Tuesday, October 14, 2008

CC: Cool Beans Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Cool Beans Coffee
Location visited: Haddon Heights, NJ
(615 Station Ave)

Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 1+ [see key]

ulti-faceted businesses have an odd attraction of getting the best of multiple experiences at once. Take for example a combination barbershop and bar, MR of San Francisco. It seems like a great idea to grab a shave and a beer while watching a game with friends as it takes the social barbershop experience to a new level (even though alcohol and a blade seems like a bad combination).

But not all combinations work out for the best. Take a local coffeehouse in NJ called Cool Beans. I'd driven past it multiple times over the years, noticing the striped white and red awning as well as the simple attractive sign in the window. A recent lunch out with my wife and female in-laws (mother and sister) provided an opportunity to finally stop by. As I approached, I noticed they had videos on the wall and instantly thought "Hmmmm, video rentals and coffee...not a bad idea" and then, I walked in and noticed things seemed a bit out of sorts. Besides the video-lined wall not looking like it had been updated in some time, the shop was set up a tad unorthodox (i.e. dim lights, couches congregating around a central television, and only two tables at the front near the windows).

Still intrigued as to the workings of this shop, I stepped up to the back counter and placed my order. The coffee turned out to be La Colombe, and although my drip was fresh (I waited while they brewed it), the coffee predictably turned out a bit bitter and none too wonderful (most likely a bean problem). The espresso proved even worse, with a pair of really strong bitter shots that made me wince. The tea consisted of assorted bags.

As I was saying up top, not all combo businesses work out. In a brief conversation with the barista, it turns out Cool Beans is in the process of getting out of the video business (guess it's hard to compete with the big boys these days) and focusing on the cafe. And while the convenience of grabbing a latte and a flick has a fair ring to it, it's definitely best to recognize when the combo isn't working. Hopefully in the days to come, the cafe has a bright future of massive improvements (better coffee and better interior) in the single-facet coffeehouse business.

If you're in town, give it a gamble.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

CC: Manic Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Manic Coffee
Location visited: Toronto, ON
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

or the past few weeks I have been going crazy, feeling crushed by an unrelenting sluggishness. Though my routine has been no more difficult, for some odd reason I just feel lethargic. Some would say it's the onset of a cold; others would say that it is the changing of the seasons. And while it could have something to do with the first two (I did have the sniffles recently), I have deduced that it has something more to do with being in a slight directionless spot in my life (i.e. I feel like I'm not hearing/seeing God's directions). Sure it happens, but what confounds me is that despite knowing that I still need to press in/on, I am not making the effort.

Recently though, I caught the winds of some positive change on a trip to Toronto. The weather proved tremendous and the trip allowed for some quiet spiritual discussion as well as some great bonding with the wife. And while it would've seemed wise to avoid anything with a hint of association with mania this trip, I had in my sights anxiously set on a promising coffeehouse called Manic Coffee.

The coffeehouse sits nondescript amidst several other establishments on a main avenue of the city. The exterior is minimalist with a single sharp-looking bench in front of large windows. The interior is long and inviting, with a host of tables and very mellow green walls.

The coffee comes from Intelligentsia and 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters, both well-known, excellent roasters. That day I had the Ethiopian Sidamo via drip, a delightfully lucent and fruity brew. I also observed as I was sipping my drip that they had a "free" Clover, a most welcome sight these days (most of the others are enslaved now to Starbucks...). The barista expertly pulled a doubleshot using 49th's Epic Espresso, a decent espresso that produced flavors ranging from hints of a dry red wine to bittersweet cocoa; overall nice but a tad too dark for my tongue. The tea was free leaf and assorted.

Looking back, I actually left Manic Coffee with a little less mania. All goes to show the power of good coffee. Make sure that if you're in Toronto that you give Manic Coffee a visit.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Mugged: Escazu Coffee


What does "Mugged" mean?

Subject: Escazu Coffee
Coffee Mugged: Costa Rican
Rating: 4+ [see key]

nly a handful of coffee roasters would I call "bewitching", mainly because if I have realized anything, it is that roasting coffee is not easy. But I would now have to say that I have found a coffee befitting of the label "bewitching" purely for namesake purposes.

Recently I was introduced to Escazu Coffee, a coffee roaster out of Long Beach that roasts coffee only from Costa Rica. The company name comes from a spot in Costa Rica apparently renowned for its witches (as escazu means witch) and since the owners have ties of sorts to the locale, they adopted a witch as their name and logo.

Their coffee comes from Naranjo, Costa Rica and consequently they only sell a single kind of coffee (a unique approach, as most roasters have at least three types). Compliments of Escazu, I was able to try out the coffee recently in the space of my own domicile. The beans were a tad oily but not so much that it looked defective. I sampled the coffee through drip, french press, and vacuum press. French pressed, the coffee tasted nutty with a nice caramely sweetness though a tad charred on the back end. Vacuum press provided a similar experience; caramely with some hints of earthiness. The drip on the other hand produced a slightly more noticeable char in the cup but still, a pretty decent experience.

Escazu's coffee proved sumptuous though not completely entrancing. What I can say is that of all the Costa Rican coffees I've sampled, Escazu takes the cake. Thus, if you're looking for a decent Costa Rican coffee to take home, give Escazu a try.

Monday, September 29, 2008

CC: Mugs Coffee House

What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Mugs Coffee House
Location visited: Swedesboro, NJ
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

ew Jersey definitely holds a lot of people, as it is the most densely populated state in the union. And yet, if someone were to blindfold you and haul you to certain remote places in NJ, you would swear someone kidnapped you and took you across state lines (on a side note, always obtain consent from a person before blindfolding and carting them anywhere).

But dense or not dense, one thing is consistent with my home state; the signage and locations of things can be downright absurd. For example, I was recently driving around looking for a small coffeehouse in a small town called Swedesboro, and not only did Google map plot the address way outside of town but I drove through the town of Swedesboro twice and did not see one single sign announcing its existence. And I'm a native (I can't imagine the stress for someone from afar...)!

Anyways, I did finally find the coffeehouse above, a little place called Mugs Coffee House. A recent sprout on the coffee scene, it resides in a converted house on the main stretch of town. The exterior boasts a sharp-looking front porch complete with several tables and chairs. Walking in, you enter a long foyer that leads to the counter in the back of the house. The dining area to the right holds a series of comfy-looking chairs (though the color scheme of purple, orange and green has never hit me as pretty) as well as traditional table seating.

The coffee comes from Jersey Shore Coffee Roasters, a distant North Jersey coffee roaster that I don't think I've had before. The coffee served twas a Costa Rican that left me indifferent; a nice sweet note in the front followed immediately by a burnt blandness that made my tongue despair. The espresso had a twinge of potential, as it had a nice fruity acidity, but the shot was overall empty and flat (I didn't see the shots pulled, but my guess was a bad pull and possibly a mediocre espresso blend). The tea was Harney and Sons and they serve a full menu.

While I would say that Mugs would benefit from better coffee practices and/or better coffee (can't say I was thrilled with Jersey Shore), overall it seems the place provides a good hangout for locals and decent fare for the hungry. Thus, if you happen to be going through the town, give the coffeehouse a whirl; hopefully, you'll have better luck with signs.

Friday, September 19, 2008

CC: Funk N Waffles

What's a Coffee Commentary?

Subject: Funk N Waffles
Location visited: Syracuse, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

*Updated 9/27/09*

Some words you rarely see together but when they combine, they sound kinda good. Chocolate and sonata, anarchy and shutterbugs, or even fruit and fireworks (this last one I personally enjoy). Similarly, it wasn't until I ran across a small wafflerie near Syracuse University that I first heard the words 'funk' and 'waffles' in the same breath.

As the waffle and coffee trend seems to be on the rise, I was curious to see how the musical stylings of funk played into the equation of Funk N Waffles. The wafflerie stands in what appears to be a back alley called Campus Plaza between Marshall St. and Adams St. Walking in, you must first head down a treacherous set of steps in order to access the underground lair of Funk N Waffles. The shop opens up into an eclectic venue with various types of furniture and eyebrow-raising art along the walls, with the stage off to the back for when they have performances (which is frequently).

The coffee hails from Ancora Coffee Roasters, a Wisconsin coffee company new to my ears. The coffee brewed usually is the House Blend, which comes off with a slight bit of char and not too much flavor (seems to be a bean problem). The espresso is also not so hot despite baristas who seem to know what they're doing. The espresso usually tastes strongly of bitter oils, albeit slightly sweet with a nice hang (also a bean issue?). The tea is free leaf and from the looks of the menu, the waffles look amazing.

Granted the coffee aspects of Funk N Waffles seems like they could improve a bit (maybe change coffee roasters), but the business seems to be a thriving hangout and
music scene for student and local alike. Thus, if you happen to be in Syracuse and looking for either a place to groove to some local tune-age or a good place to grab a waffle and fair cup of coffee, head to Funk N Waffles.

*Update 11/22/08

Funk N Waffles recently swapped over to Equal Exchange. A depressing move in the wrong direction (can't say that Equal Exchange coffee has ever been anything but over-roasted). Maybe they'll change again soon?

*Update 9/27/09

They upgraded this past summer, this time to Gimme Coffee. The espresso has definitely improved a little bit due to the change in bean but it given use of good beans, the shots could still use some refinement. And while the drip is also Gimme, it seems to be very much the darker Gimme Coffees which I can't say I care for.

So, improvement with the coffee roaster but I assume that they're still adjusting.