Archive for the ‘ESPRESSO REVIEWS’ Category
If you ever find yourself in Hatgal, Mongolia — New Roots Cafe is the place to go for espresso drinks.
Seeing the Italian Mazzer grinder, I knew I stumbled into the right place.
The barista took her sweet time grinding and tamping the beans, pulling the shot, and heating and pouring the milk — which made for a lovely cappuccino.
Next visit, I hope to have time for a full breakfast here.
As it turns out, my favorite gelateria (Gelato Allegro) is becoming my favorite place for a real Italian-style espresso. I was so excited by this find that I forgot to make a picture of my espresso before consuming it! So what you see is the empty cup.
Allegro uses LaVazza espresso and Ivan (the owner) pulls a very short shot (i.e., a ristretto shot), which is just how I like it. Even though coffee snobbery is achieving new heights with places like Cartel Coffee and Sparkroot here in Tucson, it’s still nearly impossible to get a genuine European-style ristretto at these places or anywhere else.
Here is a very good exposition of what makes an espresso so unique (courtesy of the Josuma Coffee Company):
Espresso is approximately one ounce of a dark, smooth, heavy-bodied, aromatic, bittersweet coffee drink topped by a thick reddish-brown foam of tiny bubbles. It is not six times stronger than a cup of coffee, as many people imply from the smaller volume; it is actually a completely different coffee beverage. The foam, or crema, that captures the intense coffee flavors is as important as the liquid coffee underneath.
crema markedly alters an espresso in terms of its mouth feel, density, viscosity, wetting power, and foam-forming ability, making it the single most important indicator of espresso quality. If there is no crema, it means the oils have not been emulsified, and hence it is not an espresso.
The remarkable thing about a properly made espresso is that maximum flavor is extracted from the ground coffee while much of the caffeine and excess acids are left behind. The high pressure of the extraction and the small volume of water that passes through the ground coffee are mostly responsible for this feat.
Cafe Aqui is a charming micro-roaster located in the heart of south Tucson.
I knew nothing about this place, but stopped in on a whim as I was passing by. The problem was I didn’t have any cash on me (credit cards are not accepted), but Sarah, the barista, still offered me a sweet empanada and single espresso.
The espresso was perfect!
The shot was only about 1 oz. to 1.5 oz., which is just the way I like it. (See how the coffee is at or below the half-way mark of this small cup.)
The reddish brown crema was excellent.
Although the espresso seemed to have been roasted on the lighter side it had none of the sourness that I sometimes detect in lighter, single origin espresso roasts.
The cafe is super mellow. It’s actually more of an artist’s loft than a cafe. The atmosphere is convivial and devoid of any corporate artiface. I sat on an old couch surrounded by vinyl records and books and chatted with all the other patrons who were hanging out.
Cafe Aqui’s coffee roaster is out in the open as are stacks of burlap bags filled with coffee beans from Central America, Africa, and other coffee growing parts of the globe.
A small warning: this may not be the place to try to hunker down for hours on end and do work on your laptop as the seating is kind of limited (although in fairness the place is so laid back it probably would be no problem if you did).
My first “espresso review” since moving to Tucson is actually a “gelato review.”
Regular readers will know I adore my hand-crafted, Italian-built Guerciotti racing bike so a love of Italian gelato is to be expected.
The best gelato is differentiated from typical American ice cream by its:
- more intense flavors;
- velvety texture;
- lower fat content; and,
- small batch production methods.
You can call anything an “espresso” or a “gelato,” but the real thing requires the finest and freshest ingredients and an artisan’s touch.
So how is Allegro?
I didn’t interview the staff about their production methods because they were so busy when I dropped by, but based on taste I give them a solid 5 (out of 5) stars.
Allegro promotes its use of organic, fresh, seasonal ingredients. They offer about 20 flavors including novel ones such as (1) pineapple-basil, (2) cardamom, and (3) saffron. Their menu also includes seasonal sorbets such as (1) lemon, (2) peach, and (3) boysenberry. All these flavors are made with fresh fruits and spices!
Btw, I see from Allegro’s facebook page they will have a fig sorbet coming up. I really dig figs so I’ll be back to try this!
If it isn’t already clear, this place is definitely worth a visit if you need a gelato fix.
Oh, there’s also indoor and outdoor seating and…wait for it…bike parking right in front.
A Ken Burns-style mockumentary, which hits pretty close to home.
Why is it that Blue Bottle, Ritual, and Four Barrel get most of the street cred in these parts, when northern California’s Equator Coffee pioneered artisan coffee roasting’s renaissance more than 15 years ago?
Recently, I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to drop by and chat about this and other topics with Helen Russell, a co-founder of Equator Coffee — one of the country’s top artisan coffee roasteries — which happens to be headquartered right here in Marin County (San Rafael).
Everyone on the staff (from Maureen in operations to David in coffee buying) is passionate about coffee and extremely generous with their time.
So if you have a chance to try Equator’s coffee, I recommend starting with their organic Ethiopian Amaro Gayo — I tasted the distinctive flavor and aroma of ripe blueberries when I brewed this at home using my portable Hario grinder and a french press. And it received a score of 92 at CoffeeReview.
Equator Coffee: Highly Recommended!
In Minneapolis, I visited Cafe Imports — a green coffee trading company — and was thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in a cupping of Brazilian, Peruvian, Indonesian, and Nicaraguan coffees. I also sampled a complex Kenyan auction lot coffee brewed both in a Hario pour-over and in a Clover.
Later, while out riding in the rain, I visited the Dunn Bros. Coffee shop that adjoins Calhoun Cycle, which I wrote about here.
At Dunn Bros., the ambiance was cozy and bright — a perfect spot to enjoy a coffee. The espresso was okay. I probably should have ordered a latte or something because they don’t do a true espresso.
So what is a true espresso? Read the rest of this entry »
Sitting at Caffe Acri may be as close as one gets to a truly European cafe experience in Marin County. At least on the surface. There is the outdoor seating area, the marble tables, and the general ambiance of downtown Tiburon where tourists and locals mingle on their way to the ferry terminal, local shops, and famous restaurants like Guaymas (which apparently is now a bit of a disaster judging by a slew of recent yelp reviews).
I ordered my usual — a single espresso — and specified “for here” so as to get it in a ceramic espresso cup rather than in a silly, over-sized disposable cup. I added a mini-tiramisu for something sweet to eat and so I wouldn’t be tempted to add sugar to my drink.
So how does the espresso rate?
As a scientific observer, I would conclude the espresso was only average: rather thin crema that dissipated quickly and there was not much body or complexity to the taste. However, a rational scientist I am not when it comes to these evaluations.
On this particular day, consuming Caffe Acri’s espresso was like eating a 99-cent bowl of ramen noodles on a backpacking trip. Surely, you’ve had this experience. You’re outdoors beside a river or high-up on some mountain. You’ve been working hard and your body is tired, and for some reason the food (whatever it is) tastes sublime and you’re grateful to have it.
Despite this, for the pure espresso experience one should seriously consider other coffee establishments. Places that come to mind include: Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, and Ritual, although none of these have north bay locations yet (I can dream though).
Formerly known as Shaky Grounds, this cafe has a new name so I decided to stop in for a visit. The place is now run by espresso drinkers (and World Cup futbol fans) so I immediately took a liking to the atmosphere.
Mojay’s Cafe is on the 4th St. bike route so it’s a convenient place to stop if you’re riding east-west through San Rafael. The menu seems to have a little bit of everything, including Italian Panini. The tenant next door also happens to be a bike shop: Summit Bicycles.
Okay, okay, so how’s the espresso experience you ask? Well, I give it very high marks:
- The presentation is excellent: my espresso was served in an elegant and appropriately sized cup and saucer. On my first visit, the espresso even came with a mini-biscotti and a small spoon (all without having to ask). This was a nice touch and shows a better understanding of espresso culture than one normally finds around here.
- The 100% organic espresso tasted just right and had very good crema.
- Fresh drinking water is available from a self serve station and Wi-Fi is free.
Now, we’ll see if Mojay’s can deliver all this consistently. If so, I may have found my new favorite espresso stop.
Even though it’s just a little kiosk in a big parking lot, where else can you sit outside in the sunshine at a big picnic table with the daily paper. Maybe that’s why this place is always filled with bicyclists.
Pro’s: outdoor seating, a convivial local atmosphere, friendly baristas
Con’s: no proper espresso cups
As for the coffee: get a cappuccino or latte.
This is not the place for macchiatos or espressos.
Marin Coffee Roasters is an ideal place for a shot of espresso. There’s sunny, outdoor sidewalk seating and it’s on a major bike path connecting San Francisco to West Marin (click here for a jpeg of a bicycle path map courtesy of the MCBC site).
I broke my month-long coffee fast here which may have skewed my perceptions, but I rank this as one of the best espressos I’ve had in Marin.
I’m a little surprised because my understanding is the owner doesn’t roast on site, but rather receives his beans from the 25lb. San Franciscan roaster at the Fairfax Roastery. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s cold and rainy and not much bike riding going on, but I’m thrilled with a newly discovered bread making method guaranteed to produce the finest, rustic loaf you can imagine — perfectly developed crumb structure on the inside and a light outside crust — with very little effort and no special ingredients required.
Below is my first attempt. I’m amazed! See how simple it is here (the recipe link is half-way down the page in the left column).
Most people riding out to West Marin keep on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. staying focused on prizes like Pt. Reyes Station or Chileno Valley Rd.
However, if you’re not in a hurry the short detour (see geotag link under image) down San Geronimo Valley Drive offers less cars and more shade on those hot summer days.
Plus, this takes you past the Woodacre market (that serves up a typical thin espresso in an oversized cup. But hey, you can’t be too picky about your coffee when you’re in the hinterlands!).
Scarlett City Coffee Roasters does a brisk business at the farmer’s market. It’s not bad — for an espresso served in a big paper cup — with striking reddish-brown crema. They do nice latte art too. Be prepared to wait in line during peak hours.
SUMMARY (84 out of 100 points): Was it because of the 80+ miles of hard riding that preceded it or was this, in fact, a very good espresso in its own right? Separating the two is tricky (you know how everything tastes great when you’re out hiking or camping–same thing with a bike ride of this length).
I have to say I think Whale City Bakery gets much right with its espresso. The presentation was acceptable. The crema was decent though not stellar (a little thin actually), but the flavor really shined through. I’m not one that easily identifies the acidity or flavor attributes (like floral, citrus, malt, etc.) of each cup. Nonetheless, the overall taste just seemed right–clean, balanced, yet also interesting.
Because I was curious the Barista retrieved the foil bag of espresso—apparently a local Santa Cruz purveyor, whose name I unfortunately failed to make a note of and have now forgotten.
Serving size (4/5);
(If you haven’t already done so check out The Friday Cyclotouriste’s espresso rating system).
SUMMARY (64 out of 100 points): Priscilla’s espresso is sort of the mirror image of the Station House Cafe in Pt. Reyes where the crema was great, but the espresso was overly voluminous. Here, I was served a perfectly-sized cup (drinkable in 5-10 sips) just like one gets at the counter of a French brasserie. Yet the crema was nearly non-existent; a cup of thin, black liquid…Alas, my quest for the perfect espresso continues.
On a positive note, like a lot of the places I’ve reviewed there is some great outdoor seating and the food looked delicioso. Lots of people were chowing down on good looking pizza and fresh local oysters (from Hog Island or Drake’s Bay).
Serving size (5/5);
Click below for the rest of the review:
Read the rest of this entry »
SUMMARY (64 out of 100 points): If only the Station House knew the proper size of a single espresso (a full shot glass is about right) they could have something here because the crema was very good (check out the color and the bubbles!) and the presentation was great. But the volume of espresso was so gigantic that all balance and harmony was lost.
Since the wind was howling, I took shelter indoors, but there’s a very appealing outdoor patio with space to park bikes. So even if the espresso is flawed this place is still a natural stop if you’re passing through Pt. Reyes Station and want a sit-down, restaurant experience.
Serving size (1/5);
Click below for the Full Review:
SUMMARY (60 out of 100 points): overall a disappointing espresso experience at least as far as The Friday Cyclotouriste’s arbitrarily strict “espresso” rating system is concerned. However, Lagunitas Grocery is as much about the setting as anything else. The outdoor seating is wonderful, with lovely small-town charm and great southern exposure, which by itself makes it worth a stop on your way toward the coast.
Serving size (4/5);
Click below for the Full Review: