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.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Timmy, I'm the owner of Lulu Carpenter's, the cafe that you appear to have been most charitable to in that last series of "reviews". I'm curious about your background in coffee.
First off, all of our coffee is ground to order, the espresso included. We use a La Marzocco Swift grinder. Look it up. With regard to the line, I haven't seen any confusion about that in 16 years. You just follow everybody else. Lastly, you appear to be reading too much of the pop literature that passes for "espresso-philia" or whatever it is being called. "Smokiness" and "plum" are about the last charecteristics a coffee cupper would ascribe to our espresso. And, as for it being "obviously a dark roast", it's nothing of the sort. Come on in sometime and talk to us at our roasting plant in Scotts Valley. I'd be happy to run you through a crash course on single-origin coffees and roasting and brewing methods. Minus all the phony jargon.
You blogger guys ought to be more circumspect in your criticisms of people who work awfully hard to get it right. Mind you, you are completely unaccountable for what you are saying. People read this stuff, and actually think you know what you're talking about.
I can be reached at 831-439-9200. Come on in and we'll talk about this in person. Manthri

Timmy said...

First of all, taste experience is notoriously difficult to actually discuss, and it is influenced by many different factors, including physiological, experiential, language, etc. Philosophers and cognitive scientists (and probably many food and wine professionals) have been debating this stuff ad nauseum for decades, if not longer.

Secondly, in doing these reviews, I'm not in any kind of controlled environment such as a cupping table, and thus environmental factors such as scents in the immediate vicinity are a large influence. However, I don't believe this to be a serious issue, as it accurately reflects what other visitors may (or, admittedly, may not) experience. You also must realize that there are a lot of factors that determine the taste of an espresso, and a blend may behave differently brewed under pressure than it would in a cupping spoon.

The subjective factors inherent in all this is a large part of the reason why I simply describe my experiences and do not attempt to rate by numeric scores or any other objective factors.

If you do, in fact, grind each shot to order, then I may well have missed it. It is quite difficult to see behind the counter and tell just what the baristas are doing. I did state that the grinder was running frequently and also said that it didn't SEEM as though the shot was ground to order. It is likely that the thin crema was a factor in my speculation about the grinding.

As for my own qualifications, I am not a professional. If I were, it would constitute an enormous conflict of interest in writing reviews. I have, however, been certified as a Barista Competition Judge by the SCAA; have in fact judged at competitions; have cupped with professionals; and have helped professionals train for barista competitions. I have met and talked to many of the most highly regarded people in the industry (some of them I know personally). These people respect me.

Nonetheless, if you feel that I have been unfair, I will be happy to write another review the next time I am in Santa Cruz.

Anonymous said...

I too understand that taste is a subjective matter, although it seems to me that all of this talk of scents and and cognitive scientists obscures an actual understanding (or lack thereof) of espresso cuisine.
Again, I really need to make it clear that we do grind shots to order. Not only that, but we only use double-sized portafilter baskets, even for single shots. You are effectively getting a double short when you order a single. What's more, we do not serve coffee that is more than 4 days off the roaster. You will have a hard time finding anybody, anywhere in the industry with freshness standards that stringent.
Now, as regards the shot you were describing, I wish to point out that there is a legitimate Bay Area espresso cuisine that pre-dates all the hoopla out of Seattle and Portland. It is derived from the northern Italian style roasting and brewing methods practiced at Caffe Trieste and many others in the North Beach area, as well as places such as Cafe Med on Telegraph in Berkeley. The espresso generally uses a base of Colombia and Brazil coffees, with Indonesias thrown in for body. Robustas are sometimes, but not always present. The Brazils tend to be dry processed, and enhance the formation of the emulsion that we call crema. When you describe the crema on our espresso as "thin", I really suspect that you are confusing this term with light or pale, monikers which I would accept to describe the color of our espresso (by comparision with others I see in the Pacific Northwest). Our crema is extraordinarily thick and velvety, albeit light in color. The character tends toward caramel. There is definitely more of a bite than you might find in other espressos that you have tried. We pursue this in order to ensure that the flavor profile comes through all the milk that is served in American-style espresso drinks. One of my complaints about the direction that espresso is going in this country, and by extension, the world, is that there is so much milk on top of such mild espresso that it tastes mostly like coffee flavored milk.
The coffees that you appear to have a preference for are generally based on high quality Guatemalas. They often have no dry-processed coffees in them at all, and if anything, the crema, while dark brown and flecked and so on, is very short-lived. They tend to be milder, rounder, and more full bodied than our Espresso Classico, which I might also describe as more angular. We have a blend based on Finca Vista Hermosa that probably meets the profile you are looking for, and we do put that in the rotation from time to time. It's called Moksha Blend. Incidentally, our Espresso Classico uses a base of Huila Finca San Agustin and Contini Vargem Grande.
I recognize the inexorable rush towards the Seattle style of espresso cuisine in our industry, and it's not entirely lamentable. I've had some good espressos out of the Northwest. Victrola's Streamline comes to mind. I had some in Portland yesterday, and it was as good as our Guatemala based blend. What I take exception to is the wholesale co-opting of the industry that has occurred since the Starbucks IPO. You would think these people invented the stuff. I will remind you again that the espresso culture around here is venerable and legitimate, and I certainly hope that people will ultimately recognize that it too has it's place in the industry.
As regards your qualifications, congratulations. And a final mea culpa. We're out of demitasse cups because I can't find the style we use. I'll fix that in the next week. As to another review, don't trouble yourself. I appreciate the offer, but it's not that big a deal. If I had lived for the critics, I would have quit the industry 20 years ago.
Manthri

Timmy said...

I would be otherwise willing to continue this discussion, but your continued lack of willingness to recognize that I do, in fact, know what I'm talking about, and your personal, vitriolic, and invective attacks in this regard are entirely unacceptable and inappropriate.

Nonetheless, I am willing to overlook these, and since you quite obviously care about what you are doing, I will look forward to a better shot (in a proper cup, of course) the next time I am on that side of the hill.

Anonymous said...

Well, my best wishes to you. Good luck in your search for that elusive great cup of coffee. And go easy on the guys who work to get this stuff out to the public. Some of them deserve it. Adios.
Manthri

Realist said...

As for Lu Lu Carpenters, It may have OK coffee, the most expensive in town, and a cool red brick building. However, the owner has had several incidents treating poor people like garbage. Case in point - Last week a young man who is dying of AIDS was outside legally, asking for nothing and off the café property.
He did have a sign describing his situation. He never begs or asks for anything. He was harassed tremendously. The owner came out and said, “We don't like your kind here. Leave the Mall. You’re a freeloader!"
Shane is far from a freeloader. He just lost everything to a fire. He threatened to make Shane’s Life "a living hell." He could do nothing to the kind soul that Shane has not already experienced.
Both parties called the police. Although the officer admitted, he was abiding by all laws regarding panhandling. He smelled a ticked coming his way if he did not leave.
Shane is very ill and was simply waiting for a rescue that was on its way. He was given a ticket he cannot pay. This is a constant problem with the owner, and I understand there are legitimate problems with some of the homeless and local businesses. When we start to consider a class of people all the same, we degrade them and ourselves. Shane needed propane to heat his trailer so he does not get sick. I am requesting the owner make a real apology to Shane in writing or there will be a major boycott coming soon to this café.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to go ahead and support your claims that the espresso at Lulu's is 'not great'. Actually, I'm going to go so far as to say that I've never enjoyed it on the several occasions that I've had the misfortune of needing an espresso fix in Santa Cruz. The closest good espresso you can find is at Barefoot Coffee Roaster's in Santa Clara.

Anonymous said...

and furthermore.... I can make better tasting espresso using month-old Barefoot coffee on a $30 steam-based Krups machine. waPOW!#%^

Anonymous said...

I think you have had an unusually bad experience here. LuLu's has coffee every bit as good, if not better than Barefoot. It's one of the most under-appreciated espresso places around. I think it doesn't get taken seriously because it's in this little beach town. The owner has been in the business for 20 plus years and used to own a chain of some 30 stores that he sold to a large company a few years ago. He knows the business. I know Dr. Joseph John, Erna Knutsen and Jeff Babcock and Craig Kerrick from Zoka (I'm in the industry), all of whom concur about his palette and excellent roasting and blending skills. Reading your blog, I must say he can have a bit of a caustic tongue, though.

As to whatever is going on on his street, I will say that he has had no end of trouble with the local Santa Cruz "color". When visiting once, I saw him pulled over the counter by his apron and called a "raghead" by a drunk bully. When the police came, he was nice enough not to press charges, even though the incident had been seen by all the people in the store. He said something about the guy having deeper problems than himself. So, whatever is happening, I don't blame him for being fed up with these people.

And as for the fellow brewing month-old coffee in a $30 espresso machine - really? Sounds like you might have a grudge of some sort. I find that statement hard to credit.

By the way, try out his store in Scotts Valley sometime. Introduce yourself. I think you'll find he's a really nice guy. Also, ask him about the new store he's building. It's going to have the first Marzocco Mistral in California(and the U.S?). And the first Clover machine in California. And it's focused on single-origin espresso. I wish I could own something like that!

Realist said...

LULU Carpenters is by the owner’s description only for a certain class of people. He threw hot coffee on and faced batter charges in 2003. He has called the homeless "creatures” on my blog and the man with aids” an Aids victim with a bunny and a screw loose." You can read about the battery charge at the Sentinel, our local newspaper. It is fine of he does not like poor people and wants a place only for a certain class but he lacks in his communications skills and general compassion for others. Indaybay.org has plenty of posts about this man. I tried the nice approach to solve this issue and was told to “go to hell”

Sentinel article cops and courts (Scroll down)
http://santacruz.indymedia.org/mod/comments/display/3531/index.php

In addition, www.indybay.org has many LULU Carpenters complaints, just search LULU Carpenters or check this edition of Street Spirit Newspaper http://www.thestreetspirit.org/Nov2006/santacruz.htm

Decide for yourself.

Mr. Srinath, just in case your paranoid fantasies are acting up this is not the same Tim or Timmy that runs this great blog. I am the one banned for life for writing the story that you refuse to tell your side.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything in the original review except for the part about the line, I've never seen anyone at all confused about which way the line is supposed to stretch... if you draw a line from the register to the front door and place yourself behind the last person in queue then you're pretty much golden.

Although Manthri claims that every espresso shot is made to order that isn't my personal experience.

Also, something you forgot to mention is that LuLu's is one of the only shops in the entire downtown area that has a bathroom, bookshop santa cruz being the only other exception I can think of readily.

Personally I think the worst part of the LuLu's experience at this point is the owner himself, more than once I have found him to be confrontational and unpleasant to be around to put it lightly. Which is weird because you can tell he really loves coffee and his shop. One would think, but one would be wrong to think... I guess.

Still LuLu's is my coffee shop of choice, until that is, Peet's down the street decides to change out some of their employees. They seem to have hit a low point in hiring practices.

Anonymous said...

How sad that you have to go to a business where you don't like the owner. It seems like with every other storefront a coffeeshop these days, that should be easy to avoid. Hopefully Peet's will improve soon so you can go there again!

I myself find Lulu's to be great, owner included, so that's where I'll stay.

Anonymous said...

I am a coffee shop regular in Santa Cruz. A good espresso shop is some magic blend of customers, environment, staff, and product. A balanced blend of these factors makes a trip to the cafe worth the $5 to $7 spend each visit.

Lulu's espresso is good. Their cocoa is dark and rich. All the right ingredients for a good Mocha (my drink). Despite this, consistency of the final in-cup taste is not a strong point for Lulu's. I have been trying for years to figure out why each day there is such dramatic difference between the taste, consistency, and quality of an espresso drink at this cafe. When it is good, it is really good. Else-wise, it really sucks. Each time I go, I figure I have a 50/50 chance between the two. extremes.

As for the staff... well that is the truly strange part of the experience. If you thought clicks were bad in 7th grade... you haven't seen anything. Santa Cruz has always been a National Park for the mass catharsis of (usually wealthy) young adults that were abused or otherwise ignored or mistreated as children. That is fine. That is a good thing to provide the world. But the unnatural predominance of this population means there is no push-back, no control rods to contain the runaway selfishness that pervades this embarrassing emotional cascade of self riotousness and self indulgence. A cult of sophomoric political ideas as understood purely on the surface and purely as a means towards self-identity through membership in a fraternity of fear and disenchantment. Wow, I'll bet you've never read a review like this of cafe staff! I think the best way to describe the situation is if you imagined a nightmare in which the most catty and rude and cliquish little freaks in your Jr. High School lunch room suddenly emerged from 2 years of indoctrination in first year global poly-sci classes and had been cloned and now controlled the world. It is sad. It is disturbing. And no one seems to care about anything bigger than belonging and what that takes. The politics and social positioning is a front to cover up the more than obvious desperation to belong at any cost. Anyway, to say the least, this is not the way to build customer relations. This is the opposite of the very exclusiveness and equality their own political views espouse. I am a deeply liberal person that grew up during the civil rights battles of the 60s and 70s. So it is even more disturbing to me when the image of caring politics is presented by people with such selfish identity-interests. But please put all of this politics aside as it is simply a front, a politically correct excuse and cover for the ugliness of personal emotional issues purposely hidden.

If you are not one of them... don't expect to be treated like your $5 bucks matters. Most of these people think money and business and capitalism are evil, so they work in the retail sphere as quiet terrorists bidding their time until the great cataclysm or enlightenment where nobody needs anything or builds anything (or their dad finally says "I love you").

What boggles my mind is the strange symbiosis that continues and festers at this shop between a decidedly capitalistic owner fully bought into the get rich program, and his staff of rich kids posing proletariat revolutionaries.

The suspension of disbelief necessary to contain this dualism might just blow your mind. In the sixties social battles were fought over the basic equality of all humans. The fashion version that has replaced this great charge, the one that is exemplified by the staff at Lulu's, is simply embarrassing.

Now, about the coffee. I believe that the owner and his roasters make a consistent bean. What happens next has to do with not giving a shit... has to do with hiring practices that have built a cult where a customer facing and caring staff should reside.

Can you make selfish people act like they care? I doubt it. Time to start over. Time for the owner to care again. Time for customer service and commitment to quality as a consistent experience to be what matters.

There are people who are compassionate and treat others equally always... and there are those who aren't and don't. Seems like an easy thing to see in someone. Who is doing the hiring? What kind of person are they?

By the way, (at least at the new "octagon" location on Cooper St.) the whole place including the bathrooms are kept very clean! The environment is excellent and mostly peaceful . There is fairly consistent free wireless internet.

Almost paradise! Almost.

Randall

Anonymous said...

Actually Randall, you jackass, the reason the staff doesn't like you is your well known proclivity for sexual harassment of female employees and customers. We have put up with it for a long time. No more. I understand that you have been thrown out of other cafes in town for this. I suppose it's time to do the same here. Wait till I catch you in one of my businesses again...

Thanks for this blog here Timmy! I guess I'll have to visit more often. I don't imagine this is what you had in mind when you wrote that review, but we swing a bit differently in these parts, sex offenders and all.

Manthri Srinath

Anonymous said...

Manthri, is an ass hole. The staff is great, always smiling, laughing and super personable to everyone who walks in (including homeless). The coffee is so so, the tea and atmosphere are wonderful. BUT it's WAY too expensive. The food also is bad unless you're there in the morning (it sits out and get's all crusty).

I don't go to Lulus because I don't want to support an owner like that. Here's the interaction that resulted in needing to find a new coffee shop: One evening my friends and I went to get coffee, biscotti’s, cookies and tea and to hang out. We had only been there for about 15 minutes when Manthri approached on of my friends accusing her of "studying". In his mind if you're under the age of 25...even if you're sitting without laptop/paper/books you must be "studying". When she told him that we weren't studying and merely meeting old friends for coffee, Manthri mumbled something under his breath, walked to the counter, and sat and watched us for over a half an hour. When another friend popped a jolly rancher in her mouth (she's diabetic) he jumped all over her for bringing "outside food" and we were told to leave. Note this girl had spent 10 dollars alone on a fancy raspberry espresso and salad.

I haven't observed any classist act from Manthri...but I see how he treats young people. If you want a place for people to meet each other who are over 30, go online to match.com instead of opening a mediocre over priced coffee shop.

-Nicole

espressophile said...

Comments are turned off, as this discussion has degraded into ad hominem attacks and name-calling.