Friday, March 7, 2008

Further Dispatches from the Coffee Frontier

Here I am, writing once again from the Central Library in downtown. Cell phones go off for prolonged periods as their owners skeptically scrutinize the caller ID. Once in a while a public Internet terminal will blare with music or sound effects, as its user has accidentally disconnected its headphones or managed to find an override to the inherent mute setting. The timid and nonconfrontational staff hide behind their desks, shell-shocked from some civilian war much prior to my reckoning.

Anyway. I decided to break away from the loop of major coffee chains (Starbucks, Caribou, and Dunn Bros.) to seek out smaller (or, dare I dream, independent) cafés. I wasn't sure where to go, so I decided upon a left-hand crawl of the entire Skyway system itself. ...Here, I out myself as an inveterate AD&D player. Oh well.

After several minutes of meandering I found myself in the northern-most end of the Skyway, and in my old stomping ground: I temped in these buildings and businesses a decade ago! Familiarity and bitter resentment wafted back as I revisted the stores and restaurants that have been replaced several times over by similar stores and restaurants.

I found two small coffee shops (chain, but small chains) and tried them out.

Sister's Sludge Coffee
After the minor blow-up at Dunn Bros. (my coffee companion reports the worker in question quickly ducked into the back room when she showed up, even without me present), I was hesitant to ask for anything fancy. I started out by gingerly enquiring as to whether they could handle "fancy" espresso requests. The clerk assured me they could, so I shot for the moon and asked for a ristretto con panne. I did have to explain that ristretto meant a short pull, but she knew con panne despite my mangled pronunciation. I received a tasty espresso with whipped cream, indeed. I apologized for being obtuse but explained that I was recently studying coffee, and they entertained a little chat on this subject. I found the clerk and barista friendly enough, but someone later told me they'd received a poor attitude from the store (who knows how long ago), a clerk who visibly doubted whether the customer knew what a macchiato was. Yeah, well.

Bean Counter Coffee Company
A little further down the hall I found this place and requested a simple espresso, then immediately had to ask for the location of a nearby ATM. The barista gave me the information, I ran off and got my cash, and once I returned he started making the espresso. This impressed me: he knew that the timing of making and serving the espresso was crucial and cared enough to not just leave it sitting for someone who might not even return. When I got it, I was surprised to find a rich head of crema (first time seeing such a thing, downtown) and its flavor was smooth and pleasant. Not bitter, not burnt, just smooth. Being fully caffeinated by this point, I'm afraid I was a bit effusive in complimenting the barista on a job well done.

And I have to question my first experience, down at Caffé Classico: I think I ordered the cortado, not just some especially smooth espresso. It was very delicious, of course, but I think I should be comparing single shots of espresso against each other, as I hit place after place, just so everyone's got a chance to work on the same page. Regardless, I'm pleased to know of two likely locations downtown (though a considerable walk away) where a decent coffee may be had.

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