Saturday, January 10, 2009

CC: TBar

What's does "CC" mean?

Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

For several years, I have been searching for a rose petal tea that I sampled in my great uncle's kitchen in San Francisco. The tea had all of the aroma of a rose bush and was complimented by a sweet tartiness and a nice hint of the very flower petals laying at the bottom of my cup. But though I searched for it (even the very company that sold it to my uncle), I could not find a similar match, as all the teas I tried sampled either too much like a fruit punch or too little like a rose.

But a bit of a blessing lead me to the TBar in Philadelphia, a local tea establishment that has a great number of teas as well as a full menu. I had just finished eating a mediocre dish of bangers and mash (I was feeling Irish that night) across the street with my family at Finn McCool's Ale House when I felt the overwhelming urge for a spot of tea (I had seen T Bar coming in). Naturally, as we were about done and ready to leave, I excused myself and ran across the street.

TBar itself sits pretty on the corner of Samson and 12th with tan stone, large windows, and earth-toned awnings. The interior opens into a large space with beautiful furniture and very calm decor.

The menu of the place consisted of all kinds of tea-related drinks (bubble tea, chai, etc.) as well as numerous kinds of free leaf teas. Curious as to the quality of their chai (as most coffeehouses use a powder and it's rare to see it done right), I decided to sample it. The chai proved a beautiful marriage of tea, milk and spices, proving sweet but not at all strong.

The final moment of elation came as I was sniffing through their teas and the woman behind the counter mentioned they had a rose petal/green tea combination. Skeptical at first, as I've done the song and dance before, I asked to smell it and to my delight, it smelled like a tea rose in full bloom. Willing to take a risk, I got a few ounces to go, and later that night my delight was complete as the tea was even better then the one I remembered.

Needless to say, if you're a fan of tea in any way, I would highly recommend stopping by TBar for a cup in-house or a bag (or two) to go. Obviously, I would suggest the Rose Sencha.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

CC: Perk on Main

What's does "CC" mean?

Perk on Main
Location visited: Emmaus, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

While I understand the history and necessity for turnpikes (roads use to be privately owned and hence, tolls were collected to manage upkeep; states now do the same to balance costs), oh how do I despise them. Especially ones with 3 exits over 7 hundred miles, like Rt 476 (i.e. the NE Extension of the PA turnpike) drive me nuts, as with normal highways you can get off at local towns as you go in order to grab refreshment and nourishment. Not with 476.

But occasionally, I decree (with the wife's consent of course) to go off course to grab some local coffee, with the most recent stop being a place called Perk on Main. The joint sits on the Main St of the cute little town of Emmaus, in a cute little store outfitted with a substantial porch and chic outside seating. The inside is a medium-sized room with peripheral seating and large serving area.

The coffee comes from Counter Culture Coffee out of North Carolina, a great roaster and purveyor of coffee (also becoming more and more common in the Northeast). I had the La Golondrina via drip, a wonderfully chocolaty and orange-ish coffee with low acidity and a creamy texture. The espresso was also a refreshing beverage, as the barista definitely knew what she was doing and hence pulled a smooth and bright shot with strong flavors of bittersweet cocoa and a nice cranberry tang. The tea is freeleaf and also from Counter Culture I believe.

While the sidetrip took me about 45 minutes out of the way, it was well worth it to find a gem like Perk on Main. If you're in the nearby area or even driving on 476, take a stop by Emmaus for the Perk on Main.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

CC: 1 Shot Coffee

What's does "CC" mean?

1 Shot Coffee
Location visited: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

*Updated 2/3/11

I always find it funny how businesses can pop up unnoticed under your very nose. Just this past week, after a Sunday brunch at Bar Ferdinand with my wife, cousin and her husband (a unique and fairly sumptuous experience, though I realized that day that I really don't like poached eggs or hollandaise sauce), a quick stroll down Liberties Walk exposed a new coffeehouse called 1 Shot Coffee. Needless to say I begged my compatriots to stop, to which they so graciously agreed.

The exterior of the place is a beautiful tan brick with red and gray metal accents as well as few sharp pieces of outside furniture. Inside, it looked a little like Pee Wee's Playhouse with a touch of vintage and no talking inanimate objects (great place to hang).

The coffee actually comes from Intelligentsia out of Chicago, a renowned coffee roaster that serves a pretty mean brew. The coffee served was sadly nothing like I expected; sure it had a decent brightness, low acidity, and smooth body but it was pretty stale and overall lackluster. The espresso was pulled long, displaying a cocoa-ishly sweet pair of shots lacking a decent bite. The tea is free leaf and they also have a host of other menu options.

While it's obvious that 1 Shot is aiming for quality, it seems that they could use a bit more refining with a few basics. With such a fine location and enticing set-up, it would be sad to see them settle. Thus, if you're around the Liberties Walk in search of a fair cup of coffee, give 1 Shot coffee a shot.

Updated 3/21/10

This is an update a little overdue, as I have been meaning to put this up for well over a month now. I was able to spend a good chunk of an afternoon here as of late and had a much better experience.

The Intelly house blend this time produced a light coffee with hints of condensed milk, a bit of pepper and a pleasant smoothness. Not the most complex of coffees but still good.

The espresso this time around was a nice, short/medium Black Cat pull: tangy lemon and semisweet chocolate with hints of paprika and blackberry, all within a syrupy body and topped with decent crema.

Give 1 Shot a true shot if you have not yet.

Updated 2/3/11

While this is not a re-review (which is due because of the following news), in the past year they have switched over to Stumptown Coffee and have moved to a far more elegant facility around the corner (I know, the picture is old too). Their food menu is also considerably larger. Stay tuned for a more extensive update.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

CC: Coffee Mania

What's does "CC" mean?

Coffee Mania
Location visited: Cortland, NY
( Port Watson location )
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating: 4+ [see key]

Growing up in NJ, espresso shacks were uncommon, so when I first was acquainted with them, I became enamored with the concept. But over the years, I've come to understand that most espresso shacks have decent coffee at best, and more often then not they only provide a convenient caffeinated jolt for the rushed commuter.

But on the few occasions where I run across a good one, the operation has a unique factor or two. My most recent brush with such a rarity was in Cortland, NY at a visually nonchalant venue called Coffee Mania. I had researched coffee in the area and found that while Coffee Mania was a drive thru, they actually roasted their own beans (they even use Cup of Excellence!).

Driving up to the Port Watson location, the drive thru displays a retro 1960s look, complete
with tan siding and a large winged roof. There wasn't much else to the property except that the parking lot has a spacious layout and made pulling up simple.

As mentioned above, they roast their own beans (though they roast under another name called Coffee Depot). The coffee on tap (drip) was a Mexican Chiapas that sampled smooth, earthy and nutty, although also a bit stale; a good coffee but not all that distinct. Looking to to the espresso, while it was served in a paper cup, the shots tasted surprisingly good: decent crema, low acidity, and a nice lemony sweetness with but a smidgen of char on the tail end. I failed to note the tea.

Driving away, I have to say that while the facilities could stand some visual stimulus, the coffee operation of Coffee Mania really left me impressed. It seems that the business itself is expanding and hopefully one day, they can fully realize their full potential. In the meantime, if you're in Cortland, give Coffee Mania a try.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Last Minute Gift Check-In

o, the Holiday blog post became quite a common thing on coffee blogs this year (I would recommend checking out the blogs on the left for some really great posts on gifts if you haven't already). But seeing as it's only a few days at the most til gift-giving time, I figured I would put up some basic, yet often overlooked tips to help you better affirm that you got/bought the gift you wanted (especially if you're a non-coffee fanatic buying for one).

Note, while I hold these opinions to be true, you may disagree and in the spirit of transparent peer education, please post your opinions of either affirmation or disagreement below.

Good Gift Signs:

1. Your travel mug has a stainless steel or ceramic interior (many plastics absorb odors).

2. Your coffee is whole bean, not oily on the outside (though some like it that way) and was roasted within a week of getting it.

3. Your espresso machine did not come from a department store (in most cases; I have yet to see a good one sold in the mall). Note that home espresso machines are wicked complex to find and if you have a good one, not easy to realize its full potential. As many espouse, don't have high hopes unless you're planning on putting a lot of work into finding and then using it, not to mention also possessing a good grinder, barista skills and good coffee.

4. Your free leaf tea is in a sealed, opaque container.

5. Your grinder has burrs (even better if it's recommended by a credible coffee fanatic).

6. Your coffee brewer does not have a hot plate (and if it does, make sure to not let it sit on it too long). Also, I would avoid a coffeemaker with a grinder inside; the grinder's probably not that good and it's one more thing to break.

7. Your french press is from Bodum (I have yet to find one made by someone else that I like).

8. The coffee is not in a sealed pod or the machine does not require them.

Also, feel free to add your own tips! Enjoy the happy chaos!