Thursday, December 22, 2011

Can a Super Automatic Produce Good Espresso?

Many coffee lovers either own or covet their own home espresso operation. To have stellar shots and scintillating lattes in the comfort of one's living quarters is almost as good as having your own personal butler-barista (kind of like Kato in the recent Green Hornet film). 

Yet many folks who strongly love espresso seem to go without an espresso machine simply because to get a quality espresso machine (like a La Marzocco or Rancilio), a micrometrical-adjustable burr grinder and the other necessary components (tamper, steel milk jug, etc) not only costs a handsome cent, but pulling quality shots takes practice and passion, calling for time and energy. Some folks just don't want to or cannot make such an investment. 

But if you're willing to compromise on quality, the good news is that the obstacles of cost, time and complexity go right out the door. Appliance empires have churned out thousands of no-skill-needed, super automatic espresso machines, allowing the average coffee drinker access to mediocre - palatable espresso, cappuccinos and the like at the push of a button.

This all brings the obvious question: can a super automatic machine (one that grinds, tamps, pulls the shots, steams the milk and cleans itself without human aid) concoct decent espresso and cappuccinos? To try to address this query, the folks at Philips Saeco and at Ultimo Coffee in Philadelphia agreed to allow me to compare and contrast a high-end super automatic machine (Saeco's Syntia) next to Ultimo's high-end commercial La Marzocco.   

Heading over one brisk night to Ultimo coffee, joined by owner Aaron Ultimo, we set up the super automatic on a free bar top and began the experiment. We used the same water, milk and beans (Counter Culture's Toscano) to keep the variables low. 

As a higher priced super automatic, the Syntia machine boasts being certified by Italian coffee tasters as being able to produce an authentic espresso and cappuccino (sadly, I can't say that this means much as I've had horrible espresso from such "certifications"). The Syntia is also truly super automatic, as one button grinds the beans and pulls the shot for you; similarly if you want a cappuccino, you hit a different button and it grinds, pulls the shot and steams the milk too. 

Keeping the espresso function on the "short pull" setting, the shots were of a 3-4 ounce volume (a little high for "short") with an even, light brown crema. The flavor was reasonable, as it held all of the prominent flavors of the Toscano espresso blend but it fell flat after that, really lacking the subtler nuances of a good espresso. The body was dry and the drink overall proved lackluster. Adjusting the grind wasn't really too effective in changing the outcome, as the shots remained similar as we made the grind finer (to accommodate for the initial high volume). Overall, the espresso proved fair, with the flavors none too bitter and of a mediocre level.

Testing the cappuccino, the machine steamed the milk first and then dropped the shots in, creating an odd vampire bite in the milk. Once again, the flavors were fair, with the milk and espresso producing a dry beverage with a muted sweetness and bit of cardboard. The machine produced little in the way of microfoam and overall, the integration of the espresso and milk was haphazard at best. Still, I have to admit that the beverage was still drinkable and on par with what I've had at some 2+ or 3+ cafes. 

Moving onto Ultimo's La Marzocco, one of Ultimo's baristas pulled some glorious shots that embodied a complexity of flavors including bittersweet chocolate. The shots were balanced and smooth, with a brown crema and velvety body. Ultimo's cappuccino also proved stellar, with a creamy texture of sweet milk complimented with notes of cocoa and honey. The latte art also showed strong integration of the elements.

Clearly Ultimo's professional baristas made better drinks, yet in comparing their product to the Syntia's, I have to submit that a non-coffee geek would probably be satisfied with this super automatic. Using top notch milk, fresh well-roasted coffee beans and filtered water, the espresso and cappuccinos were decent enough in taste to make the average coffee drinker happy (especially if one plans to laden said drinks with lots of sugar and syrup).

If you're looking for a simple (though expensive) espresso machine to make you a fair cappuccino, you would be justified in getting something akin to Saeco's Syntia. But if you have hopes of duplicating a drink you've had at a shop like Ultimo Coffee, try out CoffeeGeek's guide here on what equipment to buy.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mugged: Brazil [Peter Asher]

Mugged: Brazil Bob-O-Link
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Rounding off one of the busier coffee review periods of my year was Peter Asher Coffee and Tea. A coffee roaster that's been roasting for twenty years, I was glad to meet their acquaintance and review two of their coffees. 

The first up is their Brazil Bob-O-Link, a coffee touted to possess citrus, black tea and nut flavors. The coffee appeared of a medium roast (dark brown & no exterior oils) and I cupped it via siphon, french press and drip.

In sipping the drip, I noted flavors of honey, leather, bran, nuts, fig and spinach amidst a medium body.

The french press possessed sweet pecans, honey, fig, pear, romaine, a bit of wheat and medium body. This infusion held much more brightness and potency.

The siphon rolled out molasses, cocoa, pear, cornbread, romaine, fig and a little milk within the medium body. Not as much nuttiness in this cup but still a good coffee.

Simply put, the Bob-O-Link definitely sampled variably but overall, I could definitely see the notes of sweetness, a little nuttiness and emphasis on bran or cocoa. A good coffee overall though not my all-time favorite Brazilian. Still, if you seek a quality Brazil coffee, visit Peter Asher's website to try out the Bob-O-Link. 

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

Monday, December 12, 2011

CC: Santa Claus House

What does CC mean?

Location: North Pole, AK
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating: 4+ [see key]

It's not often that I get astonished by an unexpected coffee find, but I guess Santa knew exactly what I wanted when I visited his house on a trip to the North Pole (Alaska). 

The day had a few things on the list and what trip to the center of Alaska would be complete without a stop at the North Pole. Not only are the streets and town a Christmas-themed wonderland but it's also home to a shop called Santa Claus House. The place not only has lots of cool gifts, including letters "from Santa", but also reindeer and a plenty of Christmas-y scenery for pics. 

Scurrying through the doors, the first thing that caught my eye was that Santa had his own cafe, a cute corner outlined with colorful striped wallpaper. Not thinking Santa to have a decent coffee operation (I believed him more into cocoa), I initially passed it by but after a sweep past and noticing the non-oily beans in the espresso hopper, I questioned the jolly barista as to their coffee wares. It turned out that they serve North Pole Coffee Roasting Company, using their espresso blend (I believe Espresso Classic) for their shots and the North Pole Blend in their pump pots. 

Curious, I ordered a doubleshot and a cup of the drip, and on both accounts I was pleasantly surprised. The espresso, though pulled a little long (about 3-4 oz) and with thick, blonde crema, it held a milky texture with the flavors of bitter cocoa, cinnamon and gingerbread, which were not only fitting but a delicious combination. The drip smacked of almond milk, chocolate, beef broth, oregano, light tea and a light/medium body. I did not note the tea.  

With a ho ho ho, I polished off my drinks and deemed my stop at Santa's abode a nice surprise. Were the baristas a little more fanatical in their espresso skillty / coffee prep (as the coffee itself seemed fresh, tasty and well-roasted), the coffee here could be top notch. If you ever manage a trip to North Pole, AK make sure to pay Santa a visit at the Santa Claus House. 

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Mugged: Ethiopian Sidamo [Kifu]

What does Mugged mean?

Mugged: Ethiopian Sidamo Korate
Rating: 5+ [see key]
If there's anything that warms my heart, it's a microroaster that roasts good beans and gives back to the community. Take Kentucky's Kifu Coffee Roasters, a coffee company created out of a non-profit coffee fundraiser that turned into a for-profit company that gives back to the global community 5% of their profits through various programs such as Cows for Communities.

Recently, Kifu sent me out a few coffees to try and the first I cracked into was their Ethiopian Sidamo Korate Natural, a Kifu-proclaimed "fruit bomb" (i.e a coffee with heavy notes of fruit, usually blueberry or blackberry, showing up strongly in the cup). I tried the coffee out via drip, siphon and french press.

The drip produced a coffee that kicked off with bright blueberry, light chocolate, flemish sour ale, vienna fingers, virgin olive oil and oats amidst a medium body. A bright and nicely faceted coffee.

The french press threw out similar notes of blueberry and flemish ale, but it had more chocolate and olive oil, as well as some notes of wheat, all within a medium body. This infusion was not as bright as the first but it was still good.
The siphon really had the most in terms of chocolate, followed by blueberry, flemish ale, vienna finges, olive oil and oatmeal in a medium body. Also not as bright as the drip but still delicious. 

As fruit bombs go, I can't say that Kifu's Ethiopian was the brightest, but I can say that it was still a fine coffee, having a nice range of flavors in addition to a pleasantly sweet acidity. If you're looking for a bright coffee you can feel good about buying, give Kifu's Ethiopian a slurp. 

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mugged: Sumatra Kopi Luwak [Sea Island]

What does Mugged mean?

Subject: Sea Island Coffee 
Mugged: Sumatra Kopi Musang
Rating: 4+ [see key]

While I normally strongly push for buying locally, every once in a while it's interesting to get a product from afar. Similarly, I normally review coffees within the continent but to spice up my pace, I was afforded the chance recently to review some coffee from Sea Island Coffee out of London. Sea Island focuses on rare and well-processed coffees, offering such high-priced beans as Kopi Luwak and Jamaican Blue.

Of the two coffees I received, first up was their Sumatra Kopi Musang, a Kopi Luwak coffee that (refreshingly) lacked all the fancy stickers promising authenticity. More concerned about its overall taste and less about whether it all came from a civet, I plowed into the bag infusing the coffee via drip, siphon and french press.

The drip brought out notes of bourbon, wheat, cranberry, Total (the cereal) and maple syrup amidst a medium body. A good brew that proved sweet and mellow.

The french press held similar flavors, with notes of cherry, maple syrup, biscuits, a bit of bourbon, some bacon and a light/medium body. Also sweet and a little richer than the drip.

The siphon held out cherry, wheat, biscuits, bran and a little milk within a medium body. This sampling had much more of a single dimension to it, though still tasty.

Amongst the Kopi Luwaks I've had, this one ranks at the top (sadly I've sampled only a few and some weren't good at all). Amidst coffees, the coffee had a pleasant sweetness along with some hardy notes, but the coffee didn't have the depth of flavor that I would have liked. Still, if you're looking for an affordable and decent Kopi Luwak, give Sea Island's Sumatra Kopi Musang a swirl.

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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

CC: Dogwood Coffee

What does CC mean?

Subject: Dogwood Coffee
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

A rainy, early morning can really slow down the energy levels. Its on such mornings that a promise of a good coffee stop effectively gets a kick in my jig and roar in my belly. One such morning in the Twin Cities, I made plans to make my first stop at a local coffee establishment called Dogwood Coffee. A Minnesota coffee roaster and purveyor with a lot of reputed clout, their uptown location beckoned to me like a benevolent siren through the torrents of rain.

Landing at the large brick building that houses Dogwood, I sauntered inside to find the operation off to the left, occupying an open space where the border between the cafe and building lobby was at best ambiguous. Dogwood's back wall was effectively used for storage and they sported several counters, making the feel more akin to a barista competition, and topped it all with a pleasant peninsula of seating towards the front of the building. 

As I arrived close to opening, I had the barista to myself and took my time in deciding. I ended up a with a doubshot of their espresso blend and a clover of their Burundi. The espresso, pulled short with a light brown crema, had a nice lemony brightness, some coriander, filet mignon, merlot and a bit of salt, all in all a tasty pair of shots with some nice character. The Burundian coffee delivered a vibrant, delicious brew, holding notes of peach, spinach, beef broth, carrot, jasmine tea and hints of sassafras and cocoa, all within a medium, french-press-like body. The tea is free leaf.

Finishing up my coffee in the AM tranquility, I relished my Dogwood experience and heartily look forward to revisit one day. Make your way to Dogwood in Minneapolis if you happen to be in the area. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mugged: Kona [Brewklyn Grind]

What does Mugged mean?
Mugged: Brewklyn Kona
Rating: 5+ [see key]

While Hawaii and Brooklyn are two of the farthest apart points in the US (check a map), you can get a dose of each in Brewklyn's Kona. The second of the two coffees I had the pleasure of reviewing from Brewklyn Grind (here's the first), I made quick work of this coffee amidst the usual three means of infusion (drip, french press and siphon).

The drip delivered notes of caramel, half & half, graham cracker, sage and walnuts amidst a smooth, medium body.

The french press differed in some odd-but-good ways, offering flavors of sassafras, graham cracker, bran, filet mignon and cinnamon amidst a heavier body.

The siphon was a compromise between the prior two infusions, holding graham cracker, butter, bran, sage and a little cherry amidst a medium body.

Overall, I liked this coffee a great deal, as it offered some pleasant, sweet flavors along with some differing notes of spices and a pleasant acidity. Not the hands-down-best Kona I've ever had, but a high contender. Give Brewklyn Kona a try if you're looking for a quality American coffee.

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

Sunday, November 06, 2011

CC: Sightglass Coffee

Location: San Francisco, CA
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Finally I was able to make it back to San Francisco, a feat that has taken me since the spring of 2007 to duplicate. And in this time, the city has exploded with numerous quality coffee prospects, some more on tongue tips than others. One that I had heard great volumes of was of Sightglass Coffee, a small, seasonal-focused coffee roaster run by the Morrison siblings.  

Wasting little time, I got my traveling companions out of bed promptly on our first day and made a bee line to meet a local friend at Sightglass' spacious coffeehouse. The building is slightly nondescript from the outside, but within the space blossoms into an open atrium of wood, with the coffee bar in the middle, lots of space upstairs (it was roped off when I came) and a nice seating area along the front window. 

Ordering, I chose an espresso of Owl's Howl (their e. blend) and a pourover of their Ethiopian (I don't recall whether it was the Yirgacheffe or the Guji Shakiso). The espresso, pulled short with a brown crema, held notes of smoked pork, bright tangerine, peanuts, fresh broccoli and a little cocoa, producing an all together scrumptious espresso. The pourover of the Ethiopian lent flavors of mango, some fig, black tea, olives, a tad of caramel and buttered rye bread within a light/medium body. The pourover proved splendid as well. 

I would now say that all of the hype was well-deserved, as Sightglass delivered superior coffee infusions and did it smoothly. The only area of improvement could be in terms of adding a little more warmth to the overall decor (twas a bit bland) but this was a critique brought up mostly by my companions. If you're hankering for a quality cup of coffee, set your sights on Sightglass Coffee.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Mugged: Peru [Target]

Subject: Target
Mugged: Peru San Ignacio
Rating: 4+ [see key]

In my second whirl of Target's Direct Trade coffee, I took their Peru San Ignacio for a spin. As I mentioned in the first review, these direct trade coffees from Target are certainly a step in the right direction as far as fair trade is concerned. Yet being a big chain, the question of freshness arises and as it seems, is still a challenge (i.e. I bought a bag at Target and it was a bit stale).

But overall questions of freshness and sustainability aside, I tested this bag of coffee on its own merits via the usual three infusions of drip, siphon and french press.

The drip produced a noticeable flavors of wheat grass, maple bacon, elderflower, a bit of ginger and oats. The body was subtle and of a medium heaviness.

The french press delivered similar notes of wheat grass, elderflower and oats but bacon was absent, though a little maple showed up like a surprise co-host. The body was also medium.

The siphon came back in force with the maple bacon as well as elderflower, wheat grass and oats with a similar medium body.

In summation, this bag of coffee was fresh and had some pleasant flavors, but the coffee didn't really knock my socks off. If you're in the bind for a decent, sweet Peruvian, give Target's a try, but be warned that it might not be within the 2 week peak freshness.

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


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mugged: Colombia [Superba]

Subject: Superba Coffee 
Mugged: Colombia San Agustin
Rating: 4+ [see key]

While intriguing origins don't usually really affect the taste of the coffee, it sure makes drinking the coffee more of an experience. Take San Agustin in Colombia, a municipality that has a lot of pre-1492 archeology such as stone sculptures and artifacts.

Knowing that the coffee I sip grew in the same soil makes it seem that much more exotic. Of course, when I recently reviewed Superba's Colombia San Agustin, I reviewed it as I would any other coffee, sampling it objectively via drip, siphon and french press.

The drip produced notes of milk chocolate, strawberry, a bit of corn pops and imperial stout, wheat and irony romaine amidst a potent, medium body.

The french press shot out milk chocolate, corn pops, strawberry, grass and a bit of clove in a medium body.

The siphon held much firmer notes of honey and corn pops, followed with milk chocolate, apple, grass and salt amidst a light/medium body.

To sum up, I liked this coffee a bunch (sweet and robust) but some of the aftertastes (romaine and clove) did not fly my flag as strongly. Thus, when you're eying up a good Colombian coffee from an ancient land, give Supera's San Agustin a go.

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CC: Black Sheep

Location: South St. Paul, MN
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Of all the mammals to be used in a coffeehouse name, goats seem to be the most popular (due to the legend of coffee's origin by a goat herder) but right on the goat's heels, I would hypothesize is it's fellow Bovidae-ite, the sheep (note that these are guesses; I have no hard data). Of course names mean nothing to me as far as attraction (I'd patronize a place called 'The Fly and Vomit' if it served good coffee), yet the love of herded farm animals in names still intrigues me.

Lo, on a trip out to the Twin Cities, I found a non-sheepish coffee operation called the Black Sheep. Named for a couple of interesting reasons, the Black Sheep Coffee Cafe drew me into their pasture with lots of glowing accolades from the prior visits of coffee lovers and hence, it was one of my first stops in the Twin Cities.. 

Located in a large facility complete with parking, their interior boasts a warm environment with a fireplace, lounge chairs and plenty of table seating in a well-lit space. They roast their own coffee, and after a bit of deliberation and guidance from the jovial barista, I ordered a cup of their Colombian Cup of Excellence via a Clover brewer and an espresso of the Summer Espresso Blend. 

The Clovered Colombian doled out frosted wheat, prune, light chocolate, clover honey and wheat grass; an splendidly sweet and mellow coffee amidst a light/medium body. The espresso, pulled short with brown crema, also proved sumptuous, with the flavors of deep cocoa, scone, plain yogurt, raspberry jam and a little saltiness. The tea is free leaf.

Thus, if you happen to be seeking out a stellar coffeehouse that stands out from the typical coffee herd, give Black Sheep Coffee Cafe a bleeting chance. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mugged: Ethiopian [Brewklyn Grind]


Mugged: Ethiopia Queen City Harrar
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Though I'm a big fan of superb coffee all over the country, I find an extra sprinkling of joy when I find a quality coffee operation in the Northeast. Aside from the proximity and buying relatively local, it does my heart good to see more and more exposure to good beans for the average person out here(such as what VisitPhilly did with this fairly spot-on Foodspotting coffee map).

Going a little further north to Brooklyn, I had gotten word of a coffee roaster called Brewklyn Grind Coffee and Tea. A small-batch coffee roaster in Brooklyn that is not originally-from-the-west-coast is neat enough, but their story really resonated with me. Basically the company grew from a couple of local fellas (brothers I think) who started out with a household coffee passion that grew into a roasting outfit to not only celebrate fine coffee but also Brooklyn.

So to give me a taste of their passion, they sent me out two coffees, the first being the Ethiopia Queen City Harrar. I brewed this medium roast via drip/filter, siphon and french press.

The drip dropped off a cup with notes of raisins, peanuts with the red chaff, subtle Dr. Pepper and a little bran amidst a milky texture and medium body.

The french press was also milky but had much more brightness more akin to blueberry and still had flavors of Dr. Pepper, cocoa and nuts.

The siphon was similar to the french press, with notes of blueberry, Dr. Pepper and cocoa amidst a milky, medium body and a small accent of black pepper.

While I didn't find the drip as spectacular as the french press and siphon, I felt all three were very tasty infusions and exemplified a stellar Ethiopian coffee. If you're in the mood for a good African coffee, give Brewklyn's Harrar a try.  

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mugged: Costa Rica [Superba]

What does Mugged mean?

Subject: Superba Coffee
Mugged: Costa Rica Santa Laura
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Costa Rica has always held my intrigue as a mystical place, though (sadly?) it all traces back to a fictitious route, when I read Jurassic Park as a teen. Since then, I have come to know folks and learn a great deal about this lovely isthmus of a country.

Of course, one of my chief loves of Costa Rica is its coffee. I've had several coffees from the region that have knocked my socks off (as well as a few that have kept them on) and while roasters truly hold the glamorous role in bringing forward the final product, we all know the true heroes are the farmers.

Relatively recently, I received some coffee from Superba Coffee out of California, with one of the coffees being their Costa Rica Santa Laura. Having had a decent experience with Superba before, I ripped into this bag and sampled it via drip, french press and siphon.

The siphon produced a delicious brew with notes of merlot, chocolate, honey, powdered sugar and hazelnut with a milky texture and a medium body.

The drip held more powdered sugar as well as shredded wheat, a little cinnamon and cake donut within a milky, light/medium body.

The french press rolled out a lot like the drip, with prominent powdered sugar and cake donut, shredded wheat and a little cinnamon amidst a milk-like, light/medium body.

All three infusions, though a bit different in scope, had a beautiful arrangement of multifaceted sweet flavors as well as a nice acidity. If you're looking for a good Costa Rican coffee, give Santa Laura a swig.

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

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mugged: Singletrack [Rocky Mountain Roastery]

Mugged: Singletrack
Rating: 3+ [see key

Whether it's all of the Coors Light ads that aired during my childhood or just my love for mountains, I always wanted to live somewhere like Colorado. Sure, I did live in beautiful Bozeman, Montana for almost a year, but my short stint there only made said desire more prominent. I believe it's the laid back atmosphere, the crisp air and the mountains that hold their sway over me.

Thus, when I receive a product from a place in the western mountains, my oregon trail desires rear up and I picture myself sitting on a rustic porch made of fresh timber, breathing in the mountain air and enjoying the nice weather. This is especially true of good coffee, as there's nothing like a delicious cup of coffee amidst mountainous views.

But in receiving a pound of coffee from Rocky Mountain Roastery to objectively review, I wasn't sure what to expect as I had not really heard too much of them. Located in beautiful Fraser/Winter Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain Roastery seems to have a wide variety of coffees on their website, ranging from light to really dark. I got to sample their Singletrack Blend, a "full bodied" coffee (I found the coffee fairly dark in roast), via drip (filter), french press and siphon infusions and here is what I got.

The drip produced deep notes of peanut, molasses, bitter herbs, tobacco and a little vanilla within a medium body.

My cup of the french press held similar notes of peanut, pepper, molasses, tobacco and vanilla in a similar body.

The siphon held much stronger notes of tobacco, peanut and pepper but had a super sweet honey flavor as well as hints of vanilla and orange amidst a light/medium body.

Overall, I found the coffee had a little too much bitter flavors (tobacco & pepper) but there were some nice sweet flavors as well as a tinge of nuttiness. I might really like this coffee it were roasted a little lighter.

Thus, while I can't say I would pick this particular coffee over others for a nice, relaxing mountain retreat, I wouldn't turn it down either. Give Rocky Mountain Roastery's Singeltrack a try if you're looking for a sweet dark coffee.

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

CC: SteamDot

Subject: SteamDot
Location: Anchorage, AK
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

While ambiance is not everything, it's always welcome, especially when not expected.

One of my earlier stops in Alaska was a place in the southern portion of Anchorage called SteamDot. A coffee roaster that popped up in some of my initial searches, SteamDot appeared to be a good stop. My arrival at their sharply decorated store, a cafe full of large windows, bright colors and snazzy furniture, seemed to re-convey confidence that this coffeehouse was no dud (albeit purely based on the notion that if you have a stellar design, you must have amazing coffee to pay for it).

Moving onto the coffee, I ordered an espresso of their Single Origin Brazil and a pourover of the Nicaragua. Watching the process of concocting my drinks, they really seemed to know their away around their classy-looking pourovers and the espresso machine, another sign that usually the coffee has promise.

But in tasting my drinks, I found both coffees to be a little too dark to be truly pleasant. The espresso, pulled short with a blond crema, tasted of vanilla, ginger and a little nut, yet all amidst a noticeable bitterness like overly steeped black tea as well as a noticeable burnt flavor. The pourover of the Nicaraguan held notes of a darker coffee, with tobacco and bitter cocoa being prominent over the other flavors of cherry, walnut, sugar and grass. The tea is free leaf.

Thus, it seems that either SteamDot believes in a darker roast spectrum or I hit their shop on an off day. Yet despite my darker-then-expected drinks, don't write off SteamDot; the cafe is gorgeous and it has the tools to be a superb place. Give it a try if you're in town.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Mugged: El Salvador [Target]

Subject: Target
Mugged: El Salvador Buena Vista
Rating: 4+ [see key

The concept of well-roasted coffee obtained through socially responsible methods is something that is not new to the coffee world. Yet this concept was all but unreachable to retail giants until recently, when Target became one of the first to take the dive into the small niche market of quality, direct trade coffee. Archer Farms, Target’s food brand, recently began offering Direct Trade coffee of varying roast levels. Shortly after they began offering said coffees, they sent me out two varieties to try and here’s what I thought of the first.

Contrary to my fears, Target’s El Salvador did not arrive stale but actually pretty close to the date of roasting. Getting straight to the punch line, I brewed up the coffee in the usual three methods of french press, drip and siphon.

The drip delivered notes of wheat grass, maple bacon, elderflower, a little ginger and oats within a subtle, medium body.

The french press held similar flavors, with the wheat grass and elderflower dominating the ginger and oats. And while there was also a smacking of maple syrup, bacon did not show up here in this medium bodied pressed brew.

The siphon brought back the maple bacon, along with elderflower, wheat grass and oats in a medium body.

I was about to proclaim this a fairly superb coffee when an opportunity arose for me to obtain a bag of this coffee from my local Target. Alas, it was too good to be true, as I was let down with the coffees freshness in this purchased bag. Sure some of the flavors glided through, but the bean age really obscured a lot of the good flavors.

Thus, it seems the problems of mass production still keep quality, fresh coffee from stores like Target. BUT, if you are a person that only buys their coffee at massive stores, definitely try out Archer Farm’s Direct Trade coffee (whole bean only). Amidst the lesser options on the adjoining racks, at least there’s a good chance you’ll get some good coffee.

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

CC: Three Fish

What does CC mean?

Subject: Three Fish
Location: Ocean City, NJ
Free WiFi ? :yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

As the summer came to a close last week, I finally got around to posting about another summertime coffee venue in lovely Ocean City. Though it will probably be too late for this season, it will hopefully give folks something to look forward to for next summer. 

Three Fish is a coffee stand on the Ocean City Boardwalk on the 1300 block. Taking up the footprint of about 3 photo booths, the place has a beautiful simplicity to it in both name and menu. In chatting with the owner and barista, he mentioned he was just getting started and that he had hopes of improvements.

The coffee is the Avanti Blend from Vista Clara Coffee Roasters and the espresso blend is from Red House Coffee Roasters. The espresso, served in a small paper cup, held notes of bittersweet cocoa, lemon, ginger, salt, sesame seeds, a little spinach and rock candy amidst a brown crema and a short/medium pull. The coffee, though a tad dark, held bitter tobacco, apricot, bran, cinnamon, slight sassafras and a medium body. I did not note any teas.

While I did find the espresso pleasant, I felt the drip was not all that great (the coffee was masked by darker oils) but easily fixable with a quick switch of the beans. Maybe next year will prove better; only time will tell. Stop by Three Fish if they are still open or put them on your agenda for your next NJ beach vacation. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mugged: All Day Light Roast [Deep Cello]


Subject: Deep Cello 
Coffee Mugged: All Day Light Roast
Rating: 4+ [see key
While I love all types of musical implements, few have such a deep effect on me as a well-played cello. One of the few instruments that can weave a harmony so powerfully and so sweetly, it surprises me that there are not more cello players out there (at least in my sphere).

In this way, cellos and coffees share the same scale of prospect. A quality cello played by a masochist is much like a good coffee crop roasted poorly, and visa versa. Deep Cello, a coffee roaster out of Portland, seems to abide by this aspiration of providing well-produced coffees in a well-prepared manner to best equip the public with a quality coffee. I recently tried out they're All Day Light Roast and after sampling it via drip, siphon and french press, here is what I discovered.

The drip wove notes of milk chocolate, wheat, fig, birch and a slight taste of cream. A light-bodied coffee with a nice mellow sweetness. 

The french press was more akin to honey nut cheerios, caramel, wheat, cream and birch, all within a light body with a nice mellow sweelness.

The siphon held similar flavors, with honey nut cheerios, apple and a touch of cream soda all in a light body. 

To put it simply, the easy drinkability and euphoric sweet flavors amidst a smooth body made this a coffee close to a decently-played cello amidst a summer setting sun. Give Deep Cello's All Day Light Roast a chance.

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

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mugged: Guatemala [Rogue Coffee]


Coffee Mugged: Guatemala Finca Bourbon
Rating: 3+ [see key

Oregon is a state that continually fascinates me the more I explore it. Sure, most people (myself included) rave about Portland but as it is with most states, there are tons of curious spots to discover off the beaten path, like south Oregon's Rogue Valley. While I have not been (yet), the place seems like an interesting (mostly) rural area; it boasts a wine country, plenty of outdoor sights and of course, some prospects of good coffee. 

One new-to-me coffee entity to appear on my radar was Rogue Coffee Roasters. As they sent over a bag of their Guatemala Finca Bourbon to try, it not only lead me to explore the coffee, but the area as well (hence above).  

Onto the coffee, I sampled it via the drip, french press and siphon infusions. While I believe the coffee was categorized a light roast, the beans were fairly dark.

The drip emanated notes of oregano and tobacco with an underlying caramel, as well as cinnamon, granola and rye bread amidst a medium body. A dark yet sweet brew.

The french press held stronger notes of caramel and less tobacco, as well as oolong tea, rye, frosted flakes and sweet cream. A much sweeter and lighter bodied cup.

The siphon lent unique flavors of vanilla, cloves, cherry and hazelnut as well as the oolong, frosted flakes and tobacco of the prior infusions. 

All in all, I had my doubts at first as to whether this dark coffee would be a decent coffee but whether it needed a day to mature between the drip and french press infusions or some other factor changed, this coffee got better as I went along. Still, it was a little too dark (especially if it is truly a light roast) and I think I would have liked it more if it were lighter. 

Whether you're in the area or on the opposite coast, give Rogue's Guatemala a try if you're out for a smoky and sweet coffee.

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

CC: Social House


Subject: Social House
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Free WiFi ? :yes 
Rating: 6+ [see key

Vegas is definitely a land of where appetites fare strongly. Between the buffets, endless oceans of gambling and the various shows, there's plenty to take in. 

Yet for all of their indulgent opportunities, Las Vegas is but beginning to blossom with their quality coffee scene. As I mentioned in other posts, only years ago there was not one decent place to grab a well-prepared coffee. But slowly, different places are opening up. 

In my online perusals, I had heard of a sushi place serving great siphoned coffee called the Social House, located all to conveniently at the Crystals on the Strip. The unfortunate part was that as an upscale sushi venue, they did not open until 5 pm and so it took a pre-dinner miracle to make it over for some coffee. 

Walking in, I confirmed that it's clearly a restaurant aiming more for customers seeking a classy night scene versus a park-with-your-laptop coffeehouse. Amidst the suave Asain decor, the coffee bar was located off to the one side unmanned. Fearing they weren't serving coffee, I approached the hostess and asked how I would go about obtaining some coffee, to which she said she would need to track down a specific gentleman (I don't recall his name) and sure enough 5 minutes later he arrived and the adventure began.

I admit that when I had heard that the Social House made a good siphoned coffee, I was hesitant as I had been to Asian restaurants that served siphon coffee to keep with cultural trends. But after examining their choice of beans (True Beans Coffee Roasters), their expensive halogen/siphon set-up similar to the one that had made a big splash in CA in 08 and the barista's knowledge/performance, I quickly began seeing a lot more potential in this unassuming coffee bar.

I ordered their Ethiopian Harrar via siphon and a doubleshot of the True Espresso blend. The barista navigated the siphon operation smoothly and poured a cup smacking of wheat, blueberry, caramel, almond, cocoa (which increased as it cooled) and a touch of grass within a medium body (scrumptious). The espresso, pulled well with a marbled crema, displayed notes of bright chocolate-covered cherries, ginger and jasmine, all in a nice balance (a surprisingly good spro). They serve also a vast assortment of teas. 

Leave it to an upscale sushi joint with no morning hours to be the coffee star of the Strip. If you happen to be near the Crystals and in the mood for a great evening coffee, stop by the Social House.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

CC: Kopplin's Coffee


Location: St. Paul, MN
Free WiFi ? :yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Fortune favors the prepared. But in my recent trip to the Twin Cities, my research did not prepare me for one of my coffee stops to be closed due to a sudden emergency. Fortunately, the shop was only closed for a few hours and after a delicious breakfast (and later lunch) at the Copper Dome (oh potato pancakes, how you make me swoon) as well as some other minor tourism, I made my way to my original coffee destination, Kopplin's Coffee.

Praises of Kopplin's put it high on my list and their choice of coffee (they used Terroir Coffee for my order) confirmed at least decent beverages awaited. Their cafe is a small store front across the street from a high school with a cozy, green-walled interior with a nice wood floor, white-tiled ceiling and red chairs providing a fair amount of room.

Onto my order, from the uber-friendly barista I requested an espresso of Terroir's Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and a Clover-crafted cup of Costa Rica La Minita. The Costa Rican rolled out flavors of straw, almond, cream, apple and a little tootsie roll amidst a light body and a smooth profile (delicious, even if "straw" doesn't sound it). The espresso, pulled short on a nice lever Mirage, resounded whiskey, deep cocoa, nutmeg and lemon with a dark brown crema (a splendid espresso). The tea is free leaf.

Few high schools can boast to have such a fine coffee purveyor so conveniently placed. If you're in St. Paul, go out of your way to sample Kopplin's Coffee.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mugged: Brazil [Old Soul]


What does Mugged mean?

Subject: Old Soul Co. 
Coffee Mugged: Brazil Macaubas
Rating: 5+ [see key]

The final coffee of the three bags of Old Soul I received was their Brazil Macaubas. While much of Brazil usually blasts out a lot of low-grade coffee for your coffee giants, this coffee claimed to be a great, single estate coffee. As usual, I dove in using three different types of coffee infusion to test the coffee.

Using a standard coffee pourover (drip) method, the coffee brewed up notes of caramel, cashew, chocolate chip, potato skin, thyme and a little milkiness in a medium body. A good start.

The french press squeezed out an infusion with flavors more akin to pear, honey, wheat, sunflower seeds as well as a tinge of licorice and spinach. While I found this coffee slightly different then the drip, it had a lot of similarities in profile and was also delicious.

The siphon delivered similar to the french press with notes of clove, honey, peanut chaff and wheat amidst a heavy body. A solid cup.

In the end, I was pleased to conclude that this was indeed a fine coffee from Brazil. If you're looking for a good South American coffee with a delightful sweet and nutty profile, give this coffee a whirl.. 

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

CC: Sea Bean


Subject: Sea Bean
Location: Seward, AK
Free WiFi ? :yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

In preparing for a day trip to Seward, Alaska I did some quick research to determine what the expedition would hold. While I found some local pointers and sites online (such as to visit Exit Glacier near town), I found most of my good tips from the nice folks who ran the Hutch, a local B&B in Cooper Landing. They mentioned Ray's Waterfront for a scrumptious lunch and the quaint downtown area for some shopping.

But when it came to good coffee in Seward, both the internet and locals did not give much in terms of hope. And since hidden gems seem to rarely surface, I had resolved to keep an eye out but not to get my hopes up for decent coffee. Fast forward to our arrival in town, we decided to check out some of the local shops on 4th Street. I was walking and spotted a bright green awning that said "Espresso, Internet and Ice Cream." Initially, I reasoned that I had seen this kind of advertisement all over Alaska and before I could look further into the establishment, my gut judged it as a sub-par place. Walking past it again about 20 minutes later, a few members of my party pointed it out and questioned as to why I hadn't tried the place out yet. In verbalizing my earlier pompous, book cover judgement, my party quickly descended on my shallow outlook and urged me to at least walk in and check it out.

Thank God my companions challenged me. I walked into the demurely decorated coffeehouse with warm red walls, chic yet Alaskan furniture and a nice atmosphere, up to the counter where I noticed two things of great promise. The first was a lever espresso machine; a manual means of extracting espresso usually reserved for espresso geeks. The second was the Intelligentsia Coffee logo, beaming with the substantial rays of hope that this was indeed an overlooked pearl.

I engaged the barista in coffee chatter and the longer I stood there, the more positive my outlook grew. His skills in pulling my shots of Black Cat espresso seemed polished plus my cup of their house blend smelled delicious. And in a few sweet sips, it was confirmed that I cannot trust my gut to judge coffeehouses by their awnings. The house blend drip demonstrated notes of caramel, grass, wheat, a bit of cocoa and sage all amidst a smooth, light body; a delicious cup of what seemed like a South American-type coffee. The espresso held bright lemon, ginger, rosemary, milk chocolate, with a velvety texture amidst a brown healthy crema and a short/medium volume (a fine showing of Black Cat). The tea is Intelligentsia, Golden Moon and others. 

Needless to say, my compatriots did not let me live it down that I almost passed up such a wonderful specimen. If you're ever in the area of Seward, don't make the blunder I almost made. Go to the Sea Bean.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mugged: Toarco AA [Old Queens]


What does Mugged mean?

Subject: Old Queens Coffee
Coffee Mugged: Toarco AA, Indonesia
Rating: 5+ [see key]

I always thought New Brunswick, NJ would be a good home for a great coffeehouse. And while the folks at Old Queens Coffee don't have a retail location yet, they do the town proud by pumping out great coffee to local cafes and coffee drinkers from their local roastery.

Just recently, I had the pleasure of trying out their Toarco AA a wet-processed coffee from Sulawesi, Indonesia. As I've had OQ coffees in various coffeehouses, I was truly intrigued to try out this one in my home coffee apparatuses. I brewed the coffee via drip, siphon and french press.

The drip birthed a brew of milk chocolate, pear, almond, buttery cracker and a hint of clove. The body was surprisingly heavy though it went down smoothly and sweetly.

The french press had more of wheat and sugar as well as cocoa, pear, almond and minute ginger amidst a medium body.

The siphon more resembled the drip, with milk chocolate, pear, butter, a nice nuttiness and sugary black tea.

While I can't say for sure, these beans were possibly some of the best Indonesian coffee I've sunk my proverbial teeth into. If you're looking for a great coffee from Oceania, give OQ's Toarco AA a go.

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

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

CC: Grape and Bean


Subject:  Grape and Bean
Location: Alexandria, VA
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Over the past few years, coffee has gained a lot of ground in coming from a ubiquitous morning beverage to a concoction revered for its numerous complexities and nuances, finally joining the likes of wine and beer in appreciation. To compliment this growing awareness, lots of establishments have begun to offer top-notch coffee along with quality beers (on tap if you're lucky) and high-scoring wines by the glass. 

While this melding of great coffee and spirits has only infiltrated certain states (mainly due to the high costs of licenses), they seem to thrive where they pop up. One such venue that recently found its way into my schedule is a place called the Grape and Bean. Sitting in Old Town Alexandria, this wine and coffee bar serves patrons some of the finest coffee (when I visited, it was Stumptown, Novo and Counter Culture) and a hand-picked selection of wines. 

Stopping in on one balmy afternoon, I was happy to rest my bones at their spacious bar. The interior is not overflowing with seating but the ambiance is spiffy and there are plenty of chairs out front. Locking onto their coffee menu, I noted that they don't offer espresso but proudly work their Clover operation. I ordered a cup of Novo's Ojo De Agua from Volcan, Panama via their Clover. The ensuing brew paraded out notes of honey nut cheerios, cream, multigrain bread and fuji apple amidst a smooth and light body. The tea is Devi Tea. 

Alexandria can boast a gem in the Grape and Bean. When you walk those historic lanes, make a detour for a good cup of coffee or fine glass of wine. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

CC: Vosges Haut-Chocolat

What does CC mean?

Subject: Vosges Haut-Chocolat
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating: 3+ [see key]

For many people, boutique chocolate consists of Whitman Samplers, Godiva and Ghirardelli, all of which can be easily picked up at your neighborhood pharmacy or department store. But if you really want to get quality exotic chocolates, the big name I know is Vosges, who not only focuses on great ingredients but also focuses on unconventional yet tasty combinations (like aged balsamic vinegar, hazelnuts and chocolate, not to mention a full line of bacon truffles).

When I was in Vegas, I made my way over one afternoon not for the chocolates but for the coffee. I had heard that their Las Vegas store served Intelligentsia coffee, a tip that upon arrival proved true. With little delay I plopped down at their bar and ordered a double espresso yet as the barista began, I became aware of an odd difference. I had initially noticed the absence of a typical commercial coffee grinder for the espresso but what followed next shocked me a bit. The barista pulled out a pre-made, pre-ground espresso pod with an Intelligentsia wrapper.

Taken back, as Intelligentsia rides a high horse of coffee quality and prepackaged espresso pods seemed like quite a fall from the saddle, I inquired to the barista as to why they didn't just get whole beans and grind them there. Not knowing much, she fetched her boss. The boss' reasoning was that their location in Caesars Palace amidst the Forum Shops did not pull in enough coffee traffic to warrant the investment. Yet, since quality coffee was still a part of their menu, they struck up a deal with Intelligentsia to send them the pre-ground pods close to roasting, with the understanding that Vosges would use the pods as quickly as possible (I believe she said within the week of receiving them). While I mentioned that I understood the reasoning, it still seemed like a lot of work for a lesser quality product.

Of course, I still imbibed the espresso I originally ordered. The shot was fairly long (voluminous), with blonde crema and it smacked of milk chocolate, nutmeg, a bit of milk and peanut. To put it simply, the shots contained far too much volume and hence were the least potent shots of Black Cat (the espresso blend) that I've had. But strangely enough, the ensuing beverage was still actually pretty tasty and I finished it quite easily.

While I was slightly depressed with finding that Vosges has a great coffee supplier but not the tools to adequately utilize it, it did help to put it into perspective that they never claimed to serve amazing coffee. Thus, if you're near Caesars Palace and you're in need of a half-decent coffee, it's still better than what surrounds it.