Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hi all, I wanted to post the second round of surveys. Readers Claire and Commissioned Coffee responded with some pithy, espresso-like comments. On Saturday, I am leaving for St. Louis, and returning on Wednesday. So there will be no updates until the end of next week. If you haven't, please peruse the past posts, and be sure to comment. I love seeing what people write, allowing everyone the chance to jump into the conversation.

1. When you buy coffee on the go, who do you patronize? (Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, an espresso cart, Au Bon Pain...etc.)

Claire: I usually buy Starbucks since there are two on my campus and at least five within a ten minute drive, but its also hard to pass up Dunkin' Donuts when I see one.

CCC: Dunkin' is okay.

2. What is your preferred coffee-based drink (drip, espresso, moka pot, French press, latte...etc), and why?

Claire:If I'm at Starbucks, I usually order a frappuchino on hot days or a mocha or drip coffee on cooler days or to get a caffeine boost during the day. I don't really like heavy milk products so I tend to stay away from most beverages such as lattes or cappuccinos. At Dunkin' Donuts, its always their regular drip coffee.

CCC: French press

3. In general, what is your favorite aspect about coffee? Explain (i.e culture, taste, social lubricant)

Claire: I like the taste. I am a strict black coffee drinker when I drink drip coffee!

CCC: Learning about the farmers who grew the crop. So much interesting history there.

4. What is your favorite coffee story? (i.e bad experience at Starbucks or amazing espresso)

Claire: No comment here! Sorry.

CCC: Ordered a "grande drip" at Starbucks once and the barista could not understand what I wanted. Finally just said "grande coffee." Strange indeed.

5. Folgers or Maxwell House? :-)

Claire: I don't really drink either...

CCC: Death. Is that an option?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Coffee House Review: Chinatown Coffee Co.

Often I find myself in Chinatown for a number of reasons;
bar hopping, visiting friends, the Verizon Center, or the Goethe Institut (to learn German). In the heart of Chinatown, lives a Starbucks bustling with people on laptops staring out on the Friendship Gate. I feel like a traitor to my fellow coffee lovers when I buy something there because of the convenience factor. Today, I demanded of myself to search for a new coffee shop, and found Chinatown Coffee Company located on the outskirts of Chinatown at 475 H St NW. For all the non-metro area readers, DC's Chinatown is approximately 2x2 blocks. Not that big. Before I hopped on the bus into DC, I quickly looked over their website, and was pretty excited. Before my impressions, one can read the history of how Chinatown Coffee Co. came to be. Sorry for all the links, but I want to give everyone an education about Chinatown and their coffee!

Atmosphere: When first walking in, one realizes how long or deep the cafe is. What it lacks in width, there is plenty of room along the walls for seating. I peered in and the comfy industrial feel welcomed me in (Is that possible?) with wooden benches and tables spaced throughout the store. Old-school funk played in the background with noise rarely rising above a loud quiet. I visited off hours so it could differ from the morning and lunch rush. Most people were chatting, and a few laptops were out, but the majority seemed engaged in conversation. Seating was ample for a DC cafe, but during the rush it might be hard to find. The temperature was surprisingly pleasant. It wasn't frigid, but comfortable as to not cool off the warm coffee drinks (or at least I think so). A sweater is not needed to spend an hour or two there.

Service: They take their coffee very seriously! If one wants a humorous story, please go back and read the article I linked to about the dreaded triple espresso over ice. Ordering my coffee drinks, I asked a few questions about what coffee they used in their espresso, (Intelligentsia's Black Cat), and what their favorite drinks were. One barista followed up after I finished my coffee to ask how it was. Overall, the baristas offered quality service and personableness for my first visit.

Coffee: Looking through their menu, they have one for to-go and one for staying. You can get your typical espresso-based drinks, but they offer French press, pour over, and free leaf tea in a tea pot. So if you don't want espresso or drip coffee, there are other coffee and non-coffee-options. I ordered a single espresso and macchiato. In a few minutes, I picked them up on the counter in stylish black and white cups matching the industrial design to the cafe. My macchiato was very good. I could discern the strong espresso through the milk with neither the milk or espresso overpowering each other. The single espresso was a classic 1oz affair, so it may be better to order a double knowing that you wont get a 4oz espresso monstrosity. It tasted quite bright with many flavors coming through, namely a syrupy taste, yet lacked a substantive body to it. That could be due to it being a single rather than a double, but my palette isn't necessarily the sharpest. The Intelligentsia Black Cat has a bold flavor packing a really strong taste. Next time, I drink espresso there, I will get a different blend or bean, if possible.

Price: Here is the link for the menu. 2.00 for a single espresso without tax seems expensive, but Chinatown Coffee's baristas know what they are doing, so one is paying for the the extra experience and knowledge (perhaps). They also sell organic bananas for a dollar. Sorry, I thought that was interesting for some reason.

Free Wifi: Yes!

Conclusions: Talking with a friend who works in the area, he loved Chinatown Coffee Co., especially the tea. Looking over the Yelp reviews and knowing how fickle their reviewers are, I can't help but feel a special cafe lives in Chinatown. With that said, you will have to deal with their coffee policies, and an elevated price. I will certainly be headed back to try out the various coffee blends, beans, and concoctions passing by the Starbucks in the heart of Chinatown. And you should too!

Did I miss any aspect in my coffee house review? Please tweet me at Metroespresso, or leave a comment below. I want to thank all my readers for following and commenting on Metro Espresso making this blog fun and enjoyable. I do this because it gives me something to do, and an excuse to chat about coffee.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Metro Espresso Survey: Benjamin

I had a great initial turnout for the Metro Espresso survey and wanted to first spotlight Benjamin from Mocha Joe's Coffee Roasters. I still encourage readers to fill out the survey and send them to me. For details look at the post below or click here. I am excited to see how the responses compare with each other. Without further ado, here are Benjamin's responses:

1. When you buy coffee on the go, who do you patronize? (Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, an espresso cart, Au Bon Pain...etc.)

I try to avoid chains at all cost. I regularly use Yelp or Urban Spoon on my iPhone to find the closest locally owned cafe. You never know what you are going to get but I like trying new places. With chains you tend to get consistency, but if you don't like their coffee it means you already know what to expect. If I'm in a pinch though, I will hit up a Dunkin' Donuts, cream and sugar.

2. What is your preferred coffee-based drink (drip, espresso, moka pot, French press, latte...etc), and why?

For regular coffee at home I prefer a light roast brewed with a French Press. I like the extra body that you get from using a French Press and I think the light roast gives you a wider range of tastes. The French Roasts tend to roast away some of my favorite flavors, even though it does bring out new flavors that some people find desirable. If I'm going to our cafe I almost always get a double short maple latte. I get a double short shot and double short cup because I like the milk to espresso ratio. In large lattes, the milk tends to mask the taste of the espresso.

3. In general, what is your favorite aspect about coffee? Explain (i.e culture, taste, social lubricant)

Well, tasting it... but the history, culture, artistry of roasting and science of brewing are pretty interesting as well.

4. What is your favorite coffee story? (i.e bad experience at Starbucks or amazing espresso)

I was a regular at a particular small cafe for a couple of months and the same Barista always seemed to be working the shift when I came in. She was friendly but totally spaced out and would mess up 90% of my orders. If I ordered a maple la[t]te I might get surprised with a mocha la[t]te, if I got a small light roast I might walk away with a large french roast. The cool thing about it though was that it broke me out of my "regular" drinks and I began to appreciate espresso drinks that I had never tried before.

5. Folgers or Maxwell House? :-)

Ha! I'd rather go without. If it comes down to that I'll just drink water =)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Metro Espresso Survey

(The foam looks so happy!)
In the spirit of creating a stronger community at Metro Espresso, I am asking Metro Espresso readers (meaning you!) to write responses to five simple questions about your coffee preferences. These responses will be featured in future blog posts. If you are new to coffee and feel you don't know enough to contribute; your opinion is doubly wanted. You probably know more than you think! The questions are as follows:

1. When you buy coffee on the go, who do you patronize? (Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, an espresso cart, Au Bon Pain...etc.)

2. What is your preferred coffee-based drink (drip, espresso, moka pot, French press, latte...etc), and why?

3. In general, what is your favorite aspect about coffee? Explain (i.e culture, taste, social lubricant)

4. What is your favorite coffee story? (i.e bad experience at Starbucks or amazing espresso)

5. Folgers or Maxwell House? :-)

Email your responses to duderino102 @ gmail dot com, and be featured on Metro Espresso. Be sure to explain your answers well, but no essays please! If you like Metro Espresso please follow me on Twitter, and ask me any coffee-related questions you have. Thank you!

GPS Coffee: Finding new cafes

Returning from a weekend excursion, I found the GPS a useful tool in locating coffee shops. Any Garmin, Tom Tom, GPS device, or smartphone with GPS capability that can search for POI's (points of interest) will work.

Using the "Search for nearby POI" in the Tom Tom, I typed in "coffee," yielding five or more cafes to visit: all of them being local and non-chain stores. Remember: By typing in coffee, the search will only come back with "coffee" in the business's title, skipping places without coffee in the title. By searching and visiting local coffee shops, it added a nice break from a 3-4 hour road trip, allowing us to visit an off-beat, local cafe. The actual place we visited was a bit disappointing. The espresso was lukewarm! They should have read my espresso cups post, specifically heating up the cups before espresso is brewed. Doing a GPS visit, one may have duds, but for all the duds one quality cafe will be worth the detour.

If one doesn't have a GPS, using Google Maps and searching for coffees places before embarking on a road trip can act as a stand-in.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Next Week

I am away from the blog this weekend visiting family. I won't be too far away from coffee though. Hopefully, I will be visiting a local coffee roaster in the Delaware area, who roasts amazing single source coffee. I have some more ideas for the blog coming up, so please check back next week. If you have enjoyed Metro Espresso, please tell others about it! Any suggestions or questions email me at duderino102 AT gmail dot com.

To hold you over till next week, please check out Coffee Nate's amusing review of Starbucks's VIA and blind taste test.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The French Press is Dead, Long Live the French Press

Yesterday, I desperately needed coffee. Grabbing my French Press, I pulled the plunger out finding the plastic holding the metal nylon in place broke! I am not quite sure how either, but I shall keep my suspicions to myself. Initially, I thought I could glue it back together, but thinking the glue would be coming in contact with the coffee I decided against it.

Wanting a Bodum French press, I walked to the local Starbucks (*gasp*), which sells Bodum products. Despite Starbucks's polarizing nature, Bodum makes quality products. I bought it for 20 dollars, and returned home ready to put it through its paces. After heating the water, grinding, steeping, plunging, and pouring. The coffee's flavor tasted smooth with no acidity. Mind you, this was the same Ethiopian coffee I had in the moka pot in an earlier post. So now I have to blame user error on the bitterness. Sorry Archer Farms! Here are some pictures I took of the press and coffee bloom after pouring and stirring the hot water with the coffee grinds. Regarding taste, the Bodum rather than the Bonjour (the French press that broke) was clear. The Bodum has a glass carafe and a better constructed metal filter. If you are in the market for a French press, I highly recommend Bodum, even if you have to buy it at a Starbucks.

[Disclaimer: I am actually not a paid representative of Bodum, despite my favorable reviews about their espresso cups and French Presses. :-)]

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Introduction: Espresso Cups 101

Having a good espresso cup is fundamental to good espresso. Having a poorly designed cup, saps the heat from the espresso into the cup itself, noticeably cooling the espresso.

What do you say? Isn't a cup, well, a cup? To some it may be, but a well-designed cup enhances the taste and keeps the espresso hot until one drinks it. This isn't coffee elitism, but a utilitarian approach to cups. Quality espresso cups do not need to be expensive to do their job. To demonstrate this point, I have three cups "designed" for espresso. Two come from a chain retail store, and the third is a Bodum Espresso cup, which a set of two can be found on Amazon for about 11-15 dollars.
I included the tamper on the right to provide an aid in gauging the size of each cup. The first ceramic cup (top left) has a stylish square design providing a classic, but unique design. It holds ~2.5 oz, yet has thin walls. The brown cup is larger at ~3-4 oz with thicker walls allowing for small macchiato or a large espresso. Finally the Bodum cup is made out of glass that is hand-blown, and sports a "double wall" designed to keep espresso hot. It is surprisingly light, and holds 2oz.

How do they perform?

On looks alone, I find the glass and square white cups most aesthetically pleasing, but first cups must do their jobs, which means providing a proper vehicle to serve espresso. To state bluntly, espresso cups must do one thing well. Keep espresso hot! If it fails to do that, one can pre-heat the cup by running hot water through it, or buy a better insulated cup. Either works. By heating the cup with warm water, this prevents the brewed espresso warming the cup transferring heat. Since the cup would be already warm, the heat doesn't transfer to the cup. In a future post, it may be helpful to measure the temperature of the espresso in each cup to quantitatively measure the difference. Any takers?

Unfortunately, the square cup due to its thin walls needs to be heated up every time, or the espresso will be quite cool. In my experience, this cup tends to create lots of crema (the brownish cream on the top), and has little body. I am not sure why this is, but prevents the full flavor from coming out.

The brown cup, should be preheated, but isn't a necessity. The larger size allows for a variety of drinks such as an Espresso Lungo or a small macchiato. A neat cup overall, yet still doesn't adequately keep the espresso hot and is certainly not designed with espresso in mind.

The Bodum cup with its double walled design, does keep the espresso hot with no preheating. The crema remains for a while afterwards, this could be due to the espresso machine I use, but the cup plays a role as well. I have two pictures to show the double wall, the crema, and the body. Somehow the glass design insulates the espresso extremely well similar to a thermos. One can see the body (the dark brown liquid under the crema), which the white cup lacked when used.
Those are the first few things, one should look in an espresso glass. Certainly not everything, but for beginners and anyone looking for a good beginner espresso glass look for it's ability to keep the espresso hot. Thin walls and cheap ceramic espresso cups sold at local retail stores are rarely quality espresso cups. They only look like them.

[Technorati verification code: MH632UTHXSZB] For all wondering what this is, I am submitting this blog to Technorati making it more accessible to the broader internet community.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Coffee House Review: Cafe Amity

*Update* Cafe Amity is now known as Upper Crust Cafe, yet the rest of the review remains the same.
Today, I visited Cafe Amity located in Arlington, opposite of the hustling and bustling Ballston metro on Fairfax drive. Cafe Amity offers pastries, European and Turkish food for lunch and dinner, and most importantly coffee beverages including Turkish coffee.

Atmosphere: There is plenty of seating including elevated two-person tables for staring out the windows and people watching. WETA plays in the background providing calming classical music to accompany conversations, work, reading, or having a minute to yourself. When I went my first time, Mozart's The Magic Flute was playing during the Hölle Rache aria (see 0:58). Although do not worry, opera generally isn't on! Adding to the relaxing atmosphere, Cafe Amity offers free wifi with no registration, allowing easy access to the Internet. The design is clean and modern with a nice wooden floor providing an uncluttered and spacious area to spread out. One will not feel cramped like the coffee shops in DC. Temperature: It was extremely air-conditioned. It may be a bit uncomfortable for some, but in the humid, summer months in the metro area it is appreciated.

Service: Cafe Amity offers friendly service without the accompanying barista snobbery. You order at the counter, sit down, and they bring it out to you. My favorite aspect is that you pay at the end, and not when you order. In this manner, they invite you to stay and enjoy your time, rather than paying and ignoring your existence once you paid. Oddly, by changing the order it develops a better atmosphere. Any ideas why?

Price: The prices tend to be a bit higher than the average price in the DC area. A single espresso is 1.75 and Turkish coffee is 2.49 (not including tax). With that said, the aforementioned service, free wifi, and atmosphere mitigates the slightly higher price. For some, those prices may not even be that high.

Coffee Impressions: Today I ordered Turkish coffee. Having never tried it, I was excited and wanted to see how it differed from drip or espresso. For more information on Turkish coffee, see Coffee Geek's excellent guide on how to make Turkish Coffee, it provides an introduction too. The barista brought out the coffee to the table and even water for my girlfriend, which we didn't even order demonstrating their effort to cultivate an inviting atmosphere. Oddly, the Turkish coffee came in a large espresso cup. After sipping, I tasted a strong floral taste coming from the cardamon, a spice traditionally used in Turkish coffee, providing a pleasant touch. At first, my girlfriend and I wondered what the taste exactly was ranging from pine to mint. In addition, there was no bitterness or burntness, only a smooth aftertaste. Unfortunately, it was gone too soon, leaving me wanting more. A few questions I had was whether Turkish coffee comes in larger cup than 3-4oz, and my coffee had no foam.

After chitchatting, I paid and asked about the spices used. The owner came out, and happily explained the whole process of brewing Turkish coffee for a few minutes, mirroring much in the Coffee Geek guide. One could tell that he genuinely cared about coffee.

Overall: Cafe Amity provides excellent service, pleasant and spacious environment, and decent coffee. While a tad pricey, (at least for my wallet) the pleasant and engaged baristas make the experience. If one is near Ballston, one should walk in and order the Turkish coffee.

Stay Tuned: Upcoming Review

Hi all, later today I will be reviewing a coffee shop in Ballston. For those who do not live in the DC area, Ballston is part of Arlington, VA outside of DC.

This morning, I re-tried Archer Farms Ethiopian, and unfortunately yielded similar results from last post: lingering bitterness and weak floral, berry flavors. Remember, you can follow me on Twitter at Metroespresso, where I will be updating with content that does not necessarily need a full blog post devoted to it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Moka Pot w/ Archer Farms Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Today, I made some "espresso" via the moka pot using Archer Farms Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, which can be bought at pretty much any Target. I have seen them at all the Targets in the DC area. They roughly retail for about 7 dollars well below the 10 dollar premium price for the normal bag you would buy at your local supermarket, which makes it a great buy and a step forward in getting quality coffee outside of Starbucks brand. The bag states that it has "intense flavor, floral and berry-like overtones," and is on the milder side rather than a dark, oily roast.

Earlier, I made some espresso with it and it tasted a bit bitter, so I was hoping that that moka pot method would make a more pleasanter beverage to drink. I ground my coffee at a medium grind as to not clog the pot, poured in some purified water (Have to have quality water!), rounded off the coffee on the basket and put it on the stove.

Though as one might be able to see the coffee grind wasn't perfectly rounded off, nor a smooth flat surface. Notice the indentations, that comes from an imperfect hand, namely mine :-).

While waiting for the coffee to come out of the spout on the top chamber, I wonder whether I have finished all my chores for the day. Often times, I haven't but the coffee's aroma reassures me that the chores are secondary to brewing coffee (at least until my girlfriend reminds me to take out the trash).

After a few minutes, the coffee or espresso oozes out. Though its really neither as the moka pot cannot equal the pressure of a real espresso machine yet exerts more pressure than a normal drip coffee machine like a Mr. Coffee, you can google this if you are curious and want to know more.

Once it finally starts coming out, the process takes about 20 or so seconds to finish, and take it off the gas burner. At Metro Espresso we use gas, electric stoves need not apply. I pour it in a cup, although not an espresso cup as I like to drink all of it as it doesn't have the same caffeine content as an espresso from a large machine one would get a coffee bar.

I let it cool for a few seconds knowing that if I let my eagerness get in the way my tongue will be burned for my impatience. After cooling, I tentatively sip, then take a sizable swig letting the coffee wash over my taste buds.

At first, the berry taste comes to the front, but unfortunately soon wiped away by a bitter taste. Sipped it again. Berry flavors, albeit not strong, and soon replaced by bitterness. This doesn't impede my enjoyment and doesn't have the burnt taste of Starbucks, but the bitterness is unmistakably there. Perhaps, in part this taste could be derived from a dirty moka pot, but I do wash it out every time. Perhaps next time I will use the French press.

Overall impressions, it delivers fleeting berry flavors, but a bitterness remained in my mouth for a period of time. Although Coffee Review says the AF Ethiopian received an 89/100, which I'm assuming is pretty good. (Bottom of first paragraph) For the price, one could do worse. I have tried the Costa Rican coffee AF sells, and enjoyed it thoroughly so who knows? I'll give the Ethiopian another try stay tuned.

Has anyone else tried an Ethiopian coffee, be sure to comment below. Also, follow me at twitter under MetroEspresso. The link is on the right side of the page.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Welcome to Metro Espresso. This is a blog about my coffee interests and the coffee shops in the DC area.

What I will be doing in the coming posts and blog is four-fold (sorry for all the folding). First, this blog will review and critique DC-area coffee shops supplemented by pictures, commentary, and reviews about each place. Second, discussing coffee culture. Third, how to make quality coffee ranging from espresso to Turkish coffee using my own experience as examples of what to do and what not to do. Four, pontificating about coffee'ness in general.

What you will not find here is a coffee snob who looks down upon people who drink Starbucks, Folgers, or Maxwell house. As a coffee lover, and all other coffee lovers should, it is our job to tell the world about the wonders of coffee beyond the usual coffee products in a manner that engenders curiosity and a passion for a great cup of joe.

Here is my coffee setup,(from left to right) I have a small Bialetti Moka pot that makes quasi espresso which can be quite scrumptious. Next to it, I have a French Press pot that makes coffee similar to drip, but since it doesn't use a paper filter it keeps all the lovely oils in the coffee making a stronger and better tasting coffee. Next to that, is a Capresso Infinity burr grinder that, you guessed it, grinds whole coffee beans adding to the freshness of the coffee. Buying pre-ground coffee goes staler much quicker than whole bean, making a grinder an integral part to any coffee set up. Finally, the Lello Ariete espresso machine, while not a popular machine, it makes decent espresso for the price compared to other pricier home machines. In front, are all the tools: scoops, tampers, portafilter (the handle-looking thing), brush, and stop watch for timing how long the french press coffee should steep for.

A minor disclaimer(actually not really, more of a disclosure): I am not a coffee expert, but a person who enjoys coffee, who has read up on the subject through a few books, and spent perhaps a bit too many times sniffing coffees at the super market. I have pictures! I appreciate all the feedback, advice, and constructive critiques.

If you have a coffee setup, or had a great cup of coffee somewhere, please tell me at