Wednesday, May 30, 2007

CC: Victrola Coffee Roasters

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Victrola Coffee Roasters
Location visited: Seattle, WA
(411 15th St E location)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Few places have I yet to see beat Seattle's parking availability. It's amazing how you can go see the Space Needle or even near Pike's Place Market (albeit that one takes more time) and still find ample parking even on the weekends! Granted the city is often cursed with dismal skies and depression but at least you don't have to be dismal or depressed about parking...

Anyway, I was able to park in a perpendicular street spot (one of the spots on the street that you back into and so end up perpendicular to the street) right by my last coffee stop before hitting the road to Oregon: Victrola Coffee. Now, I've never heard of the place before doing some coffee research on the greater Seattle area. But after some simple preliminary searches, Victrola seemed like a quality spot to try out and hence my companion and I had headed there right after our lunch stop at Pike's Place.

The section of 15th St E that Victrola sits in seems to have numerous neon signs, having a slight camouflaging effect on the store. No matter, since my friend and I were looking for it and hence picked it out easily. The exterior was quaint, with some outside seating cradled in the window nooks out of the way of the sidewalk. The interior had a very full moon look with a nice collection watercolors (at the time), with a good deal of seating and an odd key system to their two bathrooms (I guess it's harder to lose a key when it's attached to a spatula...)

On to the coffee, they roast their own beans (at their other location I deduce), with a nice variety of single origins as well as Cup of Excellence and other auction coffees. I had the Empire Blend, which came off bright and full. Their espresso, pulled expertly, had a nice chocolaty sweetness with a hint of sunshine. The teas were free leaf but I didn't get the chance to sample their quality.

As one would expect of a Seattle coffee giant, Victrola gave a beautiful performance. While you have a plethora of coffee choices around the greater Seattle area, I would make a point to give Victrola a go.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

CC: Espresso Vivace Roasteria

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Espresso Vivace Roasteria
Location visited: Seattle, WA
Free WiFi ? : yes (after 6pm)
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Ah, how I have so longed to visit Seattle. I spent a whole lot of time out near it this year but it wasn't until last week that I was actually able to romp around the city. Given its overwhelming espresso and coffee reputation, grabbing the late morning java topped the list on things to do first.

As the first coffee stop, I thought it appropriate to visit Espresso Vivace' at their Roasteria location as they have a grand reputation across the world for their love and detail for espresso. Sure enough, we arrive (with convenient street parking nearby) to find a line clear out the door, into the lobby, out onto their front ramp. My compadre and I stood in line for around twenty minutes, which according to their wifi policy (none until after 6pm due to high customer volume) seems to be normal.

The menu consisted of the usual, except coffee. They serve only espresso (go with what you're good at?) as well as pastries and tea of course. The espresso, as expected, was expertly delivered and their blend (roasted in-house) sampled beautifully. As we were in a rush, we didn't get to sample the tea.

As a place which has garnered much admiration in the espresso world, I highly recommend making a stop at one of the numerous Vivace locations in Seattle. No matter the weather, it should brighten your day.

Friday, May 11, 2007

CC: City Brew Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

City Brew Coffee
Location visited: various
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Yet another small road trip ago, I got to see the lovely city of Billings for the second time in a much more comprehensive manner then the first (it was a 1 AM pit stop in a 10 hr drive). While it definitely can boast as the "city" of Montana (it has skyscrapers!) it's still no thriving metropolis.

Now that might sound critical and condescending, but it actually has a lot of perks. For one, never was it overwhelming to navigate the city. And secondly, its local coffee chain hadn't gone the way of charred disgusting-ness.

The chain I reference is City Brew Coffee, the other Montana coffee chain found mainly in its home in Billings. While I had heard much about it from a good pal (she's their biggest fan), I tend to hold skepticism of a coffee operation with so many locations across such a wide space...

So cut to the chase, I had to try it while I was in Billings. After a decent dinner out, a nice-sized group (about six of us) headed over to the closest branch to our sleeping quarters. The exterior of City Brew looks corporate as does the inside, with the expected Panera/Starbucks environment (which isn't bad, just a little overdone).

But the decor is where the corporate look stopped. I was stunned to see they offered french press (at a decent price too!) and that their espresso machine wasn't automatic (not completely manual either, but few places can maintain those machines at quality operation).

They roast their own coffee, and unlike many of their chain-brethren, its actually not over-roasted to an oily misery. On top of it, their various brews actually tasted decent (though not overly amazing either).

Their espresso, while light years beyond corporate charred espresso funneled out of an auto machine, still didn't really impress me. It had a decent body and flavor, but overall was pretty bland. The shots also failed to be consistent in my several visits, which would be the weakness of multiple locations.

The teas were also their own, though I didn't get to try them.

After much deliberation and visits to multiple locations (even the new one in Bozeman), I would say amongst coffee chains they're head and shoulders above the competition, but in the world of specialty coffee they still have a bit of improving to do. If you ever set foot in a Montana city (the places with more then 20K people), keep your eye out for one and give it a whirl.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

CC: Java

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Location visited: Twin Falls, ID
(228 Blue Lakes Blvd)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

One of the better feelings in life is stumbling on something pleasant, especially on a long car trip, and even more especially after driving northeast through Nevada into Idaho. I had just put around 360 miles behind me since 5 AM that morning and I knew definitively of no decent coffee stops until Idaho Falls (another 4 hours). Accordingly, my entourage and I had just planned on pushing through a long trip without really hunting for good coffee, but I was praying that we'd see something in Twin Falls that look promising...

Thank God that prayers are answered. While cutting through town, we saw a place that looked reputable, a little shop called Java. I asked for permission (we're a democratic entourage) and with a weak approval, I pulled in to check it out.

The shop from the outside looked rather atypical of a strip mall outfit though the inside displayed a colorfully warm, semi-circular space complete with bustling staff and a line of eager customers. Aside from the coffee/espresso/tea options, they also serve a full breakfast and lunch menu, which didn't seem to affect the environment too much (a coffeehouse should NEVER smell like a deli).

They serve up Cafe Moto beans, a San Diego supplier of roasted coffee as well as tea and other typical coffeehouse beverage supplies. After browsing the CM website, it "seems" they know their stuff; they just need to ditch the super corporate look as it makes it seem like they're faking it.

In my humble opinion, their drip tasted fairly decent. The espresso conveyed a decent body but it had a bit of a charred taste to it. The tea they serve fresh (free leaf) and while I only observed, it looked of decent quality.

Needless to say, my expectations were rock-bottom low to begin with, so Java played out to be a lovely note in that morning's arduous drive. As Twin Falls seems to be a bit of a crossroads, if you're ever going through be optimistic that there's at least one decent coffee stop in town.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

CC: Temple Fine Coffee and Tea

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Temple Fine Coffee and Tea
Location visited: Sacramento, CA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

A pleasant surprise upon my visit to Sacramento was how nice the place was. I guess I had never really thought about ever visiting Sac until I got there, and hence I guess I had no real expectations of what it would look like. The city has its gems as well as its sadder parts but overall, I liked it.

One particular evening, on a night out to dinner with friends in Old Sac, we had dinner near the river at Rio City Cafe, a seemingly overpriced classic American restaurant that actually turned out to be quite an amazing dinner (such succulent food). After dinner, we played with a sea lion (actually, we just tried to mobilize it from a distance) and then made our way to the nearby Capital area to try out Temple, a local Sac coffeehouse that had received a good deal of praise from various people.

As we arrived, Temple stood out like a little Scandinavian shop (both inside and out) amidst a sea of concrete (I like to imagine vikings reclining in the AM, sipping a morning macchiato before heading out to pillage). The inside was beautifully functional with plenty of seats and a surprising crowd for so late, as we arrived around an hour or so before closing.

Regarding the time, I think we caught the barista after a long day, because I have never in my days seen a barista so curt and cold with the customers (my friends and I decided she probably could use a hug). But nonetheless, mean baristas = no fun.

Onto the coffee, they serve Barefoot Coffee Roasters which according to Californians and national coffee freaks alike, serves up a wonderful cup of coffee and espresso. The coffee tasted fresh and full, with a nice acidity. The espresso, a Guatemalan peaberry, had a bright citrusy tang to it that sampled well from beginning to finish.

The teas, which I didn't catch where they get them from, looked delightful. The variety was decent and if I remember correctly, seemed of fair quality.

Next time I'm in Sac, I am probably going to stop by again as I feel that this particular visit was skewed due to the negativity of the barista (customer service is so crucial). But if you're in town, make sure to stop by and give Temple a try; hopefully you'll get a chipper barista.