Sunday, December 31, 2006


We made a trip earlier this year to Spain.  And while Spain isn’t exactly famous for coffee, I tried to visit as many coffee shops as I could.

Coffee in Spain means one thing: espresso.  A straight shot is known simply as “café solo.”  If you want them to add a little milk, you should ask for a “cortado.”  However, even with the addition of milk, almost everything that I tried was extremely bitter and overextracted.  Maybe it's because coffee in Spain is roasted dark traditionally, even darker than a French roast.  Another method of roasting is "torrefación."  In torrefación, sugar is added during the roast cycle, which caramelizes and coats the beans with a shiny glaze.  Originally, the sugar was added in order to lengthen the shelf life of the coffee.  Coffee drinkers became accustomed to the smoky flavor and now, it is done for the taste.

In Valladolid, we visited "Plantaciones del Origen," a coffee shop in the old city center.  A contemporary shop, they specialize in single-origin coffees, and will make a shot from from any of the coffees that they have available.  They also sell teas that they prepare in press pots.  Not willing to risk another espresso, I requested that my coffee be prepared in a press pot, to no avail.  Faced with only one option, I took the risk and was rewarded with a decent cup.  It wasn't great, but it was passable.  At least the shop was nice, with rustic wood floors, brick walls and a beautiful mahogany bar.

Another coffee shop we visited was in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid.  All stainless steel and frosted glass, it's a stunning space.  The ceiling is made of a backlit fabric and combined with the natural light from the large windows, the resulting ambience is very pleasant.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Brooklyn Coffee Tour

For my birthday, I went up to NYC with some friends. I wanted to stop in at Gimme! Coffee in Brooklyn to say hi to Chris Owens, so I called him to let him know that we would be in town. I let him know that we were going to visit some of the other shops in the borough and much to my surprise, he generously offered to give us the VIP treatment and be our guide (on his day off!).

The next day, we met at Gimme! and jump-started the morning with an exquisite espresso pulled from their new GB5. Smooth and buttery, with loads of body, it is one of my favorite espresso blends. Newly energized and ready to tackle the Brooklyn traffic, we set off for our first stop – Café Grumpy.

Café Grumpy is located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in an industrial-looking area. Without our expert navigators, Chris and his girlfriend M'lissa, we would probably never have found it. We were introduced to the owners, husband and wife Chris Timbrell and Caroline Bell, who showed us around their pride and joy. And it is a very nice shop with exposed brick walls, antique wood floors, and local art. Of course, the true measure of a shop (in my opinion) is the coffee, and in that department, they don’t disappoint. They have a Synesso Cyncra, and the shot that I had was smooth and sweet. It was the first time that I’d tried Counter Culture’s Espresso Aficionado and I preferred it over the Toscano blend, though it’s no slouch by any means. Chris showed us some plans that he had for a shop over in Manhattan, in Chelsea. If it’s anything like his current shop, it’ll be a success (and when it comes to espresso, Manhattan needs all the help it can get!) Next stop… Gorilla Coffee.

As we drove up 5th Avenue, I could see the throng of people waiting to get inside. We assumed our place in line and waited as it slowly snaked its way through the door and into the shop, affording us the opportunity to view the display of Gorillawear t-shirts and mugs. Front and center on the counter sat a retro-style Faema E61 Jubilee. Decked out in chrome, brass, and red neon, it’s a stunning piece of gear.

This shop really seems to be at the heart of the neighborhood, a true “third place.” If only all shops could bring an area together like this.