Tag Archives: barista

Cafe Hounding: Caffe Art Java – Montreal, Canada

645 Avenue Du President-Kennedy
Montreal, QC H3A, Canada
www.caffeartjava.com

When I went to Canada in November, I was excited to check out Caffe Art Java, a cafe that many people on the internet claimed to be the place to get best coffee in Montreal. Fortunately, Caffe Art Java has one cafe by Rue University on the edge of McGill University, which was very close to where I stayed.

The cafe uses coffee beans roasted by Gimme Coffee in Ithaca, New York. For espresso, they use Leftist blend (which you can buy online from Gimme website as well). The blend is medium dark, but leaning more to the dark side. The barista was skillful and did great job for both the shots and the latte foam. The cafe also serves hot food. I ordered croissant with ham and cheese, which was heated panini style and tasted quite good.

The decoration of the cafe is modern, sleek, and hip. It has red couches, brown chairs, and dark tables. It has light background music (French music when I was there). .It has strong wifi with both 2.4 and 5 GHz options. When I arrived there around noon on Sunday, the cafe was not crowded, but there were more and more people coming throughout the early afternoon. There was plenty of seating however. Most of the customers when I was there were students with laptops working on their school work, but there were quite a lot of young professionals visiting the cafe as well. The staff and the barista were friendly, and seemed to know lots of their frequent customers well.

I may have to explore Montreal more (preferably not in winter!) before judging whether Caffe Art Java is in fact the best in town. But overall, it is indeed a great cafe to get coffee and light meal in downtown Montreal.

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Cafe Hounding: Sightglass Coffee Bar & Roastery – San Francisco

270 Seventh Street
San Francisco, CA
sightglasscoffee.com

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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.”

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Cafe Hounding: The Conservatory for Coffee, Tea & Cocoa – Culver City, CA

10117 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA
www.conservatorycoffeeandtea.com

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My long-time friend and her husband who had lived in Los Angeles in the past few years had suggested to me several times about The Conservatory in Culver City. Finally I had a chance to visit this coffee house on Halloween Day. Upon arrival in this coffee house, you will be greeted with piles of green beans from all over the world. Then you will see the roaster right there next to the seating area, which I thought it was very cool. Although I expected slow customer traffic as it was a weekend plus Halloween, there were quite a lot of people coming during more than an hour that I was there. There were plenty of tables inside and outside the cafe so seating didn’t seem to be a problem.

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I ordered a large latte and it was prepared for me by Ingrid, who turned out to be a daughter of the owner. My latte was prepared from the house espresso blend, which consisted of Brazilian and Sumatra beans. Surprisingly, it had strong body but not too muddy as what I would expect from Sumatra. This was great as I am personally not a big fan of strong, dark roasted coffee. The latte art was also beautiful.

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Ingrid was very friendly and told me about this place while preparing my latte. The Conservatory is a family business and has been operating for over 15 years. At least one of the family members is always at the cafe when it is open. They also have quite a large selection of tea leaves. If you are hungry, some pastries are available as well.

The location of the cafe is great. It is in downtown Culver City on Washington Blvd, just a couple of blocks from a bunch of the city’s trendy restaurants and theaters. From my past experience visiting Culver City, street parking in this area is not a big problem as well (although I was very lucky to get a spot right in front of the cafe this time).

Overall, The Conservatory is a great place to have coffee drinks or to purchase coffee beans. If you look for a “neighborhood” cafe around West LA that you can relax and escape a bit from the notoriously pretentious LA environment, you may find this lovely coffee house a place you want to revisit again.

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!

Cafe Hounding: Crema Cafe – Cambridge, MA

27 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA
www.cremacambridge.com

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According to a friend of Cafe Hounds who is currently a graduate student at Harvard, Crema Cafe is one of the best coffee houses in Harvard Square. In fact, Crema Cafe just won Best Coffeehouse in Boston by Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston 2009. I met with my friend on morning during a weekday. The cafe was packed with customers although they seemed to have plenty seating area– upstair, bars, outdoor, and long tables. The location is convenient, right in Harvard Square by the Red Line station.

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As usual, I ordered my latte. Crema Cafe always uses Colombian beans for their espresso drinks. According to their baristas, sometimes they use single origin from Colombia while other times they use blends with beans from Colombia. Their beans are from George Howell’s Terroir Coffee Company in Acton outside Boston. My latte had good aroma and it was not too dark– something you would expect from Colombian beans. They also have selection of pastries, some food, and soft drinks available.

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Overall, I see myself going to Crema again. The hard part for me is that when I am around Harvard Square, I tend to go to Burdick, which is one of the best chocolate cafes I have visited. But Crema Cafe is definitely a fine place that I will go if I want to get a coffee in Harvard Square area.

Cafe Hounding: Koffi – Palm Springs, CA

515 North Palm Canyon Drive at Alejo
Palm Spring, CA
www.kofficoffee.com

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Koffi is located in downtown area of Palm Springs. The place is very relaxing and clean with sleek and modern design. It also has an outdoor corridor in the back, which is definitely a perfect place to enjoy your drink when the weather is not too hot. Inside, there are two seating areas. The area near the espresso counter seems to be occupied by customers who focus on their food and drink. The area in the other side of the cafe attracts people with laptops and books who usually stay longer at the cafe.

Following great reviews on yelp, I decided to visit Koffi one day during the past Labor Day weekend. The temperature in Palm Springs was 104 degree in the afternoon that day so I ordered ice latte and found an indoor table to have my drink. For espresso drinks, Koffi offers two options for you: dark Seattle-style American espresso blend or light Milano-style European espresso blend. My ice latte was prepared from dark espresso and it tasted and smelt very good. (I asked for more information about the beans and the baristas were very secretive, saying that it was business confidential, although later on I found the information about their blends on their website.)

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Koffi also provides good selection of desserts. Their apple pie got a rating of A- from my friend who proclaimed himself as a dessert expert from Los Angeles. The staff was attentive to the dessert, heating the pie and whipped the cream freshly.

Overall, I had good experience with my coffee. It was great in fact. But I didn’t get the friendly and engaging conversation about coffee I usually get from other coffee houses from Koffi’s staff that day.