Monday, July 31, 2006

CC: Bongo Java / Fido

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Bongo Java / Fido
Location visited: Nashville, TN
Free WiFi ? :
Rating: 4+ [see key]

My weekend was spent in the lovely city of Nashville, known for its country roots, Christian music, and apparently its pancakes (Pancake Pantry is practically idol-worshipped here, but after trying a couple different dishes, I can't say I'd wait an hour for it).

But the coffeehouses here seemed numerous. My goal was to hit as many as possible, including the Frothy Monkey, Global Cafe, and a couple others. Sadly, due to the fact that everyone is closed on Sundays, I only got to two places. More oddly, the two I did visit were sister coffeehouses.

My first visit occurred after my sugar-laden breakfast at Pancake Pantry, when I was guided down the street to Fido, a fairly new cafe that sits in an old pet store (that's how it got its name). An offshoot of Bongo Java, this place serves more then just coffee. They have beer, wine, and apparently amazing food. They also have interesting policies with Wifi...

The next day, I dragged the girlfriend and my two cousins (from the mountains of PA) to find other coffeehouses. We found Bongo Java and Frothy Monkey, but due to time only went to Bongo Java. Bongo is situated across the street from Belmont University and has one of the nicest coffee house layouts I've ever seen. It's in an old house, so it has a lot of room as well as a huge front porch. The decor adds a nice artsy feel to it. I especially liked the serve-yourself, random water tap behind the counter.

Both Fido and Bongo Java's coffee were good. They roast their own coffee, the ethiopian harrar I had at Bongo being tasty and smooth. The espresso wasn't half bad either, though I can't say I was amazed. The tea was Numi and the chai I didn't spot.

Reflecting back, I wouldn't mind having a place like Bongo Java or Fido around me, as long as I didn't have to incur the heavy Tennessee heat.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Six Flags Nonsense

This topic has absolutely nothing to do with coffee, but I would just like to comment quickly on the (lack of) brains behind Six Flags Great Adventure. Having arrived at the park on Tuesday 10 AMish, we (me + girlfriend + gf's sister and fiancé) checked to see if Kingda Ka was open (which they spouted that it was) and had high hopes for good rides and lines abbreviated (it was a Tuesday).

But we encountered just the opposite. By 2 pm, we found Kingda Ka closed the whole day, waited in Superman only for it to break down before we boarded, and had basically ridden one ride (El Toro before it broke down) and had waited 2 hours to get on it. And to top it off, all but 4 coasters were offline.

Is it realistic to expect a theme park to advertise clearly which rides don't work before you waste your money on a day at a half-working theme park? Or that said rides shall be working 51 % of the time? Six Flags needs to shape up.

Good thing they gave us exit passes to appease our rage.

CC: Java Moon Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?
Subject: Java Moon Cafe (no website)
Location visited: Jackson, NJ
Free WiFi ? : maybe?
Rating: 2+ [see key]

UPDATE 12/17/17: Java Moon has closed down. 

This place I can say I've driven past on my way to Six Flags Great Adventure since I was a little kid (it's right between Six Flags and the outlets). When I was little, it had no appeal because it didn't look like it served anything fried or sugar-laden. When I began to drink coffee, I thought it just a place that served coffee but not a real coffeehouse (their sign advertizes meals so the mistake is easily made).

Anyways, this past winter while housesitting down the road, I decided to give it a try. Turns out they had a full coffee bar. I had dinner, which wasn't bad (a little expensive though) and had some coffee to go. The coffee/tea menu wasn't very extensive but they had the basics.

The coffee was Corim, a corporate subsidiary of a big food conglomerate. The espresso was the same. Both were good when I tried them, but after looking at the website, it doesn't sit as well (when you have 10x more flavored coffees then regular single-origins or blends, there's something askew). The tea was free-leaf, though I can't vouch for quality. The chai was powdered.

Another area with little decent coffee, Java Moon is a nice place to have around. But overall, it ranked as a child amidst giants; still room for growth.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

CC: La Colombe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

La Colombe Torrefaction
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA (19th St and about Walnut)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key] 

  *Updated 1/10/09* 

Quite a few people in Philadelphia love and rave about La Colombe, that it saved Philly from bad coffee. Granted I've only been a conscious coffee imbider these past 6 years, so I can't vouch for the improvement. What I can vouch for is that La Colombe always tastes the same, whether it's a good coffeehouse, a bad coffeehouse, or the very frequented La Colombe shop on South 19 St in Rittenhouse Square. Consistency is a good thing, but the thing is that I have never had a cup of La Colombe (coffee and espresso) that I stepped back and said "Wow, that's really good!", kinda more like "yep, that's La Colombe."  

They espouse their claim to "excellence" is blending coffees, the art of mixing together different coffees to result in a better coffee. But these days, I think blending is overdone; it's a misleading sign of sophistication. Some amazing coffees should not be blended and hence offered as single-origin (unblended). La Colombe offers only 5 blends (1 is decaf) and while they might know how to blend, the results never knocked my socks off. 

But my experience at the main store really impacted my feelings on the company. The baristas were hardly friendly, actually more bordering on rude. The espresso machine looked a little run down (though still trucking). And the decor was kinda bare; nice and spacious, but definitely crowded and noisy. The tea was very basic (can't remember the name) and I didn't try the chai. 

But in the end, I really have to side with those that think that La Colombe is way over-hyped. For the pride they espouse on their website, I would expect better. 

Updated 1/10/09 
Was walking around late one evening and decided to stop in to see if the espresso scene had improved (from my samplings at other spots, the coffee itself had not). My shots were pulled long, had only a bit of crema, and while it demonstrated a pleasant sweetness and tinge of cocoa, it also smacked of char on the back end. In the end, decent but still no where even close to an excellent espresso.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Land of Desolation

I have often pondered as to why this region of NJ has almost ZERO coffee establishments of repute. My parents live in Cinnaminson, and growing up I was not once exposed to a truly legitimate coffee establishment; just WaWa and Dunkin Donuts (though DD ain't bad). As a result, I've come to the conclusion that this area of NJ that is roughly the land divided between Rt 42 and I-195 is the "land of desolation." More specifically, it gets really bad between Rt 70 and a little above I-195 (you get the idea). And as far as South Jersey goes, this is the crowded part; how did the uncrowded, less busy part of South Jersey totally trump the northern half? It boggles the mind!

Maybe good coffee establishments can't survive here. Maybe there's a conspiracy. Whatever it is, it makes me really sad for people who live in this empty land. And I'm sure there are other such places of desolation, but I only truly know of this one.