Friday, December 22, 2006

CC: Cafe Grumpy

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Cafe Grumpy
Location visited: Manhattan, NY
224 West 20th Street)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

n another excursion with the lovely girlfriend, we spent the day wandering the bustling metropolis of Manhattan. We took in Christmas sights, had an interesting walk through Harlem, and even spotted this curious vendor (Luscious Aixa's Paper) out of Hoboken who had some of the nicest leather-bound parchment.

Towards the end of the day, we make our way back home from the South St Seaport with an agreed stop at Cafe Grumpy (I begged), a Brooklyn-based coffeehouse that had recently sprouted a Chelsea location (Chelsea is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan). The overall operation has received much acclaim and I figured a small detour for an after-dinner coffee stood as a wonderful idea.

My premonition couldn't have been more right. To get straight to the coffee, I stood amazed at the wonder that met my eyes when I ordered my coffee: a beautiful java contraption that makes individual cups of coffee of french press quality in a mere 40 seconds! I didn't believe it could happen for I have seen too many "pod" coffee machines that boast superior coffee and yet fail, but after watching the barista work this wonder machine, I stand convinced.
*After later research, I discovered it's called a Clover 1s and is supposedly the first of its kind on the market.

Moving on, the coffee itself was Counter Culture, a growing coffee operation out of North Carolina that seems to emphasize social conscience and high quality. I swear I've had experience with Counter Culture before, a bad one at that, but the coffee I had at Grumpy was tasty and full-bodied with very little bitterness (could it have been just the machine that made a difference???).

The espresso also tasted great. The shot was pulled with finesse and it tasted very smooth and not too bitter. Their espresso blend comes from Ecco Cafe, yet another company I could have sworn I had a bad experience with but the blend that Grumpy uses for espresso was pretty good.

The tea was Art of Tea, an operation that seems to place emphasis not only on the taste of tea but on outward aesthetics as well. From the looks of it alone, the products look appetizing though I can't vouch for it from experience.

To sum it up, if you frequent or visit Manhattan or Brooklyn, you need to make a stop by. It's worth the effort.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

CC: Cream & Sugar Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Cream & Sugar Cafe
[ NOT a branch of Brew Ha Ha!
Location visited: West Chester, PA
Free WiFi ? : i think so

Rating: 3+ [see key]

ust the past Monday, my girlfriend and I made our way to Longwood Gardens to behold their lovely Christmas display, a time-honored tradition in my life for the past ten years or so (though LG went a-wall this year and really spiked their admission and cafe prices so the night was a whole lot more wallet-crippling then usual). But as we were traveling to LG from the King of Prussia mall (we decided to make a day of distant PA activities), we decided to stop in West Chester to kill some time and see if we could find anything interesting to hold our interests until dark.

After a couple blocks of taking in the quaint little town, I found something that caught my eye on lovely Gay St, a place dubbed the Cream and Sugar Cafe. Having only once meandered the streets of West Chester, I was surprised I hadn't bumped into this cafe sooner (I think last time I may have too quickly pegged it a wanna-be coffeehouse and walked on).

The place was typical, with big store windows and a decent amount of seating. It looked a tad run down with nothing aesthetically that really grabbed my attention. I realize now that some of the neglect may result from being part of a somewhat large chain (Brew Ha Ha!), where their multiple stores may all demand more upkeep then they generate in revenue.
*To also oddly note, I would have never made the connection of C & S cafe to Brew Ha Ha! had I not tried to find the website. Unless I overlooked a Brew Ha Ha! sign or something, why in the world would they cover it up?

Cream and Sugar as well as all Brew Ha Ha! cafes serve La Colombe, a predictable choice for a near Philly establishment though also a disappointing one. The coffee ended up as expected; very dark and not too tasty at all.

The espresso, which didn't seem to be affected by the barista's skills, held the typical La Colombe bite but I must admit it wasn't as bad as my many other La Colombe experiences (maybe a different espresso blend?).

The tea was Republic of Tea, an always welcome and quality addition to an establishment. I didn't get a chance to find or try the chai.

To put it simply, I really wasn't impressed with the C & S cafe. They "seem" dedicated to quality and yet, I am not convinced. Fortunately for the cafe, it's in a thriving college town and even though the coffee culture keeps reaching younger and younger, it seems most collegiates remain oblivious to good coffee. I wonder what the West Chester-ians think...

*Update 8/16/07
Turns out this was an independent operation at the time of my visit (and still is to this day) and hence any association with Brew Ha Ha! was but a matter of confusion.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

CC: Leaf and Bean

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Leaf and Bean
Location visited: Bozeman, MT
(both Main St and 19th St locations)
Free WiFi ? : yes

observe here
Rating: 4+ [see key]

A small piece of history, the Leaf and Bean stands as the oldest coffeehouse in all Bozeman, started back in the 70's in order to have a venue where one could grab a decent espresso or cup of coffee along with decent atmosphere for those dining in.

Today, the business has expanded to two shops on both sides of town, one in the bustle of downtown Main St and the other in the shopping plaza of 19th St and Oak. Both have spacious atmospheres (Main St has a high ceiling and 19th St has a really open dining area), both decorated in a pleasing and subtle manner.

Getting into the coffee, Leaf and Bean serves Montana Coffee Traders as their bean of choice. I had enjoyed MCT's coffee when I had it at their Columbia Falls location, but every time I've had it at Leaf and Bean, it's been stale (a matter of keeping the java fresh) or over-roasted (a bean problem).

And on the topic of brewing, I have to say I'm amazed they never used their french presses for coffee, only for tea. I mean a press is a good tool for brewing free leaf tea but to not even consider offering french press service for coffee (I asked so many times) doesn't compute. But alas, I think they have done away with the presses altogether (*tear*).

The espresso is also really sharp here, with a very strong bitter aftertaste. I don't know if it's always been the case for the past 30 years or if most of their patrons get sugar-ladened drinks and don't notice, but the times I've sipped the espresso have caused me to wince. On a chipper note, their small army of teenage/young adult female baristas do seem to be wise in their ways.

Montana Tea and Spice purveys the tea. This company I still have not sampled but with the attention given to it by the baristas (solely using french presses for just tea), I'd guess it's decent. We'll see...

I would say that I would diagnose Leaf and Bean as a promising establishment with some areas of improvement with their coffee/espresso. I like the establishment but I can't fool my tongue.

Friday, November 24, 2006

CC: Villa Coffeehouse

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Villa Coffeehouse
Location visited: Idaho Falls, ID
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

his past weekend I had the "fortune" to attend a conference in the lovely city of Idaha Falls, deep in Mormon country (did you know that strict Mormon's won't drink coffee because of the stimulative effects?). Aside from my car breaking down on the way and Idaho Falls being hardly the cultural metropolis I had (oddly) hoped for, the city does have some minor charm and the conference did turn out to be quite pleasant.

Before I embarked on my trip, I had made sure to get a list of possible good coffee establishments. Armed with a list of four, I was remise to find that one didn't exist and the other three were extensively spread out over the city. Nonetheless, I made my way for the first (Villa), which I had driven by the day before (which was Sunday, when nooooothing is open).

The exterior didn't beam too much promise, as it was a blah grey with (cheesy) holiday window writing, but upon walking in my countenance changed. The architecture was a beautiful loft construction filled with vibrant shades of reds and grey. There was ample seating and a pleasantly-flowing atmosphere, complete with a fishbowl-ish conference room in the back.

The coffee was another surprise. They brew PT's Coffee out of Kansas (random?), a company that seems very emphatic on using only the best single origin coffees. From what I tasted at Villa, the coffee was pretty good (it had been sitting some time I think). The fact that there was an array of different coffees, ranging from Peru to Ethiopia really made my day.

The espresso was also fairly decent. My first trip in, my americano was stellar with a subtle brightness and smoothness that appeased my palate. But their weak point seemed to be their barista skills, as my second time in I got a latte that was overtly under-steamed and rather blah (like the front of the building).

The tea was very Republic of Tea, as the entire interior was covered in RoT
paraphernalia (though tactfully done) but fortunately I really like RoT, so it was another vote of confidence on their credibility.

Overall, a very bright gem of a coffee place in a very dull city. Idaho Falls really needs to embark on a downtown revitalization, as it seems to barely hold on with the passing years.

Also, on a separate sad note, I didn't make it to the other two coffee establishments, but maybe next time I'm in town (?).

Sunday, November 12, 2006

CC: Old City Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Old City Coffee
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
(at Church St location)

Rating: 4+ [see key]

Growing up in the South Jersey suburbs, my parents often took me and my siblings to the various sights in Philadelphia. We went to Independence Hall, all of the museums, the zoo, and other various places. I remember as a kid liking it all but really wanting to go out to eat afterwards. As a place of various foods, I do find it funny that my parents never took us young children to the Reading Terminal Market, one of the most historic and iconic fixtures of 20th century Philadelphia (actually, my parents did make good on the trip by finally taking my siblings and I there about two years ago, but why did they wait so long?).

As many know, the RTM is full of many various vendors and styles of food (I love the Amish diner in the back). Fittingly, Old City Coffee holds as the purveyor of coffee in the densely packed market. A coffee presence since 1984, they now have two locations: the original on Church St near N 3rd Ave and the RTM.

I ran across the RTM site some years ago (never made it to the Church St one), kind of pegging them initially as just a mediocre company trying to iron out a decent dollar in the crazy atmosphere of the RTM. The booth is very small and not too different then the other stands, though admirably they house a huge roaster (they roast their coffee for both locations there) as well as other necessary amenities of a reputable operation, including doublesided serving capabilites (they're on a corner in the market).

So having dropped in several times, I have to say that I never really found their coffee all too flavorful. I mean it was good but there was something off about it. Whether it be over-roasted or just bad batches I can't say since it's been some months since I've had their drip.

I do vividly remember the espresso not being so good; it just came off way too sharp and bitter. I tried it both straight and with milk to no avail.

[As Old Coffee holds two locations, I will have to make a trip to the Church St venue to make a proper diagnosis of whether their coffee and espresso just don't sample well at the RTM or if it's an universal matter.] *see update below*

I don't remember the teas though according to their website, they have lots of tea. Yet oddly, they seem to place a bit of favoritism on green tea on the website, leaving the other four categories a bit neglected (black, oolong, red, and white). I know they serve them all at their locations, but I guess the webmaster really likes green tea.

Overall, I greatly honor Old City Coffee for their 20+ year commitment to decent specialty coffee in Philadelphia (a member of the SCAA since their advent) but as of yet, I have not had a tremendous cup of java there. Still, if you're in the Reading Terminal or down by Church St near N 3rd, I'd stop in and give it a try for yourself.

* Update 12/17/06
As promised, I made it finally to the Church St location. I was (amiably) surprised to find a very quaint, uniquely-shaped cafe full of locals (they had not the slightest hint of tourist to them at all). The coffee on tap was a dark blend, and as most coffees heavily roasted taste, it sat with a bitter harshness on my tongue. So, nothing new with the coffee (especially with a bit of visual confirmation of some drenched-in-oil, dark-roasted beans (why roast to Starbucks depths?)).

The espresso was a small surprise, with very clean and well-pulled shots and a tasty americano. The 6 bean espresso blend (with also visual inspection) wasn't as dark as I remembered it, and so it seemed, of fair quality (i.e. a change from my RTM experiences; must have been off days for myself or the resident baristas).

Overall, I am better assured with their espresso skillty, but I can't say I'm thrilled with some of their roasting outcomes (who really likes to drink beans so dark?).

* Update 6/12/07
New picture