Sunday, March 18, 2007

CC: Bibo Coffee Company

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Bibo Coffee Company
Location visited:
Reno, NV
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

I never thought I would see Reno as a sight for sore eyes, not until I drove clear across Nevada from the little town of Wells (my co-driver had been driving beforehand) and as many of you road-trippers know, miles and miles of desert gets to you after awhile.

But before my ten companions and I embarked, I made sure to do some minor research as to whether Reno had any decent coffee. Fortunately, someone gave a recommendation on Coffeegeek for Bibo Coffee Company, to which I made a detailed note in my planner as to how to get there with ease (I was driving with a number of people, so "hunting" had to be minimum, or there would have been mutiny).

We arrived in Reno around lunch, so we first located Bibo (while we were in the car), then parked the car near the "strip" of Reno, grabbed a bite, and walked around the town (specifically the Truckee River Walk, which I found all too relaxing and scenic). Then after we had enjoyed a bit of down time, we decided to ready ourselves to head out.

Of course before we hopped back on the road, we hit Bibo. Located in the middle of what seemed the Reno suburbs we found the shop. We found convenient parking across the street near the houses and half of us headed in to check it out. The shop's decor was grand, full of bright yellows and whites, with a really sharp table layout and complete with a living room-esque room in the back.

The coffee came from two purveyors: most of their coffees come from a Lake Tahoe operation called Coffee Connection but their espresso and house blend come straight from Josuma Coffee, an Indian coffee importer/roaster that I have actually had direct dealings with in the past (specifically, a large-scale order of Devon Catimore).

The drip coffee at Bibo tasted decent, a pretty fresh cup that held a nice smoothness. The espresso, Malabar Gold, also had a very lovely full flavor to it, altogether refreshing. The tea, in jars along the back wall if I remember correctly, was all free leaf and appeared to have quality, though I didn't get a chance to sample it.

For a shot-in-the-dark coffee excursion, Bibo was a pleasant experience. I wish I actually had time to enjoy my java in-house, but as soon as I had ordered and finished a conversation with a fine math student of U of Nevada-Reno, my compadres and I were out the door on our way west. If you're ever in Reno or passing through, take the time to seek out Bibo. Make sure you get directions though; you never would "run" into it.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

CC: Spotted Horse Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Spotted Horse Cafe
Location visited:
Belgrade, MT
Free WiFi ? : maybe
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Urban sprawl back in the Northeast US usually appears to me as something that has happened; a process that took place centuries (usually decades) ago and only now do I see the effects of past urban and industrial centers. But out here in Montana, the population and spread of settlements sits still so sparse that such towns as Belgrade stands obviously as a dependent of "big city" Bozeman. Still thriving today as a "suburb", the town has a great deal of character, complete with the old-timey feel.

One particular place that seems frozen in time is the town's coffeehouse, The Spotted Horse Cafe, located right near the main intersection. Business has gone continually for 30 years now (if not longer) which definitely puts the original owners as ahead of their time. But despite their years of operation, it seems they haven't changed much since their inception (who charges $0.50 for cream?).

The venue has a saloon bar with a large mirror behind it, heavily dominating the pizzazz-less interior (granted they might be going for that old west, neutral color look). The largest detractor was that the place reeked of onions (they served a full menu, which brings it back to the age old question of whether a coffeehouse should do so with such risks...).

The coffee of their choice was Montana Coffee Traders and when brewed fresh, tasted decent (their brewing methods seemed up to par). The espresso was OK, but after taking an initial sip, I asked the barista for cream, to which she insisted on adding, and ended up diluting it heavily (sigh). I didn't catch the tea or chai.

To put it simply, the Spotted Horse Cafe may have been a pioneer in specialty coffee, but I would recommend they update some of their practices. It's one thing to have history, but it's another matter to not alter with the times. Nonetheless, if you're in the Bozeman area (especially if you fly into the airport), take a side stop to try out the java at the Spotted Horse in nearby Belgrade. If anything, it's a nostalgic cup of coffee.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

CC: Coffee Labs Roasters

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Coffee Labs Roasters
Location visited:
Tarrytown, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Updated 7/31/08

Few places are fun to navigate in the rain, but I would have to say that the area between Mahwah, NJ and White Plains, NY are currently my least favorite (purely for navigational reasons; I like the area for many other aspects).

One such rainy night, on the way to a romantic dinner with the girlfriend (later that night to become fiancee'), we passed through Tarrytown. Ironically, we missed our reservation and went to hunt out other fare in town (with no luck), but we found Coffee Labs Roasters open amidst a fairly dead Main St.

Still being ravenous and not wanting to dawdle too long before we headed out to find food elsewhere, I quickly stopped in to grab some java (we also had a long drive home afterwards) and being second nature, took some mental notes on the place.

As I walked up, I could hear the sounds of local talent, and realized it was an Open Mic. Undeterred, I waded through the crowd to the front counter. The shop was very small (at least it seemed so with all the teenagers crammed in) and very, very loud (one should not have to scream to order). The place had no real unique aesthetics and seemed kind of bland as far as the environment went. The icing on the proverbial cake proved to be the drum roaster that literally sat in the middle of the shop (granted it might have been the only place you can put it, but at the sacrifice of openness and flow?)

As given in the name, they roast their own coffee and seem to focus on single origin coffees (i.e. less blends). The coffee itself tasted a little bland in my opinion but since I was in a hurry, I can't really vouch for it either way.

The espresso tasted fair though the barista who pulled the shot definitely had little experience under her belt. No matter, the shots came out pretty tasty.

Taking two drinks to go, the girlfriend and I got back on our way to finding food (we ended up settling for Wendy's b/c it was getting late) and heading south. Coffee Labs provided a good beverage but I can't really say I was floored, as I had read such praise of them in many a past forum. Maybe the next time I cross the Tappan Zee, I'll give it a second try.

Updated 7/31/08

This update is actually one that was to be posted some time ago but due to an error on mine or Blogger's part, never showed up on this post. My bad for not checking my work...

I managed to make my second visit to Tarrytown on a beautiful warm afternoon and had a significantly better experience. The store was not packed out, the baristas were uber friendly, and the coffee faired much better. While I didn't take specific notes on this particular occasion (a rare occasion where I was without the implements), I noted later that the coffee was significantly better this time around and the espresso still displayed fairly amazing.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

CC: House of Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: House of Coffee
Location visited: Lahaska, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Among the many Christmas traditions my family holds, one of them is to visit a small retail outfit called Peddler's Village nestled in Bucks County, somewhere west of Trenton and north of Philly. Though I haven't been there aside from the December/January time period, it looks like a lovely place for all seasons.

As any village knows, a decent coffee establishment is quite essential. Fortunately, Peddler's Village has its own coffeehouse called (quite originally) House of Coffee, located relatively in the center (I think) of it all. The interior divides into two rooms, one for whole bean sales and one for their coffee bar. Having come here mostly annually for the past 6-7 years, the inside hasn't changed much and kinda comes across functional but very blah, with few colorful accents.

They roast the coffee fresh, seeming to focus on both single origins and blends. I've had a variation of experiences with their drip (6-7 years) and since my tastes have fluctuated in that time, I figured I'd pay extra attention this time. Fortunately, they were brewing a medium (not dark) roast, which tasted pretty good that day. Unfortunately, I didn't get to try anything else. Thumbs up for now (my only concern lies in how dark their decafs are, though I've noticed decafs being extra dark in other establishments...).

The espresso was quite another story. My doubleshot held a severe bite that I didn't care for in the least. The baristas seemed skilled so maybe the espresso blend simply just lacks the necessary pizzazz?

I didn't catch the tea while I was there, though according to the website, it seems they do their own tea as well. Looks good; it'll have to be a drink another day (only 3 hundred-something days til Christmas!).

At the end of the day, I would say that the place serves the Peddler's Village niche of a decent coffee establishment. Despite the role House of Coffee has played in my Christmas visits, I still can't say I'm impressed with their operation. Nonetheless, make sure to pop in and try it out if you're by the village (you don't need to wait til Christmas).

Monday, February 12, 2007

CC: Venus Rising Espresso House

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Venus Rising Espresso House
Location visited: Butte, MT
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Every town has its highlights, the things that make the town really unique. But in West Montana, it seems that Butte (pronounced byute) has some odder claims to fame then most. For one, it has a mile-deep polluted hole full of highly acidic water, all as a result of copper strip mining (which still goes on today). The town was also home to one of the last legal red light districts, the Venus Alley, finally closed down in the 1970s with Reno, Nevada's.

Oddly enough, I managed to find a coffeehouse named (seemingly) after the old red light district, called Venus Rising Espresso House. Giving them the benefit of the doubt that they're not a front to bring back the old brothels, I and a couple colleagues checked the place out. The decor was very very bohemian, with a full art gallery in the back and a very random (yet well-placed) layout of furniture and art all throughout the place. The bar was an old saloon bar, complete with the huge mirror behind it.

They brew Montana Coffee Traders, which has been good at some places and poor at others but as always, I decided to give it a crack here in Butte. Stored in air pots, the coffee came off decent.

The espresso played out as a very odd anomaly. The espresso the first time I stopped relayed horribly blah and watery (poor baristaship mainly) but then the next trip, the doubleshot hit the spot, coming off fairly smooth though (still not phenomenol) due to much better baristas the second time.

The tea was Montana Tea and Spice Traders, a series of tea I finally got to taste only to find them mediocre and not very tasty (*tear*). I had higher hopes...

Overall, if you find yourself in Butte staring at a large hole full of copper water, I would take a side-trip to Venus Rising in "old" Butte.