Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Caffe Trieste

Location: 609 Vallejo St., San Francisco

Reviewed: December 16, 2006

Espresso: My single was served as a 1.5oz. lungo in a wide-brimmed cup with matching saucer. The crema was light-to-medium brown and even in color. It was suprisingly full-bodied for a lungo; the primary tastes were smoky and some fruity notes.

Atmosphere: Trieste is the original espresso bar on the west coast, having been located in North Beach since 1956. The shop is small with seating around most of the perimeter, next to the glassed-in walls. Very long lines on weekends.

Verdict: Once a legend, now mostly a historical novelty.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Lime Tree Espresso

Location: 171 Branham Ln., San Jose

Reviewed: December 10, 2006

Espresso: Lime Tree serves Barefoot's Sweetness blend in doubles and triples only. Oddly, each is served at around 3oz. in volume; thus, the doubles are lungo pours, and the triples are standard. They use a Swift grinder, and so each shot is ground & tamped to order. My triple had an even medium-brown crema of decent thickness. It had predominate tones of berry and some bitter/dark chocolate in the aftertaste. Somehow, a certain mouthfeel was lacking, and I'm less than certain why. Still a good espresso.

Atmosphere: Lime Tree is in the spot of the former Cool Beans Coffee. Not much has changed inside. It remains a cool location that is more coffee lounge than coffeeshop. I still like it a lot.

Verdict: Good, although not great. Stick with the triples.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pacifico Primo Coffee

Location: 1683 Branham Ln., San Jose

Reviewed: December 6, 2006

I previously reviewed this place a year ago under the moniker "St. James Coffee". Since, they have undergone an ownership change.

Espresso: The place is now a wholesale customer of Barefoot and were serving Element 114 this morning. My request for a single turned up a shot of a little over 1oz. with an even, medium-brown crema. It was somewhat sour. Almost more important than the taste, though, is that the two employees there were seriously attempting to do things right. My shot was ground individually, the cup was preheated, and the barista spent some time on a very solid tamp. When I mentioned the sourness, the barista apologized and offered me a replacement (I declined because of the ratio of caffeine to food that I'd consumed).

Atmosphere: Not much has changed in the past year: the roaster is gone, and there is now a small collection of hot sauce sitting near the register (this is evidently for the empanadas).

Verdict: Despite the flaws, I'm optimistic about their improving.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Moon Beans

Location: 6221 Santa Theresa Blvd., San Jose

Reviewed: November 25, 2006

Espresso: My request for a single was fulfilled with at least 1.5oz. of liquid in a wide-mouthed ceramic cup of perhaps 3-4oz. total volume. The crema was a medium brown, mostly even in colour, but with a slightly lighter dot just off center. Not bitter, it tasted mostly of dark spice and was full-bodied with a nice mouthfeel. I didn't get a chance to watch the barista in action, as I was speaking to a companion, but I did notice that she brewed directly into the cup. I did not hear the running of a grinder (realizing that some grinders are actually and amazingly pretty quiet).

Atmosphere: Moon Beans is a small shop in a large strip mall in south SJ. Seating consists mostly of couches, and there is a coffee table with a burlap coffee sack as a tablecloth. They do roast on site. The walls are a shade of green that looks better than it sounds.

Verdict: Might be worth checking out more thoroughly, but the warning persists: here be lungos.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bistro Maxine

Location: 548 Ramona St., Palo Alto

Reviewed: November 21, 2006

Espresso: Bistro Maxine is a wholesale customer of Barefoot, and they were pouring a single-origin PNG this morning. Of note, the barista properly ground and tamped the shot and poured directly into the (unfortunately not preheated) cup. The resulting double shot filled the cup almost to the rim; since the cup was probably 3oz. in volume, I fully expected overextraction, but I was happily mistaken. Although thin, the crema was an even medium-brown color, and the thinness was likely caused by the high temperature. The shot had a rich, buttery mouthfeel and tasted of caramel and vanilla.

Atmosphere: Bistro Maxine is a very small location. There are only three or four tables (and a couple of bar seats). Call it cozy if you like it or cramped if you don't. It's supposedly more of a restaurant/crepery, but they didn't have any menu posted (or a pastry case), so I decided it would be easier to stick with just an espresso.

Verdict: Not at all bad, though it would have been much better if pulled shorter.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Black Gold

Playing through Wednesday, November 22, 2006 at The Roxie (3117 16th St., San Francisco)

This documentary film about the manager of the Oromia co-op in Ethiopia is technically produced quite well. The problem is that it seems misguided: it doesn't present a definite solution to the obvious plight of the coffee farmers (other than raising the price of the crop, which we knew anyway, and all but the worst dullard could figure that out); it doesn't really present a definite source of the problem (though it does attempt to villify the WTO, and while I'll agree that there is plenty to villify there, I don't think they are the entire source of the problem); and it doesn't quite seem to know its target audience (is it the educated or the uneducated consumer?).

The basic format of the film plays scenes from Ethiopia against scenes of the coffee-drinking 'yuppie elitists' in Europe and North America in a back-and-forth manner that can seem like the viewer is actually watching a tennis match. The format seems jarring, as the viewer is taken to London, Trieste, New York, and Seattle within about 25 minutes. A scene of the World Barista Championships seems oddly placed and pointless within the context of the film. I don't know how many of the people in the audience actually had ever heard about the WBC or knew just what was going on (it was not well-explained); the confused giggles in the audience during this scene were clearly indicative that most of the people watching had no clue about barista competitions. Shoutouts to Mireya Jones (who had a speaking part), Marcus Boni (who was seen at the judges table), and probably a few other people I've met but neglected to spot through the rapidly-moving camera lens.

An interview with Dr. Ernesto Illy was possibly one of the best moments in the film. Dr. Illy was coherent and intelligent and quite fluent in English. He obviously knows and cares about quality coffee a great deal. Again, however, this scene had little to do with the basic premise of the film.

The film hits the "Big Four" pretty hard for buying commodity coffees and for utilizing the New York "C-price" in their purchasing decisions. Of course, it was never mentioned that the Oromia co-op doesn't produce commodity coffees; they produce top-quality Sidamos and Yirgacheffes (stuff that will never make an appearance in a can of, e.g., Maxwell House). Other than the WTO and the C-price, no other potential problem-sources are mentioned (perhaps excess Vietnamese production could be discussed, though again that doesn't really affect the price of top-quality Ethiopian arabica).

The final scene took place in a wheat-packaging and exporting center in Djibouti. A strange place to finish this movie; I thought the film was about coffee in Ethiopia.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hallmarks of quality?

I would tend to think that most people would favourably regard a shop that: 1) grinds and tamps each shot individually; 2) uses espresso within 10 days of roasting; 3) rotates through a few different espresso blends and bases this to some degree on the crop calendar, 4) can differentiate between short and normal/long pulls, and; 5) brews drip coffee every 30 minutes.

So why is it that so many people dislike Peet's? While I will agree that they certainly aren't what I would call top-tier, I do think that they're of an acceptable level of quality. Give me your thoughts on this.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Coffee Roaster

Location: 536 Davis St., San Francisco

Reviewed: October 19, 2006

Espresso: My requested single was served full in a tall ceramic cup of ~3.5oz. in volume. The cup was grey and had a gold & blue pinstripe; the otherwise matching saucer lacked this pinstripe. The pale crema was thin, yet persistent. The barista brewed directly into the cup, but did not grind or tamp, nor did she preheat the cup. The shot was thin-bodied, and sour; it left an astringent aftertaste.

Atmosphere: The Coffee Roaster is a very small shop inside a mixed-use building. There are but two tables inside the location, with the bulk of the seating being outdoors on the ample (and covered) sidewalk. Of note, the chairs here have a wicker seating area, though they are metal-framed. They are not very comfortable.

Verdict: How they manage to get away with the name is beyond me, since they don't roast coffee here.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Printers Cafe

Location: 320 S. California Ave., Palo Alto

Reviewed: October 18, 2006

Espresso: My requested single was served in a nearly full cup ~3oz. in size. The barista did not grind or tamp and poured initially into a shot pitcher. The thin crema was nearly white and was in a high state of dissipation by the time it got to a table. The shot was fairly heavy-bodied and tasted somewhat muddy.

Atmosphere: Printers is a large shop that also serves lunch fare. There is a substantial patio area in front.

Verdict: Pass on this one.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Spike's Coffee & Tea

Location: 4117 19th St., San Francisco

Reviewed: October 8, 2006

Espresso: My request was for a single, and it yielded what was probably a ~1.5-2oz. shot in a wide-brimmed cup (with matching saucer) of ~3.5-4oz. total volume. The crema was a medium brown color and even in tone except for a smallish lighter colored dot in the center; it was of moderate thickness and persisted well throughout the cup. The taste was primarily smoky and chocolatey. Although I couldn't quite tell if the barista ground my shot specially to order, he did run the grinder during the process, and so at least a portion of the coffee was freshly ground. He also spent a good deal of time tamping, and it seemed like he was using a lot of force to hit the portafilter to prevent clumping of grounds. He also preheated the cup, and although I couldn't tell if he brewed directly into it, I suspect (based on the relative thickness of the crema, among other things) that he did.

Atmosphere: Spike's is a long and narrow shop with the ordering and serving counter at the far end. There are three or four small tables inside and a patio seating area out front. Hardwood flooring is present. Crowded with dogs and their owners.

Verdict: I wouldn't call it top-tier, but it's not at all bad for a trendy neighbourhood with lots of disposable income.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Co.

Location: 1330 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz

Reviewed: October 4, 2006

Espresso: There is no option for a single or double; presumably all shots are then doubles. Mine was served at around 2oz. in a yellow ceramic cup (without saucer) of 3.5-4oz. capacity. The crema was pale and white. The shot was full-bodied and predominantly bitter. The layout of the counter and the machine makes it virtually impossible to view the baristi at work; however, I highly suspect that the shot was not ground to order, although it may have actually been tamped.

Atmosphere: SCCR is a long and narrow layout with the counter running along one side for most of the length of the shop. Most of the seating is in those areas on either side of the long counter, making it almost two shops in one. Up front, there is a piano which is occasionally used for musical performances. There is also a patio area. What is strange about the seating is that many of the tables are booth-style (fortunately, they are wood instead of plastic). This makes it feel almost fastfoodish inside.

Verdict: Coffee isn't that great and neither is the place itself. Still a better option than across the street.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Blue Bottle Coffee Co.

Location: Ferry Building, San Francisco.

Reviewed: September 23, 2006

Espresso: My double shot was served in a "Gibraltar glass" (this is a rocks glass), since they were out of proper cups (my choice as opposed to paper). The barista was apologetic about this; she also ground to order and tamped properly. The total shot volume was probably in the 2oz range, although I'm not used to estimating in this kind of drinking vessel. The clearness of the glass allowed me to see the side of the shot, and I swear that it was entirely crema. The top of the crema was medium-dark brown and flaked with even darker specks. Fairly bright and medium-bodied, the shot was sweet and spicy with lots of butterscotch.

Atmosphere: This location is a cart that operates during the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building. There isn't so much as a single table, so kudos to Blue Bottle for "daring" to offer ceramic (and glass) cups.

Verdict: Good. Very, very good.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

South Beach Cafe

Location: 800 The Embarcadero, San Francisco

Reviewed: September 20, 2006

Espresso: My single shot was served just barely on the long side of 1oz. It had a thin crema in an even pale brown color. The shot was not ground to order, although it was tamped and poured directly into the cup. It had a bittersweet aroma and a nutty, smoky flavour with hints of honey in the aftertaste. Fairly bright and medium-bodied.

Atmosphere: South Beach Cafe is relatively posh for a cafe. Seating inside and outside, a full menu (including wines) and table service are among the amenities. They also have free wifi, although it is shut off during lunch hours (defined as 11:30 - 2:00). Nonetheless, one doesn't feel awkward walking up to the counter, ordering an espresso, and hanging for a bit. They also have a big-screen TV that was showing a soccer game (Rome against Inter Milan, if I interpreted the team abreviations correctly).

Verdict: Coffee is ok; place is pretty cool (and good pizza).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Zizzo's Coffee

Location: 3555 Clares Rd., Capitola

Reviewed: September 17, 2006

Espresso: My requested single was served in a ceramic cup (I had to specifically specify) of nearly 4oz. in volume and nearly reached the top. The crema was pure white and was already dissipating by the time it got to me; it was brewed directly into the cup out of some kind of super-auto machine. It was smoky and bitter and had little to distinguish it from drip coffee.

Atmosphere: Zizzo's is a small shop located in a random strip mall in Capitola. Dark wood tones predominate throughout and they were playing jazz on this particular day. Ample outdoor seating.

Verdict: At least it's caffeine.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Plantation Cafe

Location: 109 California Ave., Palo Alto

Reviewed: September 12, 2006

Espresso: According to signage in various locations around the shop, Plantation uses coffee from San Francisco's Caffe Trieste. My requested single (but suspected double) was served at ~2oz. in volume in a tall and narrow leopard-printed cup with matching saucer. The crema was pale brown tending toward yellow; it was also extremely thin. The barista did not grind to order. In the cup, I detected some berry-like sweetness, although it was mostly overwhelmed by a kind of spicy flavour that was hard to describe. Umami kept coming to mind. Bitter aftertaste.

Atmosphere: Simply put, this place is in the midst of an identity crisis. It wants to be a coffeeshop; it wants to be a deli. Deli is probably winning. The espresso machine here is ancient, and I noticed some leakage around the portafilter while my shot was brewing. The machine is located around the corner (the counter is in an L-shape) from the register and the food prep area. Apparently, they don't give it much thought. There is some counter seating, as well as tables and chairs (some of the tables have uncomfortable benches integrated into the wall behind them). The walls are painted yellow.

Verdict: My pastrami on a French roll was much better than my espresso.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Paper butterfly magic - cool video from MagicSafire.

Ok, this has little to do with coffee, but in the interest of getting this video as much publicity as it justifiably deserves, I've decided to post it here. Please give it a view or three; if "we" win (based on number of views), then she gets to be featured in the DVD release of The Illusionist (the exact details of which I do not know).

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Location: 1628 K St., Sacramento

Reviewed: September 1, 2006

Espresso: My single shot was served in the appropriate ~1oz. volume. The barista did everything correctly: ground, tamped, etc. The only issue was that his cooling flush of the grouphead may have been insufficient or maybe the machine is set at too high a temperature. My shot was extremely hot and the crema appeared to have suffered as a result. It was mostly an even brown but had darker spots around the edges. It was also very thin, although the wide-brimmed cup may have contributed to this. The cup was otherwise very cool: white, about 2.5oz. capacity, and square in shape (with matching saucer). The temperature of the shot also definitely affected the taste, but it had nutty and fruity hints throughout the cup.

Atmosphere: Infusion is a large shop with multiple rooms and at least one patio. Bright and airy, it seems like a nice place to hang out. Light wood tones predominate. Supposedly, they have infamous seating in the form of "hanging bubble chairs". I did not see these, although I didn't look around much because I was in a bit of a hurry.

Verdict: The espresso wasn't as bad as I probably made it sound, and all they really need is a bit cooler temperature.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

One year running

I started this blog one year ago. In that time, I've reviewed 47 shops. I'm not going to attempt any kind of rank-ordering of them, but I am listing what I consider the top tier. These are the five (there simply happen to be five) best places I've visited, and they are all worth a visit, maybe even a pilgrimage.

Listed in Alphabetical order:

Barefoot Coffee Roasters, 5237 Steven's Creek Blvd., Santa Clara

Coffee Creek, 2601 Oakdale Rd., Modesto

Pacific Bay Coffee Co., 1495 Newell Ave., Walnut Creek

Ritual Coffee Roasters, 1026 Valencia St., San Francisco

Temple Fine Coffee & Tea, 1014 10th St., Sacramento

There is also one place that I want to list as honorable mention:

Eon Cafe, 24970 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward

Eon gets an HM because although they are capable of pulling a very good shot and have their technique down right (as evidenced by my original review), they seem to have certain consistency issues (and my sour-ish shot was served to me by their best barista).

So a total of 6 shops of the 47 I've reviewed appear to actually know good espresso. That's nearly 13%, a much higher percentage than I originally expected. Of course this is not a statistically random sample, and certain other caveats also apply, etc.

I should also mention that there are two other places to which I gave positive reviews that I'm not listing here at all. One of these, Global Blends, has been defunct for some time. The other, Plantation Coffee Co., has lost their best barista (who served me the day I reviewed), and I'm no longer certain that they are capable of producing top-notch espresso.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Pacific Bay Coffee Co.

Location: 1495 Newell Ave., Walnut Creek

Reviewed: August 11, 2006

Espresso: My double was served just barely on the longish side at perhaps 2.25oz. The crema was medium-dark and even in tone; it was thick and silky, although it dissipated somewhat rapidly. The shot was on the sweet side: it had a buttery mouth feel and tasted of caramel and honey. The barista did everything proper: flushed the grouphead, ground to order, tamped hard.

Atmosphere: Pacific Bay is a very small shop, and even with outdoor seating, it can feel cramped. Of note is that the roaster is directly on the shop floor and is surrounded by a counter so that one can watch the roasting process; this can provide some entertainment. Free wifi.

Verdict: Had I gotten a ristretto pour, I might have actually attempted to kiss the barista.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Caffe e Via

Reviewed: August 6, 2006

Location: 850 W. Pacheco Blvd., Los Banos

There are multiple other locations throughout the Fresno area.

Espresso: My double was served in a 12oz. paper cup. It reached nearly 4oz. in volume and was extremely hot. The crema was almost uniformly pale and thin; there was a small darker strip present, and the thinness of the crema was certainly not helped by the wide-brimmed cup. The heat seemed to blanch out all the flavour that might have otherwise been present. There was a bit of nuttiness and bitterness.

Atmosphere: All Caffe e Via locations are drive-throughs, so I'm going to spare my readers a description of the interior of my car. This status possibly excuses the use of a paper cup, but it still should have been properly sized.

Verdict: If you're driving through Los Banos and need caffeine...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Spica Coffee & Tea

Location: 650 Castro St., Mountain View

Reviewed: July 27, 2006

Espresso: My double was a little long in volume (~2.5oz.) but not quite to the point of being a lungo; it was mellow and, although there were some unpleasant smoky tastes. Notably, it was not bitter. The crema was very thin and on the paler side. The shot was not ground to order, although the barista tamped.

Atmosphere: This location used to be Global Blends (previously reviewed), and not much has changed inside. Of note, the large map on the rear wall has been replaced by a painting of Ella Fitzgerald.

Verdict: A significant downhill slide from the previous owner.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Cafe Bello

Location: 2885 Diamond St., San Francisco

Reviewed: July 24, 2006.

Espresso: My double was served lungo-style, reaching approximately 3oz. in total volume. Despite this, the crema was thick and medium-dark. It tasted mostly of chocolate, raisin, and a little cinnamon. It was well-balanced and full-bodied (unusual for a lungo) However, it was slightly sour.

Atmosphere: Cafe Bello is a small shop; it is a little dark inside and painted in warm colors (yellows, reds). There are framed pictures of latte art on the walls.

Verdict: They should have pulled it shorter but not bad.

Ritual Coffee Roasters

Location: 1026 Valencia St., San Francisco

Reviewed: July 24, 2006

Espresso: My double was served in a properly-sized ceramic cup. The crema was mostly dark, but it had a paler stripe running through the center of the cup. This didn't seem to affect the taste much, however; it was well-balanced, medium-bodied, and had quite a bit of brightness. There were caramelly tastes mixed with a hint of walnut. The barista ground individually and tamped properly. It was about 2oz. total volume.

Atmosphere: Ritual is located in the Mission District and the atmosphere caters to the "urban hipster" types so typical in this area. The interior, although large and open and light, consists of a number of well-worn couches and contains slightly rectangular tables that are much larger than the more typical round style in most coffeeshops. It is very crowded.

Verdict: In a reverse of normal from what I frequently find, the coffee is very good, but the location is not really to my liking.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Cafe hopping in Palo Alto

Today's review of Coupa took place during a quick jaunt through downtown Palo Alto; I stopped at three places, in order: Coupa, Satura Cakes (I have previously reviewed their Los Altos location; they have a new location here), and Caffe del Doge (also previously reviewed).

Of note, when I stopped at del Doge, I requested and received the Doge Rosso blend; it's definitely on the sweet side, but it was served way too hot with a pale crema.

My shot at Satura was not bad at all; the crema was a little on the pale side, but the shot tasted fine.

So downtown Palo Alto has now been compared head to head to head and rank ordered:

#1: Satura Cakes

#2: Caffe del Doge

#3: Coupa Cafe

Coupa Cafe

Location: 538 Ramona St., Palo Alto

Reviewed: July 13, 2006

Espresso: Coupa serves Venezuelan coffee exclusively, and hence all their espresso is a single-origin. My single was a little on the long side (~1.5oz) and was served in a wide-brimmed cup (albeit one of proper sizing) that didn't help the thin crema. The crema was pale-to-medium brown and even in tone. The shot was medium-bodied, well-balanced, and had primarily tones of caramel and milk chocolate. It was slightly too hot, but cooled quickly.

Atmosphere: Coupa is a large shop just off the major street in downtown Palo Alto. It is frequently quite crowded, and the free wifi probably doesn't help in that regard. The place is primarily dark-toned throughout with lots of wood, but it still feels light and open. Nicely different.

Verdict: Ok coffee, and a decent place to hang out if you can find seating.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Caffe del Sole

Location: 4342 California St., San Francisco

Reviewed: July 4, 2006

Espresso: My shot was served in a proper ceramic cup with grinds that were not specifically ground to order. The barista did tamp, using a small plastic tamper to do so. The cup was ~2oz. in volume and had a medium-to-pale, even, thin crema. The shot was extremely hot (possibly due, in some part, to the spent puck from the previous pour being left in the portafilter until I ordered). In the cup, the primary taste was a spicy chocolate.

Atmosphere: Caffe del Sole is a small shop in an outer neighbourhood of San Francisco. It is decorated with opera posters (including, oddly enough in this very Italian-themed location, operas by Massenet and Richard Strauss). On this particular day (when Italy was playing Germany in the World Cup semifinals), the place was packed to the gills with rambunctious soccer fans.

Verdict: Italy 2; Germany 0. They're probably still partying up there: go join in.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Queen Bean

Location: 1126 14th St., Modesto

Reviewed: June 24, 2006

Espresso: My shot was on the long side, being at least 3oz. The crema was pale-to-medium brown and quite thin. Because of the placement of the machine, it was difficult to watch the barista at work. It was served in a typical "diner-style" coffee cup. Slightly astringent and full-bodied.

Atmosphere: Queen Bean is located inside a converted house. It is difficult to see the ordering counter from the front door. The decor consists of loud reds and overdone trappings. It tries to be elegant but fails. I suppose some people like it.

Questionable decor and less than stellar coffee.

Coffee Creek

Location: 2601 Oakdale Rd., Modesto

Reviewed: June 24, 2006

Espresso: Coffee Creek uses Taylor Maid Farms as their coffee supplier. It is of note that the barista did everything correctly. Ground to order, tamped, etc. It was served a little on the long side (probably just over 2.5oz. for a double), and had a slight paler dot in an otherwise darker, mottled brown head. The crema was thick and long-lasting. The cup had an aroma of vanilla and caramel, but the taste in the cup was overwhelmingly sweet and fruity.

Atmosphere: The Creek is a smallish shop in a large stripmall. Although there is ample outdoor seating, it wasn't getting much use on this quite warm Saturday morning. Inside, it was quite crowded. The interior layout is in an L-shape and features standard cafe tables at two heights (the taller ones being along the wall).

Verdict: Quite good; anyone who is in Modesto should stop in.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Eon Cafe

Location: 24970 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward

Reviewed: June 14, 2006

Espresso: My double was served in a ~4oz. cup, but the cup was half full so it was about the right volume. The crema was thick, medium-brown, and very even in tone. It was full-bodied and well-balanced. The primary tastes were caramel and cacao. The barista did everything right: ground, tamped, etc. He even used a naked portafilter. They are a wholesale customer of Barefoot, and served me the Medan blend.

Atmosphere: Eon is located, fairly uniquely, in a stand-alone building across from Chabot College. The layout consists of three separate rooms (with no actual doors in between them), one of which contains a brick fireplace, a couch, and a couple of armchairs. Of note, my shot was served in a painted-design cup.

Verdict: Quite good; one of the best things to ever happen to the East Bay.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Lowry's Irish Coffee House

Location: 350 W. Julian St., San Jose

Reviewed: June 5, 2006

My request for an espresso turned up a good degree of consternation when the cash register reproduced my request as "Espresso - 16oz."! I immediately sought to clarify the misunderstanding with the barista, who assured me the drink would not be that large. Her reassurance was better than nominal, but the shot was still way too long at nearly 4oz. (presumably a double). The crema was medium-pale, uniform in tone, and quite thin. Table service didn't help, and it was starting to break by the time I picked up the cup to take a sip. The flavours in the cup were quite subdued; it was medium-bodied, balanced, and didn't taste like much at all. This is likely due to the grinds sitting in the doser for however long they'd been there. A wholesale customer of Barefoot, though I'm not certain which blend they use.

Lowry's is an open and well-lit shop with a high ceiling and interesting chandeliers. The walls are painted variously a medium burnt-orange or a darkish moss-like green (the overall scheme looks much better than it sounds). There is a large TV on the far wall that is usually set to CNN.

It is my understanding that the 2oz. single/4oz. double is pretty normal in Ireland, so at least they have some claim at authenticity.

Friday, June 02, 2006

City Bakery & Cafe

Location: 301 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose

Reviewed: June 2, 2006

Espresso: My double was served in a 12oz. to-go cup (I was not asked for my preference of carry out or stay in) and reached ~4oz. in volume. It had a thin yet persistent layer of light brown crema. It was quite hot, and the primary tastes (although they were not particularly prevalent, likely due to the heat and presumed staleness) were bitter and rubbery. The rubber-like taste speaks of the possible inclusion in the blend of a substantial proportion of robusta beans, and the sign in the cafe speaking of Vietnamese-grown coffee would also support this supposition.

Atmosphere: I did a double-take after walking into this place, because it looks like a formal restaurant. The tables are large, covered with white tablecloths and glassine panels. As the location is quite large, there is also substantial space between the tables. Of some note here is that nobody was in the cafe excepting myself and the (apparently solo) barista (who barely spoke English), and it was 8:45 a.m. in downtown San Jose. They may be new, as it should have been far busier than that.

Verdict: If they did as good a job with their espresso as they do with their croissants (mine was straight from the oven and still warm), they'd rock.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Lulu Carpenter's

Location: 1545 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz

Reviewed: May 24, 2006

Espresso: Although I requested a single, I was given what appeared to be a double of probably 2.5oz. volume in a cappuccino cup. The cup, of course, did not help the persistence of the thin crema, which was medium-brown and dissipated very rapidly. The shot didn't seem to be specifically ground to order, although they were running the grinder periodically. In the cup, the primary tastes were smoky and bitter, so this was obviously a quite dark roast; there were some underlying hints of plum as well.

Atmosphere: Lulu's is on the northern end of Pacific Ave., and so isn't as tourist-impacted as some of the other locations to the south. There is seating out front and on a small patio out back, as well as standard cafe tables inside. The front of the store is dominated by the counter to the immediate left. There can be some degree of confusion as to which way the line is stretching.

Verdict: Not great, but not bad either.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Another digression

I think anyone who reads this at all will already know, but I have passed the California Bar Exam!

Alyis-N-Rose Bakery & Cafe

Location: 1686 Lafayette St., Santa Clara

Reviewed: May 19, 2006

Espresso: My single was served ~2oz. with no crema whatsoever (to be fair, there was a very thin ring of what appeared to be nothing more than a FP-style bloom on the coffee, but I wouldn't call this crema). Strangely, it was given to me in an Irish Coffee mug of ~8-10oz. capacity (they didn't appear to have any other style of mug). It had a dark-roast bittersweet flavour, but nothing else really distinguished it at all. Basically indistinguishable from darkly-roasted drip coffee.

Atmosphere: Alyis-N-Rose is a fairly small and comfy neighbourhood cafe. There are a couple of couches centrally located in the room, while the cafe tables & chairs are relegated to the periphery. The walls are decorated with what appear to be quiltwork, and there are various figurines scattered about that appear to attempt to portray an image of African art. Overall, the place is kinda cool in its own way, although not a place for everyone.

Verdict: With 'espresso' that tastes just like drip coffee, I'd stick with the drip.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Coffee To The People

Location: 1206 Masonic Ave., San Francisco

Reviewed: May 14. 2006

Espresso: CTTP uses a grinder (I think a Swift) with an autogrind and tamp feature, so at least the coffee was freshly ground. They also brewed directly into the cup. However, the barista simply pushed the auto button on the machine and let it brew unattended. The resultant shot was way too long (pushing 2oz. for a single, and with the other half of the pour going into the drip tray, it was decidedly a single). The lungo pour resulted in a pale yellow-ish crema that, although initially quite thick, dissipated somewhat quickly. The shot was thin and slightly astringent. The primary taste was something that I just couldn't quite pin down. It was somewhere between cedar and anise with hints of sassafras thrown in. Quite unusual, and it might have been an interesting cup if it had been poured correctly.

Atmosphere: CTTP is a large shop just off Haight St. It's fairly clean and open. A plethora of various sorts of stickers representing the political viewpoints of (presumably) the owners and most of the clientele are affixed to everthing. It doesn't actually look as bad as it sounds. Free wifi is well taken advantage of.

Verdict: All they really have to do is pull a proper length shot, and the coffee wouldn't be all that bad.

Steps of Rome

Location: 348 Columbus Ave., San Francisco

Reviewed: May 14, 2006

Espresso: My single was served in the proper volume (~1oz.). It had some thin wisps of what might have been crema on a better day; these wisps did not even so much as cover the top of the beverage (which was in a proper espresso cup). Although quite hot, it was not bitter. It was full-bodied and tasted mostly of caramel notes. At least the barista tamped, although the shot was not ground to order.

Atmosphere: Even though it seems to suffer from a schizophrenic disorder in that it can't tell if it's a restaurant or a coffee bar, Steps of Rome is arguably the coolest cafe in which I have ever been. It's just, well, fun. Loud Italian music (on this particular day, hip-hop) plays over the background, and the employees dance about whilst engaged in their various duties. The space is large-ish and contains an elevated rear of the store. There is also ample outdoor seating.

Vedict: The place is so incredibly cool it makes up for the shortcomings of the coffee.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Dana Street Roasting Co.

Location: 744 West Dana Street, Mountain View.

Reviewed: April 29, 2006

Espresso: My shot had a pale, albeit persistent crema. The barista tamped, but did not grind to order. In the cup, it had a very strange mix of both sour and bitter, and left an astringent aftertaste.

Atmosphere: Dana Street is a small, squarish shop with a curved serving counter running alongside the wall furthest from the entrance. The roaster sits in the corner of the main seating area, which takes up valuable space in the small facility. There are a couple of tables outside. Free wifi (although they won't let you plug your laptop in) and concerts on weekends.

Verdict: Decent jazz doesn't really make up for the bad coffee and the crowded and cramped location.

Cocola Bakery

Location: 333 Santana Row Suite 1045, San Jose.

Reviewed: April 29, 2006

Espresso: My shot was not ground to order, although it was tamped heavily. It had a long-lasting thick crema of medium-brown tone with just a small dot that was lighter in shade. There was an overwhelming chocolatey aroma that mixed with a primarily smoky flavour. It was full-bodied and slightly acidic. This was presumably one of the Mr. Espresso blends, as they use a Mr. Espresso branded machine.

Atmosphere: Cocola is more a bakery than a coffeeshop; the pastry counter is filled with very good looking goodies that tempt the customer in the often long line. The shop is narrow and deep, with ample seating outside. Frequently, it is quite crowded. The tables and chairs are metal and not very comfortable.

Verdict: Quite a pleasant suprise. Definitely stop in if you're on the Row.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Coffee & More

Location: 100 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale

Reviewed: April 26, 2006

Espresso: My single shot was served as a lungo (pushing 2oz). The barista tamped heavily with a little plastic tamper, although she did not grind to order. The resultant beverage had a pale, albeit somewhat persistent crema. It was hot, sour, and somewhat bitter; the primary taste was dark and fruity.

Atmosphere: Coffee & More is a small shop in downtown Sunnyvale. A 'water feature' greets customers shortly after they enter. Of note, they have counter seating available. The walls and the high ceiling (a nice touch) are painted warm colors. The prices are statospheric ($2.35 for a double).

Verdict: Not a very good shot, no matter the price.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Cafe Siena

Location: 26 E. Main St., Los Gatos

Reviewed: April 21, 2006

Espresso: My shot was served as a proper single (~1.25oz) in a ceramic cup. When the person taking my order responded to my request "for here" with the word "excellent" I had some degree of hope; unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to expectation. The crema was pale and thin; the primary tastes were dark fruit and milk chocolate. Body was medium, and acidity was high. Overall, it was slightly bittersweet.

Atmosphere: Siena is a pretty cool place. There is a concrete floor, high open ceiling, large picture windows along the two sides of the shop that face the street. A collection of what appear to possibly be copies of Italian family coats of arms hang scattered throughout the facility.

Verdict: Cool place, coffee could be better, but it wasn't bad.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Kern Street Coffee Co.

Location: 2134 Kern Street, Fresno

Reviewed: April 19, 2006

Espresso: My request was for a single, and I'm pretty sure I was served a double (~2.5oz). The shot was medium-bodied and fairly bright. The crema was pale-to-medium and quite thin; it dissipated very rapidly. It had some fruity tones (tending toward berry-like or licorice), and wasn't particularly bitter. It was extremely hot. The barista did not grind to order as such. He appeared to be grinding the next shot upon dosing the one he was about to brew. Of note, the barista seemed to be either complaining about the way a customer defined their drink or debating about it with one of the other employees.

Kern Street is a smallish shop in downtown Fresno. The ordering counter is immediately inside the door, causing the line to snarl. Across the squarish room is a nice couch and a piano. There's a large pillar and some counters next to it in the middle of the floor, adding to the traffic confusion. The shop contains lighter tones and has a high, open ceiling.

Verdict: Coffee wasn't all that great, and the place needs a serious dose of feng shui.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Satura Cakes

Location: 200 Main St., Los Altos

Reviewed: April 1, 2006

Espresso: Satura Cakes uses the famed Paladino blend from Seattle's Zoka Coffee. The shot I ordered was tamped (apparently somewhat heavily), although it was not ground to order. Still, it was quite pleasant: heavy bodied with caramelly flavours and a hint of citrus, orange-like acidity in the finish. No bitterness at all.

Atmosphere: Satura is not strictly a coffeeshop; their primary focus is on Japanese-style pastries (and other baked goods). It's a small location, located on the corner of the building in which it is located. Squarish in shape, the store contains a curved counter along two sides of the room. The location is open and light and contains light-toned woods throughout, including the floor.

Verdict: Considering the espresso was not ground to order, it was amazingly good. With just a little work and training, this non-coffeeshop could become the coffee hotspot for the lower penninsula.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


Location: 1723 Mission St., Santa Cruz

There is another location (not reviewed) at 3701 Portola Dr.

Reviewed: March 25, 2006

Espresso: My double shot was pulled as a lungo around 3oz. in volume. It was light-bodied and had a thick layer of medium-brown crema that dissipated quite rapidly. The predominant taste was a spicy bittersweet note. The shot was not ground to order, although I was fortunate enough to have the grinder in operation immediately before I ordered my shot.

Atmosphere: Coffeetopia is a small shop with very limited seating. There are a few tables, and an integrated couch into one corner of the room. Free wifi and wooden floors make this a fairly typical location.

Verdict: Coffee is only ok, and location is nothing special. Still, possibly the best on Santa Cruz's westside.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Red Rock Coffee Co.

Location: 201 Castro St., Mountain View

Reviewed: March 21, 2006

Espresso: My single was served at the proper ~1oz. volume. The shot was tamped fairly hard by the barista and brewed directly into the cup, although it was not ground to order. The crema was on the thick side, but it was a medium to pale brown color. There wasn't a lot of flavour to the shot (probably because the grounds were sitting in the doser getting stale), but what I could discern was an intriguing cup: a base of butterscotch with some hints of cinnamon and a little licorice sitting on top. However, it left a bitter aftertaste.

Atmosphere: Red Rock is a small narrow layout, despite being in the corner of a building. There are a suprising number of tables in the area, which means that they are close together. It's bright and open, thanks to a high ceiling and glassed-in walls.

Verdict: Nice place and what would probably have been a good shot if it had been ground to order.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Cool Beans Coffee

Location: 171 Branham Ln., San Jose

Reviewed: March 11, 2006

Espresso: Cool Beans is a wholesale customer of Barefoot Coffee Roasters. Although it was not specifically stated, I highly suspect that they were pouring the Sweetness blend this particular day. The shot (I asked for a single, though I suspect I was given a double) was a lungo of ~2.75oz. The crema was thin and dissipated rapidly; it was medium to pale in color. The shot was suprisingly not bitter, being almost sweet and having a somewhat berry-like flavour.

Atmosphere: Cool Beans is located in a busy strip mall; it is a small, narrow location. The walls are painted a shade of burnt yellow with some reddish highlights in places. Notably, there are no standard cafe tables and chairs; instead, the shop features large (and comfortable) armchairs with various styles of endtables. There is also a built-in cushioned bench-seat along one wall.

Verdict: Espresso was suprisingly ok, although it could certainly have been better, and a very cool location.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Flying Goat Coffee

Location: 10 4th St., Santa Rosa

There are multiple other locations in Healdsburg (not reviewed).

Reviewed: March 5, 2006

Espresso: My double shot was pulled somewhat as a lungo, stretching probably to ~2.75oz. The crema was moderately thick, although pale and it dissipated rapidly. The length of the shot may have been due to the barista not paying attention during the pull. The shot had some dark-fruit tones, but they were overwhelmed by a very bitter aftertaste.

Atmosphere: FG is a strange location, consisting of multiple rooms (and a staircase to somewhere); the interior made me think that it perhaps used to be a residence, but the exterior of the building gave no such indications. The walls were painted a pale green color, and the chairs were orange, which caused a bad clash of colors and was not at all pleasant.

Verdict: Perhaps a better barista could have produced a pleasant shot, but the place is just weird. Try the Healdsburg locations.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Caffe Del Doge

Location: 419 University Ave., Palo Alto

There are multiple other locations in Venice, Tokyo, Budapest, and Buenos Aires (not reviewed)

Reviewed: March 2, 2006

Espresso: Del Doge has multiple different espresso blends/origins available. I was specifically asked which I wanted. The barista provided simple descriptions that weren't particularly helpful or detailed. I decided to go with the Doge Nero blend. Nero has a full-bodied, creamy mouthfeel; there is a bittersweet, smoky flavour with hints of chocolate. The crema was medium in tone, although flecked with red, but there was a dot of white, indicating overextraction at the very end of the pour. The shot was ground to order, but I neglected to note whether the barista tamped. It was served in a very tall, narrow cup and was extremely hot.

Atmosphere: Del Doge is a rather small shop and seating is quite limited. Be prepared not to sit down. The layout is long and narrow, and the seating is all up front, adding to the crowded feel. The walls and ceiling are painted with warm colors (oranges and yellows), such that it feels homey and inviting, assuming one can get a seat.

Verdict: The espresso was not bad at all, but it could/should have been better. It's a nice enough place and worth a stop if you're in Palo Alto.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A brief interruption

We interrupt the regularly-scheduled coffee-related content on this blog to bring you the following public service announcement: sitting for the California Bar Exam really stinks. However, I think I am doing well.

Hopefully, I get back to the reviews shortly (and, with luck, a little more frequency).

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Mission City Coffee Roasting

Location: 2221 The Alameda, Santa Clara

There is another location (not reviewed) at 4300 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara

Reviewed: January 17, 2006

Espresso: My single shot was served in a ~3oz cup, although it was the proper ~1oz volume. However, there was no crema whatsoever; neither was there much taste.

Atmosphere: Mission City is a large shop near Santa Clara University. It is laid out in the corner of a building, and so the 'dining area' is somewhat L-shaped. There are brick walls, local artists' work, and random paint spatters on the concrete floor (Jackson Pollock-esque?).

Verdict: It is amazing to me how the coffee can be so stale at a place that roasts its own.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Java Junction

Location: 4075 Evergreen Village Square, Suite #150, San Jose.

There are two other locations (not reviewed) in Santa Cruz.

Reviewed: January 8, 2006

Espresso: My single was served in a very cool glass cup with a wire-like handle. The volume was on the high side, although I spoke with a gentleman who I assumed to be the owner, and he said he would set the superauto machine to a lesser volume. The crema was medium-to-pale and thin, although, suprisingly, it did not dissipate rapidly. The shot was mellow and thin-bodied (the latter probably due to the long shot), with a smoky dark-roast taste predominate in the cup. The barista (the aforementioned presumed owner) preheated the cup and tamped fairly hard, although the grinds were sitting in the doser (we discussed that as well).

Atmosphere: JJ is a quite small location. The physical space consists of an oblong rectangular area (wide, as opposed to deep) with a high open ceiling. The walls are painted various tones from yellow to orange (darker shades), and the front of the counter is a natural wood. There are but few tables inside, due to the size of the space; those that are there match the counters, excepting that the tables (oddly enough, not rounded) are much more highly polished. There are a couple of armchairs in one corner, and a few tables outside as well.

It is of note here that the Square in which JJ is located is a pedestrian-friendly environment, and there is a park directly across from the shop.

Verdict: Ok, although not great espresso, which may be improved if the owner makes the changes that we discussed.