Sunday, December 09, 2007

Verve Coffee Roasters

Location: 816 41st Ave., Santa Cruz

Reviewed: December 8, 2007

Espresso: Verve roasts their own coffee next door to the coffeeshop, and, when I was there, the beans were only a day or two out of the roaster. The freshness of the beans was reflected in the somewhat bubbly crema. The crema was extremely dark, thick, and persistent. The shot, which was ground-to-order and tamped hard, was quite the ristretto pour, perhaps less than 1oz for a double. The barista even threw out his first attempt at making my shot. The shot was of moderate body, and tasted of up-front fruit fading to a more chocolate note.

Atmosphere: Verve is a medium-sized shop with lots of windows and free wifi. Typical, I suppose. Parking in the neighborhood can be difficult. The staff is friendly and talkative.

Verdict: Among the best.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Newark Java

Location: 6139 Jarvis Ave., Newark

Reviewed: December 7, 2007

Espresso: My request for a single resulted in far too much liquid with a thin dissipating light-coloured crema in a straight-sided cup with an extremely mismatched saucer. Not only did the barista pre-grind and not pay attention to the pour, but she didn't even lock the portafilter all the way into place, resulting in coffee leaking around the outside thereof. To the extent the stale beans had any taste at all it was bitter.

Atmosphere: Newark Java is a moderately-sized shop in a random stripmall in suburbia. Of note are the coffee-motif decorations.

Verdict: I still can't believe I drank this!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Caffe Amici

Location: 161 Montgomery St., San Francisco

Reviewed: November 20, 2007

Espresso: My shot was served to me in a wide-brimmed ceramic cup with an oversized, but otherwise matching, saucer. The total volume was around 1.5oz. The crema was a pale tan color and initially thick but dissipated rapidly. There was little aroma, leading to little taste other than stale notes with some bitterness in the aftertaste.

Atmosphere: Amici is a very small, bright, and well-lit shop of narrow rectangular proportion. Not much seating.

Verdict: Essentially shrug-worthy.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Trouble Coffee

Location: 4033 Judah Ave., San Francisco

Reviewed: October 28, 2007

Espresso: Trouble serves Eccocaffe beans, and at least on the day I was there, they were pouring a single-origin Brazil. My shot was ground-to-order and served in a nearly-full wide-mouthed cup, probably just over 2oz. in total capacity. The crema was of moderate thickness and was an even dark brown. It was full-bodied and tasted of caramel, chocolate, and cinnamon.

Atmosphere: This is a really tiny little place. There are precisely three stools upon which to sit and no tables whatsoever.

Verdict: A welcome addition to the neighborhood.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Cafe Noir

Location: 365 Calle Principal, Monterey

Reviewed: October 12, 2007

Espresso: Noir uses the famed Black Cat blend from Intelligentsia, and they do an okay job with it. My ground-to-order pour had a thin medium-brown crema that dissipated quite rapidly (this was probably helped along by the wide-brimmed cup they served the shot in). It was full-bodied and mild, and I couldn't pick out much more than that (see below).

Atmosphere: Cafe Noir is located inside the lobby of the Osio Theatre. Although this sounds like a convenient location for a cafe, there is one horrible happenstance: you can smell the popcorn! The butter and salt aromas completely obliterate any scents that you might otherwise be picking up from your espresso. Perhaps if they served in a snifter so that you could stick your nose down into it, it would be alright. I do have to give them kudos for the restored 1960's era Faema that they use.

Verdict: I'll possibly even go back, but popcorn and coffee do not go together well!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Velo Rouge Cafe

Location: 798 Arguello Blvd., San Francisco

Reviewed: September 16, 2007

Espresso: Velo Rouge is a purveyor of coffee from Blue Bottle. Rumour has it that they use the Bella Donovan blend for espresso. My shot was a full-bodied, sweet shot finishing with a pungent bitterness. A bit different from the other Blue Bottle coffees I've had and quite good. Crema here is thick and dark (the way it should be!).

Atmosphere: Velo Rouge is a very small shop, almost square in shape. It has a bicycle motif to the decor and sells branded-items (drinkware, wearables), in addition to coffee and food. They had live jazz playing when I was there. Crowded with a line almost out of the door.

Verdict: A very solid effort.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Guerilla Cafe

Location: 1620 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

Reviewed: August 31, 2007

Espresso: Guerilla uses coffee from Blue Bottle. Unfortunately, they pre-grind it; despite this, however, the crema was surprisingly quite thick. The barista didn't pay much attention to the pour, and what resulted was about 1.5oz. of espresso with the aforementioned thick crema. The crema was of a moderate brownish color and didn't look at all bad. It was full-bodied, sweet, and fairly bright.

Atmosphere: Something between a coffee bar and a full restaurant, Guerilla features table service but also has counter seating. It's a long narrow space of moderate size with large chiaroscuro portraits of Che Guevara (or someone else maybe) on the walls.

Verdict: Not bad, but the weakest Blue Bottle coffee I've experienced.

Nomad Cafe

Location: 6500 Shattuck Ave., Oakland

Reviewed: August 31, 2007

Espresso: My simple request for a single espresso inexplicably took two or three employees and nearly 10 minutes to process. What eventually resulted was about 1.5oz. of overly hot, slightly astringent espresso with a mild spice flavour. The crema was thin and pale. The shot was not ground to order, and they didn't add very much coffee to the portafilter.

Atmosphere: Small and crowded with slow-moving employees.

Verdict: Not very good, but at least it's fair-trade.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Crema Coffee Roasting Co.

Location: 950 The Alameda, San Jose

Reviewed: August 6, 2007

Espresso: My single was served just over half-full in a ~2oz. cup (which would make doubles an interesting proposition). It was ground to order, albeit with a Swift. The crema was thick and of an even, medium-light brown color. The shot was medium-bodied, of moderate acidity, well-balanced. It had a complex taste of dark chocolate, berry-like notes, and hints of citrus. Adding to the complexity, it displayed both bitter and sweet notes.

Atmosphere: Crema is a large shop, with a large patio out front. It's in a free-standing building, which is why it has so much space. Since it's new, the furnishings don't display any wear. The interior is painted in warm colors, and there is a fireplace. Lots of seating and free wi-fi.

Verdict: A good place to hang out, but I have concerns as to how consistent they can be.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Palio Paninoteca

Location: 505 Montgomery Street, San Francisco

Reviewed: August 1, 2007

Espresso: My request was for a single, and I had to repeat "for here" two or three times to make sure they figured it out. I was ultimately given probably 1.25-1.5oz. of liquid in a cup with a capacity of about twice that volume. The crema was of moderate thickness and was even in color, darker than hazelnut, but not to a medium-brown. It was fairly well balanced, full-bodied, and tasted of a simple milk chocolate.

Atmosphere: This is really more of a deli with a separate counter for coffee service. As such, it is appointed a bit more like a deli inasmuch as the tables and chairs are concerned, etc. It's large, light, and open.

Verdict: Since it's not actually a coffeeshop per se, it's among the best in its class.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Caffe Roma

Location: 526 Columbus Ave., San Francisco

Reviewed: June 17, 2007

Espresso: My single was served around the proper volume, being just barely over 1oz. It was served half-up in a ~2oz. ceramic cup with matching saucer. The crema looked promising, being a darker brown color overall, with some slightly lighter colors mixed in sporadically. Although it looked as good as it did, the crema layer was very thin and began to dissipate upon my first sip. In the cup was a fairly complicated mixture of caramel-sweetness and cinnamon-spiciness, finishing with hints of dark chocolate. Fairly classic and fairly nice.

Atmosphere: Caffe Roma is a large shop with entrances on two sides. It is well-lit and clean inside. There are a number of tables and a few stools for drinking at the bar. Outdoor seating also available. They also have the most intriguing ceiling fans I've ever seen. A large TV in one corner was showing international soccer (Mexico against Costa Rica), although the sound was muted in favour of classic big-band standards.

Verdict: If not for the thin crema...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Maisson de Patisserie

Location: 2855 Steven's Creek Blvd., San Jose (inside Valley Fair mall)

Reviewed: June 9, 2007

Espresso: My shot request came nearly at the end of a pre-ground doser, and so I received some portion of freshly-ground beans. This actually resulted in a nicely persistent crema, considering the cappuccino cup used. The crema was medium in tone and of an even brownish color. However, it didn't live up to it's decent looks, as the taste was mostly ashy.

Atmosphere: This is a quite small location with lots of tables crammed into the space, which can make things uncomfortable.

Verdict: Almost shows promise.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Java N Juice

Location: 519 W. Capital Expressway, San Jose

Reviewed: May 8, 2007

Espresso: My single was poured into a non-preheated ceramic cup from a shot pitcher. The barista brewed a double and decanted half. The shot was not ground to order, although it was lightly tamped. The resulting beverage was ~2oz. in volume. It had a pale and thin crema and tasted rather like an uninspiring "French Roast" drip coffee.

Atmosphere: Java N Juice is located in a large strip mall, and contains a corner. As such, it is rather square in shape, with the counter running across the diagonal. The resulting space is somewhat small. It is well-lit due to the windows on two sides.

Verdict: The best thing here was the poster of Ruth Orkin's photograph "American Girl in Italy".

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Ugly Mug

Location: 4640 Soquel Dr., Soquel

Reviewed: April 28, 2007

Espresso: My request for a single likely resulted in a double, as a nearly-full ~2.5oz. cup was produced. Thankfully, the shot was ground to order, albeit with a Swift (nothing against the Swift as a machine per se, but I've never had truly great coffee from a shop that uses one). The crema was a pale-to-medium brownish tone, with a couple of white-ish dots. It was of moderate body and tasted smoky and spicy.

Atmosphere: The Ugly Mug is a large shop on a street corner in what could be optimistically referred to as downtown Soquel. It is mostly dark-toned throughout, has large windowpanes facing the street, a high ceiling, free wifi, and a number of rentable iMac computer terminals. The tables and chairs show signs of wear. There is a large fishtank randomly placed jutting into the center of the room and acting as a logical if not literal divider of sorts.

Verdict: If they lost the Swift and trained their baristas...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Canela Espresso & Pastries

Location: 10631 S. Foothill Blvd., Cupertino

Reviewed: April 25, 2007

Espresso: Canela uses espresso from Barefoot, but I had trouble discerning which blend they were using. Perhaps this was due to the staleness caused by lack of grinding to order (thankfully, it was tamped hard). Oddly, the shot, even though pre-ground, was laden with a thick crema of a light-to-medium brown color. In the cup, it displayed a moderate body and not much real character with an aftertaste that couldn't decide whether it wanted to be sour or bitter but was decidedly unpleasant.

Atmosphere: Canela is a small shop in a small stripmall in a random street in Cupertino. That should tell you most of what you need to know. The layout is fairly squarish overall, although a portion of that is taken up by the counter and the space therebehind. There are a few small round cafe tables.

Verdict: Perhaps some consolation can be gathered from the inexpensive price (at only $1 for a single).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Almaden Roasting Co.

Location: 6055 Meridian Ave., San Jose

Reviewed: March 29, 2007

Espresso: My order for a single resulted in a pre-ground double being poured into a shot pitcher and then half being poured into a 12oz. paper cup. It was probably near 2oz. in total volume and had a pale, thin crema. It was overly hot, thin-bodied, and slightly astringent. It tasted primarily of carbon smoke with slight hints of rubber.

Atmosphere: Almaden Roasting Co. is a nice enough place. It's open and light, squarish in shape, and with several small cafe tables. The tables and chairs are of a black metal construction and tend toward elegant.

Verdict: A depressingly common combination of bad coffee in a nice place.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Centro Espresso

Location: 733 4th St., Santa Rosa

Reviewed: March 15, 2007

Espresso: Centro uses coffee from Ecco Caffe. My shot was ground-to-order, poured directly into the (paper, but properly-sized) cup. Although the menu specified that all shots were double ristretto, my pour was closer in size to the 2oz. standard. The crema was silky and thick, but it dissipated rapidly, possibly because of the wide rim on the cup. The shot was sweet, tasting of caramel and honey and was full-bodied. It was very hot.

Atmosphere: Centro is a take-out only bar (see above as regards paper cup) located inside Sawyer's News Stand. That being said, there are a couple of tables on the sidewalk out front.

Verdict: Pretty good; only minor issues.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tupelo Coffeehouse & Roasting Co.

Location: 5700 Elvas Ave., Sacramento

Reviewed: February 21, 2007

Espresso: I was served a double of ~2oz. in a burnt orange ceramic cup with matching saucer. The shot was groud to order and tamped. The barista poured into a pair of shotglasses, which he used to transfer the espresso to the waiting, but apparently not preheated cup. This didn't help the crema, which was resultantly on the thin side. Nonetheless, it was a somewhat mottled, nicely-colored, medium-dark brown. The shot was medium-bodied with a buttery mouthfeel. There were hints of caramel and allspice, supported by a tinge of berry-like sweetness.

Atmosphere: Tupelo is a large shop in a small strip mall. The inside contains a roaster, several tables (including what appears to be a picnic table), and some integrated seating along a portion of one wall. Tract lighting is installed and seemed to be randomly blinking. This might be by some kind of design, because the employees didn't seem nonplused at this one bit; it should be noted that these were not the only lights installed. Jazz was playing quite loudly, but did not overwhelm one's senses. It works pretty well, overall.

Verdict: Not bad.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mission Bakery & Cafe

Location: inside the student center at Santa Clara University, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara

Reviewed: February 18, 2007

Espresso: SCU as a whole recently switched their coffee accounts to Barefoot beans. This has resulted in quite the improvement since I attended a couple of years ago. Today, they were serving Redwood. The barista didn't seem to grind the shot to order, but she did give it a heavy tamp (on top of a very full portafilter). The shot was poured directly into a smallish (6oz?) paper cup. It had a nicely-coloured crema, which, although not thick per se, was pretty good given the wideness of the cup. It was thick and full-bodied and coated the tongue well. It contained just a tinge of honey-sweetness.

Atmosphere: Well, um, it's in the student center. Not much to comment on here.

Verdict: Even though they need some training, if this stuff had been there when I was in school, I wouldn't have needed to take the bar exam twice, because of all that time I wasted traveling away from campus for my coffee.

Friday, February 09, 2007

If it's not heresy, it's at least typical

The sentiment expressed in the first paragraph of this article is why I write these reviews.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bellano Coffee

Location: 3985 Steven's Creek Blvd., Santa Clara

Reviewed: January 23, 2007

Espresso: Bellano serves Zoka's famed Paladino and pour it short. My double (doubles only) was ~1.75oz. The barista went through the paces slowly and methodically: ground, tamped, flushed grouphead, poured directly into preheated ceramic cup. I noticed that she was using a naked portafilter, which may have been behind the somewhat bubbly crema. Otherwise, the crema was good: dark and thick, it persisted throughout the cup. The shot was heavy-bodied and tasted of nut and caramel, tending toward dark chocolate in the aftertaste.

Atmosphere: Bellano is a smallish yet open-feeling shop in a small stripmall. Fairly typical, it contains the standard cafe tables and chairs and a couple of armchairs. They really need a couch. Free wi-fi.

Verdict: Good: a very serious contender.

Monday, January 22, 2007

eMocha Cafe

Location: 231 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose

Reviewed: January 22, 2007

Espresso: eMocha is a wholesale customer of Blue Bottle. All espressos are served as double ristretto, according to a sign on the counter. My shot was ~1.75oz., and so the claim is essentially true. The shot had lots of crema, which persisted throughout the cup. The crema was on the medium-pale side, although it was flecked with darker spots. The shot primarily had a smoky, bittersweet butterscotch flavour. It was however, very slightly on the sour side; it also seemed to lack a certain intensity that I've come to expect (although my experience with Blue Bottle coffees is admittedly somewhat limited). They've only been open for three months and freely admit to still being in the teething stage.

Atmosphere: eMocha is a very small shop, which effectively means it's pretty much a take-out only location. There are two tables inside and a couple more on the sidewalk.

Verdict: Not bad at all.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mixology Monday XI

Most of my readers are probably unaware of Mixology Monday; it's a monthly drink recipe event (generally based around alcohol), but as the theme this month is "Winter Warmers", I thought a coffee-based beverage entry would be appropriate.

What I have here would also be appropriate as a barista-competition style signature drink.

Caffe Afal:

(per serving)
2 cloves
2 allspice pods
1oz. spiced cider (you could substitute Calvados for an alcoholic variant)
and, of course, espresso
cinnamon stick for garnish

In the bottom of a preheated steaming pitcher, muddle the cloves and allspice with a small bit of honey. Add cider or Calvados. Heat with steam wand (you could also use a microwave if you must, but then you'd have to do the muddling directly in the cup). Pour into preheated cordial glass or espresso cup and stir briskly. Pour espresso shot directly into glass. Garnish with cinnamon stick.

I prefer a darker, heavier espresso for this drink. Think Black Cat or Element 114.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Some trips & repeat visits

In the last few weeks, I've vistited a few of my previous-but-distant favourite places: Modesto's Coffee Creek, Sacramento's Temple, and Walnut Creek's Pacific Bay. I'm happy to report that, after a number of drinks at each place, they all are still pouring great stuff; this makes me happy.