Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Simplifying Good Coffee & Tea

Many places still lack good coffee and tea, even in the big cities. To avoid confusion about what I mean, let me define the terms.

When I say good coffee, I mean:
- freshly-roasted
(brought to the establishment from the roaster within days of roasting)
- correctly-roasted
(not burnt charcoal or under-roasted)
- not deceptively blended
(some places will try and sell a "Kona coffee" or "Jamaican Blue Mountain" when in fact the coffee has but 3% of the advertised java blended with 97% of other Arabica or Robusta beans)
- correctly brewed and maintained
(not left on a hot plate, not stale, not lukewarm, brewed with good water, etc.)

And when I say good tea, I mean:
- freshly stored
(not sitting out in the open, left to the elements)
- not stale
(from not being freshly stored, poorly packaged, etc.)
- correctly brewed
(water of the right temperature, brewed with good water, correct steeping time, etc.)

Now I know that most people cannot afford the time and effort of preparing good coffee and tea all the time in their homes, but businesses who profess to specialize in this arena have no excuse. A coffeehouse should have educated and willing-to-learn leaders, trying to perfect their product.

I'm no bonified expert, just one who is learning more everyday. Yet in this matter, I merely echo the sentiments of the real expertise.

Friday, June 30, 2006

CC: Ocean City Coffee Company

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Ocean City Coffee Company
Location visited: Ocean City, NJ (Boardwalk)
Free WiFi ? : don't think so
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Long ago (like 2-3 years ago), I came across OCCC. Being in the beginnings of the serious development of my coffee palate, I was fascinated by the fact that this place had a huge roaster in the front of the store. But sadly, on that day long ago, the coffee tasted horrible and I put it in the "needn't return to" category.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I was down OC with the fam and the girlfriend. A long day it had been thus far, full of beach fun, cold ocean, and a partly cloudy sky. A cup of coffee or espresso always sits well after such days. So in the absence of many choices, I decided to try OCCC again. The place was hopping with shoobes (beach tourists) and locals alike along with a flurry of movement behind the counter. The environment of the place was very grab-and-go, probably very appropriate for the bustle of the boardwalk.

Anyways, I tried the coffee and to my surprise (*gasp*) it tasted pretty dang good. Reeling, I tried another blend to find it also tasty (they have about 8 different brews that you can have, around 5 of them flavored (*gag*)). The coffee is roasted in-house and I has surprisingly improved in the past 2-3 years.

The espresso wasn't half bad either. I had an americano, which flowed very smoothly through my weary veins. The espresso was also roasted there. Regrettably, I didn't get to try any of the tea or chai.

It seems that there only downfall was their baristas. Some knew what they were doings. Others, well, not so much (one almost filled up my americano with hot tap water!!). About half of them looked a little green and could use a little more time in the roaster (haha, roasting puns).

Anyways, be encouraged vacationers and beach-dwellers; there is now a good place to get coffee on the boards of OC.

*Update 6/12/07
Added a pic from a recent visit. A year later from the original post, they're still good but still need some improvement...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

CC: Barrington Coffee House

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject:Barrington Coffee House
Location visited: Barrington, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes

Rating: 3+ [see key]

*Updated 3/21/2010

It's not often I stumble upon a coffeehouse in a Google search but I was looking for a place to meet a friend near Blackwood and had not an idea where to go. Anyways, I stumble across this article from South Jersey Magazine which spouts beautiful reviews of a couple places I've always considered mediocre. Giving the author the benefit of the doubt, I inwardly hoped that the Barrington Coffee House was as good as they said it was.

Well, I can't say I was impressed. Heck, I can't say I was even convinced this place was a full-time operation. I mean the baristas were pulling shots from a leaky espresso machine (or so it seemed) into a small metal milk pitcher. As feared when observing this incident, my americano and my friends latte suffered.

As far as the coffee, they serve Kaffe' Magnum Opus AND Calde(?). Why they have two, I don't know but whichever one I had, it wasn't bad (still nothing to wake the kids up for). The tea varied from free leaf to traditional bagged and was of good quality as far as I can tell. I didn't try the chai.

But to its credit, Barrington Coffee House apparently hosts a hopping music scene. I can't vouch to whether it's good or not, but the place is only big enough for 15-20 people without breaking fire code.

In the end, it was a good meeting with my friend and a mediocre coffee experience.

Updated 3/21/10
This is one of the many places I first reviewed and recently, I have made a point to return to in order to give the place a more accurate appraisal.

The coffee these days is a "trade secret" though I would guess they still use Kaffe Magnum Opus. The coffee I had was their Barrington Sunrise Blend, which proved to have a nutty, pear and cherry sweetness plus a smooth flow; not bad but nothing stellar. The espresso, pulled long and with little to no crema, was pretty much bitter, dark coffee.

Thus, I would say the place still could improve but the fact that they're still open four years later means they must be doing something right.

Monday, June 26, 2006

CC: Stir It Up Coffeehouse

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Stir It Up Coffeehouse
Location visited: Mullica Hill, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 1+ [see key]

*CLOSED as of 7.29.10*

bout a summer or two ago, I ran into this small joint on the main street of Mullica Hill. With the word COFFEEHOUSE emblazoned across the front, it looked promising. My impression was only half right.

The atmosphere was (and still is) amazingly decorated. A tasteful bohemian environment, Stir It Up offers a house's full bottom floor for the coffee bar and seating, ranging from large round tables to comfy living room couches. Local art (for sale) adorns the walls and they even have a beautiful back patio.

But their beverages are their downfall. When I first came I had struck up a conversation with the owners, who were open beginners to the concept. They seemed eager to learn the business but it seems they've fallen behind on their studies. I've visited numerous times over the past year or two and each time it's the same sad drink. And it's not complicated stuff either; things like stale, luke-warm coffee, spoiled milk in a latte, and ignorance of their own products (if your baristas don't even know what an americano is, never mind how to make it, then they need a couple more days of supervision before working solo).

For the sake of noting it, I think the brand of coffee is Kaffe Magnum Opus, the espresso I'm not sure (probably just a dark roast of the coffee), the tea is random, and I've never personally had the chai (though friends have and didn't care for it at all).

They also have what seems to be a flourishing music scene, albeit a high school and below crowd (who also seem to largely make up the staff), but very consistent nonetheless.

Overall, if you like cozy atmosphere and a poor cup of coffee, this place is for you. Otherwise, there are better places near by.

*Update 9/27/07
Stopped in the other day. Doesn't seem like much has changed. Sigh...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

CC: Hausbrandt

What's a Coffee Commentary?


Location visited: 15th St, Philadelphia
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]


This coffeehouse I had not caught wind of until recently, when they were dubbed City Best coffeehouse 2006 in Philly. I decided to give it a whirl even though I am always suspicious of AOL cityguide's "Best of" (in the same "best of" for the coffeehouses, they placed a faux coffeehouse in the top ten...) as well as other "best of" rankings due to the ambiguity of criteria.

Last week, two friends and I embarked to Center City to hang out, and as we were driving we decided to see if Hausbrandt was open. We caught them 5 minutes before closing and they were happy to serve us (fortunately).

Taking a look around, I noticed that they had no formal menu, which I guess means that they have a java-wise clientele. Taking a look at their own beans, imported from Italy (so not as fresh as local-roasted) I decided on an americano (mainly because they had no coffee left 2 minutes before closing). I have to say it was pretty good.

I looked at the tea as well, it was bagged (as apposed to free leaf) and called Kronen. Nothing fancy (I'm pretty sure it was a Hausbrandt product as well).

Overall, I can't say I was "wowed" by this chain from Italy. It was good, but best of? Maybe I missed something...

Update 2/24/08

In retrospect and after a bit more review, it seems like I didn't miss anything. The coffee comes off with an obvious mediocrity and the espresso impresses similarly (a bleh sharpness). I must say that my opinion of the operation has definitely deflated since my original writing of this post. Oh well.

Update 1/3/10

Though this update is long overdue (I keep forgetting to update this), Hausbrandt is no longer an active cafe, but it seems that they are still plugging along with their Academia Del Cafes.