Sunday, December 29, 2013

CC: Cake and the Beanstalk

Subject: Cake and the Beanstalk
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Certain retail spaces seem to be perpetual coffeehouses, as if the space can harbor no other type of business. One such place is a shop on Locust between 11th and 12th that over the years has held at least two shops prior to the current tenants. Chalking up the past cafes' failure to poor quality (the coffee was swill as I remember in both cases), the current resident coffeehouse seems to be a place looking to serve quality products, a place called Cake and the Beanstalk.

Wandering over one overcast day, I found C & the B running full tilt, with a house full of chipper regulars and an atmosphere ever-bubbling. The brightly decorated cafe straddles two rooms, with the bar in the first and the seating in the second, with the seating room feeling immensely more open and airy compared to the first.

As for coffee, they offer Counter Culture staples, that day the Farmhouse for drip and the Toscano for the espresso. The Farmhouse tapped out cherry, shredded wheat, caramel, almond and a little malt ball, proving sweet with medium body. The espresso, pulled short with a light brown/blonde crema, smacked of cocoa, a little lemon and some sage, making for a slightly astringent pull that could be slightly tweaked, but was overall pretty good. I feel its also necessary to mention that true to their name, they have various cakes-by-the-slice for sale.

Thus, it is one of my prayers that the beanstalk thrives and that it continues to grow and refine its technique. If you happen to be in neighborhood (a lot of traffic seems to be for the copious amount of hospitals that are nearby), climb up the beanstalk for some coffee and cake.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mugged: Guatemala and Nicaragua [Coda Coffee]

Subject: Coda Coffee Co.
Coffee Mugged: Guatemala Batzchocola and Nicaragua Bella Aurora
Rating [see key]: both 5+

Colorado has been in the news a ton lately, sadly not much of it super positive. But one chipper piece that caught my ear came from the heralds of Roast Magazine, when they recently bestowed upon Denver's Coda Coffee Company the honor of 2014 Macro Roaster of the Year. Not a title given away flippantly, it's a distinction that recognizes Coda for it's hard work and accomplishments (I'm particularly impressed with the coffee carts in the Arizona Cardinals stadium).

Recently, I was honored to have two of their farm 2 cup coffees stop by my abode to spend a little quality time in my belly. They sent out their Guatemala Batzchocola, a coffee from the A'achimbal community, and their Nicaragua Bella Aurora, a former Cup of Excellence coffee. Both I sampled via pourover, french press and siphon.

Going alphabetically, I started with the Guatemalan beans. The pourover smacked of kavo syrup, smoked peanut, strawberry, oats, sarsaparilla and hazelnut with a medium body, proving multifaceted with a various sweet flavors and touch of smokiness. The french press contained smoked peanut, Nutella, strawberry, oats, root beer and caramel popcorn within a medium body; superbly sweet, with rich, sultry flavors. The siphon capped this fine coffee off with hazelnut, roasted peanuts, asian pear, lemon pepper, chicken, spinach and root beer, demonstrating some odd bed fellows but nonetheless, still a sumptuous coffee.

The Nicaraguan proved similarly complex. The pourover doled out heavy chocolate, habenero, smooth cream, seaweed, toasted walnut and noticeable fig. The french press sampled of chocolate, grapefruit, bran, corn tortilla, skim milk and nutmeg, with a medium body and grainy aftertaste. The siphon bellowed out chocolate, noticeable cream, seaweed, peanuts, fig cookie, slight brocolli and biscuit. Overall, the multiple infusions held a diverse and sometimes odd harmony of flavors, but each cup proved delicious.

Thus, if you happen to be near a coffeehouse that serves Coda or you wish to shop online, try out the orange juggernaut of the southwest.

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

Mugged: Kenya AA [John Hancock]

Subject: John Hancock Coffee
Coffee Mugged: Kenya AA, Roast Level 1
Rating [see key]: 4+

Roasting stands as one of the great final hurdles to a coffee. If roasted correctly, a good coffee will display its natural character with clarity and gumption; if roasted poorly, the flavors will be under-extracted or completely cloaked by burnt, bitter oils. Hence, like most things that take a lot of skills, most people leave all the details of roasting to the hands of skilled professionals.

But a few coffee roasters are letting the customers of all skill levels run the show. The only change to the game is that when someone orders a coffee, the purchaser chooses whether sir/madam wants their coffee roasted light, medium or dark. One coffee entity to champion this method is John Hancock Coffee, an online roaster that specializes in customization, both of coffee to come as light or as dark as you wish, but also in customization of some elements of packaging. To try it out, Hancock asked me to pick a coffee and a roast level, to which I picked their Kenya AA roasted light (Roast Level 1).

The coffee arrived in a white packaging, with the standard label (no need to customize packaging for me). The beans were their lightest roast, but definitely were closer to second crack in color/form. As far as infusing the beans, I sampled the coffee via pourover, french press and siphon. The pourover radiated notes of raspberry jam, light cheddar, blue corn, malt and oats in a medium body, coming off sweet and thick. The french press proved a bit lighter, with notes of oats, blue corn, some cocoa, wheat and light jam. The siphon also held notes of cocoa, blue corn, wheaty cereal and milk with a nice, creamy medium body. All in all, a flavorful coffee with a noticeable wheaty aftertaste.

Thus, while my Kenya was fairly delicious, I must say I don't know if I trust myself to regularly pick the roast level of a coffee I've never met prior. Much like I don't want to be in charge of telling a Michelin chef how to cook my scallops, I usually would rather skilled professionals take the burden of figuring out how to best roast my coffee (unless I'm roasting at home, which is another conversation). But for people who like to take the reigns and run the whole show, check out John Hancock Coffee.

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

CC: Lamplighter Roasting Company

Subject: Lamplighter Roasting Company
Location: Addison St. Cafe, Richmond, VA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

It's not too often I get to roll south to Virginia these days, but currently having a sister residing well within its borders makes future trips a bit more likely. Ten years ago, the prospect of traveling many leagues of Virginia would have been a sentence to wander a great coffee desert, but now the oases are a bit more prevalent. One such beacon of refreshment stems from Lamplighter Roasting Company in the lovely city of Richmond. With two locations, I was able to stop at their Addison St. Cafe one gloomy Friday for a brief respite. Located in an old gas station, the space utilizes the lot well, with a vast array of outside seating filling the patio, a reclusive and enclosed side patio with a huge chalkboard and lastly, a cozy interior with fixed ironing board tables.

Taking two of their coffees for a spin, I ordered an espresso of their Stylus blend and cup of their Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Kochere via drip. The espresso, pulled short/medium with a light brown crema, held notes of milk chocolate, vanilla, limade, orange, basil and slight Mr. Pib, proving bright and sweet with lots of pleasant flavors. The Kochere drip doled out blueberry, raisin, bean sprouts, little nutmeg, a bit of wheat grass and some birch beer, making for a juicy, succulent coffee.

Exceedingly pleased with Lamplighter, I left their Addison St location a happy man that day. If you happen to be in Richmond, give them your money.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Impress Coffee Brewer

Recently, I had some old friends over for a small Christmas soiree and they commented on the number of gadgets on my coffee shelf (about 8 I keep displayed). The funny thing I told them is that there are quite a bit more and that these days, there's more variations on coffee brewing than there are things you would do for a Klondike Bar.

One of the latest incarnations in coffee preperation is the immersion brewer dubbed Impress. A contraption birthed from the loins of the Gamila Company, with some help from Kickstarter, the Impress was designed to have a similar workflow as a french press, with coffee brewed in a large, double-walled metal cylinder and when three or so minutes have concluded, a smaller metal cylinder outfitted with a rubber seal and removable metal filter fits snugly in the larger container, pressing down and trapping the grinds securely at the bottom of the cup. Then, you can drink straight from the Impress with the aid of the rubber lid or you can transfer to another cup.  

Thanks to the laborers behind the Impress, I was able to try it out first had. First impression showed a solidly-constructed device, with everything made of either stainless steel or rubber. The thickly insulated outer shell that, despite holding boiling water, passes little heat onto one’s hands. The mesh cup also fits snugly into the larger insulated receptacle, with a rubber fitting at the base to ensure no grinds sneak past.

In playing around with the Impress, I found that there were really two ways to brew: the recommended way of pushing the grinds to the bottom (pictured above), and the more adventurous manner of pulling the grinds out. The endorsed method of pushing the grinds to the bottom worked great, unless you wanted to use the Impress as your mug as well, in which case you must resign your coffee to a slow over-extraction with the grinds working their magic trapped beneath the filter.

The other method of pulling the grinds out and using the outer cylinder as a mug was much more attractive. Basically, one just needs to invert the mesh filter, brew the coffee in the inner cylinder (which of course is sitting in the outer cylinder) and when ready, pull the inner cylinder up to leave the coffee behind. All in all this proved effective but I would only recommend it only to those with a steady hand and patience, as the potential for burns is very real. The thin outer rim of the inner cylinder had little to grab and the rubber seal made the pulling a bit of a tricep workout, ending with spilled coffee if you were too quick/forceful. But for all the adventure and hazard the pull method offers, it does allow for one to extract the grinds from the outer cylinder, allowing for it to be used as an insulated mug, which comes in handy especially when out of town. Also, if you're looking to filter your coffee through a paper filter, the pull method allows for use of an Aeropress paper filter on top of the Impress metal filter, so you can have sediment-free coffee if ye wish it.

Speaking of sediment, both the pull and push method (no paper filter of course) produced the usual silt I would find in french press, so I can't say there was much improvement to the metal-filtered style of immersion brewing. Also, cleaning up was a fairly simple process of just pounding the grinds into the trash, much like you would knock a portafilter, though rinsing was necessary to clean it thoroughly.

In totality, the Impress definitely improves on a few aspects of immersion brewing, mainly with its versatility, efficiency and ease in transport. And while I (along with the designers) would not extol it as a travel mug, it's a great device to bring on trips (especially if you check your bag) for simple immersion brewing. Thus, if you're looking for a sturdy device with a lot of potential uses, get yourself an Impress.

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tea of a Kind

The concept of fresh-brewed tea is a concept all but bereft from packaged goods. Sure you might pick up a bottle of iced tea that reads "freshly brewed" from your local 7-11, but the idea is somewhat incredulous that the brew sitting in the container is similar to what you could make at home with the same ingredients (minus the fancy chemicals of course).

But some companies don't see the barrier of a freshly brewed iced tea as something impossible to the bottled beverage concept, and said companies have undertaken some heavy R&D to make it a reality. Take Tea of a Kind, a bottled tea company currently only sporting three bottled tea products. But these three teas hold a distinct difference over other beverages in that the bottle only contains reverse osmosis water, with the other ingredients being stored in their patented Gizmo closure within the cap. When the cap is twisted to open the bottle the other ingredients erupt into the water to create a fresh infusion of tea.

Curious to the potential of this ingredient delivery system, Tea of a Kind sent me out their three flavors to try: Peach Ginger Black Tea, Pomegranate Acai White Tea and Citrus Mint Green Tea. All three came in sleek, curved plastic bottles filled with (what looks like) simply water.

Upon twisting the cap, the tea and other ingredients shoot out like a squid ejecting ink, making the once clear solution darkened with the sudden infusion. After about three seconds, I did a little shake to further mix the ingredients and then it was ready to ingest.

Since all three contain Stevia, each drink had that flavor of artificial sweetener that made the otherwise tasty flavors lack luster. The teas otherwise tasted similar to their names and were fairly refreshing.

All in all, the Gizmo means of delivery made for an extremely interesting beverage. I would be curious to see how it would work in an unsweetened beverage or with a beverage using sugar, as the Stevia version made these three Tea of a Kind flavors a bit off in flavor.

Thus if you're looking for a bottled iced tea with true means of fresh infusion, try out Tea of a Kind online or in a store near you.

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

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Mugged: Chania Estate and Mirador Finca La Bolsa [Tweed Coffee]

Subject: Tweed Coffee
Coffee Mugged: Guatemala Mirador Finca La Bolsa and Kenya Chania Estate
Rating [see key]: Guatemala 4+ and Kenya 5+

One of the great facets of the current coffee world is the many choices one has in coffee roasters. Gone are the days where you had a few choices as to where one obtained good beans; now, like wine and other beverages, quality variety has become extensive.

Many of the new faces in roasting have come from the expansion of coffeehouses into microroasters. It almost seems to be an inevitable progression, that if a shop excels at slinging spectacular coffee, eventually the siren call of roasting will be but too strong to resist. One of the more recent to take up the mantle of roasting is Tweed Coffee Roasters, the relatively new roasting operation calved from Houndstooth Coffee of Texas fame. I was fortunate enough to receive a package from them some weeks ago with two coffees to try out: their Kenya Chania Estate, a dry processed coffee from the area of Thika, and their Mirador Finca La Bolsa from Guatemala. Each I sampled via pourover, french press and siphon.

Starting with the Kenya pourover, the coffee demonstrated a medium-bodied brew of fuji apple, sea salt, unsweetened cocoa, rosemary, chicken broth and a bit of black tea. The french press proved less salty and richer in flavor, with strong notes of apple juice, pie crust, vanilla, white chocolate and snap peas. The siphon drew out salty caramel, fuji apple, white chocolate, snap peas and some malt. All together, a rich coffee with lots of sweet and sumptuous flavors, only proving just a tad salty.

The Guatemalan proved a touch heavier and heartier. The pourover doled out notes of berries, croissant, chorizo, apple cider, whole milk and cinnamon. The french press held croissant, apple cider, whole milk, wheat and a touch of cinnamon, all together proving lighter and sweeter but still a little spicy. The siphon proved the deepest, with notes of raisin, apple, cola, cream and nutmeg within a medium body. A sweet and deep coffee with some nice flavors and noticeable spice.

Thus Tweed arrives on the scene with some great beans and many years to further hone their craft. Check out their website to order a bag or if you happen to be in Texas, swing by one their Houndstooth affiliates.

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