Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My first cupping...

Today I had the pleasure of cupping for the first time at Cafe Imports in St. Paul. Jamin was a very gracious and informative host and I learned a lot. He also took me on a tour of the facility and I was highly impressed, although he said they were small fish in the coffee world I was still amazed by the masses of coffee sacks everywhere. He explained nevertheless that they are definitely going for quality and not quantity, seeking to raise the level of coffee one cup at a time...

We cupped 16 different Nicaraguan beans and boy was it a treat. These were all Cup of Excellence winners and ranked as such so I knew we were in for something special. I felt like a newbie at first but Jamin put us at ease quickly and lead us easily through the cupping process. I got to do a dry smell of the ground coffee first and then a wet smell. After that we aspirated the coffee quickly, swirled and spit until I started feeling a buzz even though I wasn't technically ingesting the stuff. My tongue went dry a couple times from the constant contact with the coffees and I took a few water breaks to get my senses back.

I really had a great time. It reinforced to me the notion that the world of coffee is vast and almost limitless in its scope. I've definitely got a lot to learn but with each day I feel like my palette awakens, the nuances surface and I just get more and more excited about what's around the next coffee corner. I was happy and a bit surprised that when the rankings were revealed at the end my choices lined up fairly well with what the experts had chosen for the best coffees. I guess I am figuring out something...

Monday, June 29, 2009

It's how you make the stuff...

The barista measured the coffee perfectly, overfilling the shot and then gently pushing the excess away with her finger. Then tapping away any remaining dust along the edges she tamped it down with just the right pressure. It's so nice to watch when it's done right and done well. Hats off to Common Roots Cafe for hiring people who know their craft. I know students need summer jobs in coffee houses but thank god their are a few good baristas around.

Peace Coffee produces a special "Roots Blend" and it works very well. The aroma kicks you in the nose with just the right hint of liveliness and tang. The body had a full mouthfeel which contrasted nicely with many of the other thin espressos I often get around town. Viscocity should never be neglected. Perfect acidity and taste to this blend. I have to find out what's in it. I've encountered Peace Coffee being served around town, but this was the first I really, truly enjoyed.

Common Roots is a great place not only for espresso but for food and drink as well. They really have a good thing going. Just the other day kare11 wrote an excellent article detailing their attention to local, organic ingredients. Here's a link to the post.

And yes, that is a Def Leopard T-Shirt... rock on...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Storm Before the Calm...

Oh my god, I waited too long on a Sunday for my 2 espressos!

My wife told me to have 2 at the local farmer's market this morning but I decided to wait and that was a big mistake. I wanted to try Diamond's off Central but when we got there it was closed. So the next nearest place was the Bean Scene in North Minneapolis but they were out of business. I dropped Poosa off at home since I was starting to get a little desperate and headed over to Java J's which was... Open!

I'd been here before and although the barrista was obviously really bored with her job I was just happy to have found a place open. Decent coffee with a good crema, earthy, woody taste. Lavazza beans I think. Oh and they have an awesome beer selection if that helps you. Anyway, at that point I couldn't really complain. I was just happy because I really didn't want things to fall apart... the center held.

It's important to start young!

Someone kindly submitted this photo of a kid off to a great start in life...

Sara's Table Chester Creek Cafe (say it 3 times fast!)

Woke up hungry looking out over Lake Superior and after posting a plea for good coffee on Facebook we headed over to Chester Creek Cafe. Now this place does local organic right. Did I say local and organic again in the same sentence? Oh I guess I did. Sense a trend Walmart you fucks... Anyway, great place for food, friendly people and "The Place" to eat your Saturday morning breakfast in Duluth. So go already... Ask for Aaron the awesome server. But hurry up, he's moving to Vermont soon...

The 2 espressos? Well they were better than the cardboard in Wyoming but once again it's all in the preparation. And the machine... But we definitely enjoyed the venue so that totally made up for the coffee. I really want someone to prepare Alakev coffee the right way so I can see if their roasts are any good...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nesting Ground of good intentions...

On the road in Wyoming Minnesota we stopped into a local coffeehouse
looking for some good espresso. At Nesting Grounds they have a wealth
of good intentions being green and local and fair trade and organic,
but all that doesn't necessarily add up to a good cup of coffee. The
beans may have been good but unless the preparation follows it all for
naught. Coffehouses should only serve espresso if they know how to
make it...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Blacksheep makes darn near perfect espresso...

I'd heard that one place could hold a candle to Kopplin's so I visited the Blacksheep in South St. Paul. It was quite a hike for me to get there, but it proved to be well worth the drive. I walked in and told the barrista Aaron that I had heard they were supposed to be as good as their competitor and then watched him go to work to prove it. He seemed like a barrista that cares about his craft, in fact even running a test shot of espresso. The espressos came as double ristrettos which always seem to make for the perfect cup of coffee. The first thing I noticed was the way the coffee woke me up after the first smell. It was as if the coffee was leaping into my nose and saying "pay attention!" before I even took the first sip. And I'm glad did because the flavor was smooth, yet perfectly acidic, with some earthy and citrusy (is that a word?) hints that lingered on your tongue long after. Absolutely brilliant espresso! Maybe that should have been the title of this post...

We also spoke about the need to "educate the public" to new and better standards of coffee appreciation. Coffee appreciation in the U.S. needs to follow the same path as wine appreciation, with people exploring outside their comfort zones and discovering the merits of lighter roasts, finer beans and more complex brews than the traditional dark roasts.

Later I met the owner Peter who was in between roasting batches and only had 2 minutes. He spoke about his beans like they were his own children. I was impressed by his passion for what he does and he even offered to educate me at a later date. And an education I do need. The further I dive into this whole espresso experience the more I discover how little I know and just how dense and vast the world of coffee is. It's rather exciting to discover this world and reassuring to know it will take me years to even begin to understand it. Reminds me of a story my karate teacher told me about Ginchin Funakoshi (the founder of modern day karate) and how one day he remarked on his basic forward punch and how after 50 years he was just beginning to understand how to throw it. I feel like I'm on the same journey of discovery with regards to espresso.

Definitely make the trip to the Blacksheep. We need more places that are willing to push the espresso envelope and show people what really great coffee can taste like. We need more people to stand up and say we're not going to take mediocre coffee anymore!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Eyeless in Gaza I Stumbled and Rose...

I stumbled like a lost Samson into Spyhouse (on Hennepin and 24th) only to find within its walls the elixir I had been seeking all along but had ignored. Outfitted in my favorite hat and bowling shirt and adapting the pseudonym "Steele" I slipped into the booth with 2 cups of espresso looking up at me with over tanned and reddish crema looks...

The menu said the espresso was made from a "secret blend of Italian roasts" and I can't blame them, better to keep something like this a secret it's so good. Full bodied aroma and taste that just lingers there and slides syrup like down your throat this was no ordinary blend of beans. Despite the large pulls the espresso was nevertheless thick and the crema beautiful, the taste slightly nutty with just a hint of citrus and wood to it. Totally different from the ristretto's I'm used to at Kopplin's but I loved it. I think the barista knew what she was doing too, which can never be minimized. I sure would like to know their secret recipe, although that might just spoil the whole spell. I guess you could say I was blind when I entered Spyhouse, but they gave me espresso that I might see... and taste... and smell! I think I might have to give them 4/5 shots.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blackdog in St. Paul

Hanging out in the warehouse district downtown St. Paul, Poosa and I found Blackdog Coffee and Wine Bar on her recommendation. I needed to get out of the house having been sick all day so we road tripped down the river. Nice warehousey vibe to it with musicians packing up and art pieces everywhere. Coffee was good too, strong, smooth, a little bitterness but I'm sure most Americans out there will like it... I'll be back just to hang out here. And when we got home we kicked it on the beach out back... ahhh, feeling better...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Glaciers Cafe saved me today

Glaciers Cafe was in the right place at the right time and I didn't even know they existed! I needed a tire repair and headed off into the unknown while they worked on it. Near corner of Minnehaha and Lake St. Glaciers Cafe is a nice, friendly cafe specializing in "Natural and Organic Ingredients Whenever Possible and Organic and Fair Trade Coffee" I was just happy to have a place to drink my espressos while waiting because it was turning out to be a sweltering day in the Cities...

I had heard mixed reviews of Peace Coffee's taste and was a little taken aback when told it was a very dark roast but all in all it was pretty good coffee. It had that cool sharp aftertaste that lingers on your tongue letting you soak in the experience for a little while longer... And they served my 2 espressos in silver ramikans which was kind of unique and made me laugh. Thank god Glaciers Cafe was here to afford me some cool, quiet coffee time on this hot, deflated but not defeated day.

And despite the rising temperatures I won't be trying any "iced espresso"...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

They blew up a bridge today...

Started the day off seeing a bridge get blown (get your mind out of the gutter) and then later dropped into Taraccino Coffee to relax with my daily ritual. Seeing the bridge get blown up and knowing they were going to replace it with some god awful poor excuse for a design space bridge made me kind of sad and nostalgic. But taking the time to sip my espressos and forget about all that is part of the beauty of my daily routine. While they're dismantling the world I grew up in I always have a place I can escape to and get back to basics.

Boom goes the bridge...

And Taraccino Cafe afforded me a bit of a respite. The place is typical of many smaller coffee houses with a non descript decor and utility about it that says "drink your coffee simply" and then go about your day. The espresso beans are roasted at local Cannon Falls Roaster Direct. No tangy flavor here, just your regular good organic roast. You that know me know I like my espressos to have a bite and acidity to them. None here, but nevertheless a decent cup of strong coffee never hurt anyone. With very few exceptions everybody here in the Twin Cities prefers to prepare "espresso longo" which is what it is. But as I said, good cup of coffee, just not art in a cup.

Well you'll have to excuse me, I have to go see which part of the past they're going to tear down next. And keep searching for that perfect espresso that tastes like days gone by...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

66 Espressos Later...

Yes I counted... And I'm just getting warmed up. Beautiful day in Minneapolis and got a pleasant surprise at the N.E. Farmers Market when lo and behold... espresso! And a Senesso machine and people that know what they were talking about. They're called Public Coffee House and should be opening up a new shop end of July so more on them later. Onwards...

Here is the view when drinking espresso at Wilde Roast...

Excellent atmosphere in this eclectic laid back but classy establishment. Oscar Wilde themed all around with lots of space and comfy lounge chairs, oh and food! This is definitely a place to hang and chill. The espresso beans were from Duluth's Alakef Coffee Roasters and were "smooth and delicate" as they advertise but the pull was pretty overextracted and therefore didn't really bring out any of the important qualities the beans may have been hiding. If you like your espresso "American Style" then you'll probably be happy but I find the best espressos need some acidity and bite to them and less extraction. I like smooth and syrupy, tangy and acidic espressos the old school Italian way... 3/5 shots.

If you like your baristas "hunky" then go Wilde...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Perfect coffee is best shared...

Met rock star extraordinaire, Chinese language guru and good buddy Chris Corbett at my favorite haunt to introduce him to the wonders of Kopplin's coffee. I think he was impressed...

The barista suggested I do a blind taste test of the Brazilian and Ethiopian to see if I could tell the difference so that was kind of fun. I'm happy to say I had no trouble telling the Brazilian (thicker and creamier) from the Ethiopian (tangy and more acidic with a nice bite to the tongue). I thought I had a preference but now I have to say that I like them both, but for different reasons. And that's the beauty of well prepared espresso, you have many different possibilites open up to your senses. Plus I'm only getting started here with coffee having more than 700 flavor constituents to wine's 150 so bring it on!

Brazilian on the top, Ethiopian on the bottom...

2 beans I love and thousands left to taste...

Thanks to Chris for making my 2 espresso more than just tasting coffee! Rock on...

Kopplin's as always is 5/5 shots.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Post "Drag Me To Hell" Espressos

After the latest Sam Raimi feature what better way to unwind than a 2
espresso at Starbucks next door...

Sharing Espresso With a Friend...

Ok, I'll admit it, my espressos were kicking in in this photo. Or maybe it was just the excitement of sharing my 2 espresso experience with my good friend Greg, who knows.... It's so fun sharing espresso with someone who understands the essence of quality coffee sipped from 2 espresso cups. We both remarked on the "organic" taste of the espresso. Seems a lot of places are serving organic fair trade beans and it tends to give them all similar tastes, somewhat dry with less acidity and bitterness than other places. I guess it's a different kind of espresso experience... But I'll keep going back to Blue Moon just for it's chill atmosphere...

Concentrating on espresso essentials

Greg took this shot

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Art Never Tasted So Good - Kopplin's Again...

2 Ethiopian espressos prepared by master barista Andrew Kopplin is something to be savored again and again. After my espresso tour of South Carolina I was anxious to get back to my roots and there is no finer place to get your taste buds back than Kopplin's. And I was tired... But Kopplin's is such a relaxing get away. I sipped my 2 espressos while listening to some beautiful droning music that just lulled me into the right state of mind. Kopplin's isn't big but the red and green decor and layout are so inviting you just take deep breaths and feel content. And the espresso today?

Outstanding of course. Smooth and creamy consistency that at first smell just fills the nostrils with an aroma so pleasant you know your palette is in for something unique. And the tangy perfectly acidic taste starts on the tip of your tongue and then moves up onto your palette and swirls around and there you are, in paradise. Am I going too far? Well no, at least my 4th time at Kopplin's and I appreciate more and more the finesse and talent involved in making these small cups of heaven. Art never tasted so good...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Poosa's birthday espressos

Poosa's birthday today on Kiawah Island. Had no idea this place was going to be an exclusive resort behind a security gate, but what the hell, have to see how the other half lives sometimes... Started day at Java Java where Chris claimed to be something of an espresso expert and he was right, good espresso. The girls were shopping while I stole away to this place and tasted Chris' excellent espresso. Beans (Armando's Espresso Blend) must have been good because the taste was rich and bitter but at the same time smooth, almost chocolaty. Medium roast went down perfectly.

Later we went out to The Ryder Cup course and had a little birthday dinner and finished it off with some pretty delicious (although no crema) coffee. I fell in love with the bullet shaped espresso cups. Awesome locale and wonderful way to sip down some digestive espresso...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Brunch at the Palmetto Cafe

2 espressos, nice photo, but eh... Nothing to write home about except
the ambience was very belle...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

In the hotel bar...

After a swim in the hotel swimming pool what better way to cap a day
then chillin in the Mills Hotel bar with a 2 espresso and listen to
women ask for Patron with a drawl...

Friday, June 12, 2009

2 Espressos before the Plantation Tour

On our way to the Drayton Plantation we stopped off at a place I had
heard had good local espresso, Muddy Waters. Prescott the barista
hooked me up with 2 espressos made from a Durham SC coffee company
called Counter Culture. The roofers were pounding away on a new roof
as I sipped the Ethiopian, Sumatran and "something else" (Prescott's
words) and relaxed into another day in the South...

It's so damn hot and humid here that it's a little weird to drink hot
coffee but I'm on a mission so I do my duty like a good 2 espresso guy
(hint, hint). The Counter Culture blend had a bold aroma and the taste
was slightly acidic but not overpowering. Slight red rust color to the
crema and medium body, kind of a ristretto... All and all a decent start to the day here in Ashley, SC. 3/5 shots.

Now get out there and demand ristretto espresso and send me your

Do it y'all...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ristretto at Metto

Finally someone who makes espresso ristretto style. We were in and out
a little quick but the preparation was right on and the espresso dark,
oily and topped off with a sweet crema. The taste was bitter but not
dry, a little tangy but left an aftertaste in my mouth that was not at
all unpleasant. Definitely recommend Metto next time you're in Mt.

I went back the next day because I wanted to be sure and Trip the barrista served me another very good espresso and convinced me they have really well trained personnel... And sure enough they do...

Zoka Seattle's Espresso Pallidino mix. 4/5 shots.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

City Lights is not a bookstore...

Well no, in Charleston it's a rather fine local coffeehouse. A cute
little duo was playing mandolin and brushes and singing a little Bob
Dylan as I sipped and discovered again the joy that is stopping the
world and taking refuge in my two espressos. And rather distinctive
they were, a bit thick and creamy, nice slightly bitter aftertaste and
overall good experience for my palette that stayed with me afterwards
as we strolled down Market St. Two good coffeeshops in a day. Not bad
Charleston... 3/5 shots.

Kudu hidden coffeeshop in Charleston

We started off only finding a Starbucks and that just would not do so
they pointed us up the street to Kudu Coffeeshop but it took us awhile
to locate it as it was hiding down a very small alley. Very sweet
locale with indoor and outdoor seating and a cool African savannah
type interior with African earth movies playing...

The espresso was better than average with a pretty dark aroma and
flavor. Probably a dark roast but I got the owners contact info
because it's a "secret" blend. Low acidity, medium body but flavorful.
3/5 shots. Charleston is proving to be a warm mellow town with an
awesome historic downtown. Heading to the sea now for some crab...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Swill in Atlanta

Abica airport espresso tastes like coffee but not espresso, but that
didn't stop me from having fun with my two...

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Kinda Fine Lemony Grind

Desperate to find a decent espresso yet needing to get to work by 7:30 I spied "A Fine Grind" on Marshall in St. Paul and swung in hoping against hope. What does that expression mean anyway? Well at least they were brewing a lighter roast which was good, but since it was a light roast it also had quite a bit of acidity. It was almost lemony to taste. But it had taste, some crema and stayed with my palette longer so it was nice to be off the bland highway.

In Cahoots in St. Paul

Back in Minnesota for a day and decided to try one of the more recommended coffeehouses, Cahoots Coffee Bar. After flying back in and getting home at 1am and then getting up a few short hours later I was in dire need of some espresso.

Mellow place that was using a Cafe del Sol dark roast for their
espresso. What's up with the dark roasts? Anyway, slightly grainy dry
flavored espresso with nothing special to note other than it's
blandness. It's turning out harder to find good espresso than I
thought, but maybe that will just make the one I find eventually even
more delicious. For now, however, I'm thankful for the caffeine.

2/5 shots, call me demanding but I'm going to keep looking...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Some weird Danish town "as seen in Sideways"

I woke up in this funny little fake Danish town "as seen in Sideways" and headed over to one of the few places with espresso. I ordered my 2 espressos at the Bulldog from a girl that looked like it was just a summer job "and you gotta work somewhere" and went outside to take in the world. Unfortunately my search for gourmet espresso ended up still being around the corner as these were pretty average, brown non-descript espressos.

Here I am at New Frontiers with some "organic espresso". Well it was a dark roast which just didn't seem right...

Here with Brian at Rhythms Coffees.

This is such a beautiful valley with it's horses and wine. I've never
understood Solvang however as it seems like it would fit better in a
place like Disneyland than it does here nestled not far from Santa
Barbara. But with my 2 espressos I was able to better take it in and
try to place it in some kind of context. Now, however, I've got to get
back to my sleeping wife with her Americano. Hopefully she won't be
awake enough to notice the blandness of the coffee...

By the way, I'd give the Santa Ynez Valley 2/5 shots for effort...