during coffeehouse hours hadn't been in the area. And while my lack of plans had nothing to do with my aversion to the name (I am not so childish, I swear), I couldn't help but expect to find a large picture of a black-and-white canine over the mantle.

Thankfully, the associations were curbed right there. The cafe beams a sharp contrast of a tan building, black awnings and big windows, with the interior spinning 180 degrees to a color scheme of pink and kiwi as well as what felt like a real homey decor.

Big Dog serves Intelligentsia, of which I ordered a doubleshot of Black Cat and a cup of the Costa Rican Flecha Roja via pump-potted drip. The espresso, pulled short/medium and with a nice crema, displayed dark chocolate, lemon, a bit of ginger plus tinges of smokiness and tobacco; a pretty good display of Black Cat. The drip had notes of pear, cocoa, black cherry, nutmeg, grass and celery as well as a slightly old/stale character. Aside from the age, it was good coffee. I did not note the tea.

I would say my disdain for the word combination of Big Dog(s) has been lessened by this keen cafe. Sniff out Big Dog Coffee if you're nearby.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

CC: 21st Street Coffee and Tea

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



Pittsburgh's Strip area was something that came up regularly on my "things to do" search for the town and hence, it didn't take long for me to wander down. To add some pep to my step, I had bookmarked local coffee entity 21st Street Coffee and Tea into the sights amidst the once-industrial, now retail-focused area.

21st Street sits in a two-story corner shop across from a huge church and adjacent to a mighty fine doughnut shop. The shop on the inside is narrow but the space is well utilized, with a long counter and limited seating on the first floor and a really nifty loft on the second story (on a side note, it is cafes like this one, where options are limited, that nifty results really shine).

They serve up Intelligentsia, offering a Clover as well as your other traditional infusion-ary options. I ordered a cup of the La Machete Panama via their Clover and the fancy machine (steered by the barista of course) presented a coffee containing some green apple, cloves, a tea-esque quality, carrot, earthiness, kettle chip and grass. I also got an espresso of the La Finca Pino pulled splendidly (the barista pulled two calibrating shots before I got my espresso), with flavors of chocolate chip cookie, salt, root beer, lemon and pineapple amidst a short/medium pull with good crema. Throughout, my coffee was glorious. The tea is free leaf.

Adding the original Primanti Brothers to the nearby neighbors, I really relished the 21st Street Coffee experience for both its coffee and location. When in town, give the Strip and 21st Street a stop.