Category Archives: Beans

Cafe Hounding: Simon’s Coffee Shop – Cambridge, MA

1736 Massachusette Ave
Cambridge, MA
617.497.7766
www.simonscoffeeshop.com

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I visited Simon’s Coffee in Cambridge, MA, after reading great reviews about this place on coffeegeek.com and yelp. Finally I decided to check this place out on my last day during my Boston trip. Visiting the cafe was easy as it was just about two blocks from Porter Square Red Line station.

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Simon’s Coffee has been operated for 7 years. It now uses beans from George Howell’s Terroir and Barismo. Both were local roasters with great reputation. I ordered a latte, which was prepared from Barismo’s Sonata blend. The blend consisted of Brazil moreninha formosa, Ethiopia koke, Guatemala nimac kapeh, and Costa Rica helsar de zarcero. The blend was very good. It was medium mild, which was my favorite, and the aroma was great.

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Although the day I visited the cafe was the same day as the White Chrome barista competition in Boston and, according to Simon-the-owner, his top baristas were at the competition, the latte I got was still very good and I was not disappointed. The staff were also very friendly. Keith and Christine (the barista) greeted me with smiles and we had lively conversation while I was waiting for my latte. Simon was not at the cafe when I was there but I ran into him later that day at the White Chrome competition. He was a very friendly guy and that explained a lot why his staff were friendly with no attitude. I also learned from Simon that the owner of Barismo had worked together with him for years before starting the roasting business.

The cafe was very crowded during my visit, which testified the quality and reputation of the place. Most of the customers seemed to be local and ranged from students to young professionals. It is indeed a nice place to get great coffee in Boston area. I will definitely visit Simon’s again. See you soon, Simon… I am looking forward to the even better shot of espresso you promised me next time I visit Boston!

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Cafe Hounding: Blue Bottle Coffee – Mint Plaza, San Francisco

Blue Bottle Coffee Co. – Mint Plaza, San Francisco
66 Mint St. (corner of Jessie), San Francisco, CA, 94103
bluebottlecoffee.net

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Blue Bottle Coffee is a household name for coffee geeks living or visiting San Francisco.  San Francisco Chronicle featured an interview with James Freeman about a month ago. I have been frequented this cafe, both getting a latte at the cafe or buying their beans to bring back to my home in San Diego. The flagship Blue Bottle is at the Mint Plaza, not too far from Civic Center and Union Square. However, it is not located on the main streets so this place is ideal if you want a quick escape from the hectic people traffic on Market and Powell.

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The cafe is easy to spot if you know exactly where it is. Otherwise, try to locate a cute “blue bottle” logo on the wall of the building behind the Mint Building. Once you enter the cafe, you will find yourself in a craftsman-decorated 17ft-ceiling room with modern, industrial redecoration. Looking around, you will see glassware of Blue Bottle’s Kyoto-style coffee maker and other coffee-related appliances on cafe’s long countertop. It really makes you feel like being in a chemistry lab rather than a cafe, which is very cool.

I usually visit Blue Bottle in the afternoon of weekdays, and always find the cafe packed with customers. Sometimes, the line even goes beyond the entrance. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to answer your questions (including those related to the chemical reactions that might be happening in one of those glass beakers!). Since the cafe was very busy during the last time of my visit, I did not have a chance to talk to the barista although my latte was very good as expected. (Last month, my cappuccino was prepared by Sally, who had worked with Blue Bottle for 8 months. The drink was great, too.) Blue Bottle uses their 17ft Ceiling Blend for their espresso drinks. It mimics the Italian espresso blend but substituted robusta with high-quality organic arabica, resulting in a very smooth coffee with nice aroma. Blue Bottle also uses organic milk for their latte and cappuccino. If you are an ice-coffee guy, try Blue Bottle’s Kyoto or New Orleans ice coffee. (The Kyoto-style coffee takes over a day to prepare, slowly brewing drop by drop at room temperature.)

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In terms of its ambience, the cafe is good for those who want a short break with a cup of coffee. The high ceiling makes the cafe airy, open, and relax. People also meet here for some quick informal business discussions. Although the cafe seems to be crowded and people have to wait for their drinks at times, I never have problem finding a seat in this cafe. There might be just around 20-30 seats in total, all with communal high bars rather than individual tables. Customers tend not to sit for a long time. One of the reason is that this cafe is not laptop-friendly (no electrical plugs and no wireless internet). However, I concur that this is a good policy after all, given the size of the cafe and the number of customers it serves. This is the place that you can come to enjoy your drink, relax, and leave your work behind– at least for a short moment.

–Kris Hound

Cafe Hounding: Caffe del Doge – Palo Alto

Caffe del Doge

419 University Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 323-3600

www.caffedeldoge.com

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Caffe del Doge in Palo Alto is a franchise of an Italy-based company but owned by a group of local shareholders. It is a fine cafe located on University Ave near Stanford University and within a walking distance from the Palo Alto CalTrain station. I have frequented this cafe for several times and finally had a chance to write about it.

I visited Caffe del Doge earlier this week. It was in the late morning during the summer time so the cafe was not as crowded as it usually was during the school year. The place seems to be a meeting place for local business people as well as a study place for Stanford students. The cafe has a high ceiling with an upstair loft providing extra seating. The interior decoration is in bold yellow and presents various pictures of beautiful Italy in general and Venice in particular. There are a couple of outdoor tables and indoor high bar stools overlooking outside if you would like to enjoy people watching. But free wireless internet and electrical plugs are also available if you prefer working on your laptop instead.

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Ironically, my most favorite drink at Doge is not coffee. Most of the time I ordered their thick and dense “drinking hot chocolate” (which got quite a lot of hostile reviews in yelp!). It turns out that there are not so many places that you can have this kind of hot chocolate so I tried to take the advantage of this offer when I visited Doge. The pastry is also delicious.  But your total bill can add up quickly as the price of food and drink sold in this cafe is on a relatively high range. But remember that the cafe is located in Palo Alto and the ingredients they use are of high quality so we should not complain here. The cafe also sells selections of roasted coffee beans (both blends and single origins from the America and East Africa) and chocolate bars.

Since I was on cafe hounding mission, I decided to order a cappuccino instead of the usual favorite hot chocolate. As always, the staff was very attentive and carefully prepared for my drink. They used their own classic blend “Doge Nero” for my cappuccino. According to their description of the blend, Nero was introduced in 1996 and became the best selling blend in Doge’s Venice cafe. For me, the blend was not too strong (both in terms of body and aroma) but seemed to work quite well with the foam in my cappuccino due to its dark chocolate aftertaste. Given the tradition and trend in specialty coffee that promote 100% Arabica blends, I was surprised to learn that Nero was in fact a blend of Central and South American Arabica and also ROBUSTA from Karnataka region of India!

(Left) Careful preparation of my cappuccino; (Top Right) My cappuccino with various choices of sweeteners; (Bottom Right) My drinking hot chocolate

(Left) Careful preparation of my cappuccino; (Top Right) My cappuccino with various choices of sweeteners; (Bottom Right) My drinking hot chocolate

Overall, what is lacked at Palo Alto Caffe del Doge is the good smell of roasted coffee beans that you usually expect to get when you visit a cafe that roasts their own beans on premise. This is because Palo Alto Doge does not roast their beans at the cafe. In fact, the beans were roasted and shipped to the cafe directly from the roasting facility in Italy. If you are a cafe geek looking for coffee aroma upon stepping inside the store or someone who is very obsessed with very freshly roasted beans, then you will have to knock some points out of Palo Alto Caffe del Doge. But overall, the cafe is a very fine place to have coffee in Palo Alto. Will I revisit there again? YES, of course.

–Kris Hound