Tag Archives: gourmet

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.

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Cafe Hounding: The Bean Espresso Bar – Nottingham, UK

1 Stoney Street
Beeston, Nottingham, NG9 2LA, UK
www.coffee-beans.co.uk

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Located in Beeston, The Bean is one of the independent coffee house in Nottingham area. It was also voted one of the best in UK. I visited this espresso bar after I read the review by Tom at CosyCoffeeShops and learned that he even made a detour trip just to visit this cafe in Beeston.

The place is nice. It has downstair indoor seating with tables and high bars. It has outdoor seating area in a plaza by Sainsbury’s. And it has upstair that makes you feel like being in a living room of your home.

The Bean uses coffee roasted by Union Hand-Roasted Coffee in London. My latte was quite good both times I visited the cafe. The real problem I have with this place is from one of the baristas who seems to be very arrogant and not so friendly. (When I asked him about coffee, his answer was that he didn’t drink coffee and ended the conversation there.) Other staff were friendly, however. I also learned from one of them that the owner of the cafe is being changed and the new owner would be in charge by Christmas.

Cafe Hounding: Monmouth Coffee Company – Covent Garden, London, UK

27 Monmouth Street
London WC2H 9EU, UK
www.monmouthcoffee.co.uk

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I visited Monmouth Coffee in Covent Garden during my business trip to London, UK, in September. The cafe has good reviews on the internet and is one of the places featured on CosyCoffeeShops.co.uk, a website run by Tom, a new friend of Cafe Hounds. It is located in Covent Garden area within a walking distance from the Tube stations.

When I arrived at the cafe, the first thing I noticed was a long line of customers waiting to purchase their coffee beans, which testified its reputation for good coffee. Although their roasting facility is in a separate location on Maltby Street and they also sell roasted beans over there, the huge amount of of beans behind the counter for their retail sales at the Covent Garden cafe was very impressive.

I ordered a white flat, which is a latte with less milk and therefore a bit stronger than the usual latte. The drink was made from their house espresso blend. The cafe itself is very small. It has very limited seating area. I was not lucky enough to get a seat. In fact, it was quite tough to even find a space to stand in the cafe with a big crowd of people waiting to purchase the beans. The cafe also offers some pastries.

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With its small size, Monmouth Coffee is not a cosy place that you can relax and enjoy your drink, but it is definitely a good place to get good espresso drinks if you do not want to go to the usual Starbucks or Costa.

For more information on Monmouth Coffee, please also visit Tom’s review here.

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: Lion Coffee – San Diego

Lion Coffee – San Diego

101 Market Street (Corner of 1st and Market)
San Diego, CA 92101
619.299.5466
www.lionmainland.com

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Following up the news about Lion Coffee in downtown San Diego that I posted here two weeks ago, I finally visited this cafe today. It has been opened just for about a week. The business seems to be going well so far. As I mentioned in the earlier post, this is the only Lion Coffee cafe in the mainland USA.

The location of this cafe is great. It is near Horton Plaza, Convention Center, and Seaport Village. The floor-to-ceiling windows with garden and trees outside make this store unique and differentiate itself from other coffee places in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego. Larry Wilkens, the owner, keeps the layout of the cafe the same as Starbucks cafe that previously occupied this premise, but he redecorated the store with bamboo shelfs, rattan sofa, Hawaiian paintings, and vintage tropical ceiling fans– basically bringing bits of Hawaiian feeling to the mainland USA. (There are a lot of lion dolls and statues here and there all over the cafe, too.)

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Seating was ample when I visited, which was in an afternoon of a weekday. Many of the customers seem to purchase coffee to-go. There is also an outdoor seating area if you prefer. I do not expect the cafe to be too crowded. This should be a nice place if you want to spend time relaxing over a cup of coffee, and don’t want to feel that you have to rush because other people are waiting for the table. There is more than enough natural light during the day if you want to read books or newspapers while sipping your coffee. Free wireless internet was detected when I was there, although I was not sure whether it was provided by Lion or some residents in the nearby apartments were generous enough to provide this public goods.

I ordered a latte. It was prepared by a super friendly barista “Lenny” who has worked with Larry and Lion for over a year, since when Lion was still at the previous location in Mission Valley. My latte was made from Lion’s Diamond Head Blend, which has 10% Hawaiian beans plus Arabica from other parts of the world. It was medium Italian roasted. My latte was quite good and served in colorful Lion cup. (I still have yet to try espresso drinks made from Lion’s 100% Kona beans.)

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For non-espresso coffee, Lion provides a wide variety of non-flavored and flavored coffee drinks, including 100% Kona coffee. The cafe is also a retail store for Lion Coffee and Royal Kona Coffee beans, which were roasted in Hawaii and shipped here regularly. According to the reviews on yelp and my conversation with Lenny, Toasted Coconut flavor seems to be the best selling blend at this store. There are other Hawaiian goodies such as teas, chips, and macadamia chocolate available for purchase. They also serve light breakfast and fresh pastries, in case you look for something to enjoy with your coffee.

Overall, I had a good experience with the visit. Unlike the ultra-fancy restaurants that occupy the dining scene of Gaslamp Quarter, Lion Coffee is a friendly neighborhood cafe in the middle of downtown that you can just relax and get good coffee prepared by a surfer-dude barista and friendly staff– a cherry on the top of your enjoyment in the beautiful San Diego.

–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

Lion Coffee Opens in Downtown San Diego in August

Lion Coffee

Lion Coffee

UPDATE: LION is now open. You can also read our Cafe Hounding post on LION.

Back story: Lion Coffee will open its cafe in downtown San Diego in August. The location is at the corner of Market and First, which was once occupied by one of the best Starbucks in downtown area. Honestly, it was sad that Starbucks decided to shut down this store instead of one of the other six in the vicinity. The store was lovely. It had floor-to-ceiling clear windows with big maple trees outside that helped shade the afternoon sunlight and also provided a semi-garden feeling to the customers. I hope that Lion Coffee keeps the ambiance of its predecessor.

coming soon...

coming soon...

Lion Coffee is one of America’s oldest coffee company and the largest trader of Hawaiian Kona coffee. It will definitely be an interesting and unique addition to the coffee scene in the gaslamp quarter of San Diego. So far, Lion Coffee has had only one retail store in the entire mainland USA. The new store in downtown will be a relocation from their former location in Mission Valley, which garnered great reviews from its customers over the past year.

Stay tuned for Cafe Hounding from us once the store is open.

–Kris Hound