Wednesday, July 12, 2006

CC: Emjay's Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Emjay's Cafe
Location visited: Mullica Hill, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

*Update 9/27/07
It appears Emjay's is closed.

I usually don't blog twice in a day but today's an exception. About a week ago, I was prompted to visit a local coffeehouse that I had somewhat overlooked in my travels. Since Mullica Hill is home to my favorite coffeehouse as well to one of my least favorite coffeehouses (which still ranks above corporate charcoal), I figured the town couldn't possibly hold another viable coffee operation. Annnnd I was wrong.

A "subterranean" coffeehouse (because it's in a huge basement space), Emjay's is by far one of the nicest, most bohemian set-ups I have ever seen. The coffeehouse use to be several independent shops but now is one cohesive interesting space.

I forgot the name of the coffee roaster, but I do remember that the roaster is out of Yonkers and focuses on single origin coffees (i.e. doesn't focus on blends). Both the coffee and espresso were quite tasty, the espresso not too bitter and the coffee (a medium Costa Rican) was very full-bodied.

The tea is out of Oregon, a company called Stash. I only had an Earl Grey Iced (tasted pretty good) and the other tea also looks promising. The chai I didn't catch, but it's probably powdered (no one seems to do it old school anymore).

Overall, I find it amazing that a town like Mullica Hill would have two good coffee joints. While I still prefer Crescent Moon, Emjay comes in a very close second.

*Update 9/27/07
As could be predicted, Mullica Hill cannot support three coffee establishments. Emjay's had a brief change to Cafe Aroun before it was closed down. RIP.

CC: Mugshots CoffeeHouse and JuiceBar

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Mugshots CoffeeHouse and JuiceBar
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

*Updated 8/6/09

Probably the easiest part of finding this place is that it's right across the street from Eastern State Penitentiary (hence the name "Mugshots"). But the play off the prison's name is the only thing the two have in common.

I had first spotted Mugshots this past Fall when coming out of a tour of ESP. The look is well-done, with outside seating bordering the ramp that goes inside. Inside the place is superbly decorated, with a good deal of seating options.

The signature (or so it seems) of this place is that everything is organic/fair trade/environmentally friendly, which can be a great aspect of the business if it's not at the expense of quality (cause if it stinks, why bother?). The menu, as the title suggests, has a juice bar as well as other food and drinks.

The coffee is Equal Exchange out of Massachusetts, a socially-conscious roaster that makes not a bad cup of coffee (I didn't think it amazing though). The espresso was from the same place, but the drink that I got was a little bleh, whether it was the espresso machine or the coffee itself I couldn't tell.

The tea was Choice organic teas, a socially-conscious tea distributor based out of Seattle. I didn't get to try it, though I do plan to soon, but it looked promising. The chai was Oregon Chai, which is good if you like your chai sweet and thick (of course prep of the milk has a lot to do with it as well).

Overall, of Philly coffeehouses, Mugshots is a good place to grab some java, especially if you're going to visit the neighboring penitentiary.

*Update 8/6/09
Wanting to revisit a lot of my older haunts, I made it back to this Philly spot the other day to give this review a bit of an update.

I didn't bother with the drip again as it's still Equal Exchange (and my opinion of their coffee has greatly degenerated over the years) but they DO offer a coffee featured from the Independent Coffee Cooperative (this month was Crescent Moon's Las Milagras) which looks promising.

I did get an espresso, also Equal Exchange, which came out surprisingly fair. While it had the expected punch of charred bean, it also had notes of dark chocolate, nutmeg and tobacco. Not the best shots ever but pretty good for what I expected.

On other notes, the seating seems to have expanded and the place seems to still be going strong.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

CC: Avalon Coffee Company

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Avalon Coffee Company
Location visited: Avalon and Cape May Courthouse
Free WiFi ? : not at the one in Avalon

Rating: 3+ [see key]

*Updated 1/23/11*

sually I run across coffee and tea places, but this one came from a trusted recommendation. I was actually visiting my family down in Ocean City that day, and I figured this would be the closest to Avalon I would get the rest of this summer, so I went a half hour south to check out one of Avalon's locations (this one, in Avalon).

So I get there in the nick of time (cuz they're open til 10 pm!) and after a little confusion on location (they have a huge sign for the neighboring diner right outside their door...), I waltz in. The decor is a definite grab-and-go set up. The menu is extensive, with gelati, breakfast sandwiches, and so forth.

But on to the coffee. I was intrigued that they had hot-plate brewers as well as satellite brewers
, but they informed me that it was a wise two-step process; they brew on the hot-plate and then the second it's done, they put it into the satellite brewers to keep it hot and fresh. As the coffee is "fresh-roasted at each location", the two-step process married with the aspect of super fresh coffee makes for a stellar combo.

The espresso on the other hand I wasn't as impressed with. My americano was kinda weak and had a little funny of a taste to it, but I think it had more to do with shore water then the beans. The tea was Tetley, an old school, not-as-fresh choice but seemed ok. I didn't try the chai (again) but I've noticed that chai is rarely fresh tea and more often a powdered mix, so it really comes down to barista skills (which this place seems to have, but I'm not sure).

Overall, I was fairly impressed for a shore operation but I don't recommend driving half hour for it.

*Updated 1/23/11

As this was one of my early posts, it was long overdue for an update/correction. This time I visited the Cape May Courthouse location and I would venture the experience held to what I initially penned. I ordered a cup of Kenya AA which produced flavors of beef broth, carrot, caramel, a little ginger and a wee apple; a decent coffee but no fireworks. The espresso was as I (luckily) deduced before; poorly prepared (pulled long with poor crema) and held notes of bourbon, heavy cream and a little cherry all enveloped in a heavy burnt characteristic.

Not as impressed as I was in my youth.

Friday, July 07, 2006

CC: Double Shots Espresso Bar

Subject: Double Shots Espresso Bar

Location visited: Philadelphia
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

*CLOSED and reoccupied*

Often have I wandered the streets of Center City, looking for a coffeehouse of promise. Sure, there are places to get coffee, but good coffee is a rarity.

I found Double Shots last summer during a time of avid trips to Old City. It's got a prime location, nestled right next to Market St, a whole hoopla of historic sites, and a hopping night scene. The decor is beautifully done, with maroon walls and bright woods all coercively decorated with the right mix of furniture.

The coffee is what won me over. Caffe Pronto is the name of their roaster (I think out of Maryland), an outfit that produces a very full-bodied cup of coffee. The espresso was also up there in quality; strong but not overpowering. Didn't try the Revolution tea or the chai. Going by the fruits of their labor, the baristas were of noticeable skill.

My only complaint with this place is the random hours. It's gotten to the point that I will drive past to make sure they're open before I park. Too often have I lead a party of expectant coffee drinkers forth with the sad realization they're closed! And with no website, the only way to find out is to go (or tatoo the hours on your arm, but that might prove futile when they change).

So my recommendation: go, but go during the middle of the day so you're not greeted with the close sign.

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.