Monday, December 26, 2005

Temple Fine Coffee & Tea

Location: 1014 10th St., Sacramento

Reviewed: December 26, 2005

Espresso: Temple is a wholesale customer of the highly acclaimed Barefoot Coffee Roasters, and on this particular day were serving their Element 114 blend. My double shot was poured as a ristretto and displayed the elements that this blend is known for: heavy body, long aftertaste, lots of chocolate flavor in the cup. The barista appeared to be in training, but did everything right under the watchful eye of his trainor. My one quibble is that they provide table service, which means that the crema will dissipate somewhat by the time it gets to you. That was not much of an issue here, as the crema was thick and dark anyway.

Atmosphere: Temple is a long narrow spot with a high ceiling, which is vaulted over half the store. The bar is all the way in the back, and walking all the way back to place your order almost feels like an event of some major significance. There is a statue of the Buddha in an alcove on one of the side walls near the back. Brick walls are a nice touch. Of particular note is that the only standard cafe tables that Temple utilizes are one or two placed outside. There are other tables inside, but they are slightly larger and square in shape; they are aranged in a row along one side of the store with built-in cushioned benches on the wall. The rest of the seating consits of lounge-style couches.

Verdict: Excellent espresso and a very cool location. The Buddha must surely be smiling at these people. Worth a visit!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Willow Glen Coffee Roasting Co.

Location: 1383 Lincoln Ave., San Jose

Reviewed: December 19, 2005

Espresso: My single was pulled very long, being ~2.5 oz. It had a fairly thick, albeit hazlenut-colored, pale crema which dissipated fairly rapidly. It was medium-bodied and fairly bright. Bitterness was the primary taste sensation in the cup, although there was some dark spice lurking in there as well. It is of note that the shot was on the hot side (indicating a possibly idle machine) and that the barista ground about half the shot while dosing. There is, then, a possibility of a better shot at a time when the shop and machine are busy.

Atmosphere: WG Coffee is located in two storefronts linked by a doorway near the front of the shop. There is an eclectic variation of local art on the walls and a black & white checkered floor (which reminded me of an ice cream parlor). Live jazz and blues are common on weekends.

Verdict: With the possibility of a slightly better shot when busy, I'd probably stop in on a weekend evening for the live music and a cappuccino.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Cafe Aragon

Location: 856 N. 13th St., San Jose

Reviewed: December 11, 2005

Espresso: Aragon is a wholesale customer of Barefoot Coffee Roasters and uses their Element 114 blend. At Aragon, my shot was pulled longer than I'm used to (a single reached nearly 2oz.). As a result of this, the crema was paler than it should have been, and the heavy body for which this blend is known was somewhat reduced. Nonetheless, the shot was not bitter. The barista did things right, preheating the cup, pouring directly into it, and grinding the shot individually. The single shot shouldn't have been served in a cappuccino-sized cup, however.

Atmosphere: Aragon is a very large shop, but other than a nice tile floor, it made little impression on me. Parking is difficult on the street, and it took me a little while to realize that there is a lot behind the shop.

Verdict: Worth a stop if you're in the North SJ area; alternately, if you like lungos, this could be your place.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

St. James Coffee Co.

Location: 1683 Branham Ln., San Jose

Reviewed: December 4, 2005

Espresso: My "single" was served in a nearly full cup of ~2-2.5oz. The crema was pale and thin. The cup was thin-bodied and slightly bitter. Beyond that, the taste was somewhat intriguing: there was a distinct anise flavor sitting on top of a caramelly base. It is interesting to note here that the barista actually did most things correctly, preheating the cup (and the shot pitchers, which were unfortunately used) and tamping firmly (with an Espro click tamp, the first I've ever seen). I didn't notice if the shot was actually ground to order, but I did take note that the pull took about the right length of time.

Atmosphere: St. James is a small shop located at the corner of a strip mall. There are but a few tables and two armchairs. Free wifi is offered, and the yellow/orange coloring scheme makes the place feel warm and inviting, particularly on a cold December day.

Verdict: An interesting flavor profile, and perhaps a better barista could eliminate some of the issues with the shot. If that were to occur, it would be a great place to sit and study or read for pleasure.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Specialty's Cafe & Bakery

Location: 185 Berry St., San Francisco

There are multiple other locations also in SF.

Reviewed: November 22, 2005

Espresso: Specialty's has recently started using the Black Cat espresso blend from the justly famed Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters in Chicago. They have also been given initial training in the proper methods of making espresso. As such, I had high hopes for my shot. The disappointment started when I saw the superauto machine (the other locations do not have superautos). The shot was poured too long, had a paler-than-it-should-have-been crema, and some bitter notes covered up what was obviously a very good espresso blend. It was spicy and full-bodied.

Atmosphere: The Berry Street location is located in the courtyard of an office building, which makes for a somewhat awkward (to say nothing of difficult to find) spot. It was of moderate size and had the "bonus" of counter seating (so that you can watch that superauto in action?). Fairly loud but fairly boring jazz was being played when I was there early in the morning.

Verdict: Stick with one of the other locations, and you'll probably do better. Nonetheless, they provide better than average espresso.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Coffee Lovers

Location: 1855 Aborn Rd., San Jose

Reviewed: November 13, 2005

Espresso: When I ordered an espresso, I was asked if I wanted American or French style. I was confused because I'd never heard this before. As it turns out, their American style espresso is the americano and their French style espresso is normal espresso (considering that espresso originated in Italy, well...). I chose French. The shot was given to me in a 12oz. paper cup (I did not specify for here, although neither was I asked), which was probably one-quarter to one-third full. The crema was fairly thick, but it dissipated rapidly. The coffee was extremely hot and had little discernable taste.

As a side note, I saw some latte art on a cappuccino that evidently had not been picked up.

Atmosphere: Coffee Lovers is a large location with a very high ceiling that slants from one side of the room to the other. It feels rather like a living room. The large bank of television screens along the wall opposite the counter add to the effect. Oddly, the screens were showing several different things; I was trying to watch the anime but the football was on three or four screens (including the large one) and on audio, so paying much attention to anything else was difficult.

Verdict: It's hard to place a verdict on this place. The thick crema and the latte art indicate that they may have potential, but the taste and temperature of the shot are dissappointing and point in the other direction.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dolce Espresso

Location: 2078 Tully Rd., San Jose

There is another location (not reviewed) at 2326 Senter, San Jose.

Reviewed: November 9, 2005

Espresso: The crema on my shot was thin and pale in color (it was actually hard to tell the exact color, it may have been more of a brownish-yellow, or it may have been white -- it was very dark inside: see below for details). The overwhelming taste sensation was smoky and bitter (almost bittersweet). This may have been due to the fact that people were smoking indoors (and I thought that was illegal in this state).

Atmosphere: Dolce was quite a different experience from most places that I've been. First of all, it was very dark inside. Secondly, there was table service (table service is, of course, a bad thing for espresso, as the crema will largely dissipate by the time it gets to you). The table service is by persons (young females, it should be noted) dressed approximately like cocktail waitresses. It has already been noted that people were smoking inside. There were also some consoles that I initially thought were for internet access, but upon closer inspection turned out to be some kind of electronic gaming machines.

Verdict: Definitely... different.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Coffee Factory

Location: 3787 Steven's Creek Blvd., Santa Clara

Reviewed: October 20, 2005

Espresso: The espresso at CF was entirely uninspiring and unmemorable. It had a pale thin crema and not much flavor.

Atmosphere: CF is a fairly typical shop: large, bright, free wifi.

Verdict: Why bother, when there's great coffee just down the street.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

City Lights Espresso

Location: 1171 Homestead, Santa Clara.

Reviewed: Oct. 29, 2005

Espresso: My espresso this morning was served in a proper ceramic cup. It had a thick crema, although it dissipated rapidly. The crema was medium-to-pale in color with a small patch of 'white-out'. Having a full body and low acidity, it displayed hints of chocolate and vanilla, with only a touch of bitterness in the aftertaste.

Atmosphere: CLE is layed-out in an odd manner with the serving/ordering counter bodering something of a hallway in between what are effectively two rooms. It can make for a crowded jostle when things are busy. The shop is clean and quiet. There are a couple of couches in the front 'room' in addition to the standard cafe tables. A chess board is set up on a coffee table between the couches.

There is another location located inside the main branch of the Santa Clara city library.

Verdict: The coffee was suprisingly ok, although not great. I suppose I'd hang there if I could get a pick-up game of chess going.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Emporio Rulli

Location: Union Square, San Francisco

Reviewed: October 4, 2005

Espresso: The espresso here was poured directly into the cup, but the crema was pale and thin. It did have some interesting fruity and chocolate notes, but they were mostly overwhelmed by bitterness.

Atmosphere: Rulli is a very posh sort of place. There is a marble floor, and the baristas work in white shirts and black ties. The pastry case is filled with very good looking pastries. Seating is limited, and the place can get very crowded. Most of the seating is outdoors on the square.

Verdict: This place seems to have potential. They could probably be pretty good with some training. As it now stands, they are a disappointment.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Caffe Pergolesi

Location: 418 Cedar St., Santa Cruz

Reviewed: October 2, 2005

Espresso: The espresso here was extremely hot with very pale crema that dissipated rapidly. My "single" was served nearly overflowing in a cup that must have been ~3.5 oz. in capacity. The primary taste characteristic was bitter.

Atmosphere: The Perg is a local Santa Cruz icon and is populated by many people at all hours of the day and night. Alterna-art hangs on the walls. Outdoor seating is provided on two decks surrounded by trees. Non-smokers are segregated, but smoke tends to drift over from the smoking deck. Free wifi.

Verdict: A good place to watch people and drink something other than espresso.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Orchard Valley Coffee

Location: 329 E. Campbell Ave., Cambell

Reviewed: September 25, 2005

Espresso: My espresso shot was served in a paper cup even though I specifically specified "for here". The crema was light hazelnut in color and, as it was thin, dissipated rapidly. The primary taste sensation was some understated nutty notes.

Atmosphere: Orchard Valley is a large shop, with windows on two sides of the building. A high ceiling adds to the open, airy nature of the place. There are a couple of black leather couches near a brick fireplace, which is a nice touch. Sunday mornings are extremely crowded with the Campbell Farmer's Market happening just outside. Free wifi.

Verdict: It's a nice place, but the espresso is uninspiring.

Mission Coffee

Location: 151 Washington Blvd., Fremont

Reviewed: September 24, 2005

Espresso: A nearly full cup with very pale crema was served as a "single". The shot was extremely hot and had virtually no taste whatsoever. The only real sensation in the mouth was a somewhat rubbery body. The shot was extremely unpleasant.

Atmosphere: It was hard to get a realistic feel for the place, as I was there for a concert (Vienna Teng was playing with proceeds going to Hurricane Katrina victims); I imagine that there is not typically a grand piano against the back wall, nor are there rows and rows of chairs.

Verdict: If Vienna plays there again, I'll show up, but I won't order the espresso.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Bay Street Coffee

Location: 754 The Alameda, San Jose.

Reviewed: Sept. 12, 2005

Espresso: Other than some fruity notes, the espresso served me at Bay Street was wholly uninspiring. The crema was thin, white, and wispy. It was handed to me suspiciously quickly, causing me to wonder if I had been served 1/2 of the previous order.

Atmosphere: Bay Street is a small shop located in a mixed-development (thus there are apartments above) near downtown SJ. The interior of the place is slightly odd, as the corner location causes the shop to be layed-out in a narrow "L"-shape. The floor is in a tile pattern, although it appeared to be of a concrete-like material. The walls are painted in a seafoam green color, which looks much better than it sounds. Free wireless didn't seem to be working.

Verdict: The walls are cool, and the barista was cute; there is otherwise little to recommend this place, except as an alternative to evil corporate coffee a few blocks away.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Barefoot Coffee Roasters

Location: 5237 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara.

Reviewed: September 9, 2005.

Espresso: Barefoot, as their name implies, roasts their own blends in-house. They rotate through several different blends that have different characteristics. This particular day they were serving a blend called Sweetness. Sweetness is, as the name implies, on the sweeter side, and has an initial upfront essence of berry that flows across the tongue. There is little aftertaste. The crema is medium-brown to burgundy, and tends to be on the thick side.

Atmosphere: Barefoot is a smallish shop, although the outdoor seating helps in this regard. The outdoor seating is, however, frequently filled by a regular cast of persons who smoke. Inside, there are a couple of comfy couches and the standard cafe tables. The chairs are a matter of some comment. Every single one has been turned into a separate piece of art (under the direction of one of the baristas). There is also one large circular table dating from ~1910. Local art adorns the walls, and the shows rotate monthly. Live music and the occasional coffee cupping dominate the weekend happenings.

Verdict: Great coffee, cool place. Quickly becoming the destination hub for those in the South Bay who know and love coffee.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Coffee Society

Reviewed: Sept. 7, 2005

Location: 21265 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino. There is another location (not reviewed) in the Pruneyard, 1875 S. Bascom Rd., Campbell.

Espresso: The espresso served at Coffee Society is disappointing at best. The crema on my shot was pale and thin. The shot tasted mostly smoky and bitter, although it displayed a nice mouthfeel despite the thin crema.

Atmosphere: Coffee Society is located across the street from DeAnza College, which makes it popular and frequently crowded. The shop takes essentially the form of two rooms: the one that contains the espresso bar itself is narrow and L-shaped with the standard small cafe tables; the other room, off to one side, is squareish in format and contains comfy couches and armchairs. They have free wireless access, and local art is on display.

Verdict: Nice place but bad coffee.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Global Blends

Location: 650 Castro St., Mountain View

Reviewed: September 1, 2005

Espresso: Global Blends serves a variety of espressos from specialty roasters along the west coast. On this particular morning, they were serving Tigerwalk from Equator Coffee. The shot was a ristretto pull and had a nice balance. It was mild and medium-bodied with hints of orange and caramel. The crema was dark, although thin.

Atmosphere: Global is a very small location; as such, it can get very noisy when there are only a few people there. Despite the size, however, it doesn't feel particularly cramped unless crowded. There are a couple of large, cushy armchairs near the window up front. The rest of the cafe has fairly standard tables; the chairs have cushions, which is a nice touch. A large map of the world on the back wall adds a touch of conformity with the name.

Verdict: The small size of the shop makes this more of a get in and get your buzz sort of place than really a location to hang out. This is a shame, really, as they are located in arguably the coolest neighborhood in Silicon Valley.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Latte Art attempt

This is the best attempt at latte art I have managed so far.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Plantation Coffee Co.

Location: 2717 Coffee Road, Modesto

Reviewed: August 28, 2005

Espresso: Plantation’s supplier has just developed a new espresso blend in the last few months. The roast is just a little darker than a traditional Northern Italian blend. It’s balanced, mellow, and neither bitter nor sweet with very low acidity and medium to heavy body; the finish is slightly chocolate. The crema was a medium to dark brown, but displayed no reddish hint

I had noticed some pictures of latte art (including a very impressive double) on the wall, and inquired about it, turns out that the barista who pulled my shot was the artist; his name is Chris, and he’s a very passionate guy when it comes to coffee. He was using a triple basket to pull “doubles” (i.e. triple ristretti). There was a naked portafilter on the machine, and I asked specifically if he could use it for my shot. Since the new espresso blend is nearly in the diametrically opposed direction from the lighter-bodied, sweeter blends that perform better in the naked portafilter, this may not have been the best idea (but I was just so excited to see it there). The beans were approximately six days out of the roaster. The shot was served in a fairly wide, but not very tall cup. I have noticed that this configuration can lead to early crema dissipation, but nothing of the sort occurred in this case.

Atmosphere: Plantation has a light and open feel thanks to two entire walls of the shop being glass (they are on the corner of their building); the high ceiling and the lightly colored walls along the other two sides aid this effect. Tables are at two different heights, but the higher variety are positioned in a narrow corridor along the longer windowed wall, and separated from the rest of the café by the centrally located peninsular bar which protrudes from the kitchen. There are also barstools along the other side of the bar, so you can sit there and watch the baristi work if you feel so inclined. Many of the tables have either chessboards or polar projection maps on their surface. There is also outdoor seating, which is located on either side of the shop, and, fortunately, ample shade is provided thanks to overhangs on the building.

They have a few beers on tap, a wine list, and a variety of food items. A brunch is served on Sundays, which seemed to be quite a draw this particular day. As a result, the café was fairly noisy, but I was able to seclude myself somewhat from this noise and sit with my book for an hour or so. I did have to tune out the widescreen television, which seems to be a recent addition, but as the volume was not loud at all, this provided no real difficulty.

: Good coffee and a great place to hang out. It is a little small, and the non-central location might be a drawback.

introduction and purpose

Hi there,

This will be a forum where I will (mostly) be reviewing various coffeeshops. There will also be a few general posts about the state of espresso in general, and the occasional purely random rant.

The point is to expose as much as possible of the state of espresso at current. The geographic base will be the Silicon Valley area of California, but when/if I travel, any place I stop will be included.