Hope springs eternal

Talk about your favorite cafes, local barista events, or plan your own get-together.
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#1: Post by HB »

Why do I do this to myself? Every so often a new cafe opens in our area and I feel compelled to check it out. My wife rolls her eyes and braces for my litany of complaints about the state of the public espresso scene. I've resisted two shop openings of late. One shop owner even invited me via e-mail after noting my location from my CoffeeGeek profile. I should stop by as it's only 2 miles from my office and directly on the way home.

But tonight's entry isn't about Cafe Kado. I was out for ice cream with my youngest son as a reward for good behavior today. My wife suggested I take him to a new ice cream shop a few miles away "right next to a new cafe called It's a Grind." Lately I've been squirreled away at the office or home office and hadn't notice this new row of restaurants and shops; it sounded like a great idea.

The ice cream store and cafe are side-by-side. If you need wireless access, the Grind prominently advertises that they're your hot spot. It's a narrow shop with nicely decorated interior. A case of pastries fronted by curved glass greets you within the first 10 feet of the door, followed by a three group Faema. I peered around the corner to check it out. My son was far less subtle, skirting the "no fly zone" behind the counter to look up at the espresso machine (he commented, "Wow! That is really big!"). The barista politely shooed him away.
  • "So, who is your roaster?" I queried.
    "We're a chain and roast our own. It's microroasted to assure freshness. It's not burnt coffee like some other chains," she confided.
    "Cool. So what kind of espresso machine is this? Is it an HX?" I posed as a trick question.
    "What's that?" (red flag number 1)
    "It means it's a heat exchanger. Do you flush before each extraction?" I offer helpfully. She nods and my hopes rise.
By this time junior is crawling under the chairs near the front of the store. Something to do with imitating a spinning Ninja Turtle. I figure it's now or never and order a double espresso. "Decaf?" she suggests (red flag number 2). "No thanks, straight up is fine," I reply, figuring there's a 80% chance it's going in the sink anyway, and may as well give her the best shot at a decent drink. "OK, if you're sure. Do you want a twelve ounce cup to leave room for sugar and milk?" (red flag number 3). "No thanks, do you have a demitasse?" I ask, worrying that my 80% chance of disappointment just spiked to 95%. "We've got a couple of these [shows straight sided demitasse], though nobody ever asks for them." (red flag number 4).

This conversation took place while I was in clear view of the working side of the three group, but I had to excuse myself for a moment to stop my spinning offspring before something got broken. By the time I returned, she already had locked and loaded, drawing the double into two small stainless steel pitchers instead of directly into the demitasse (red flag number 5). As we watch the blond, thin stream finish at 21 seconds (red flag number 6), she asks, "Are you in the coffee business?" I murmur something about a consumer website on coffee, nothing specific, as thoughts of how to politely pass on the espresso swirl in my mind. I think she may have heard me muttering about underextraction and incorrect temperatures because after she transfers the contents of the two pitchers into the demitasse, she comments that it looks better than the whitish color of most pours (red flag number 7). I recoil at the thought that this woeful sample represents a pleasant surprise for her, an extraction that on appearance alone would be rushed to the sink at my place.

Why why why... hope springs eternal, maybe it's not as bad as it looks. Indeed, it wasn't the absolutely worse espresso to pass by my lips, but it would share company with the major disappointments: Thin, slightly sour, hints of ash and wet cardboard. The barista hurried to other tasks moments after handing me the demitasse. She was nowhere to be found and my impatient charge was tugging at my arm asking for ice cream. I placed two dollars under the saucer and left the drink on the counter next to the cash register, to all appearances untouched.

Chris said it well:
Psyd wrote:I still tell folk that if they prefer the grocery store bin coffee then they have my sincere, green-eyed monster jealousy. Oh, to be back in the day when I could fall in love with a grocery store bean out of my Krups steamtoy. Life was much simpler then, and I loved my shots out of that thing as much as I love my shots out of the Astoria. I like the Astoria shots much better now, I just didn't have it then...
My wife had no patience for my story this evening, simply saying "You're always disappointed. Why do you bother?" I protested there's a couple cafes in the city I like... and at least the ice cream next to It's Swill was very good (cappuccino chocolate chip and "Superman" multi-colored ice cream for about six bucks).
Dan Kehn

Weber Workshops: tools for building better coffee
Sponsored by Weber Workshops
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#2: Post by cannonfodder »

My son (now 7) enjoys a cappuccino on occasion and has become accustom to my espresso. Like you, he occasionally tags along and we visit a new cafe to the same end as yours.

I do remember one visit. We ordered a couple of cappuccinos, biscotti and sat at the counter bar beside the machine. We split the biscotti took a sip (not very good) and dipped our biscotti. After a couple of sips, with the person behind the counter standing close by, he looks at me with a puzzled face that only a 6 year old can produce and proclaims 'Dad, this isn't very good. I like yours a lot better'. I don't know what the 'barista' thought but I almost fell off the stool. From the mouths of babes the truth flows.
Dave Stephens

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#3: Post by mogogear »

My soon to be 5 year old - has never sipped any of the espresso made at home every morning while she eats her cereal nearby. But she does know one thing and corrected a barista on a recent trip we me... the barist handed me my espresso and actually said " Here is you espresso sir( BAD SIGN -all numbers) and she corrected him and said- It is eSpresso with a SSSSSS!"

My hero is a 40"tall chic named Madeleine!

Great stuff D&D- Dan I couldn't imagine even drinking out if I was named Dan Kehn... It must take most of the fun out of it .....and when you do find a great shot the barista is probably not comfortable with the sudden hug! :wink:
greg moore

LMWDP #067

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#4: Post by another_jim »

You need to adjust your expectations.

-- Remember Kaiser Bill on legislation and sausages -- never look at the way a cafe makes the stuff.
-- Does it come in a cup less than 4 ounces in size?
-- Does it smell like coffee?
-- Can you take a sip without choking or coughing?

That's pretty good, go ahead and drink. Get yourself in this frame of mind, and you'll get enjoyable shots in about 15% of all cafes, rather than about 1%
Jim Schulman


#5: Post by coffeejunkie »

So I'm sitting here drinking a cup of coffee and catching up on postings for Home-Barista.com when I come across this mess of an article. What a doozy. I can only imagine the reaction the barista must have had when this guy and his kid came through the store. Talk about setting up a drink for failure. Trick questions? Red flags? How could any drink live up to this aficionado's expectations? For me, I'm just glad when a new coffee house opens near me and I have a chance to try something better than what the Green Mermaid (starbucks) is serving. Support rather than destroy is my motto.

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#6: Post by another_jim » replying to coffeejunkie »

Fooling yourself that the shots are good is no way to enjoy a mediocre cafe; it's just a way to mess with your mind. The trick is to both admit the coffee sucks, and enjoy it nevertheless.
Jim Schulman

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HB (original poster)

#7: Post by HB (original poster) »

coffeejunkie wrote:Talk about setting up a drink for failure. Trick questions? Red flags?
Huh? I showed a genuine interest in her work, didn't say anything disparaging, and promptly paid without complaint. The espresso was horrible and I should have refused to pay for it. Or better yet, employed my Starbucks strategy: Order a chai latte. My wife loves them, they're (nearly) impossible to mess up, and I enjoy the change of pace.

I would agree with your "support not destroy" admonishment if the owner of the cafe was interested. Most of the cafe owners I've met around here are utterly clueless about what constitutes good coffee. How would you 'support' such a cafe and to what end? Below are excerpts of conversations I've had over the years with local cafe owners:
Say Dan, I know you, you're the guy from CoffeeGeek! You're into espresso equipment, would you recommend a good grinder for my most discerning clientele like you? It's a new shop and I'm strapped for cash, but I can spend up to $125.
This was supposed to be a quad shot latte and it's only a single? Sorry about that, let me add a couple shots and resteam it for you.
What's a "ristretto"?
Dan Kehn

Flair Espresso: handcrafted espresso. cafe-quality shots, anytime, anywhere
Sponsored by Flair Espresso
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#8: Post by jesawdy »

I had (have) high hopes for a shop that recently opened no less than 1 mile from my workplace. They have a Linea 2 group and a Rancilio MD50 grinder, and the coffee supplier is Counter Culture. I've ordered a straight espresso twice, and begrudgingly accepted the paper cup, the coffee was fine. I guess using real service ticks up the health inspector requirements. I find Cafe Americanos can usually be a somewhat safe bet, but I typically have to stop the server from adding too much water.

My biggest complaints are the costs (Abe's pictures from NYC show cheaper prices!), the lack of real cups (perhaps I should bring my own :roll: ), and the coffee age is still somewhat suspect. In a pinch, I have bought beans there on two occasions... the espresso blend is private labeled for them, so I'm not sure if it is Toscano, but it might be. Since Geoff and others have been saying ~10 days for the new Toscano to come into its prime, I figured no problem. Well, about 2 weeks ago I passed on buying any coffee. This time I thought to ask about the roast date. The unopened package they were about to open for me was over 1 month old.

Hopefully their business will pick up, and freshness will be less of an issue in the future. They seem to be trying.
Jeff Sawdy


#9: Post by coffeejunkie »

Wow... now you're stereotyping ALL the coffee shops you've been to? You lay claim to three examples of owners who are struggling or don't know the coffee business and somehow apply that to everyone but Starbucks? You don't meet the owners, you sneak into shops and harass employees with wild questions and then sneak out leaving money on the counter, never saying a word about how they can improve. You're the critic that produces nothing, but bashes everything.
You have just enough information about coffee to be dangerous! You should stop going to coffee houses and just drink tea at home. What a minute... you do. Chai tea. So much for credentials.

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HB (original poster)

#10: Post by HB (original poster) »

coffeejunkie wrote:You're the critic that produces nothing, but bashes everything.
I don't believe so, but let's try to turn this into a productive discussion. I renew my prior question:
HB wrote:Most of the cafe owners I've met around here are utterly clueless about what constitutes good coffee. How would you 'support' such a cafe and to what end?
Dan Kehn