Sunday, March 17, 2013

CC: Crema Coffee House

Subject: Crema Coffee House
Location: Denver, CO
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

One sunny Denver morning, I had the delightful luxury of taking it slow and having a lackadaisical coffee stop before starting my day. Given my geography at the time, I set my sights on a local establishment with an effervescent reputation, Crema Coffee House.

Sitting in a black brick building on a corner lot, Crema has a unique exterior with a lot of sleek design elements that pull forward your eyes to its existence. Inside, the place reverberates with a stylish yet efficiently purposed space, complete with a chandelier, lots of natural light and some interesting art.

Their coffee is as copious as it comes, with numerous roasters on hand such as Counter Culture, Novo, Boxcar, Herkimer and Dogwood. That morning, I had an espresso from Herkimer (their Espresso Blend I believe) and a french press of a Colombian from Novo. The espresso, pulled short with a brown crema, held notes of dark cocoa, a little clove, light sugar, a bit of ginger and a smoky finish, all of which combined to form a sweet and balanced infusion. The Colombian doled out a delicious light-medium bodied brew that smacked of wheat, pear, black tea, banana nut muffin and broth.

All together (now!), Crema provided great coffee, great service and wonderful ambiance; I couldn't have chosen a better spot to start off my slow day. If you're in or around Denver, give Crema your patronage.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Irish Coffee

When it comes to putting stuff in my coffee, I'm a bit of a purist. If you've read my posts before and/or you're good with picking up intent from blog titles, you may have deduced that I pretty much always take my coffee black and prefer my espresso straight. Both, if of high caliber, need no additive to make them delicious.

But as proud descendant of the Irish, I occasionally will bend for a bit of whiskey and cream in my brew. Of course it's not because I find whiskey offensive alone (quite the opposite); it's more that the mixture of a correctly concocted Irish coffee makes for a delicious after-dinner treat. And even though it's near impossible to find a well-made Irish coffee out at eateries (mostly still due to the lack of good beans in restaurants), fortunately there's no true limit to what a coffee enthusiast can do in the confines of their home coffee bar.

To that end, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, I sought to truly explore what Irish coffee could be. I recently set out to try out some different combinations in the space of my kitchen and with the help of Powers Whiskey, Concannon Irish Whiskey, Gorilla Coffee and Cafe Grumpy, I began the exploration.

Of course, the components should be noted separately. I tried out both coffees straight (in the name of science!) and was pleased with the results. From Gorilla Coffee, I sampled their Gishamwana Rwanda, a rich coffee that held notes of cocoa, raisin, orange and thyme within a creamy, medium body. From Cafe Grumpy, I chose their Santa Teresa Dipilto, Nueva Segovia Nicaragua, a delightful coffee that doled out dark chocolate, citrus, light merlot and some light nuttiness amid a supple medium body. To put it plain, both coffees proved delicious on their own and each held the perfect combination of chocolate and bright complexity to compliment the whiskey.

As for the whiskeys, having deep appreciation for a good glass of whiskey served neat, I tried out both separately as well. Powers held notes of vanilla, caramel and some light sage with a noticeably heavier body than most other whiskeys I've had. Concannon proved a little lighter in essence but proved tasty with notes of pound cake, butterscotch, orange juice and a slight smokiness. Neither drink was the best whiskey ever but their agreeable components coupled with their very affordable price tag swiftly nominate both as great whiskeys for Irish coffee.

Now knowing what I was working with, I went to work. I performed multiple trials, using different ratios of a simple recipe of brown sugar, coffee, whiskey and home-made thick cream (i.e. not fully whipped so it's pourable). In the end, I found a great recipe for someone looking for a just-so-sweet Irish Coffee.

As for the different components, I found they all worked splendidly together. Both coffees provided a silky and cocoa-ish backbone to furnish the sweet, vanilla and bright flavors of either whiskey. Especially with the cream floating on the top to provide the correct trademark taste (remember to pour the thick cream onto the back of a spoon), I found my final recipe a home run (note that it's nothing ground breaking; just minor differences from the original):

Irish Coffee
  • 6 oz. of quality coffee brewed a touch stronger (i.e. add about 2-4 grams of freshly ground coffee to your usual water/grounds ratio to accommodate for the upcoming dilution)
  • 2 tsp. of brown sugar
  • 1.5 oz. of whiskey
  • Freshly and lightly whipped heavy cream
  • Preheated mug (simply heat your mug by letting hot water sit in it)
1. Brew your coffee in the desired method (I recommend pourover or siphon to keep a cleaner cup), using 2-4 grams more of coffee than usual to make the coffee more potent.
2. Add the brown sugar to the empty mug and then pour in the hot coffee. Stir lightly.
3. Add whiskey.
4. Using the back of a spoon, lightly pour the thick cream over the top the spoon to make the cream float on top (this aspect of the cream is not only a necessity of custom but also a linchpin in the taste of the drink as the other components must pass through the cream on the way to the mouth).
If you're on the lookout for whiskey well-suited for Irish coffee, look to Powers Whiskey or Concannon Irish Whiskey for your spirit. As for the coffee, since the two above won't be around forever, make sure to choose a high quality, well-roasted, sweet dessert-like coffee.

note: coffee and whiskey was provided mostly free of charge and the above article is objective feedback.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

CC: Gaslight Coffee Roasters

Subject: Gaslight Coffee Roasters
Location: Chicago, IL
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Some people I know still shudder and shake at the idea of using trains as a primary means of transportation. Sure the noble automobile has much more versatility, but when you're in a city like Chicago with its superb transit systems, it just makes more sense to take the L where you need to go.

But unfortunately for me one night, I found myself chained to a colleague who refused to let me take the train to get some coffee because it was "unsafe."  Instead, after some negotiation to keep the apple cart settled, I found myself being chauffeured (not a bad compromise) to my evening coffee stop in Logan Square, Gaslight Coffee Roasters.

Getting out of the car, I found Gaslight conveniently situated in a very visible corner space with wide windows. Stepping inside, it seemed that even the cold night air could not chill the warm vibe given off by the clean design and spiffy decor of the interior. The place was also packed and buzzing, despite the late hour.

Sauntering up to the counter, in no time at all I engaged a barista or two in coffee-laden banter, eventually deciding on a espresso of their Ethiopian Sidamo and a pourover of their Colombian Peaberry. The espresso, pulled short with brown crema, shot off rockets of intense flavor, with notes of berry, almond croissant, cocoa, hibiscus, red wine and a little cumin (delicious!). The pourover proved creamy and sweet with wheat, additionally throwing in notes of vanilla, corn and apple skin, proving smooth and thoroughly pleasant.

While I wasn't able to hang out as long as I would have liked (my chaffuer awaited me in the car), it was great to make it out to Gaslight Coffee Roasters. When you're in Chicago, make sure to float yourself over for great coffee.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Mugged: El Salvador Orange Bourbon [Klatch]

Subject: Klatch Coffee
Mugged: El Salvador Orange Bourbon
Rating [see key]: 5+

Continuing from my prior post of Klatch's Kenya Kagumoini are my thoughts on the second coffee sent out, their El Salvador Orange Bourbon. The name constitutes the coffee's original origin off Madagascar (present-day Reunion, onced named Bourbon) and also for this coffee cherry's orange color (you can read more up on Bourbon's here). Designated as a single origin espresso, I was curious to see if the tasting notes on the bag rang true for my infusions that consisted of a pourover, french press and siphon.

The pourover produced a cup with surprisingly little fruit but instead a cup brimming with honey, wheat, granulated sugar, caramel and nougat, all within a smooth and sweet body with practically no bite. Bright but in a surprisingly dessert-ish way.

The french press delivered much more of a complex cup, full of notes of sassafras, wheat, nougat, orange and the tiniest touch of cayenne pepper and sage on the end. A deeper coffee with pleasant range of flavors.

The siphon continued with a complexity and body similar to the french press. The cup sang of Corn Pops, birch beer, raisins, walnuts and caramel, standing as the brightest of the three infusions.

While I was a big fan of the coffee, I really was surprised I didn't uncover nearly as much juice as Klatch and others had spoken of. Nonetheless, if you're looking for a great bourbon coffee, hopefully Klatch will bring back the Orange Bourbon next season.

note: coffee was provided free of charge and the above review is objective feedback.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

CC: Croque Madame

Subject: Croque Madame
Location: JFK International Airport, Terminal 2, Gates 21/22
Free WiFi ? : no
Rating: 5+ [see key]

Airport coffee has been the bane of numerous travelers since the advent of airports. Especially for a person used to freshly ground, well-crafted coffee, it can be hard to stoop to old beans pumped out of a super automatic espresso gauntlet. Sadly, caffeine has its demands and many people would rather a charred mess of a coffee than do without.

But Praise the Lord, specialty coffee has come to the runway. More and more good coffee entities are finding their way inside airport terminals, though most are not on the east coast. One of the few right coast spots also happened to be my most recent encounter with good airport coffee. In JFK's Terminal 2 there's a trendy spot called Croque Madame, a small french-style bar and eatery churned out by the huge airport bistro creator OTG. Aside from the vast sprawl of tables and booths hooked up with iPads where seas of airport chairs used to reside, what caught my eye was the beautiful espresso machine (a La Marzocca I believe) and decent coffee offerings.

Currently it seems they carry Stumptown, but when I was there it was Caffe Vita. As I sat at the bar and shot the breeze with the barista, I ordered an espresso and a pour over both of the Caffe del Sol (it was the only coffee on hand at the time). The espresso, pulled short with a slightly thin crema, resonated notes of cocoa, toasted croissant, lime, blood orange, a little shredded wheat and a slight element of pepper; a fairly balanced and flavorful pull. The pourover had elements of steak, malt, nutmeg, a little smokiness, honey and fig, all in all pulling together a deep coffee with flecks of sweetness.

All in all, not the best Caffe Vita experience I've had but by all means, it was the best coffee I've ever had in JFK. And in like manner, hopefully the sight of great coffee venues in airports will continue to rise. If you happen to be in JFK Terminal 2, give Croque Madame a bit of your time.