Category Archives: Cities

Cafe Hounding: Cafe Don Pedro – Bogota, Colombia

Carrera 11A # 89-48
Bogota – Colombia
http://www.cafedonpedro.com/primera_del_Cafe.htm

Don Pedro's interior from the back room looking out towards the adjoined bakery run by Pedro's wife.

Cafe Don Pedro is one of those places that began Maher Hound’s entire journey into the coffee world.  An exercise in objectivity would be senseless in this post considering my first encounter with the wonderful Colombian grown stimulant known as Cafe Don Pedro began in the late nineties after my father received a pound as a gift from a friend stationed at the US Embassy in Bogota.  At the time my family did not find the coffee particularly amazing and I was too young to have taken up the habit of coffee drinking full-time yet.

Several years later, after being reintroduced to Colombian coffee through a chocolate covered experience with Oma coffee, I found my way down to Colombia and into the storied retail location of Cafe Don Pedro on Calle 90 where it intersects Carrera 11A.  Beyond having one of the most folkloric, traditional coffee themed interior designs I have ever seen in a coffee shop; Cafe Don Pedro had very well trained and highly knowledgeable staff that were able to describe everything about the entire supply chain process of a coffee plant/bean and how to prepare beverages with care and with style.

My first visit to Cafe Don Pedro in the flesh was in 2006.  This was before I had been properly introduced to cupping and understanding the careful and lengthy process of training one’s palate to distinguish subtle discrepancies in the flavor profile of different beans and brews.  Even at this early juncture of my coffee loving career, I knew I had come across a truly amazing quality of coffee.  Upon my departure from Colombia several months later I carried several pounds of the delicious substance with me (beans were packaged according to their Department (a national sub-unit similar to a State) of origin). The most well-rounded beans sold by Don Pedro were probably the Cudinamarca blend – taken from the region immediately surrounding Bogota.  The most unique and distinctly (although quite mild) beans were those from Huila, found south of Neiva heading towards the Colombia-Ecuador border on the 45 highway. The Huila beans – last time I tried them in 2008 – had a vanilla and nutty undertone in the finish that was preceded by bright orange acidity in the initial sip.

Upon my return to Colombia in 2008, I made another stop at Don Pedro and enjoyed the comfortable ambiance and coffee of the shop.  Did I mention that, because they roast coffee every day right in the front of the shop, there is an overwhelmingly pleasant aroma of fresh roasted coffee that greets each customer upon entering the shop?

In 2008 I sat down and discussed the business – both the beauty of owning one’s own specialty coffee retail location in a country dominated by the Juan Valdez and FEDERCAFE image AND the problems associated with trying to leverage the international recognition of the Juan Valdez label while trying to directly export one’s own brand to international markets.  It appears that Pedro de Narveaz is still wrapped up in a legal dispute with the National Coffee Growers Federation in Colombia and this will likely – due to the political clout and financial resources of the Federation – end badly for our beloved Don Pedro.

Despite these facts, his business does incredibly well just by selling to the  Bogota equivalent of Washington, D.C.’s ‘Embassy Row’ with high praise coming from the US Embassy in Bogota and his own product positioning in Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport for those hoping to grab a bag of Don Pedro before hopping on the plane. I returned yet again to Don Pedro in July 2010 to grab five pounds and sample a delicious espresso with my girlfriend.  As she enjoyed her cappuccino with ‘fluffy foam’ and delicious coffee cookie treats, I reminisced about the more than four years of coffee patronage at this wonderful location in downtown Bogota.  Now, with the store moving down the street into a smaller shop on Calle 89 with 11A, I am both saddened and excited about the future of the Cafe Don Pedro experience.  The new commerce brought to this neighborhood by the incoming Mall will definitely boost foot traffic in and around Cafe Don Pedro, but it will also dramatically alter the quiet and charming experience that this neighborhood offered the older Bogotano crowd looking for an elegant cafe to discuss Colombian culture, society, politics and – most importantly – coffee.

 

Gently kissing this cup of C-marca espresso blend goodnight on my last evening in Bogota in July 2010.

Markets: DC Coffee Scene

In 2006 I returned to the DC/VA area from Colombia with a newfound passion for specialty coffee and a serious cafe-dweller pattern of living  only to be extremely disappointed with what the DC/MD/VA area had to offer.  I said to myself, it is a no brainer that this region of the country has a tremendous of per capita spending power and that people here would pounce on the opportunity to have something unique in the food and beverage industry.  I thought the region was especially well suited for specialty coffee.

Although such an observation was so clear to me at the time, I had no knowledge of the specialty coffee industry beyond what I had discovered in Colombia over the course of a couple of weeks visiting farms and talking with producers.  I was in no way suited to open a coffee shop nor interested in doing so.

So – when this post began as a draft in August 2009 –  reminiscing as I drove through DC I could see my observation was not lost on others in the coffee retail industry.  Caribou Coffee shops are located in new places throughout the city, Peregrine Espresso launched in 2008, Chinatown Coffee Co. opened in July 2009, Mid-City Caffe, Big Bear Cafe and more all claim DC as their home now.

The growth in coffee shop improvement has not been lacking.  Names such as Murky, Peregrine, Big Bear, Tryst and others have made sure of that.  Caribou’s growth has been impressive too. Even a fellow in Manassas Virginia started his own line of retail coffee called Hondo Coffee.  The coffee is sourced only from one community in Honduras and is sold pre-ground in flimsy packaging that is its only protection from the heat and humidity of DC/VA summers – as he pushes the majority of his sales at local farmer’s markets.

August 2010 – So what is lacking from the DC market?

As far as I can tell it appears to have a serious shortage of local high quality roasters. The best coffee in the DC/VA/MD area is roasted elsewhere.

I would understand if one couldn’t find a good roaster in DC proper given the high rents for real estate and the potential difficulties getting a permit for the exhaust that comes from an industrial roaster but, this does not explain why the artisan roasters I have come across thus far in Maryland and Virginia have failed to meet the mark of quality, consistency and marketability that is required to survive and prosper in the specialty coffee industry.

Counter Culture cleans up in the Mid-Atlantic region (in terms of selling to high-end specialty coffee shops) and Intelligentsia has successfully convinced the high-end restaurant industry (i.e. Farmers & Fishers) to offer patrons a quality cup of java at a place where everything else on the menu is exquisite.  For now, Counter Culture has a relative stronghold on the region because people seem to believe that North Carolina is local enough AND they have a strong network of local-ish cuppings and trainings to attract local coffee shops/geeks into their network and identify them with their brand.

This business strategy is quite interesting and it will be exciting to watch the DC/VA/MD roaster market adapt to this pent up demand over the course of the next months. Until then, I’m open to any suggestions of DC/MD/VA roasters willing to part with samples for review by Cafe Hound.

Cafe Hounding: Caffe Calabria – San Diego

3933 30th Street
San Diego, CA 92104
www.caffecalabria.com

Caffe Calabria is one of a few hidden gem roasters in San Diego, CA.  Located in a unique section of town known to locals as North Park; it has the charm of an Italian espresso bar mixed with a ‘work-in-progress’ pizzeria and the edge of North Park mixed in for good measure.  The owner, Ernie, got his start manning a coffee cart at the local hospital.  Over time he developed a passion for roasting and has grown his business via carving out a niche serving the local restaurant and coffee shop market with his fresh roasted beans.

The Roast Master, Jesse, is a very cool operator with a keen sense of knowing when beans are ready to eject from the large industrial roasting machine they have in the back of the shop.  They have plenty of outlets, a rustic and open space, and a great – although limited selection – of sandwiches/paninis.

The “work-in-progress” has evolved into quite an attractive space over the past three years but has yet to reach the goal of an authentic pizzeria.  The most impressive piece within the restaurant is a pizza oven brought piece by piece from Italy and reassembled in the store.   Also, the art work is mostly done by local artists and the clientele is quite an eclectic mix of hipsters, students and locals (there is plenty of overlap between the three).  Before some of the sales staff left, there used to be free cuppings every morning at 8am – not sure if this is still firm policy.  According to store staff, the pizzeria should be opening very soon on Thursday and Friday evenings.  Unfortunately, many a café squatting afternoon was prematurely ended at Calabria – they close their doors to business at 3pm.

Their espresso is tops in San Diego, with only Bird Rock spending more time and effort in perfecting the pull.  Both the blend that Calabria uses and the training of their baristas is well above average for the specialty coffee world.  It’s well worth stopping by this location just to get a well made drink.  Calabria delivers some of the best quality roasted beans in San Diego AND has the well trained baristas to prepare top quality drinks too!

A portion of their beans are purchased from renowned importer, Elan Organic Coffee, now of the Neumann Kaffee Gruppe.  Calabria wholesales to many local coffee shops and other retailers such as Café Mono (Mission Beach), Whole Foods and Fresh & Easy in San Diego.  Check them out and tell them the Café Hounds sent you!

Cafe Hounding: Sightglass Coffee Bar & Roastery – San Francisco

270 Seventh Street
San Francisco, CA
sightglasscoffee.com

P1000765

Sightglass Coffee Bar & Roastery has already garnered a lot of attention even though they just opened the kiosk three months ago and the “real” coffee bar and roastery are still under construction. It is located in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood on 7th Street at Falsom– a short walk from BART Civic Center station.

I visited Sightglass in the morning of a weekday. At first, I was a bit disappointed that the cafe seemed to be closed and there was construction inside the building. A second later, I smelt strong coffee aroma coming from inside so I kept walking down to what was once a driveway to a warehouse. Finally, I spotted the coffee kiosk inside the garage gate.

Sightglass is owned and run by the two brothers who are also the roasters, and apparently the contractors and constructors, of this coffee bar. They were originally from the Pacific Northwest so coffee is in their blood. They helped start Four Barrel Coffee in the Mission, and before that worked at Blue Bottle (which we reviewed here). People from Blue Bottle also help the brothers set up their new cafe. Jared also worked together with Eileen Hassi, the owner of Ritual Coffee, back while they both were in Seattle. All of these confirmed what Eileen told me during an interview with her that the gourmet coffee industry in San Francisco had a healthy “friendly competition.”

P1000764

I enjoyed my latte while watching Justin and Jared working and supervising the construction of their new coffee bar. Right now they use coffee beans from Verve Coffee Roaster in Santa Cruz, CA, but plan to roast their own beans in a month. (I already spotted a Probat roaster there.) With their past roasting experience at Blue Bottle  among other places, the quality of the beans they will offer is likely guaranteed.

I had a conversation with Justin who shared with me their vision. According to him, the building was a paint warehouse so it has gigantic size as compared to the usual neighborhood coffee houses. The ceiling is high and the place is very airy. They will have a mezzanine that people can sit and enjoy their drink. The coffee bar will be in the back while the roasting area will be in the front. They plan to have seating area around the roaster as well. They hope that the construction should be done in a few months. And I am looking forward to going check out the place and tasting their own roasted coffee soon.

Cafe Hounding: Local 123 – Berkeley, CA

2049 San Pablo Avenue
Berkeley, CA
www.local123cafe.com

P1000757

Local 123 is a new cafe in Berkeley, CA. Even though it has been open for just five months, this coffee house has attracted great reviews. I visited Local 123 during the day on Saturday. The location is a bit far from the campus so either you have to walk quite far or you can take a bus to University and San Pablo.

Picture 1

Local 123 uses coffee beans from Flying Goat Coffee in Healdsburg (near Santa Rosa), CA. The beans are generally medium mild roasted. For espresso drinks, the default beans are Flying Goat’s espresso blend No. 9, but they are also available with single origins upon request. When I visited the cafe, the featured single origin was Costa Rica Puente Tarrazu. For drip coffee, Local 123 offers several single origin beans for you to choose. Then they freshly grind your beans and make your drip coffee cup-by-cup. I find this attention to quality as a big plus. I ordered latte as usual. My drink was prepared by Frieda, who was also a co-owner of Local 123 along with her sister-in-law. The latte was beautiful. It was mild and taste great. Frieda was friendly and attentive to the coffee she brewed.

Picture 2

Local 123 has minimal decoration with some artworks on the wall. The cafe is clean. It seems to be famous for people who come with their laptops or books and spend time working while enjoying their drinks. The cafe offers free wifi throughout but also has the “wifi-free” area that encourages conversations among customers. There is also outdoor seating area in the back. They also have selected homemade pastry, sandwiches, and salad available. And they make jams from locally-grown fruits. The only problem that some customers may have is that this cafe takes cash only and do not accept credit cards. There is an ATM machine nearby however.

P1000763

Overall, Local 123 is also a lovely neighborhood cafe that not only provides good coffee but also pays a lot of attention to sustainability and local community. (Big kudos on that!) As some of the reviews on the internet proclaim, if you are in Berkeley and don’t want to travel to San Francisco to get Blue Bottle coffee, Local 123 is the place that you will unlikely to get disappointed. So far, I do agree with them.