Tuesday, May 20, 2008

CC: Sleepless Goat Cafe

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Sleepless Goat Cafe
Location visited:
Kingston, ON
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

While it seems hard to believe for me as I've been to various countries, this is my first international coffee post. I guess it's probably because rarely have I been able to find a coffeehouse in places like the wilderness of Russia or the island of Bermuda. But those are other stories...

This story begins some months ago with a seed planted in my head by my supervisor in regards to the city of Kingston in Ontario. She had mentioned that there was a coffeehouse on every corner and that it would be a great place for me to visit. I thought to myself that such news was odd since that in my Canadian online research and in talking with Canadians, no one had ever mentioned anything worth a stop in Kingston. So without knowing where to go from there, I filed the thought off to the side.

Then a couple weeks ago, it just so happened that the wife and I happened to be going to Kingston for some relaxation amidst the beautiful onset of spring. So upon arrival I dusted off the past conversation about coffeehouses on every corner and made sure to keep my eye out. Sure enough, there were literally coffeehouses all around the downtown area. But then a horrid reality seemed to sink in as we popped into a few; most of them didn't seem to have a lick of an idea of what a good coffeehouse looked like. Some had espresso machines that seemed massacred by a robot army, others proudly touting how great their French Vanilla Cappuccino was.

Finally we stumbled upon a place that looked half decent called the Sleepless Goat Cafe. The front of the place boasted a renaissance-fair-ish sign above a small awning that did a fair job in shading a few spots of outside seating. The interior was a little roomier though a bit grungy and very bohemian. The seating consisted of tables and a few booths that proved very hard to get in and out of with their cushions not nailed to the seat.

The coffee comes from a Canadian coffee roaster called Equator that basically focuses on fair trade and organic coffees (as do all things served at the Sleepless Goat). I was served a coffee called Dr. Joe (or something like that) that came off bright but a bit burnt. The espresso was fair though it tasted more like a dark cup of french press then espresso. I think the tea was free leaf (didn't write it down) and as a side note, they also serve alcoholic beverages.

While I can say that the (lack of) signs had warned me, it's always sad to walk away from an establishment (never mind a whole city) that is in need of coffee refinement. Inversely, I could see the Sleepless Goat really transcending their neighboring coffee establishments with a slight aesthetic makeover as well as more passion on the coffee quality.

If you happen to be in town and not feeling so adventurous to hop through the many coffee establishments, give the Sleepless Goat an attempt.

Friday, May 16, 2008

CC: Java Monkey

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Java Monkey
Location visited: Decatur, GA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

In my experience in dealing with cafes named after animals, it's been hit or miss. I've had good fortune with a monkey in Ithaca but not so much luck with a cow in South Dakota. And there's no seemingly noticeable trend, as I've had great coffee with a goat in Decatur but poor coffee with a goat in Kingston.

So when I heard a few good things about a place called the Java Monkey in Decatur, I made sure to "swing in" while in Atlanta. Coming right out of the Decatur MARTA station, I was surprised to find it right outside of the station. The exterior was painted a lovely maroon shade complimented with some clever exterior decor and a fairly nice patio off to the left. Walking inside, the interior was a long coffeehouse with super cozy seating towards the front and the coffee and wine bars toward the back.

The coffee comes from Equal Exchange, an organic roaster that I have never had a good cup of coffee from. The Guatemalan served via drip (sadly) met the usual expectations with a fairly bitter and charred cup of coffee. The espresso was also not so hot, with a long pull and a heavily-oiled, harsh double shot. The tea is free leaf and while I did not have any, there was a fairly extensive wine and beer bar.

Sadly, this particular monkey was not as hopping as I had hoped but given a better coffee and stronger espresso training, this monkey could climb to the top. If you're looking for a cup of mediocre organic coffee or can't go far away from the MARTA train station, stop on by the Java Monkey.

Monday, May 12, 2008

CC: Urban Grind

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Urban Grind
Location visited: Atlanta, GA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Surprises in my opinion never really come often enough in life. Granted some surprises are bad, like a phone call from your bank that says something to the effect of "I'm sorry to report that we had a rogue clown break into our vault and he pilfered your non-FDIC-insured safety deposit box." But most of the time surprises are welcome times, such as a phone call out of the blue from an old friend or a letter in the mail that informs you that you are the long lost heir of the late (filthy rich) Duke of _______shire in ______land.

My favorite surprise of late was a coffeehouse called Urban Grind that I randomly came across upon a leisurely walk on my way back to my hotel in Atlanta. I had passed the place several times actually on other excursions but had dismissed it as mediocre as I had not heard of it prior in my research nor did it seem promising sitting on the corner of an out-of-the-way road near a small housing development. What finally drew me in, I do not know; I think it was simply that I like giving the unknown a whirl (when it comes to food of course).

The exterior was a pretty basic stone structure combined with a what-looked-like a pre-fab building; basically a clean look with roped-on banners. The interior was much more eclectic, with some really stylish vintage furniture of all sorts all surrounding a central counter.

The surprise of it all was that this seemingly random coffeehouse served Intelligentsia. Usually, when a place serves such a well-known coffee it finds its way on the radar but somehow UG managed to elude detection. While they do offer french press (second surprise, as it's not a common offering), I ordered a cup of the Organic El Gallo drip which proved to uphold a superior taste characterized by a sweet buttery nuttiness (third surprise, as just because you serve a good coffee doesn't mean it will be a good coffee). The espresso sadly was pulled long and came out with not much crema and a bit short of the potential that Black Cat (the name of the Intelligentisa espresso blend) is known for. The tea I failed to notice.

As I walked away, I definitely had more of a spring in my step and further confirmation that random stops at random shops sometimes do prove wonderfully fruitful. While Urban Grind still could use some improvement to get to the top of their game, they seem like they have a good start. If nearby, give UG a stop.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

CC: San Francisco Coffee Roasting Company

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: San Francisco Coffee Roasting Company
Location visited: Atlanta, GA
(664 N. Highland Ave)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

I never really thought much of it before, but it never fails that every city has at least one establishment that stands in tribute/memory of another place. One good example I recently encountered was a Philly cheese steak joint in Syracuse, NY called called Taste of Philadelphia which did end up serving a decent Philly cheese steak (the bread could've been toasted) and a whole lot of love for Philadelphia (I have never seen so much Rocky memorabilia).

And while Philly cheese steak haunts are somewhat common, occasionally a rare homage pops up such as an Atlanta coffeehouse I ran across in my travels called San Francisco Coffee Roasting Company. At first I couldn't figure out what San Francisco has as far as unique corners on the coffee world, I later discovered via the website that there's not much beyond the owners' personal experience in the city of the 49ers. On a random note though, I would say that San Francisco does have most excellent coffee.

SFCRC has two locations (apparently soon to have a third), both located NE of downtown. I managed to make it to the more southern location on a very sunny weekday afternoon. Upon walking towards their moderately-sized parking lot bordered with outside tables, the building displays fairly nondescript as a basic rectangle of a building with really nice patio doors. The inside displays plenty of warm red and orange colors, some beautiful round wooden tables, and fairly interesting art on the walls.

The coffee is roasted in-house and seems to be the passion of the business. I poured for myself (as it is self-serve) a cup of Colombian Supremo which came off sweet and a bit saucy (almost like marinara, in a good way); overall a tremendous cup of coffee. The espresso was not as great, as it had a strong jaggedness and noticeable char. The tea is free leaf.

While I've only been to San Francisco twice, I can't really say that this Georgian coffeehouse made me think of the Bay area and/or its coffee scene, though it did brighten up my day a little bit (especially as they had some much needed WIFI). And while it appears they could use some improvement with their espresso,
SFCRC definitely seems to produce some fairly triumphant coffees. If you're nearby, it's worth the stop.

Friday, May 02, 2008

CC: Mud Truck

What's a Coffee Commentary?

The Mud Truck
(a facet of Mud Coffee)

Location visited: Manhattan, NY
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating: 2+ [see key]

Who in their right mind doesn't like food that comes to you on its own? Nay, I do not talk of delivery (for that incurs a tip) but of the many different mobile dining operations out there such as grease and ice cream trucks. Whether the business-on-wheels either parks in your employer's parking lot to set up shop or meanders slowly by your house with hordes of small children tailing behind, it's a beautiful marriage of convenience and calories.

For some years now I've wondered why not many people have ventured into the coffee truck business. Surely with the niches of ice cream and lunch items occupied, it's a simple expectation to hope someone will roll up with your morning espresso too. Sure I have heard tales of Long Story Short Coffee (a barista and his coffee truck tromping all over Northern Idaho) featured in last month's issue of Imbibe, but (not) oddly enough there seems to be nothing like that on the NE side of the country.

Fast forward to a couple weekends ago when meandering the streets around Soho I come across the Mud Truck; a bright orange vessel with very obvious signs of serving coffee and espresso. Acting on curiosity as well as out of the love for the aforementioned mobile food industry, I moseyed my self into the short line to sample the product.

According to the efficient (bordering on rude) barista, they roast their own coffee, available in three blends (light, medium, and dark). Deciding to leave the chit-chat at that, I grabbed my coffee and espresso to drink in a nearby park. The coffee twas mediocre; bright but cardboardy and charred. The espresso also disappointed, as the shot was pulled with a milkshake-ish consistency and tasted tremendously sharp and stiff. Didn't get a chance to note the teas.

While I am happy to have found a mobile coffee business relatively close by, I can't say I was too impressed with the Mud Truck. I'm not sure how much impact the truck facilities limited the quality of the coffee along with other factors such as the barista's practices and the coffee quality, but something needs tweaking. While the bar for the mobile food industry isn't really that high (would anyone consider Jack and Jill or Mr. Softee gourmet ice cream?), no one should allow what's been done to set a limit on what can be done.

If you're into trying stuff for the sake of novelty, definitely give the Mud Truck a try. If you have your sights on a better cup of coffee, then venture elsewhere.