Sunday, April 06, 2008

CC: Kick Butt Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Kick Butt Coffee
Location visited: Austin, TX
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Updated 4.16.08

or as much as I love some spontaneity in life, I really don't like hunting for hotels, especially when looking for a reasonable room amidst a basketball game in Austin. But after three hours of hunting and finally nailing down an overpriced Super 8 room (with no WIFI!), it was time for an overdue dinner.

Looking to stay cheap, my wife and I made our way to a nearby Wendy's anticipating a greasy dinner and quick return to our well-furnished hole-in-the-wall. But as we exited the parking lot, my wife spotted a coffee place across the highway that actually looked open. So even though neither one of us were really in the mood for coffee, we went to check it out to see if it was worth a morning trip.

As we roll closer, we notice the name is Kick Butt Coffee with a karate-kicking gent on the logo. Thinking it just a clever logo implying the caffeinated effects of their coffee, I was proven wrong after moving past their outside seating. Inside was a coffeehouse decorated in a dojo fashion complete with weapons on the wall and a Wii area in the back (what dojo doesn't have a Wii?). The place looked very new as little of the varied seating had much wear.

Kick Butt serves Republica Coffee Roasters, which upon some web research apparently seems to be located in Australia ( I later found out, as seen below in the update, that I was mistaken).
As it was evening, I decided just to have espresso, which was pulled fairly well with hight sweet notes and a nice acidity though it was a bit silty in composition. My wife and I did end up coming back the next morning, where I grabbed a cup of their Ethiopian Harrar that displayed smooth and full-bodied. I didn't catch the tea (I think it was free leaf); they also serve beer and wine.

Kick Butt's creative approach to the coffee business and decent product seem to be good signs for this budding business. While I am unsure of the Aussie coffee (how do they get it to Texas while still fresh), I would definitely encourage a stop by if you're in Austin.

Updated 4.16.08
Turns out that Republica Coffee Roasters is actually in Austin, TX! Thanks to a helpful comment, I did a more exhaustive search that turned up the simple one-page site. My bad!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

CC: Higher Grounds Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Higher Grounds Cafe
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Of all the areas of Philadelphia, the Northern Liberties must have been one of the last places I've explored. Growing up, I had never heard of it and assumed the neighborhoods north of Center City were just boring residential areas. That was until about two years ago when I heard of the many coffeehouses and up-and-coming eateries housed within the area.

So one recent wintry day, I utilized some hang time with a good friend to check out Higher Grounds, the first coffeehouse I had heard of in the area. My friend and I were in heated yet friendly conversation on theology (which I will add, continued through the whole experience) that made finding parking in the very narrow streets a challenge. After some time, we finally found a spot somewhat close by and made our way over. The exterior displayed an eclectic multi-colored front with an inside to match in creativity and clever space usage. Personally, I really liked the decor and bohemian use of the historical architecture.

The coffee actually comes from an Alabama organic coffee roaster with a very similar name, Higher Ground Roasters. I had the Mocha Java (from the geographic area, not the flavor) which tasted fairly good (my notes failed to expound further as I was busy explaining a point when I wrote it down). The espresso was pulled averagely and delivered a so-so experience, with a noticeable char and an overall bland flavor (it was my buddies turn when I had the espresso). The teas were loose and seemed to consist of a good variety. And on a random note, they make a delicious hummus and cucumber bagel (they had other lunch/snack options as well).

With my first coffee experience in the Northern Liberties down, I hope to explore the other coffee establishments soon enough. As for Higher Grounds it seems to be a decent coffee establishment but as I was slightly preoccupied that day, I would like to return to better solidfy my opinion.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

CC: Catalina Coffee

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Catalina Coffee
Location visited: Houston, TX
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

A rainy day never really spoils your day as long you have a good coffeehouse to sit in and wait the precipitation out.

Granted, rain is definitely a whole lot less welcome when you're in a much prettier place then you're accustomed to, but you have to think on your feet. So when the wife and I were recently in Houston, we decided to do the Kennedy Space Center (a little expensive but worth a one-time visit) as well as a local coffeehouse called Catalina Coffee.

Located seconds from downtown Houston, Catalina stands out a bit from the rest of their neighbors with their big letters and the outside seating (the plain beige brick and flat architecture don't help) and after spotting it, we turned to find a handy parking lot in the back (complete with rear entrance!). Walking in from the back, you come into a very dimly lit hallway and then a sharp looking main room, all smelling a bit like cat (why oh why?).

The coffee came from two places; Hopson Coffee and Katz Coffee, both seemingly decent companies. I had two different coffees, one via drip and one via french press, and both were pretty good (while they were both Katz coffees, I failed to write down which coffees they were). The french press rang bright and earthy, with an overall smoothness; the drip was balanced and smooth. The espresso also came off well. The barista did a good job pulling the shot and while it initially had a tempered bite, it filled out nicely. The tea was Revolution.

Aside from the cat smell and the slightly depressing lighting (could also have been the rain contributing dreariness) I enjoyed my experience at Catalina. The barista remarked that they should be roasting on their own soon, so who knows what's in store for this outfit. When in town, I'd give it a whirl to see how you like it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Goodbye Sweet Clover...

In reading some news recently, I stumbled across by far the most saddening news of the week. Starbucks released a press release stating that they just bought the company that makes Clovers. Sure that might actually mean that now the average citizen will be able to obtain a good cup of coffee from the consistently poor Charbucks, a welcome improvement. But it also ends the era of local coffeehouses even being allowed to buy the machines, as Starbucks now exclusively owns the technology, which means that if a non-Starbucks place already doesn't have a Clover, they're not going to (or so says the press release).

A funny thing is that the press release also stated the company will be introducing a "state-of-the-art espresso system that provides a perfect shot every time." Unless this machine is more of a cage with a World Barista Champion locked inside, I really have my doubts in seeing this come to fruition.

All in all, I draw some hope for the non-Starbucks world from this article in Slate.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

CC: JP's Java

What's a Coffee Commentary?

JP's Java
Location visited: Austin, TX
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

I might have missed something, but I really found Austin to not be all that great. I had looked at the University of Texas for graduate school and I had heard from many people that Austin was where it was at, but after making a visit to 6th St and the arboretum I was out of things to do.

But what made the whole trip not so bad was a stop by JP's Java, a coffee establishment nestled in what appears to be an old auto garage with a cute (very small but aesthetically pleasing) parking lot. The exterior is accented by their big owlish logo (derived apparently from a Mayan calendar symbol) and amplified by the beautiful outside patio juxtaposed against a pair of beautifully converted garage doors. Walking inside there are multiple seating areas ranging from a small outcove to a large open room with lots of table space.

JP's serves Zoka Coffee all the way out of Seattle (which it seems they deliver twice a week just around the third day after roasting to ensure quality). They boast a brace of Clovers which was definitely a welcome and pleasant sign. I sampled a Rwandan coffee which was a sweet and earthy brew seemingly devoid of bitterness. The espresso also impressed, as it had a velvety texture that led to a chocolaty sweetness and bright tang, not to mention that it was pulled very well. The tea looked to be free leaf and of a decent variety.

I really enjoyed my visit to JP's and wish I could have hung out a little longer, as I really don't expect to be back in Austin anytime soon. But if you happen to be in town for business or pleasure (good luck on the latter), make sure to make a swing by JP's for the coffee.