Thursday, November 27, 2008

Coffee Culture USA: A Documentary

I recently was sent the documentary Coffee Culture USA, what looked like an insightful look into the coffee culture, and so I hunkered down recently to see what they had constructed.

On the positive side, the film really captured a lot of small coffee-based businesses across the US, several of them with some very noble motives (to support positive teen interactions, keeping the family legacy alive, etc). Overall, the film seemed to accurately portray the commonly construed coffee culture of the US. And that dovetails right into why I didn't like the film.

The shared theme throughout the whole film seemed to be that people largely get into the coffee business for all kinds of reasons EXCEPT to serve amazing coffee (one coffeehouse actually went into business to lure people in using a cooperative bail bond business!). Sure the film also featured a (seemingly) bona fide Kona company as well as some pretty interesting thoughts from Alfred Peet, but everything else seemed to shove the coffee quite far from the point of the culture. Don't get me wrong, there can be other motives to starting/running a coffeehouse but you have to also serve a quality product (Alfred actually made a similar remark somewhere in the middle).

I gotta say this film made me sad. Maybe it's because the film captured a lot of what bothers me with the coffee world. Maybe it's also because it actually does somewhat accurately reflect the sad current state of the US coffee culture. Whatever the reason, I still stick to my hope that a lot of these troubling facets of the coffee culture will soon shape up.

Thus, check out Coffee Culture USA if you're looking for a taste of the current state of affairs in the coffeehouse realm. But if you're one deeply enamored with quality coffee and you're easily depressed
, you might want to hold off.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

CC: Kahawa Coffee House

What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Kahawa Coffee House
Location visited: Toronto, ON
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Kona coffee definitely sits in the mythological realm of coffee popularity. It seems that every person I get into a "what's your favorite coffee?" conversation, those that aren't as deeply obsessed as myself always play the Kona card. And while most of those Kona lovers have really never had true cup of Kona (most usally say they had a Kona "blend"), it just goes to show the effective publicity that Kona has laid down over the years.

Hence, whenever I see a coffee company or product with Hawaiian ties, I am skeptical. My most recent interaction with such doubt was with a coffeehouse up in Toronto called the Kahawa Coffee House. Located a bit northwest of Kensington Market, the quaint little coffeehouse not only sounds Hawaiian (maybe more Polynesian) but it also sports a very North Beach logo complete with a hyacinth flower. But I soon found out that the similarities halted there.

The exterior of the joint was nothing elaborate; just a bench, large window, and a very spiffy (and clean-looking) storefront. Inside, the coffeehouse was ablaze with orange and yellows amidst a handful of tables and a cute counter.

Kahawa actually roasts their own coffee in a compact homeroaster on the back counter. Knowing that small does not mean poor, I dove right into my Papua New Guinea drip (not literally of course; I'm too big). The coffee was a light roast, with a nice sweetness complimented by citrus and a tinge of grass; overall pretty good. The espresso on the other hand didn't bode as well, having a minute sweetness overshadowed by a strong dark bitterness. The tea is from Tea in the Sahara.

Finding the place very comfortable and not in cahoots with Kona mythology, I was content to leisurely take in Kahawa. Sure it seems that they could use some more skill in the barista skill realm but coffee-wise, they at least seem to have a fair foundation for the roasting. If you're in the area and looking for a vibrant place to sit and have some decent filtered joe, skip up to Kahawa.

Note: I have nothing against true Kona coffee, simply the blind love that people express having never had actually quality stuff. That's all really...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Don't Forget the Thanksgiving Coffee!

As the great American holiday rounds the corner, don't forget to grab a pound or two of great coffee for whatever events you plan to host or attend.

With that said, here's a few coffees (alphabetically-listed) that I've either heard a lot of good things about or I've had the pleasure of tasting myself. If you're really in a rough spot (you know of no good coffee nearby), shoot me an email as I would not wish such a fate on anyone.

Crescent Moon's Brazil Daterra Sunrise
Received a 92 from Coffee Review recently and from what I hear, this year's crop produced a tremendous coffee. On a direct recommendation, one of my recent favorites is the Raccoon Creek Blend as it was recently reworked and has become even more glorious.

Gimme Coffee's Nicaragua Linda Vista Cup of Excellence
While any Cup of Excellence Coffee is a good choice, Gimme usually has a tremendous track record in my experience of great CoEs.

PTs Coffee's Ethiopia Limu - Gomma Organic
An amazing light coffee I've had the distinct pleasure of imbibing, give this or a number of PT's other coffees a whirl.

And here's a few holiday blends (I've heard nothing on these but it sure is good marketing):
Counter Culture Coffee's Holiday Blend
Intelligentsia's Celebration Blend

If you have any others, feel free to leave them in a comment below.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

CC: Java's Cafe

What's does "CC" mean?

Subject: Java's Cafe
Location visited: Rochester, NY
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

It always seems that the local places (especially the good ones) hide, tucked away in spots off the beaten path and not really conducive to a multi-event evening (a stellar coffeehouse near an amazing culinary venue stands as a rare sight). Yet occasionally, a coffeehouse manages to find a nice place to roost.

One such well-placed coffeehouse is a rather large place called Java's Cafe. The coffeehouse sits in what seems to be a rather nice part of the city adjacent to the Eastman Theatre. The outside of the cafe possesses a clean look with not much in outside seating at the time (since it was cold, they retracted it) and nice front windows. The interior gives the impression that the place once was a pub of sorts as it has a central counter, a large amount of dining space, and a downstairs complete with two billiards tables (mind you, beware of the steps needed to reach them; they're a bit steep). And not only did the place prove full of character and local love, but they even have a lunch counter/deli and a whole wall dedicated to free leaf and coffee off to the right of the shop.

The coffee comes from Java Joe's Roasting Company, a coffee roaster out of Binghamton, NY. I had their Kenya AA (brewed on hot plate brewers...yucker), a mellow sweet blend that had potential but since it had been sitting, I couldn't get at it. The espresso, though pulled a bit long (barista skills were half decent), had a nice acidity and smacked of cocoa, all with minimum char. The tea is free leaf.

While the coffee and espresso weren't bad (could use a bit of improvement), I'm sure the convenience of the facility (and maybe the food too) probably really strengthen business. If you're in the proximity, give Java's a try.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

CC: Spot Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?

Spot Coffee
Location visited: Buffalo, NY
(Delaware Ave location)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 3+ [see key]

Over the past year or so, I have really met a lot of people from Buffalo. Some described their city in fair terms, others in sullen woes of a not-so-exciting city. Whatever Buffalo is, it is not a city that sells itself well, as when I've visited I really didn't see much that impressed (I am willing to give the city the benefit of the doubt).

But one thing that seems pretty plain through other conversations and research is that Buffalo does not have a lot of promising coffee places. Locals had told me about Spot Coffee, that it was the local place to get coffee, but beyond that I had not heard much.

So without many options in a recent visit, I made my way to Spot. The coffeehouse looks behemoth walking towards it, like a two-story warehouse with a bright purple awning. The inside proved to have the high vaulted ceilings of a warehouse, but much more warmth and lots of fancy vintage furniture.

Spot self-roasts their coffee, with blends ranging from light to oily-dark. I sampled their Panama coffee, which had a smooth body and a share of candy-ish notes, but it turned out to be tremendously overshadowed by staleness (i.e. it had been sitting). The barista produced a bit of a lackluster espresso; sweet but with definite components of cardboard and char. I did not observe the tea.

Sadly, it seems Buffalo really does not have much of a coffee scene (as further evidenced here) but that's not to say that there's no hope. Spot has the facilities and capabilities to take it up a notch so with some time and effort, hopefully a return trip back to Buffalo will be met with such great news.

If you're in Buffalo and in need of fair coffee (or coffee at all given the lack of alternatives), get a spot of coffee at Spot.