Tag Archives: latte

Cafe Hounding: Caffe / Illy – Washington, D.C.

Caffe: Marriott Renaissance M Street Hotel
1143 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 775-0800
http://www.yelp.com/map/illy-cafe-washington
http://www.marriottmodules.com/restaurant/hotels/hotel-information/travel/wasrw-renaissance-m-street-hotel/caffe_an_italian_coffee_house/

Caffe is the name of the coffee concept boutique coffee shop located within the Marriott Renaissance Hotel in the West End of NW Washington, D.C.  This was the first of several shops opened in the last three years that exclusively sell Illy coffee and their designer products (namely their fancy hand painted espresso cups/plates and pods). Although not my first choice for espresso in most cases, every time I’ve had a cup of Illy at this M Street location, I have been thoroughly pleased. The dark, complex and caramel-like finish of the typical Illy espresso is a proven winner.  The true to form syrupy crema that commonly accompanies a well made Italian espresso consistently shines through here and, based on third-hand accounts, their cappuccinos are also well-made.

This is definitely not a place to sit down and work, eat a meal or chat for too long with friends.  Keeping in the typical Italian espresso bar tradition, there is only a standing counter along the windows of this petite shop where one is able to down their drink and continue on.  Not too linger friendly here.  Not to worry, just a quick walk through the into the adjoined restaurant (also part of the Marriott Renaissance Hotel) and you can begin an entirely separate dining experience.

In short, although this is not a place for much more than a quick coffee on the go – it is a quality coffee drinking experience and is worth a stop if you’re in the area and desire a quality made coffee drink.  The iced latte I had here in Summer 2010 was probably the best I’ve ever had.  Try getting a simlilar experience across the street at Starbucks — simply unheard of.

I like the cup (seen above) so much that I asked to purchase it.  I was pleased to find out that they happily sell the cup/plate/spoon sets used for a little under $10.

Here are some additional links that discuss the place:

WaPo
Yelp
Examiner
UrbanSpoon


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Cafe Hounding: Azi’s Cafe – Washington, D.C.

1336 Ninth St. NW
Washington, D.C.
20001-4208
http://aziscafe.com/index.html

http://maps.google.com/maps/place?client=safari&rls=en&oe=UTF-8&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=washington+dc+nw+1336+9+st&fb=1&gl=us&hnear=Washington+D.C.,+DC&cid=12196182154941226661

Azi’s Café is a wonderful place to grab a coffee and a meal in one of DC’s most diverse and dynamic neighborhoods – albeit not very commercial.  The charming owner, Azeb Desta (nicknamed Azi), hails from coffee’s disputed birthplace in the Horn of Africa.  Before opening Azi’s in 2005 she worked for eleven years in food and beverage with Ritz-Carlton hotels.

Her location at the corner of 9th and O streets is smack in the middle of a rapidly changing area of the Shaw area of DC, where an improving standard of living and an aversion to the normal “Starbucks” options appear to partially drive traffic to Azi’s Cafe. Perhaps more important, Azeb and her staff are some of the warmest and most dedicated employees in the business and their service clearly helps with customer loyalty. Furthermore, for the time being, there is very little direct competition in the immediate area.

The menu of light food fare boasts decent pastry, soup, salad and panini (the roasted turkey breast, tomato, cheddar, and garlic spread goes for $6.50) options.  Personally, I often find myself succumbing to the flavorful biscotti displayed in large glass containers in front of the cashier – it perfectly compliments a warm frothy cappuccino on a cold day.

Generally, the coffee is above average for Washington and I’ve grown fond of their cappuccinos.  They use Illy coffee and have a stand of retail Illy for sale proudly exhibited in their front window.

Having sampled an Illy espresso across town at the Illy shop at the Renaissance M Street Hotel, I was excited to see how Azi’s compared.  The coffee itself was definitely up to par, bold and complex from start to finish.  The cup they used in my case was a designer Illy cup – of my choosing – that was plenty warm from sitting atop the French-made UNIC machine. The quantity of crema was less than sufficient, though, and I would have to wager the guess that the machine could be the problem. I’ll undoubtedly try another espresso here before making a final judgment on the quality of their coffee and ability to make drinks.  It also appears that they keep a pretty steady line of customers asking for both specialty drinks and regular cups of coffee during this time of year.

I’ve never visited this locale without a pleasant and eclectic mix of music weaving through the small locale.  The southern wall is littered with a few electric sockets for those who tote laptops and have a use for their free wi-fi. Others may choose between a few tables in the middle of the shop and a couple two-seater tables squeezed in between columns with plenty of natural light on the northside of the shop (sorry, no electric plugs on this side of the shop).

Whether for a hot bowl of soup, a freshly made salad, a steamy latte or a shot of espresso – Azi’s is quickly becoming an institution in the Shaw neighborhood and – with over five years of business in this locale – Azeb Desta seems satisfied that things are going in the right direction.  Although, she thinks that the last five years have gone by quickly, and that both the neighborhood and the clientele have changed equally quickly.  Azi’s Café is one of very few businesses thriving in this section of NW and it will be interesting to see how much/little she changes in the next five years in order to maintain a successful enterprise.

Café Hound will undoubtedly continue to frequent her shop and wishes her the best in growing her business.

Kris/Maher “Ano Novo” Blend. A stylish way to say “Happy New Year.”

New custom blend coming just in time for the New Year!!! Novo Coffee in Denver is supplying samples within the next week. We will be blending and cupping four different variations before making a final decision on the “Ano Novo” blend. All net proceeds will go to charity. Be very excited and tell your friends!

–The Hounds

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.

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: 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: 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.