Thursday, February 25, 2010

CC: Dryden Community Center Cafe

What's does "CC" mean? Location visited: Dryden, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes

3+ [
see key]

Community centers, places where the townspeople hang out, seem to be a thing of lore these days. Sure there's your typical fire hall or space that can be rented out for large events, but an actual community center where people can just stop in without incurring a cost seems to be extinct in most lands.

But it just so happens that the town of Dryden, a small town between Ithaca and Cortland, not only has a community center but has a community center cafe that apparently uses volunteers to staff the counter. Curious how a cafe dependent on volunteer labor looked, as well as the fact that I happened to be in the area, equaled out to a quick stop by the DCCC.

The cafe is located on the corner of what seems the town center. The building is a lovely brick structure with open windows. The interior looks kind of like a community center, with out-dated decor and mostly old dorm furniture, but despite the shortcomings, the cafe demonstrated a nice environment (especially by the windows).

They serve Coffee Mania via pump pot and espresso (for ridiculously low prices too!). I ordered a small cup of drip and via their selection of brews brewed, I went for the Brazil Magiana, a sweet coffee that had reminded me of Yoo Hoo, sweet bread and sunflower sprinkled with cayenne pepper and a little sauciness (I think it was a little stale). The espresso, a medium shot with not much crema, smacked of citrus, milk chocolate and beef broth amidst a milky body and a tingle of bitterness on the end. The tea was available in various bagged assortments.

Given the above drinks were fairly decent AND came from unpaid community volunteers, I have to say I stand slightly impressed. This community cafe took the time to use a decent, local roaster and also take their espresso (at least somewhat) seriously. If I could also give out points for heart, I would.

This is a place that deserves business and hopefully with time, will improve greatly. Stop by the Dryden Community Center Cafe.

Monday, February 22, 2010

CC: Bridgehead Coffeehouse

What's does "CC" mean? [109 and 366 Bank St locations]
Location visited:
Ottawa, ON
Free WiFi ? : yes

4+ [
see key]

Going north in the winter seems tremendously unnatural but occasionally, one has to strap on a thick scarf, don some mittens and drive to Canada. Fortunately, this trip had promise of a nice relaxing stay and a little exploration of never-before-visited Ottawa.

Upon arrival, one of my first destinations was local coffeehouse operation Bridgehead Coffeehouse. According to a few locals, Bridgehead is one of the only places to grab good espresso in town, thus given its close proximity to my hotel, it was an easy respite after the long drive.

After checking in at Hotel Indigo (turned out to be a swell stay by the way), I made my way to one of their four Bank Street (366 Bank St) locations. The exterior of this and most Bridgeheads is mostly window save a snazzy, dark wood sign. Inside, this cafe radiated a warm, chic feel with an exposed brick wall, a bustling counter and an orange, cream and gray color scheme.

Bridgehead produces their own line of coffee, seeming to err closer to dark roasts. I ordered a cup of their Peruvian, a medium roast that actually acted more like a dark roast, as the brew held a peppery and bitter flavor throughout, some sugared grapefruit up front and a touch of nutmeg in the middle. A fair cup that I really thought too dark to be medium, so to give Bridgehead's medium roasts a second try, I went to another Bank St location (109) the next day to try my fortune. Oddly, they also had the Peruvian on tap and at the very least, I credit Bridgehead with consistency, as my second cup of Peruvian was practically identical to my first.

But their espresso is what initially drew me and their espresso is what ended up winning my admiration. The espresso blend, a coffee that looked like a light/medium roast in the grinder, was pulled by skilled hands to produce a beautiful, short doubleshot that held a nice crema and harnessed the powers of lemon, soft pretzel and chocolate truffle. The tea was free leaf.

While I wasn't floored with the darker Peruvian experience, I suppose it is quite possible I simply had misfortune with one of their coffees and that the others will blow me away (experience tells me otherwise, but only further sampling of their coffees could settle that). In the end, the conundrum of a coffeehouse that produces quality espresso but only pumps out lackluster drip is new to my list of unique experiences.

All in all, if you happen to be in Ottawa, try out Bridgehead.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mugged: Kenyan AA [Willoughby's Coffee]

What does "Mugged" mean?

Willoughby's Coffee & Tea
Coffees Mugged:
Kenya AA Kagumoini
5+ [see key]

Sometimes in the dark, short days of winter a good cup of coffee is the only sunshine you get (yes, that sounds cheesy but I've noticed my love of cheesy phrasing seems to increase amidst lacking sunshine). Thankfully, I had a good run with a great pound of Kenya AA Kagumoini sent to me by Willoughby's Coffee & Tea.

I sampled the coffee in the usual three manors of drip, siphon and french press.

French pressing this Kenyan equated to a smooth cup, with sweet peach and apple flavors first, followed with a pleasant nuttiness, wheat grass and some molasses. I found it a beautiful, bright coffee.

The siphon formed a much sweeter beverage with not as much of the peach/apple sourness, thus the cup had more of the molasses, a good bit of grain, some nutty flavors and still the wheat grass. This particular brew I found to be juicy and smooth.

Dripping, the last method produced the molasses with the noticeable brightness offset by a little more darkness and cocoa. The wheat grass still appeared towards the end; an overall good cup though my least favorite of the three samplings (but still a great cup!).

My days were literally brighter thanks in part to this coffee (i.e. it was really good). If you are yearning for a good Kenyan, give this one a run.

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

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mugged: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe [Lacas Coffee]


What does "Mugged" mean?

Lacas Coffee
(warning: website plays a constant tune; mute if you wish to not hear it)
Coffees Mugged:
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
3+ [see key]

Much like coffee is nothing new, the American coffee industry has been bustling for some time now. Little did I know that I grew up fairly close to a coffee importer and roaster that is about to turn a century old.

Lacas Coffee (located in Pennsauken, NJ) is a familiar coffee name if you happen to glance at diner coffee stations, local restaurants or the occasional area coffeehouse. I have sampled their brews occasionally and have never been too impressed with the lackluster, out-of-a-hot-plate carafe sludge (though they do get points for not grossing me out).

But since my Lacas experiences have all been with coffee in the hands of others, I was intrigued by the offer to try out a pound via Coffee For Less, a coffee distributor seeming to focus on your typical "popular" consumer coffees.

I received the coffee fairly quickly, opened the colorful packaging and dove in. I sampled the medium/dark coffee via drip first, then siphon and ended with french press.

The drip produced a juicy coffee, mostly reminiscent of apricot or pear, followed with a deep cocoa, a tingle of lemon pepper and a noticeable bitterness. A smooth coffee in the front with a rough kick on the back.

My experience with the siphon proved to be brighter (as in acidity). The brew had a lemony character paired with the apricot, still showing some chocolate but also drawing out a little cashew and sage. Again, a bit bitter on the back.

Finishing off with the french press, this cup was more similar to the drip. It held a similar apricot and deep cocoa beginning as well as the noticeable bitterness towards the end, but this batch put forth a little bit of cinnamon amidst the bitterness.

To put it simply, this particular coffee from Lacas appeased me but it did not wow me. While Lacas is an old business that seems to (try to) march with the times, I think they could do better.

As for Coffee For Less, they had good turn around and the coffee seemed fresh. If you are in the market for coffees they offer (such as Lacas), I would recommend giving them a run around the block.

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

Thursday, February 11, 2010

CC: Heavenly Cup Coffee Roasters

What's does "CC" mean? Location visited: Painted Post, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes

5+ [
see key]

Sheer luck is wonderful (though I like to think of it more as a divine jackpot), especially with shot-in-the-dark coffeehouses.

While visiting the Corning area, I had a few possible coffee stops, with one called Heavenly Cup Coffee Roasters located in Painted Post, outside of Corning. Being the farthest off the beaten path, I slotted it as the first stop (with my party's permission) on our route.

Heavenly Cup's base of operations and cafe is a free standing structure on a local road next to the Interstate. The building looks new and has a wrap-around parking lot that doubles partly as a drive-thru. Walking indoors, the cafe is arrayed in a very warm, two-story space with a beautiful balcony and open atrium layout. Besides the balcony, the roasting also happens on part of the second floor (conveniently right over the counter, which could work well if they ever invest in a dumb waiter or coffee chute).

I ordered a cup of their Breakfast Blend to kick it off. The coffee had a smooth nuttiness, followed with fig, cocoa and a sprinkling of wheat grass on the end. A good, light cup all around. The espresso, a short/medium pull with some nice crema, passed on a bittersweet chocolate with hints of lemon (nice contrast), a noticeable brightness on a milk-like texture and only small tinges of what I would call unsavory bitterness (thus, a pretty good cup sayeth I). The tea is loose leaf.

As I finished up, I was counting my blessings to have struck such a proverbial gold strike (a happening that occurs about as much as cold fusion in a bear's ear canal). If you're close to Elmira or Corning, you need to give Heavenly Cup a visit.

Monday, February 08, 2010

CC: Casciano Coffee Bar & Sweetery

What's does "CC" mean? Location visited: Hammonton, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes

3+ [
see key]

When you get in between Philadelphia and the Jersey shore, you roll into an odd region of the state known for its sandy soil and weird pines (the pine barrens). Around this habitat, you find a lot of cranberry and blueberry farms and accordingly, such towns as Hammonton (the self-proclaimed blueberry capital of the world!).

While passing through town, I decided to try out a local coffee operation called Casciano Coffee Bar & Sweetery. Granted I never had heard of it before, but since I don't frequent the area a lot, I figured to give it a go.

Casciano sits on the main avenue of Hammonton in a charming brown store front with a few outside tables, complimented with free parking and a second entrance in the back. The interior displayed a long shop split in half by the kitchen and bathrooms; the counter and some tables in the front and much more seating in the back. The overall ambiance seemed to focus more on average American decor and though not compelling, proved very comfortable.

The coffee hails from Mountain Peak Coffee Roasters, based out of Forked River, NJ. I sampled a cup of their Colombian via drip; the brew proved bright with hints of lime, flavors of olive oil, oregano and Earl Grey all encapsulated in a medium-bodied coffee that wasn't half bad. The espresso, pulled short/medium, had a grapefruit sourness followed by a strong milky taste and ending with cardboard and a deep, charred flavor (i.e. the espresso could stand to improve). The tea is Republic of Tea.

While Casciano shows a lot of promise, I can see some areas that, if developed, could send them further towards the top. In the meantime, if you are in town, give Casciano a try for yourself.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Mugged: Black and Tan Blend [Aduro Bean]

What does "Mugged" mean?

Aduro Bean Micro-Roasters
Coffees Mugged:
Black and Tan Blend
2+ [see key]

Blending coffee (mixing certain single origin coffees to make a desired flavor) has been a widely-used practice for some time. While I don't know if they were first, Italians truly made popular the art of coffee blending in order to better harness the right mixture of coffee beans to better make their espresso pop (most places still do it today). In the non-espresso arena, coffee entities have looked to blending for years in order to keep a similar flavor profile for a consistent product.

As for appearance, I can't say I've seen too many blends that have beans that look vastly different from one another. But I managed to find such a mixture with an Aduro Bean coffee that mixed a dark and a medium roast into what they call their Black and Tan Blend. Despite some concern of how the darker roast would play with the lighter roast, I assumed the best and dove in.

Thus, in getting started with the sampling, I took a crack at the coffee with my french press first. The cup proved
bitter right up front, followed by a tickle of strawberry, some nice mention of chocolate and then more bitterness in the end and aftertaste. There was also a little bit of a jalapeno burn and overall, the cup was not so smooth and a held a very heavy body.

Next up was the drip. I definitely still tasted the bitterness and pepper but a nice pear-ish and watermelon sweetness swept underneath soon after. This cup had a smoother body once I got past the lingering darkness.

Lastly came the siphon. This cup threw out the least bitterness and pepper of the three, held more of the watermelon than the drip and had a fair earthiness. The body seemed smoother as there was less lingering darkness.

To put it simply, I think Black and Tan might be better off left to blending beer. While the coffee embodied some nice flavors, they were all overshadowed by the dark beans. Maybe if the "black" component of this blend was more of a medium/dark roast (i.e. no oil on the outside), it may fair better.

If you're looking to try out an unconventional blend, try out the Black and Tan.

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

Monday, February 01, 2010

Mugged: Guatemalan COE [Willoughby's Coffee]


What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Willoughby's Coffee & Tea
Coffees Mugged: Guatemalan El Socorro Y Annexos, 2008 Cup of Excellence #4
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Connecticut is yet another nearby state that stands as a stranger to me, kinda like the neighbors three doors down that seem like happening people, but you are never around when they are home. I grew up somewhat close (2 hour drive) and yet, the only time I've stopped in was for a graduate school interview at Yale. As you can deduce, things did not work out for Yale and since then, I haven't been back.

Thus, I was thrilled to get some coffee from a New Haven coffee company called Willoughby's Coffee & Tea. The place had not really made my radar but their cafes look pretty nifty and their coffee offerings intriguing.

The first of the two coffees I tried was a 2008 Cup of Excellence winner from Guatemala. I sampled it in the typical three methods of drip, siphon and french press.

drip I dove at first. The ensuing mug demonstrated a coffee smacking of sweet honey and caramel popcorn, with a wheaty aftertaste, a tiny sour kiss and an overall pleasant smoothness. This was by far one the sweetest coffees I've had in a long time.

The siphon had a tad heavier body. This cup possessed more of a chocolate and caramel sweetness as well as bits of fig, date and a milky texture. Different result but still delightful.

The french press generated a lighter coffee similar to the drip, though with much more prevalent caramel and a nice chocolate milk texture and flavor. The fig and ending wheat were still present and some unique notes of spice also showed up; also a great cup.

To say I was satisfied would be putting it lightly. If Willoughby's locations can serve up espresso as well as they can roast coffee, then Connecticut would finally have a true pull for me to visit.

If you're looking for a well-roasted Connecticut coffee, order a pound from Willoughby's.

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