Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chocolate Fish Coffee

Location: 400 P Street, Sacramento

Reviewed: December 24, 2008

Espresso: Chocolate Fish uses espresso from Ecco Caffe. My shot was ground to order, pulled directly into a ceramic demitasse and poured on the short side. The result was a nicely patterned thick layer of crema on top of ~1.5oz. of coffee. Notes of caramel, honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Atmosphere: Chocolate Fish is located in a building that otherwise houses state government offices. This building is next to a number of other buildings that also house state government offices. This makes it difficult to find. Otherwise, it's a fairly typical small coffeeshop: the layout is somewhat of an oblong rectangle and there are lots of windows and fee wifi; dark tones predominate. The staff is friendly and enthusiastic.

Verdict: They do things right here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fraiche Yogurt

Location: 644 Emerson Street, Palo Alto

Reviewed: November 16, 2008

Espresso: Fraiche uses Blue Bottle Coffee, and it resultantly shows. They have a separate barista for each shift (so not just any employee can work the machine and make drinks), and they've been obviously trained, grinding and tamping each shot; they also use a bottomless portafiler. They use the Hayes Valley blend here, and the results with it typically display a thick crema that can vary from an even medium brown to something a bit darker and flecked. It's full-bodied and complex, displaying a pungent spice that hides a sweeter, berrylike finish.

Atmosphere: Not a lot to speak of in this regard. The interior is small and perhaps typical. The shop is somewhat oblong with seating along one side (as well as a single table around a corner which is pretty unnoticeable unless you know it's there). It can get crowded.

Verdict: Good espresso from a yogurt shop. Who would have thought?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Four Barrel Coffee

Location: 375 Valencia Street, San Francisco

Reviewed: September 7, 2008

Espresso: Four Barrel has some relation to Portland's famed Stumptown Coffee Roasters. My understanding is that they roast (or will be roasting shortly) Hairbender under license. In any case, it's the classic stuff here. Light-bodied by design, bright, honey and citrus. It almost goes without saying that they grind/tamp to order and pull short shots.

Atmosphere: Four Barrel is a large shop with the back half cordoned off for use by the roasting operations. It has a tall, open, wooden-plank ceiling, tables attached to the walls, and various other devices to make it trendy. What's more interesting here is the setup. Two Mistrals, six groups in total, very open bar area so you can watch the baristas at work. I spotted a Clover back in the roasting area too.

Verdict: It's really a must-visit.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Bittersweet: The Chocolate Cafe

Location: 2123 Fillmore St., San Francisco

Other locations in Oakland and Danville.

Reviewed: September 1, 2008

Espresso: Bittersweet uses coffee from Blue Bottle. Although they do a decent job with it, one gets the idea that it's really more about the chocolate (and possibly the chocolate-based drinks) here. Nonetheless, they appear to have been trained properly; my shot was ground and tamped individually, and was poured directly into a fairly wide-mouthed cup with matching saucer. The crema was a medium-to-pale brown color, but was fairly thick. The shot, unusually for Blue Bottle's coffee, was not at all on the sweeter side, but had a bit of a not-unpleasant bitterness to it. The body had a creamy texture, and the tastes were a fairly complicated mixture of herbs and roots and, not surprisingly, chocolate. The aftertaste tended toward a singular chocolate.

Atmosphere: Bittersweet is a small shop in the Fillmore district. It's long and narrow, with high ceilings, hardwood flooring, and two levels. Most of the seating is in back and upstairs, but there are also some window streets facing the street.

Verdict: Not the best, although far from the worst. Worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Panama Bay Coffee Co.

Location: 2115 N. First Street, Livermore

Reviewed: August 24, 2008

Espresso: The girl running the register responded to my request for a single espresso with an inquiry whether I wanted it short or long. I specified short and ended up with about 1.5 oz. of liquid in the bottom of a cappuccino-sized cup (albeit one with straight sides and not a properly curved shape). The barista did grind and tamp the shot. The crema, which had started to break up by the time I managed to make it to a seat, was a pale-to-medium brown. The shot had a creamy mouthfeel and a primary taste of milk chocolate, which turned toward bitter in the aftertaste.

Atmosphere: Panama Bay is a large shop, with a long and narrow layout on a street corner in downtown Livermore. It's well-lit with large picture windows along each side that faces either street.

Verdict: Neither the best nor the worst.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Fin's Coffee

Location: 1104 Ocean Street, Santa Cruz

Reviewed: June 1, 2008

Espresso: Fin's serves the infamous Malabar Gold as their exclusive blend. Malabar Gold has a substantial proportion (20-25%) of robusta; the taste reflects this, as the distinctive burnt-tire notes predominate. They served my double in a 12oz. paper cup (even though I specified "for here"), but apart from that, the barista ground and tamped the shot, which provided a thick dark crema. It was about 2oz. in total volume.

Atmosphere: Fin's is a small shop with large picture windows and a beach theme. There are plushy fish scattered around here and there.

Verdict: Decent if you like Malabar Gold.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Blue Bottle Cafe

Location: 66 Mint St., San Francisco

Reviewed: May 5, 2008

Espresso: Blue Bottle serves, optionally, single-origins on a lever San Marco machine. This particular day, they were utilizing a Brazil of a certain estate which name escapes me. The barista took some time dialing-in and poured out at least three shots before serving me. The crema was medium-to-light in shade and even in tone. Despite this, the crema was still thick and plentiful. The shot, poured to about 1.5 oz. in a ~2 oz. white ceramic cup with matching saucer, was quite complex in flavour, tasting of sage and smoke and chocolate, fading to something approaching walnut in the finish. Served alongside a glass of water.

Atmosphere: The new Blue Bottle Cafe is small and crowded. Minimal signage and a 17-foot ceiling. The siphon bar is fun.

Verdict: Pulls it off well.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cafe Mediterraneum

Location: 2475 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley

Reviewed: February 10, 2008

Espresso: Cafe Med uses coffee from Barefoot, specifically the Sweetness! blend. They do a reasonable job with it: grinding and tamping to order and deliberately taking time with it. The result was a perhaps 2oz. drink (this being a double) in a white ceramic cup of perhaps twice that volume. The crema was thick and persistent, although not particularly dark. It tasted of upfront berry-tones fading into a more bitter note. Syrupy, although not heavy-bodied.

Atmosphere: Very old (since 1958) and very bohemian, this is a large shop with lots of space, a half-balcony across the back, mismatched tables and chairs (that can wobble). Of note (if only for trivia parlor games) is that this very shop is rumoured to have invented the caffe latte.

Verdict: Can this lay claim to the best of Berkeley? Possibly so.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Dr. Illy's passing

Ernesto Illy
July 18, 1925 -- February 3, 2008.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wild Awakenings Coffee House

Location: 142 McAlister St., San Francisco

Reviewed: January 25, 2008

Espresso: I have to admit my surprise at being handed a cappuccino cup that was three-quarters full in response to my request for a single espresso. That the shot was pre-ground should probably go without saying when a place gaffes like this. Despite this, the crema was thick initially, although it dissipated rapidly. It had a mild herbal taste.

Atmosphere: This is a large shop and is filled with mismatched tables and old couches. It's really quite grungy.

Verdict: Fans of the supposedly infamous cafe creme might want to check it out.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Michael's Gelato & Cafe

Location: 440 University Ave., Palo Alto

Reviewed: January 12, 2008

Espresso: I was quite surprised at seeing a coffee roaster sitting on the floor in a gelato shop, and when the owner told me they roasted "every day", I figured I had to try it. He's trying to do things right (grinding, tamping, ceramic cup), and to his credit, he did make me a second shot after I rejected the first pour as being too long. The shorter shot was still around 1.5oz (and this for a single); it had a pale-to-medium thin crema (probably because the shot was too hot, which was probably caused by a lack of sufficient cooling flush for an idle grouphead). It tasted of an interesting mixture of slightly bitter and slightly sweet.

Atmosphere: It's a small shop with a half-balcony above the front portion of the storefront. Long and narrow with several tables here and there.

Verdict: One of the better shots for places that do not specifically specialize in coffee.

The Coffee Bar

Location: 1890 Bryant St., San Francisco

Reviewed: January 12, 2008

Espresso: Coffee Bar serves Mr. Espresso's Neapolitan blend (they also had a single-origin in a different grinder, but I was not offered a choice of coffees to try). It was ground to order, poured directly into a cappuccino cup, and ran to about 2oz. The crema was of reasonable thickness, given the cup, and it was a mottled medium-brown color. It was slightly nutty, full-bodied and well-balanced, although it made little impression other than that.

Atmosphere: The Coffee Bar is a large space, possibly a former warehouse given the neighborhood, with the beverage (and food) service counter on the first floor, and the primary seating on a slightly-elevated landing of sorts above. The ceilings are very high, the primary tones are raw metal and unfinished wood. There is also outdoor seating in an courtyard enclosed with high metal fences; you have to walk through this courtyard to get to the interior, and there is no outdoor signage. It tries desperately hard to be cool and unfortunately succeeds.

Verdict: The coffee is only ok, but it might improve after they've been open for a while.