Tag Archives: wholebean

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: Intelligentsia Coffee – Venice

Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea – Venice Coffeebar

1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
310.399.1233
http://www.intelligentsiacoffee.com

Entrance on Abbot Kinney

Entrance on Abbot Kinney

Last month West LA welcomed a new coffeebar as the famous Intelligentsia Coffee opened its second cafe in LA area in Venice. Since learning this news, I have been looking forward to checking this newbie out and finally had a chance today. As mentioned in another post that I first got into gourmet coffee thanks to Intelligentsia, it is natural that my first cafe hounding is indeed on this newest Intelligentsia baby.

Entrance hallway with seating on the side

Entrance hallway with seating on the side

Although all of intelligentsia coffee bars maintain the same high standard on their coffee drinks, each is quite unique. The Venice cafe speaks out loud the LA-style of living. The decoration is very hip, modern, and industrial. The service is very personal. Upon arrival at the cafe on Abbot Kinney, you will walk pass a metal gate and enter the hallway to the main atrium. You are greeted by a staff who then accompanies you to one of the four coffee stations located in the middle of the atrium. You order your drink, pay, watch your beverage prepared while enjoying a conversation with the barista. Finally, you can take your drink to seating areas around the atrium or back at the entrance hallway. They also have a limited selection of pastries provided.

From hallway to atrium

From hallway to atrium

I visited the cafe in an early evening on Wednesday and was taken care by Laura. I ordered a small latte ($3.75). Like baristas at other Intelligentsia coffeebars, Laura  did a great job on my latte. She used their signature Black Cat Blend for my latte, which tasted and smelt quite strong. The latte art was beautiful. I got what I expected. No complain about the drink. Laura was also very friendly and obviously knew about coffee and how to make it good.

Latte

I chose the seat in the hallway. Seating was ample when I was there although I doubted if it could accommodate customers during busy hours. The place, however, is not ideal if you would like to work with your laptop. The seating in the hallway is built in steps like those in sport stadium, with few small tables. It is fine for socializing, but less than ideal for studying. The atrium has enough light for readling, however. It also has limited space with desks and access to electrical outlets. I did not bring my laptop with me, but free wifi seemed to work on my iPhone (unless I stole the signal from the neighbor!).

Atrium

Atrium with coffee stations

The big problem that might make me think twice before revisiting this location is parking. I was very lucky to get a spot right in front of the cafe. But from my past experience frequenting Abbot Kinney’s restaurant row, the probability of being that fortunate could be less than one percent. Well, at least it will remind me of similar experience I had back in Chicago when I visited the Broadway store. How could I complain!?!

— Kris Hound

New Scents in DC: Calling Suggestions!

I’m looking for places with extraordinary coffee in the Northern Virginia/DC/Maryland vicinity.

A recent arrival from Southern California, I’ve been spolied by the tremendous fruits of the labor of the wonderful ladies at Elan Organic as well as a generally robust artisian roaster specialty coffee scene.  Shout out to Arnie Holt at Cafe Calabria (introduced me to cupping), Karen Cebrero at Elan Organic (introduced me to … well her business, and the best samples of coffee I’ve had the pleasure of tasting on the house), Chuck Patton at Bird Rock (read: cool ass dude), the Ryan Brothers (who are cool, though not great coffee), and anyone else I’m leaving out that gave me a hand back in Day-go.

So far, here in DC/VA I’ve managed to locate the following places to check out:

Chinatown Coffee Co.
Juan Valdez
Peregrine Espresso
Counter Culture?
(they have a training center here… I guess?)
Beanetics
Caribou Coffee
(I know it’s a chain but they’ve got great whole bean coffee and over half the White House staff take their coffee breaks here!!!)

Taken from Peregrine Espresso’s blog:

WE NEED YOUR HELP!!! Give us hints and suggestions so that we can start spreading the word about where coffee hounds like us must go.

Buzz: Coffee obsession becomes business