Category Archives: Reviews

Cafe Hounding: Echo Coffee

Echo Coffee
2902 N 68th St, Ste 135
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Phone: (480) 422 4081

http://www.echocoffee.com
Groovy spot in Phoenix suburbs.

Kris visited this spot in December 2011 and noted that they roast coffee on site every other day in small batches.  Echo, owned by Steve Belt, opened in mid-2010 by the inspired graduate of Tempe, Arizona’s major university, Arizona State University.

Steve chatted briefly with Kris while roasting beans and briefly mentioned his origins from Portland, Oregon.  With a modern, high-ceiling, loft-like layout and a good selection of pastries – Echo is a good place to set up shop, use the free wifi, and get on with life over a delicious cup of Papua New Guinea, Cameroon, and Kenyan coffees sourced from a local importer who claims the beans are “carbon neutral.”

Make sure to check this place out if you’re stopping through!

– Cafe Hound

Bean Counting: Idido Natural Sun-dried – Counter Culture

Roaster: Counter Culture
Place of Purchase: Peregrine Espresso (14th St. NW Location)
Preferred Brew Method: Paper Filter Drip (pour over)
Excerpt From Counter Culture Describing Coffee:

Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia
Organic • Shade Grown
The community of Idido, just outside the town of Yirgacheffe, has once again produced the quintessential Ethiopian Natural Sundried coffee. One of the cleanest and most refined naturals we have tasted in years, Idido offers notes of strawberry, blueberry, and orange zest with a balanced, chocolate-like sweetness.

Cafe Hound Review:   Generally, Counter Culture got this one right. This coffee cups clean, though it has  enough of what I call, “berry funk” to entertain your palate. I cycled through several of the Counter Culture coffees this year, with the Central Americans admittedly disappointing after a VERY strong showing in 2009, and a decent showing in 2010. In 2010 my favorite growing region of the world ended up being Kenya, though the Cafe Hound annual blend at the end of 2009 included a fair amount of sun-dried Ethiopian coffee from the Amaro region. (washed version for sale at Novo now). Right now, this Yirgacheffe is rocking my world. I admit that as the weather cools here in the Nation’s Capital, I’m leaning towards more bold and fruity coffees – though I enjoy a clean cup so much that I rarely venture to the extremes of many Indonesian grown coffees (Sumatra). Though, it is all a matter of taste and I encourage you to post your comments letting us know what your preferences are this year! Happy Hounding!

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Rusty’s Hawaiian Site Visit: Pahala, Hawaii

In early April 2011, both Cafe Hounds took a journey to Hawaii in search of the storied Kona coffee, in addition to some sunshine and snorkeling – oh, and Kris had a conference for the Association for Asian Studies  (AAS), which he presented at. During out visit we had the pleasure of sampling some wonderfully crafted coffee drinks on the island of Oahu before we jumped on a short flight destined for the beautiful Big Island, where we landed in Kona.  Once there, we decided to casually sample a few plantations in the immediate area near our Bed & Breakfast in south Kona (Ka’awa Loa). In short – they stunk.

Ka'awa Loa B&B

So the ONE big coffee related adventure on Big Island was our visit to the wonderful farm of Lorie Obra and her family in the Ka’u District (in Pahala, Hawai’i). It was amazing. The Obra family house and farm is located in the small and relatively impoverished village of Pahala – with less than 1,350 inhabitants just east of the southern tip (South Point – Ka Lae). According to 2010 Census Data, more than  80% of the population is Asian/Pacific Islander or a mix of the two. Many of the inhabitants descend from the Philippines – a country that Maher Hound used to live in until a volcanic eruption destroyed his home in 1991. This fact made visiting the volcanic island of Hawai’i that much more special.

Maher, Miguel and Lorie On The Farm in Pahala, HI

Lorie agreed to meet with Kris and Maher on relatively short notice and coordinated the meeting with her coffee consultant – and friend – Miguel Meza. Lorie’s daughter Joan Obra and her husband Ralph Gaston joined the group as well – after somewhat recently arriving in Hawai’i themselves to join the family business after most of their lives on he mainland.

I drove us all up the road a mile or so to their farm where we were then able to walk around and experience the relatively young and VERY well planned out coffee farm of Rusty’s Hawaiian. The brand and the farm were started  in 1999 with the seedling of a dream by Rusty Obra, a retired chemist who sadly passed away in 2006 – leaving his wife, Lorie with the tough decision of whether to continue his dream…or cut her losses and move on. She bought into his dream and kept forging forward in a naturally advantageous habitat for superb coffee – planted on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano, which makes up the majority of Hawai’i’s biggest of islands, Big Island. Standing on the farm you can see the ocean off in the distance looking south towards South Point where one can find Green Sand Beach – where the sand is colored in such a way due to chemical and gaseous reactions from volcanic/lava eruptions with ocean water.

On the farm, Miguel and Lorie have experimented with several varietals – but the five that we had the pleasure of cupping that day were the:

  1. RH Lot 24 Tipica
  2. Bourbon (red)
  3. Yellow Caturra Natural Dried FRUKO
  4. Red Caturra
  5. Yellow Caturra Natural Dried

The farm currently has no certifications at all – though they stated that they plan to certify organic eventually. They stated the reason was because achieving certification is not viable and – probably mostly – it is not viewed as an important aspect of quality in their sales strategy. (aka – their buyers don’t care about certification as much as their unique flavor profile and superb quality control). Thus far, they have not experienced broque (bug diseases).

Cupping With Miguel At Lorie's Home

One of their most important variables in annual yields is rainfall – 1) they don’t have an irrigation system 2) volcanic soil doesn’t really retain water very well. To that end, Miguel shared with me that the average commercial farm in the Kona district (where he also engages in coffee consulting for other farms) yields about 1,000 pounds per acre (due to higher rainfall counts) compared to averages ranging from 400 to 600 pounds per acre at Rusty’s farm. This relatively limited annual yield capacity for Rusty’s creates a situation where demand outstrips supply by far. For this reason, the $80 per pound for some of the coffees we sampled was understandable.
The hospitality shown to Kris and I at Rusty’s Hawaiian farm and home was exceptional and encapsulates not only the Hawaiian way, but reminds me fondly of my (Maher) time in the Philippines. Hopefully, there will be more to come on Rusty’s Hawaiian and Miguel Meza – and the change that they are catalyzing in Hawaii’s specialty coffee industry.

Cafe Hounding: Cafe Samba – Bogota, Colombia

Cafe Samba
Bogotá, Colombia
Cra 7 # 58-48
Tel: 348 1697

Unfortunately, I enjoyed Café Samba so much that I’ve barely even took a photograph of the place, though having frequented it on many occasions spanning from 2006 to 2010.

It is difficult to state what the best part of the lounge/cafe/bar located on the Septima is: the coffee products, natural juices, and cocktails are simply the best in that part of Bogotá; the moderately sized food selection is equally impressive in quality. They make the most of what they have when it comes to ambiance of the place (lounge feel even without the chic lounge budget of the Chico and Parque 93 neighborhoods). Service is superior for the price range and the couch located at the front of the shop always seemed to be reserved for me. Also, the clientele is an attractive youngish blend of professionals and students.

My favorite item on their menu would be a fresh blended non-alcoholic natural joice cocktail of Maracuya, Mango and Orange Juice mix. The quality of their coffee is above average for a country that exports the majority of their high quality beans.  They use a high quality vintage Elektra espresso machine and decent coffee roasted in country.  I imagine they could improve their coffee quality if they sourced their coffee from a better roaster.

Musically, this café makes an impression on locals and visitors alike considering the high quality sound system wired from wall-to-wall and mounted in the ceiling. The “DJ” tends to be whatever barman  has a free moment. Luckily, all have terrific taste when it comes to selecting a good playlist.

View of Bogota afternoon from front of Cafe Samba

If you make it to Colombia, Cafe Samba is well worth a stop along the way.

Mushrooms, Aromatica Tea, Fruit Drinks in 2010

– Maher Hound

Cafe Hounding: Cafe Grumpy – New York, NY (Chelsea)

Cafe Grumpy (Chelsea) West 20th
224 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011
Phone: 212 255 5511
http://www.cafegrumpy.com/locations/cafe-grumpy-chelsea/

Best coffee in New York; possibly the entire Atlantic Seaboard.

They began roasting their own beans in September 2009 (at Greenpoint roastery in BK, New York). Before that, that only bought wholesale from the best roasters in the United States (including Novo Coffee, Intelligentsia, Ritual Roasters, Blue Bottle, Counter Culture).  Both Kris and Maher visited Cafe Grumpy in October 2009, their initial visit to this location.  The clean and bright interior of the locale is very appealing and it becomes immediately apparent that Grumpy is very serious about coffee and about great customer service.  The baristas all are very well trained and coffee knowledgeable.  The machines are all of excellent caliber and the cleanliness is very impressive.

Cafe Grumpy (Chelsea) from the front.

Cafe Grumpy (Chelsea) from the entrance. Old friends catching up inside.

There is no wi-fi here and the philosophy of the management is that people come to Grumpy to socialize, drink coffee, and NOT get lost in their electronic equipment.  Given the popularity of iPads and smartphones these days, I’m not entirely sure that the management is completely batting back the gadget-aholics.  That said, the quantity and volume of conversations here is noticeably more than in many other shops visited in DC and elsewhere.  Without a much surprise, during this October trip Kris and Maher visited at least five shops – including Abraço, Everyman Espresso, Mud (East Village), Juan Valdez – and Grumpy easily bested the rest.

Cafe Grumpy cappuccino with latte art included 🙂

Coffee here was plentifully available in retail whole bean variety and drinks were made carefully and wonderfully.  UPDATE:  In November 2010 a friend recently brought me a pound of ‘Heartbreaker’ from New York.  This is the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to try their self-roasted blend (formerly custom blended by outsourced roasters).  It rocks as espresso.  Not bad for drip coffee but wouldn’t recommend it.

Blue Bottle has recently opened its own location in New York and now Grumpy is roasting its own beans.  As the top of the specialty coffee segment broadens its customer base, competition among the best is increasing.  Following the increase in market size and competition among the major players, there has been a very interesting diversity of business strategies employed by the big names. More to come on this…

– Maher Hound