Tag Archives: Nick Cho

Official Release… “Cafe Hound”

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Dear Readers,

Over the past six weeks, we have enjoyed unofficially blogging on cafehound.com and have seen the development of the blog and its traffic from visitors “accidentally” coming to our blog. It has been a pleasure to offer diverse information accessible on our blog. Today, we take another important step and officially introduce to you cafehound.com.

What you will find on our blog is random but hopefully informative. As the blog’s name suggests, we are Cafe Hound. We search for the best coffee the world can offer. In Cafe Hounding section, you can read our reviews of cafes from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Coming soon, we will add reviews of coffee houses outside the US. We are also proud to present to you the exclusive interviews of “Who Is Who” in specialty coffee industry. We are honored to have Chuck Patton (founder and owner of Bird Rock Cafe Roasters in La Jolla, California) as our inaugural feature in this interview section. To be added to the list of fame are Eileen Hassi (founder and owner of Ritual Coffee in San Francisco), Michael McGuire (owner and roaster of K-Bay Caffe in Homer, Alaska), Timothy Castle (founder and CEO of Castle & Company, Santa Monica, California), and Karen Cebreros (founder and CEO of Elan Organic, San Diego, California).

Cafe Hound is not only the place you can get reviews and knowledge about your neighborhood cafes. We carefully select and present to you interesting news and upcoming events in coffee industry. Moreover, with our expertise in economics, finance, international relations, and public policy, we devote a section of the blog to analytical and educational issues related to every stage of specialty coffee production– from crop to cup, or from beans to brew. Currently, we proudly review an interesting article by Christopher Bacon of the University of California, Santa Cruz, on how organic, Fair-Trade, eco-friendly coffee could potentially help poor farmers in developing economies get out of poverty. Our main objective is to present to you the cutting-edge academic research on coffee-related issues in a non-academic language. Stay tuned for more of these geeky but exciting posts.

You may want to ask yourself why we, as an academic economist and a policy expert, fell in love with coffee and decided to devote our time to this blog. We have explained it all in the About the Hounds section. For those who have known us before, this section will give you eye-opening stories of the “dark” (but creamy and aromatic) side of our lives. We hope it entertains you and answers your curiosity.

You may also want to know what we expect from this blog. Well, first and foremost, we view this blog as our way to get us exposed to more people in the coffee industry. This is not only those working in the industry itself, but also those who are frequent customers of coffee houses and share our passion in great coffee. Please come join us in our journey to search for the best coffee. Please suggest to us where we should go “cafe hounding.” If you have favorite neighborhood coffee houses, feel free to share with us.

Finally, we realize there are several blogs and discussion boards out there covering coffee and cafes. Many of them are fantastic and comprehensive. By no means do we view our blog as their competitor. Instead, we think that our blog will offer something different, and provide you with both casual and more formal, semi-academic knowledge. The Cafe Hounding section does not rate the cafes (like yelp or other restaurant rating websites) but rather presents you with objective reviews of coffee houses that we carefully select. Most of them are mentioned by local coffee geeks as the “best in town” cafes or employ baristas who have made it to the final round of national or international competitions. The Interviews section gives you behind-the-scene stories about people in your neighborhood cafes and others in the industry that you may not have known before. Finally, the coffee.edu section takes advantage of our strengths and expertise in our main professions as an academic economist and a policy expert. It is very educational in a strict academic sense, i.e. very nerdy, but hopefully is exciting for those readers who are interested in more than just the taste and aroma of coffee.

And with this introduction, we officially proudly present to you… cafehound.com.

–The Hounds

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Cafe Hounding: Chinatown Coffee Co. – DC

Chinatown Coffee Company
475 H Street, NW
(between N 4St & 5
th St)
Washington, DC 20001

http://chinatowncoffee.com/blog/

After roughly two weeks of trying, I finally made it to Chinatown Coffee Company (CCC) at the outskirts of Chinatown in Northwest DC.  I went on a Sunday afternoon with a friend of mine who was a bit curious about my passion for specialty coffee.  It wasn’t very busy when I arrived but nearly every seat in the place was taken by people using laptops (free wifi) or staying out of the blistering DC heat/humidity.  It was nice and cool inside and had a nice gritty feel to the ambiance that gave the impression that the focus was over at the coffee bar.

The moment of ordering truth

The moment of ordering truth

I took the engineer designed ‘hint’ and wandered up to the bar to order two double shot espressos that were to be made with the Intelligentsia Black Cat espresso blend.  The menu appeared simple enough, but with plenty of variety for above average prices for people unacquainted with specialty coffee (i.e. Intelligentsia prices).  The espresso was produced on a beautiful Victoria Arduino Adonis WBC edition machine with a sleek white gloss design.

Espresso

Victoria Arduino Adonis WBC edition (sexy!)

I’m not sure if the humidity was a major factor, but I suspect it was, but the espresso was rather flat and left much to be desired.  I wasn’t willing to give up because the baristas were very nice and the quality of all of the inputs was undoubtedly of the highest quality.  I encountered similar problems with humidity when training baristas at a warehouse in Nicaragua in 2008.  The incredibly muggy rainy season led to a plethora of quality control problems with the resource constraints we were facing.    Nevertheless, CCC  is surely not getting a bad review for espresso – it just wasn’t the best day.

I followed up the espresso order with a cortado since my friend claims half-Cuban heritage yet she was not familiar with the famous Versailles Restaurant(s) in Miami, Florida…meaning she had never sampled their delicious cortadito drinks.  Luckily for me, with a little sugar this little drink saved the visit for my friend who admittedly does not like espresso much regardless of the quality.  The establishment is pretty proud of the fact that is chooses to break the DC paradigm of mostly sourcing strictly Counter Culture coffee (roasted down in North Carolina and shipped up the eastern seaboard) in favor of Intelligentsia.

A CCC take on the Cortado

A CCC take on the Cortado

Another major plus was that the baristas were not only proud of the around town competition helping put DC on the specialty coffee map but enlightened me to shops that I have never even heard of.  I also was fast to learn that the very helpful and pleasant David Flynn of Peregrine Espresso was in the building diligently working on his laptop.  Talk about cross-town support.  Furthermore, my barista informed me that he was indeed David’s roommate – I somehow doubt cut-throat competition between Peregrine and CCC.  I guess coffee geeks like me like to surround themselves with other coffee geeks.

Shortly after sampling the aromas of all of the whole bean coffee that they were carrying for retail sale I decided to go with the Guatemala.  I’m sort of ashamed since the competition included El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.  I felt some allegiance to the Estelí region of Nicaragua after having spent considerable time meeting producers and exporters from throughout the country in 2008 but, at the end of the day, went with what my nose told me.  I have nothing but positive experiences with Guatemalan coffee in the past and after brewing this up today, it is no different.

Specifically the coffee I purchased was 12 oz and cost me US$12 plus tax.  It was the Itzamna, Guatemala: La Soledad.

Intelli’s description is as follows:

“Surrounded by peaches and inherently sweet with an animated acidity. Finca La Soledad finishes with vanilla, yet sails with its zesty nature.”

I would agree with the sweet acidity and moderately agree with the vanilla finish.  I would add that it has a modest fruity taste (apparently that’s the peach) but it’s barely there.  Overall it’s a mild coffee with less ‘animation’ and ‘zest’ than it claims. It’s very pleasant though, and a great coffee for pour over brew.  Blending it with something that has a bit more flowery flare, such as an Ethiopia Sidamo or a Rwanda Burundi, would really balance it off well. This is similar to what Kris and I decided to do with the first edition of  Kris/Maher Blend using 80% Guatemala and 20% Ethiopia. Again, that is just a matter of taste preference.

I’ll be returning in the near future to talk with the owners and get some more coffee.  Thanks for stopping by and leave any thoughts you may have.

– Maher Hound

Buzz: Nicholas Cho on Starbucks New Strategy

July 26, 2009: Washington Post

Your Local Coffee Shop,
Courtesy of Starbucks?

Coffee used to be about consumption. It wasn’t supposed to taste very good and was often freeze-dried. I remember my introduction to the beverage that would become my livelihood: My parents laughed as I gagged on the bitter swill. This was the first wave of coffee.

Recently, coffee became more about enjoyment. Make me a cappuccino! I want it blended up with some ice! I love it with an extra pump of vanilla! No longer do we put up with bad-tasting coffee. In fact, coffee doesn’t even have to taste like coffee at all. This is America! I’m entitled to something yummy! That was the second wave.

Now we’re seeing the development of a third wave — a shift that my colleagues in the specialty-coffee industry have helped nurture. Much like wine appreciation or music appreciation, third-wave coffee isn’t just about pleasure. Coffee enthusiasts are taking the time to understand what goes into a truly great cup, researching everything from where beans are grown to proper brewing. This is the wave that I rode at Murky Coffee, which I ran for seven years, and that I’ll follow at the new place I’m helping open this week in Washington, Chinatown Coffee Company.

But now the waters are getting a little choppy.

The big green mermaid wants some of the third-wave action. On Friday, Starbucks opened a store in Seattle that’s not what you’re used to seeing on, say, every other block of most U.S. cities. It’s called “15th Ave. Coffee & Tea, Inspired by Starbucks,” and it’s apparently part of the company’s effort to refresh the brand. The plan is to offer the independent coffee-bar experience: better coffee, more knowledgeable baristas and a more refined cafe environment.

In other words, they’re encroaching on my turf.

In what has become legend in Seattle, about 10 dark-suited executive types clutching logo-emblazoned notebooks went on a series of research trips to some successful independent coffee bars in the city, including Victrola Coffee Roasters. The barista trainer there, a friend of mine, told me that one of the baristas grilled the visitors until they confessed their mission: to take notes on the cafe’s vibe. Another barista supposedly got sick of seeing his every move discussed and notated. He leapt toward the corporate spies, jumping up and down while exclaiming, “Dance, monkey! Dance!”

I wonder if they wrote that down.

I actually wish them the best. Maybe Starbucks will return to being about coffee instead of about milkshakes, breakfast sandwiches and Sheryl Crow CDs.

This might seem strange coming from me; I am an independent coffee retailer, after all. Last year I received a bit of attention when my Capitol Hill shop was closed because of tax problems, and later when a customer at my Arlington cafe flew off the handle because he didn’t like our policy of not serving espresso over ice. Bloggers began debating whether the customer truly is always right, the sort of policy that’s more common at corporate chains.

So some people might assume that I’d poo-poo Starbucks’s efforts. Everyone expects the proverbial little guy to sling stones at the big guy, as if doing anything else would be un-American.

But if Starbucks brings one of these new concepts to Washington, I’ll be among the first in line. To me, Starbucks is only a problem if the quality of their coffee gets worse, and this new spinoff might help it get better. (If they want to compete with the likes of Victrola and other great third-wave coffee bars, it’s going to have to get a lot better.)

I hope the coffee wars help nudge the caliber of all coffee upward. Just because you’re not a corporate behemoth doesn’t mean you serve delicious brew. The dirty little secret of most independent coffee shops is that they don’t know how or don’t care to serve high-quality coffee. They believe that furnishing their shops with comfy chairs and knowing the names of their customers’ dogs is all that matters. What’s arguably worse is that some of the most highly respected chefs in the country are serving some truly awful coffee. Apparently great coffee doesn’t help get you a show on the Food Network.

My customers tell me that, aside from the coffee, what makes a great coffee shop experience is the authenticity, which is one of those you-know-it-when-you-see-it things. How can you manufacture authenticity? That’s the problem that has plagued Starbucks for years, and I don’t know if this latest project will help them figure it out.

Still, I really do wish them the best. After all their research, we’ll see if what should actually be called “Inspired by Dancing Monkeys” is another success for the mermaid.

nick@murkycoffee.com

Nicholas Cho is the former owner of Murky Coffee and the chairman of the United States Barista Championship.