Saturday, July 28, 2012

CC: Urban Bean Coffee

Subject: Urban Bean Coffee
Location: Minneapolis, MN (Bryant Ave location)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

It's always nice to have a coffeehouse to yourself during the first hours of morning light. Few things couple together better than the beams of the sun, the rustling of the barista prepping for the day ahead and the taste of a delicious coffee greeting eager legions of tastebuds.

Such was my fortune one morning at Urban Bean Coffee, a lovely coffee establishment that sits as a splendid corner shop in a nice neighborhood of Minneapolis. I had awoken early to enjoy my morning cup of Dogwood prior to a days work in their beautifully designed cafe (the counter was particularly gorgeous). I had the honor of being the solo patron for about 15 minutes prior to the onslaught of regulars poured through the doors.

For my beverages, I settled on a cup of Dogwood espresso and a drip of Raccoon Blend. The espresso, pulled short with brown crema, held notes of punchy lime, watermelon, basil, bran and a pleasant mouth-feel amidst stellar sweetness. The drip dripped with honey, raisin, wheat thin, a little peanut, sassafras and oregano, all riding upon a medium body. Both infusions proved fantastic. 

If you happen to fall upon either location of Urban Bean Coffee, have a grand ol' time and drink deep.

Monday, July 23, 2012

CC: Ipsento Coffee House and Roaster

Subject: Ipsento Coffee House and Roaster
Location: Chicago, IL
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

When people associate coffee as just a means to an end, it really deflates what a true coffee break can be. Instead of a glorious delight to kick off the day or a wondrous beverage to disrupt the laborious monotony, it becomes just a simple piece to the day's puzzle. I think the time you take out for your coffee should be something that brings a twinkle to your eye and a few high kicks to your mid-morning jig. 
One bright and sunny day in Chicago, I was able to treat myself to some coffee at Ipsento Coffee House and Roaster in Bucktown. Beating the morning rush by about 15 minutes, I took my time in absorbing their cozy shop with strategic seating and lots of energy from the chipper baristas. 
As for my coffee, I settled on an espresso of their Wild Fire Blend and a drip of their Brazil. The espresso, pulled short with a brown-swirled crema, held notes of grapefruit, whiskey sour, cilantro, rye and Kashi twigs, proving to be a deliciously juicy and refreshing extraction. The Brazil wove a weave of vanilla, bran muffin, almond, paprika, and a bit of hay and honey amidst a light/medium body; a mellow and delicious coffee. 

My Ipsento coffee experience set my spirit aflame with satisfaction and glee. If you happen to be in Chicago and you're in need of great coffee, taste the wares of Ipsento.

Mugged: Indivisible Blend [Starbucks]

Subject: Starbucks
Mugged: Indivisible Blend
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Starbucks has historically been a mermaid bent on dark roasts. Instead of showcasing the nuances of coffees in light and medium roasts, the green machine put all of her chips in the cloaking flavors of dark roast oils, which tend to make most coffee taste similarly ashy and bitter. Sure some people love their darkness and many others don't even notice aside from the pungent notes of sugar and cream, but for someone who likes black coffee, I turned my back years ago and never really looked back.

But it seems the years have led Starbucks to the conclusion that some folks like light and medium roasts and hence a few months ago, they began to change their strategy with the advent of their Blonde Roast. Their lightest roast ever, free of all exterior oil, I wondered as to how these beans would fare against similar beans at chains like Dunkin Donuts. My opportunity came with their newest Blonde Roast, the Indivisible Blend, which showed up at my door a few weeks ago. Not only did it have a patriotic flare just in time for the summer holidays, but it also pledged a portion of each sale to the Create Jobs for USA fund.

With my curiosity piqued, I cracked open the bag and sampled it via drip, french press and siphon.

The drip held out notes of cookie and caramel (like a Twix), hard pretzel with extra salt, spinach and tootsie roll amidst a heavy body. Twas good but a little too salty and a bit heavy for me.

The french press proved better than the drip, holding a lighter medium body with notes of caramel and cookie, spinach, a bit of apple and a pinch of salt.

The siphon offered the best of show, with heavy flavors of caramel and cookie, almost syrupy in potency but light in body. Some salt and tootsie roll also made appearance on the end.

Though the coffee proved a tad stale in each infusion (sadly normal for large roasters), it seems Starbucks has found its non-dark roast stride amongst other giants like Archer Farms and Dunkin Donuts. If you're a fan of non-dark roasts and you frequent Big Green, sample some of their the Indivisible Blend. 

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

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mugged: Java Bean Plus

Subject: Java Bean Plus 
Mugged: Various
Rating: 4+ for Mexico and Guatemala
3+ for Costa Rica [see key]

Most coffee that you get at a coffeehouse you can also get direct from the roaster on the internet. But what if coffee roasters sourced only through their wholesale accounts, empowering each coffeehouse to be a more exclusive source for their patron's coffee? No matter your view on middle men and proprietary blends, the concept is certainly intriguing and not very common in the coffee world.

Coffee provider Java Bean Plus is one of the few coffee roasters I know of that sells their coffee exclusively through their wholesale accounts. Since I've never had a drop of their coffee before, I was curious to give three of their light roast coffees a whirl. They sent out their Mexico High Grown, Guatemala Antigua & Costa Rica Tarrazu; all of which I sampled via drip, french press and siphon (except the Costa Rica via siphon, as my siphon decided to break prior to its occurrence).

The Mexico High Grown drip produced notes of whiskey, honey, wheat cracker, a little fresh peanut and malt within a medium body; a deep but sweet coffee. The french press demonstrated wheat cracker, corn flakes, molasses, parsley, fig and some prune on the end with a lighter body; a deep wheat and sweet brew. The siphon relayed a slight whiskey, honey, cracker, heavy malt and a medium body, painting a deep, smooth and slightly sugary cup. Overall, a sweet coffee with nice notes of wheat and deep fruits.

The Guatemala Antigua drip smacked of life cereal, bran, a little cream, celery and a pinch of salt and plantain, all together making a smooth and sweet coffee with a bran shadow. The french press held glazed doughnut, prunes, spinach, salt and life cereal which was similar to the siphon that gave sweet wheat notes, life cereal, spinach and a bit of salt. In the end, a decent full coffee to sip with cereal.

The Costa Rica Tarrazu was the darkest of the three, with a noticeable but slight presence of oil on the beans. Its drip sang of malt, heavy root beer, mint, sirloin lemon pepper and sweet cream on end; a heavy bodied infusion that held a good deal of pepper and savory qualities. The french press, proving much smoother than drip, parried with root beer, cream, lemon with less pepper and some fig. As I didn't get to try out the siphon on this one, I had to go off the drip and french press in that this coffee held more savory and peppery notes then I would have liked.

While I found the Mexico and the Guatemala palatable coffees with nice flavors, I wasn't as big of a fan of the Costa Rica given it's darker qualities. Thus, if you're a coffee business looking for a decent coffee roaster who will never sell alongside you, give Java Bean Plus a go.

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

Sunday, July 08, 2012

CC: Spyhouse Coffee

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

When a good friend of mine went out to Minneapolis back in 2010, he came back with a frustrated lament of not being able to find many good coffee spots in the city. Having since scoured the City of Lakes coffee scene in my own adventures, I found his complaint emptier by the coffee stop. 

One of the glorious and slightly accidental finds was Spyhouse Coffee & Espresso on Nicollet Avenue. I had done my research prior to my arrival in the city but I did not find contentment in my final list, so on the fly I did a quick internet search for coffee nearby and BAM, I spotted Spyhouse. The qualifications spoken on their website closed the sale and I soon found myself standing outside their rather spacious corner shop, complete with an outdoor seating area that could charm most to forsake the AC. Moving inside, the digs proved visually enticing as well, with jazzy furniture, great lighting and lots of interesting art pieces. 

The coffee comes from three excellent roasters: Ritual, Verve and Coava. I had Verve's Street Level via espresso and Ritual's Monte Copey Costa Rica via Cafe Solo. The espresso, pulled short with brown crema, trumpeted delicious notes of dark cocoa, lemon, ginger, coriander and flecks of spinach and rare steak. The Costa Rican delivered cranberry, vanilla wafer, romaine, peanuts and a little caramel, all combined in a mellow yet vibrant brew. Both drinks proved well-crafted and delicious.
I count my blessings that I was able to experience some great coffee in one of their outfits. Unlike my friend, make it a point to spy out a Spyhouse location when you're in Minneapolis.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

CC: Four Barrel

Subject: Four Barrel Coffee 
Location: San Francisco, CA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

The first time I toured San Francisco in '07, the coffee scene appeared strong, touting such giants as Ritual and Blue Bottle. Yet looking back, it was not nearly as rampant as it is today so during my most recent expedition, I came with a small book full of places to hit. Close to the top of the list was Four Barrel, an establishment that had garnered much praise for their skill in roasting and attention to detail behind the coffee bar.

I made my way to their Valencia St location one afternoon. Doing an initial drive past to make sure I had the right spot, I was surprised to find the parking spaces out front outfitted with an iron-framed seating area, consisting of a wooden bar that faces the cars whizzing by (a style of outside seating that you would rarely see on the East Coast). After parking, I backpedaled to a very popular Four Barrel. The interior appeared voluminous despite the masses, with wood everywhere (rafters, bar, tables, etc) and plenty of artistic elements (like stuffed boar heads) to tie it together. 

When it came time to order, I ordered an espresso and a french press of a Kenyan. Not remembering to ask when I ordered and being deterred by a heavy volume of orders, I did not get the espresso's name, but the mystery did not detract from its pleasant flavors. The espresso was pulled short, displaying a nice brown crema and held out notes of sea salt, bourbon, balsamic vinegar, fig, au jus and croissant. The Kenyan spoke of Cream of Wheat, hazelnut, a bit of raspberry and iced tea amidst a smooth body; a refreshing coffee through and through.

At the risk of sounding obvious, Four Barrel proved well worth the stop. If you live in or pass by the city of San Francisco, make sure to make landfall at 375 Valencia St.