Coffee Shop Review #21 Bellwether

Down in Denver, exploring new coffee shops per usual. Categories out of 5.

Location-3.5(Way down on East Colfax Bellwether stands alone as a destination rather than a spot to stop in on a walkabout. However, Bellwether serves as a four stops in one shop featuring a cafe, small racks of clothing, a barbershop and a whiskey bar at night. The neighborhood is definitely up and coming and there are some emerging restaurants. as well as, the three great Denver music venues: The Bluebird, The Gothic Theater, and The Ogden. However, you will need to drive anywhere you are trying to go so it is best to square away some quality time and stay in rather than order coffee to take).

Barista Cuteness-4(The baristas at Bellwether are 1 for 1 so they are batting a 100 so far. The man serving us was so pleasant and in lieu of other customers hung about our table to discuss the changing Denver scene and tell us about the cafe. He was very well-dressed, which reflected the aesthetic of the store and clothing for sale very well. A peak in the back barbershop revealed well-coiffed attractive hipsters as to be expected).

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Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4.5(We ordered two cappuccinos and a Kenya pour over to sample the coffee selection for taste, variety, and consistency. Bellwether serves coffee from Boxcar Coffee Roasters, a well-known Boulder/Denver roaster that is on the rise.  The cappuccinos were a bit dry (more foam) and the espresso did not have an unctuous taste, it was drier as if the beans were older and roasted to be more bitter. The Kenya pour over was served in a massive tin camping mug which was a great start. The coffee was flavorful, full bodied and was carefully prepared to bring out the fruity flavors).

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Ambiance-5(The design is where Bellwether truly shines. The all black and white color palette oozes a coolness that is very effortless. Simple chairs and tables complement focal design touches like the sewing table desk, overstuffed Winchester sofas, and fantastic Ducati motorcycle. Floor to ceiling windows on the street-facing wall let in ample light to brighten the dark features. The whiskey and coffee bar is very simple, neat and uncluttered which confirms the crisp, unfussed vibe).

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Food/Pastry Selection-3.5(A very meager single glass pastry stand held a few savory and sweet muffins, scones, and cookies. The selections did look appetizing and sound original but clearly was an afterthought for the cafe. Without having sampled any particular baked good I would ventrue to say they looked like they would tast very good but will need to confirm).

Overall Rating:4,1

What do you mean you don’t have filter coffee? A Guide to London Coffee Shops

I wish I had been diligent enough to do a proper coffee shop review of every cafe I visited in London but at this stage in the game that would be simply impossible. I am going to attempt to backtrack through all the coffee shops I have visited giving them quick scores and pointing out the ideal features of each. Coffee is truly blossoming in London so don’t be intimidated by the perceived ‘only tea’ culture.

As the title of this posts hints at, the one thing yet to develop is strong cups of black, filter coffee. Artisanal shops that will be explored in this post do have pour-over, chemex and V60 options but they are simply lacking good ready made coffee–paper filters, large batches, hot mugs you can wrap your hands around simply do not happen in most London shops which is a huge shame. Looking past this, visiting cafe is an awesome way to see London, each neighborhood can be characterized by they handful of coffee shops that reside in it. So I’ll break it down by region, trying to record every coffee shopI can recall. It’s going to look like a daunting list but life is better when drinking good coffee. The Southbank and East London have unfortunately been painfully neglected in my coffee pursuits but I will try to outsource some recommendations for these areas. The greatest London coffee blog for filling in the blank map spaces is Cups of London Coffee. They have an interactive map that has displays the massive density of London’s coffee shops allowing you to zoom and click cafes to display recorded times and information. It’s brilliant!

As a reminder coffee shop reviews go a little something like this: cafes are marked out of 5 on location, barista cuteness, coffee knowledge/expertise, ambiance, and food/pastry selection.

Convent Garden/Aldwych

  1. Lundenwic-4(Lundenwic is a newer shop on Aldwych that is teeny tiny. the place has two tables and a three-seat counter so not ideal for working or hanging out but if you do snag a table you are right in the middle of the action, merging with the queue of people and baristas bustling about from the mysterious kitchen downstairs. From this basement emerges a selection of toasties and salads for lunch. I have had hits and misses with lunch but highly recommend the cranberry sauce, chicken, and squash toastie if they have it. The sandwich tastes like Thanksgiving dinner between two slices of sourdough bread. Be wary of the amount of kale and fennel in the salads, it’s a lot of kale and fennel. The location is ideal if you are a uni student at LSE, which this writer might be. Unfortunately if you our not headed to lecture there is really no reason to be walking along Aldwych as it has no tourist appeal and is crowded with students and professionals. However, Lundenwic is near some theatres so if you are headed to a play and worried you will not stay awake either because it looks to be extremely dull or you are very tired, grab a strong flat white, and chat with the extremely handsome baristas before the show).
  2. Fernandez and Wells-Somerset House-4.5(There are two things keeping F&W from receiving a 5 much to my dismay. First, the coffee is just simply not that good. The espresso is often burnt and flavorless so it is best to get tea because they will top up your pot with hot water, give you honey and even steamed milk if you like. The service is certainly not lacking at Somerset House that is for certain. Second, while the Spanish-style savory options at F&W are divine, their pastry selection is weak and very expensive. Now that we have those critiques out of the way let’s move to the highlights. Somerset House, is one of my favorite places in all of London and you can see my full post here. The setting of the cafe is minimal and airy, the light wood furniture and large tables makes it a fantastic place to spread out and do work. Their music selection is consistently on point, playing an eclectic mix of soul and indie songs. Most of the the baristas are incredibly friendly and the table service for food is quite enjoyable, I highly recommend their soup specials, particularly the chicken tangine. The soups come in a huge steaming bowl with some crucial pieces of sourdough bread for soaking up the last bits).      13102718_10208147040907100_3434636631585142432_n
  3. The Black Penny-4.5(The Black Penny will always hold a special place in my heart for the lunch deal they used to have which included three salads and a protein for under 10 quid, although the lunch deal is no longer the food selection is still expansive and delicious. The coffee is top notch quality as well. The place is nicely situated off the dense crowded Convent Garden area closer to Holborn station. It’s ideal for a longer uni lunch or a break from the tourist scene. The inside is very rustic and warm Edison bulbs hang from the ceiling and the back has a large communal table and several squished two-tops.There are shelves adorned with books and magazines  situated over built in cubbies for single seating. The exposed brick wall adds to the Brooklyn chic vibe. The baristas and servers match the warm interior and are very friendly, and always more than happy to point out their favorites of the day).
  4. New Row Coffee-4(This tiny kiwi-owned coffee shop sits on New Row Street in Convent Garden. New Row rivals Lundenwic in it’s size as it only has two tables and two counter seats. The pastries are all homemade daily by Tom, the owner of the shop. The coffee quality is stellar and the small space is not over designed or sparse. There is a coffee grinder serving as an expensive flower pot. The teal dishes add a little quirk and brightness. I’d recommend getting a cappuccino and specifying without cocoa powder because it tends to overpower things. The tall lanky baristas are the essence of the London aesthetic so no need to worry about that. I recommend the Anzac cookies and almond croissants).img_4253
  5. Fleet River Bakery-3(Fleet River is not in a very idealic location sandwiched between Kingsway and Lincoln Fields Inn, in a non-descript part of Holborn. Again, for an LSE student it is pretty convenient. Known for their pastries, correction expensive pastries It’s best to run through either to get a goof cup of coffee or quick lunch. I have never been too impressed with their offerings but people swear by their toasties and salads so I’ll leave a little hope. The space is very drafty and unadorned, Fleet River is packed at lunch so try to grab a spot quick or check out their downstairs area. If you are in a hurry, Fleet River is also not the most expedient so be aware).
  6. Fleet Street Press
  7. Notes-Convent Garden

Soho

  1. TAP No. 193-5                                                                    12809736_10207890381890785_2470534023979204042_n
  2. Flat White-4
  3. Nordic Bakery-3.5
  4. Foxcroft and Ginger-3

Fitzroviia

  1. Kin-5
  2. Attendant-5                                                                                                                                                   13184660_10208941295280255_1076025989_oimg_4319 img_4321
  3. Kaffeine-4

7 Dials

  1. Monmouth Coffee
  2. Timberyard
  3. Department of Coffee and Social Affairs

Shoreditch

  1. Fix 126(Fraser’s Pic)
  2. Attendant
  3. Shoreditch Grind

Clerkenwell

  1. Workshop

Islington 

  1.   Vagabond No. 7 4.5(This coffee shop tucked away in Islington is a hidden gem in the London coffee scene. The narrow space is bigger than it appears with repurposed wooden spools as tables in the front area and  a cozy back room. Studying in the back room, you can work amongst the roaster, espresso machines and sacks filled with coffee–ideal for any person who literally runs on coffee. You are also working on a suspended wood table that has ample room to spread out your books, coffee, and food. On to the food, the almond croissant I had was the best almond croissant I have ever had in London, let me repeat—the best. That is saying something. The prepared sandwiches are also simple and hearty. There is also a kitchen tucked away that manages to pump out full English breakfast among other brunch fare served all day long. On my last trip to Vagabond, I discovered the secret side courtyard that is quaint and peaceful. Filled with mismatched iron furniture, the outdoor space is somehow sandwiched in a small, awkward corner between two buildings, Vagabond is an architecture marvel that seems to expand after you enter. The coffee shop also has a derelict appearance with crumbling walls and vacant fireplace stuffed with a combination of junk and books, it almost resembles the ruin bars of Budapest. A friendly staff serves high-quality coffee to match their impressive food fare and interesting space. I am only docking it for its location, north Liverpool Road is not quite a cultural hub but the hipsters are sure to come).

 

A tale of two cities: Three Days in Berlin

Ra ra Berlin. This historically rich, techno infused town has a wide range of activities and outings to cater to every traveler, especially those operating within a budget. A couple of things that make Berlin such a bargain. First, transportation if free. Well…errrr…not free per say but payment is optional. There is no turnstile or tap in/out system so you can get away with using the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, Street Cars, and buses for free. If you get caught there will be a fine so ride at your own risk. Food and housing is also more affordable in Berlin than in other parts of Germany because it is still developing and emerging from its soviet or half GDR shell.

To Eat: Berlin has a very diverse population which is very favorable for food finds. A must in Berlin is doner, essentially shawarma and a famed great place to check out is Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap. We stayed in Kreuzberg so a majority of our eats were in the Middle Eastern hood with a growing food scene. The first place we dined was Baraka. A fantastic Moroccan restaurant with great spiced dishes and tea. You can reserve seats in advance to get a table on the floor with cushions for the full experience. Another great place off of Goriltzer Park is  Bar Raval, This tapas joint brings surprisingly great Spanish cuisine to Berlin in unique dishes. Bar Raval is known for their extensive wine list and weekly paella nights. The vibe is very lively with a sleek ‘canteen-like’ feel. I’d recommend the shishito peppers and homemade flan. For authentic German food that is served on plates as big as your torso check out Tiergartenquelle. It is literally underneath a S-Bahn stop which makes the restaurant convenient although off the beaten bath. Try any dish they have with spaetzle, that’s their thing and make sure to get a giant liter of beer to accompany your meal.

For brunch and coffee I have three recommendations. First, Bateau Ivre is a kooky breakfast spot that sports vibrant art and a large array of mismatched lanterns. The cafe serves up classic European breakfast which consists of an array of meats, cheese, and fresh basket of bread. The meal is simple, hearty and a good start to the day. Next, Factory Girl! (exclamation included in the name) is located in a great part of the city called Friedrichshain. Here you’ll find lots of cafes and small boutiques. Factory Girl! is great for breakfast and lunch but most famous for their sweet treats. I got a deconstructed cream pie, which was basically fresh clotted cream with bits of dark chocolate bark all served over macerated berries. I’d also recommend the Sicilian sandwich. Finally, Neumond for a breakfast buffet that will make you believe in the concept of a buffet again. At first, you are going to think I am crazy for recommending Neumond because it is in a hotel but you have to trust me. For about ten euros you have an all you can eat breakfast where everything is homemade and they will make perfect farm fresh eggs to order. Plus the cappuccino is pretty good too. The brunch serves up fresh bread, spreads and great jam (so good that I even bought too small mason jars of it). Fresh salads and fruit are also on the laden banquet along with a great meat and cheese selection.

To Visit: Berlin is known for it’s checkered history and there are powerful reminders throughout the city. Two world wars have left the city with a host of interesting cultural sites and several should not be missed. To begin with The Wall business we found that the Black Box (History of the Cold War) mini museum next to Checkpoint Charlie had a great interactive history of the time during the divided city. One must also check out the East Side Gallery, while touristy it is a impressive strip of beautifully decorated murals on The Wall from artists all around the world. The backside of the “gallery” also has some amazing graffiti and a solid view of the River Spree.

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Mitte is aptly named and contains the heart of the government and Berlin’s cultural sites. The area is marked with the beautifully ornate Brandenburg Gate. We did a cheap hop-on hop -off bus tour that took us around Mitte and our favorite spots were the Vicotry Coulmn, which was actually moved by Hitler’s urban planners and boasts a mini musum that pays tribute to monuments around the world. You can also climb up to the top for a good view of the Tiergarten. The Holocaust Memorial and museum underneath is very moving and the memorial pulls you into a maze of grey that is chaotic and very moving.

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For two incredible views of Berlin that have awesome audio guides that provide an incredible amount of information check out the Reichstag and Berliner Dome. Both contrast each other very well and provide quality sites. The Reichstag Dome is a modern glass globe that is an incredibly enormous indoor-outdoor space designed by the famed architect Norman Foster. the audio guide is timed as you work your way up the curved walkway of the dome and gives commentary on each point of interest in the 360 degree view. The Berliner Dome is a classic cathedral dome with a steep winding staircase and a narrow indoor and outdoor passageway. You get a great view of the church itself looking out to the spires and gargoyles as well as inside to the alter below. We went at night and managed to capture a great sunset over Berlin.

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Some final tour stops include a free show at the modern Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester. The Symphonie puts on free lunch time shows several days of the week which are a fun informal gathering of tourists, businessmen, and art patrons. Also, depending on when you visit Berlin it is absolutely necessary to hit up a traditional German Christmas market. Drink gluvine (mulled wine), eat tasty baked goods and be merry. We fit in three markets in our three days in Berlin.

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To Drink: There are a lot of places to get beer in Berlin, make sure to consult a local for their favorite beirgarten. For some alternative choices I’d recommend Roses Bar, Prinzipal Kreuzberg, and SO36. Roses Bar is tiny gay bar that was perfectly described by my flatmate as “the inside of tacky 70s furniture.” Why this odd description? Because the bar is literally vinyl, studs, and pink furry walls all put together. The place is also electric, not just with the friendly crowd but the literal electric hum of fluorescent lights and other colored bulbs that cover entire walls. Prinzipal is a burlesque bar that has high quality drinks (be warned they have high price tags attached as well). Stop in for one drink to feel fancy and see the speak-easy style decor, very 20’s and Baroque inspired. Finally we stumbled upon S036 accidentally when coming out of Roses. Turned out it was a dance hall that hosts a variety of different events each night. Once a month they have a Roler Disco, which was, you guessed it, the day we went. Grab Roller Skates and stumble to the bar, have a drink for courage then skate around the disco ball lit rink to German techno and old R&B because what could be better?

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To Party: While we were on too much of whirlwind trip to put in the time to enjoy Berlin’s famous club scene. I will pass down some words of wisdom from a fellow ex-pat who took up residence in Berlin for a year. According to Mathew Jones “if you wanna dance to some great techno music; Check out Sisyphos (if its open) it is the best club in the world in my opinion. If closed I would also recommend Greissmhule or Kater Blau. As with most clubs in Berlin, doors don’t open till after midnight Friday and are open till Sunday or Monday, but be ready to wait in a line.”

A River Runs Through It: 48 Hours in Amsterdam

The title should be several canals run through it but this was more catchy. Living close to mainland Europe has it perks, mainly quick, cheap flights to little European treasures. Amsterdam provides a great setting for a quick getaway as it is small and very easy to get around. Here’s an insider guide to my perfect trip to this Netherlands staple.

To Stay: There are some great hostels in Amsterdam that have been personally recommended to me although I stayed with friends. For excellent location check out the Hotel Van Gogh , right in the heart of the museum quarter. This budget hotel has a youth section that serves the function as a hostel and is simple and clean. For a more communal, party vibe check out the The Flying Pig. This funky hostel has a few locations and serves up some unique decor and a youth-centered vibe.

To Eat: In Amsterdam there are “coffee shops” and there are cafes. Don’t confuse the two or you’l end up eating an edible for breakfast and your day will take an odd turn. A great cafe to start the day is Coffee and Coconuts. CT is in the very trendy neighborhood of Die Pijp, right by the Heineken Factory. The cafe is in a converted cinema and has three spacious floors with low beige seating. The feeling is sophisticated beach resort and they hit the nail on the head with the nautical decor and wood touches. The food is spot on and very health conscious. Coconut are incorporated in many of the sweet dishes, I had an amazing coconut sponge cake with lime mascarpone icing. My friend had a packed acai bowl with palm berry puree,  raw buckini, blueberry, banana, & dried coconut. On the savory side, we enjoyed two Le Croissants, a grilled croissant with bacon, cheese and tomato, CT’s mustard and garden cress. The mustard was grainy and went well with the tangy tomatoes. The bacon was real American “stripey” bacon which is hard to find in Europe. The croissant was a touch over-grilled and turned out to be a bit smushed so maybe ask for light on the panini press. Our cappuccinos were perfection, make sure you indicate you want a double shot so they are not too weak. Another thing you must try in Amsterdam is Rijstaffel, which translates to “rice table”. Rijstaffel is a collection of small Indonesian dishes served tapas style. I’ve been told that this you’ll get more of a variety of Indonesian food in Amsterdam because when visiting Indonesia the cuisine is highly region-specific but Rijstaffel lets you try it all. We were recommended a great place by CT that we didn’t get a chance to try called Albina, a tiny restaurant that’s hard not to confuse with the kitchen supply store next door. Our host had a great quote about Dutch cuisine that went like this “The Dutch don’t do food very well but they do get desserts right.” What she means is that you MUST visit street vendors for authentic Dutch desserts usually consisting of fried dough, waffles and caramel. Another dish that the Dutch do get right are Dutch pancakes duh. Our favorite place was a tiny upstairs joint called Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs. Make sure you check google maps for their very strange hours.

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Museums, Museums, and more Museums: Amsterdam is oversaturated with museums and the thing about their museums is that they are NOT cheap. So you have to get strategic. All art tastes are different but I’m going to go ahead a lay out the path that worked best for me and I think ticked a lot of art and cultural boxes. First, the Anne Frank House cannot be missed. It is beautifully preserved a very moving tribute to the Jews persecuted during WWII. Without giving too much away I will say that flowing through the eerily preserved house is powerful and after the capture of Anne Frank and her family the museum architecture shifts to emulate a concentration camp in a very unique way. Ajacent to the Anne Frank House are two (shockingly) free museums that will make you smile after your sombre experience. The Cheese and Tulip Museum are definitely cheesy (har) but worth a trip to a. nosh on some cheese samples and b. learn about the Tulip trade in The Netherlands which is actually quite interesting. Next, the Rijksmuseum provided the biggest bang for your buck. The museum houses everything from Dutch masters such as Rembrandt’s Night Watch to various works by Van Gogh, as well as, contemporary works and baroque artifacts. The design of the museum also gives is an edge as it is very grand and ornate. The public garden in front tops it off and you can take a quick jaunt over to the “I Amsterdam” sign. I always need a reprieve from serious classic paintings and a perfect place to get your modern fix is Foam, a photography museum that is smartly curated and designed.

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To Drink: Once you are wiped out from walking in parks, touring museums, and canal biking (paddle boating on canals is a must) then you will need a drink (or two, or three). So beer is the name of the game in Amsterdam and theire are two great places to get it. One, Brouwerji ‘t IJ a craft brewery in a windmill, need I say more? Make sure to get there before 5 PM for flight tastings of their amazing selection of hoppy brews. Second, TAPROOM, they have over 25 beers on tap that are all craft brews from all over the world. They have some killer stouts and porters. The atmosphere gets funky in the late evening when the Justin Bieber comes on.

Sigh, one trip done. In Britain “Lateness is Rudeness” so I’ll try to be more one it for future postings. Look forward to Berlin, Norway and Turkey coming up.

Coffee Shop Review #20 Crema Coffee House

Back on the Denver coffee shop circuit, business is blossoming. Categories out of 5.

Location-4(On Larimer Street, the popular area used to be South of the baseball stadium with Edison Lightbulbs strung over restaurants and shops. However, ever since the creation of the new and hip RiNo, or River North Art District the North end of the street has been getting its fair share of attention. Crema Coffee House is still a little off the beaten path and you will probably find yourself parking near the homeless shelter but fear not because after you grab a coffee at Crema you can stroll South and see beautiful murals and graffiti that liven the slightly run down landscape).

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Barista Cuteness-4.5(If scruffy hipster baristas are what you like, you got ’em at Crema. The friendly staff gave lots of smiles and suggestions for food and drink. The man serving us had no problem explaining the differences between the two espressos they were serving as well).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-5(Crema takes their drinks seriously and does them right. Most drinks are served in one size and one size only which indicates that they will contain the proper ratios of espresso, milk, foam and crema of course. My mom and I ordered a pair of cappuccinos while my friend Seth sampled their Ethiopian single origin espresso. The cappuccinos lived up to my expectations perfectly cupping a third espresso, milk and foam. The latte art was also very impressive, illustrating the perfect steaming of the milk. The espresso was hearty enough to stand up against the rest of the cups’ contents and you could even taste the subtle chocolate notes).

Ambiance-5(Crema is deceptively large with a spacious front room, wraparound bar and quiet back room. The front room has bright blue folding chairs and bucket seats. Modern wood tables match the quirky art on the walls. The photography displayed across from the entrance is probably swapped out but is is currently beautiful photographs with ink detailing that makes them intricate and eye catching. The back room looked cozier, with larger furniture perfect for reading and doing work).

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Food/Pastry Selection-4.5(Crema is not only serious about their coffee but about their food as well. The food menu is small but has interesting twists on classic lunch foods. PB&J is now peanut almond butter, date-balsamic jam, and chèvre and a Reuban Sandwich is made “Korean” with duck pastrami, sambal aioli, fresh kimchi slaw, and chèvre. While I have not sampled any of the lunch fare yet I can safely give them points for creativity. We of course did not leave without grabbing a couple pastries to try. We sampled an interesting strawberry brioche roll and a slice of almond lemon sponge cake. The two baked goods were quite a vision and it was hard to cut into them. Once past that we dug into the amazing treats that were incredibly light and flavorful).

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Overall Rating: 4.6

Coffee Shop Review #19 La Colombe

La Colombe is a Philadelphia based coffee roaster that has expanded to New York City, Chicago, and D.C.

Location-4(La Colombe’s DC location is located in the Shaw neighborhood that we are constantly being told is up and coming, which it is. Don’t be fooled by the N Street address however, the cafe is located in Blagden Alley. I biked right past it the first time so some signage would have been nice. Upon finding the tucked away building, the secluded location was very enjoyable).

Barista Cuteness-4(The baristas at La Colombe are all smiles, although not the most helpful when it comes to coffee selection. I appreciated when a barista came by to take my finished dishes instead of watching them stack up. I was even startled out of my Pharrell work mode by an employee coming up to complement my ring).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4.5(This was my first taste of La Colombe coffee so per usual I started with the cappuccino test. I was happy to be offered my choice of espresso and a recommendation of which would stack of best against milk. La Colombe’s coffee is robust and doesn’t try to be anything to fancy, which I can appreciate as a change of pace).

Ambiance-3.5(There are hits and misses for La Colombe when it comes to their cafe design and environment. The long narrow space is very interesting but the seating is a little stagnant. Simple wooden chairs are not too comfortable and they don’t match the exposed brick aesthetic. La Colombe also does not believe in posting menu boards which is an extreme form of pretension that is difficult and inconvenient. While you probably enter knowing what you are going to order you have no idea how much it is going to cost and for those who are not as coffee savvy it poses an even bigger problem. The best part of La Colombe’s DC location is the outdoor buildout. Wide wooden benches are covered by the entrance and provide a very nice shady place to enjoy your coffee year round).

Food and Pastry Selection-4.5(The best part about La Colombe is the beautiful pottery that food and drinks are served on. You’re immediately going to fall in love with anything you get because of it. The pastry selection mainly consists of classic french baked goods including olive oil cakes, canelles, and macaroons. The one issue is that they don’t get enough pastries so you have to make sure you get there in time to sample a good treat. I chose a Nutella morning bun with a fancier name. The crunchy glazed top was delicious and the delicately intertwined layers of buttery dough and Nutella were fantastic).

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Overall Rating; 4.1IMG_3750

Moving North to South on the West Coast Update x1

Note: this post will be under construction on and off. There is quite a comprehensive list to capture in this California escapade. Check back for future updates.

Leucadia is a small surf town 45 minutes North of San Diego. Leucadia rests along the Pacific Coast Highway and is perfect for a five day surf trip or peaceful getaway. The town is almost an untouched relic of the past. The stores are locally owned and everyone walks or roams around on beach cruisers. The vibe is far removed from San Diego and LA, as it is slightly isolated from the two large cities. My five days there were devoted to exploring, relaxing and, of course, eating. Here are some of the places of notes. If you are in the larger Encinitas area, this strip of the PCH is definitely worth a stop whether you are driving through or pausing to relax. All the spots in this post are concentrated around a 10 mile North/South line along the Pacific Coast Highway. Having a car is necessary if you want to explore other areas and beaches.

Bakeries/Cafes:

 French Corner: The French Corner is a great cafe that serves parisian breakfast and lunch. We begun our stay at Leucadia here and it was a great start. They have baskets of traditional pastries made in house along with crepes and quiches. We started the day with an Almond Bearclaw that was flakey and light. The savory Caprese Quiche and Spinach Frittata were also very good. They both had a perfect darker brown crust on top that added so much flavor.

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Taste and Sea Cakery: This custom cake store and catering has a small storefront as well serving up very unique cakes, cookies and pastries. the shop also has a beautiful espresso machine that just needs the love and attention from a good barista. The owners were so friendly and had a sample of almost every offering, this made it both harder and easier to decide on what to order. The decor was very sea inspired and was extremely comfortable. A great spot to start the day or grab an afternoon snack.

Leucadia Donut Shoppe: The classic donut shop fits the surf vibe of the town perfectly. The old school donut counter has all the classic offerings. We sampled a Long John donut and a blueberry buttermilk. The buttermilk was a nice departure from a typical sugary donut and had a interesting biscuit like quality.

Boutiques: 

You don’t have to be scouting for a new surfboard to find success at the local shops in Leucadia. If you’re a surfer girlfriend like me there are two killer shops to browse for unique goods and wares.

Seaweed and Gravel: This store is rooted in vintage clothes and motorcycles so it’s a little rock and roll mixed with hippy sunshine. On the rock and roll side, check out all Seaweed and Gravel’s fine denim wear from Crawford Denim. The jeans and tops are 100% American made and are of superb quality. When you’re ready to get back to your natural roots check out the Juniper Ridge soaps and perfumes. Each batch of product’s plant oils are pure and  harvested by hand in Mojave Desert or Sierras. No batch is alike and this scents are potent. The aesthetic of the shop is just as unique as the products in it. Smiling pictures of the Partridge Family line the walls along with  brightly upholstered vintage furniture. The garden in the back is a little oasis and a good place to enjoy the free espresso that is offered upon entrance.

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Bing Surfboards: I know this says surfboards and yes Bing is a surfboard shaper by trade but their store is a little bit more. The Bing branded apparel is simple and well made but this goes without saying from a surfboard manufacturer. The real details are in the other store stock. Of which my particular favorite was a brand called Krochet Kids.  The non-profit knitwear is handmade in Uganda and Peru and the company works very hard to give back to those communities. The products sort of celebrate their homeland with rich, deep colors like saffron scarves and oxblood beanies. The chunky knits are warm and cozy so you will literally feel good buying them.

Fish Taco Central, Proper Restaurants, and more, coming up soon!

Coffee Shop Review #18 ThreeFifty Bakery and Coffee Bar

Adams Morgan and U Street have received some special exploring attention now that my boyfriend has moved there. He showed me this sweet spot with ratings out of four.

Location-4.75 (ThreeFifty Bakery and Coffee Bar is located on U Street and 16th. It is a prime location, right below the heart of Adam’s Morgan and to the West of trendy 14th Street. The bakery is tucked under an apartment building amongst other houses giving it an intimate charm. At ThreeFifty you are in a residential haven in the city. Coming from Chicago, I sometimes miss the neighborhood feel of local shops and cafes so ThreeFifty sits perfectly outside the busy main streets of Adam’s Morgan and Logan Circle. The only thing that would make ThreeFifty the ultimate spot is if it were a tad closer to a metro stop, then again, it could loose its charm).

Barista Cuteness-4.0(Forget barista cuteness and let’s talk about patron cuteness. No, I am not biased because I went there with my boyfriend, he is not counting in this scenario. There were so many peacoat adorned dapper gentlemen in and out of the coffee shop on my few visits.  In addition, I sat next to an exceptionally attractive and friendly Kate Hudson look-a-like on my first visit. Pivoting back to the Baristas, they are sweet and come off as very humble, a quality I don’t often see).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-3.5(The baristas at ThreeFifty are seem knowledgable and know their coffee stuff. The bad is the coffee stuff itself. ThreeFifty serves Illy coffee and espresso which is received better by some more than others. For me, Illy is far too bitter. Illy coffee is imported from Italy and is straight up coffee. No-nonsense, not too many flavor notes, very dark. After having a cappuccino and an ice coffee I needed to switch it up so I ordered a London Fog. A London Fog is Early Grey tea with steamed milk and a drizzle of honey. The two London Fogs I have had at the coffee bar are the best I have ever had. They serve a very high quality French Early Grey tea with the perfect ratio of hot water to milk. The Jasmine tea is also smooth and lovely, so I would recommend the tea side of things).

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Ambiance-5.0(The ambiance of ThreeFifty is in line with it’t neighborhood feel . The decor is rustic and simple. The wood floors make the small space all the more cozy and warm. The prime seating is at the huge bay window in the front where light pours in on you as you do work. The first time I was there, I was sitting in the window as flakes of snow danced about, it was utterly fantastic. The amount of seats is very small, but people move in and out fairly quickly. The patrons of the cafe are very local, as one has to be to find such a tiny spot).

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Food/Pastry Selection-4.75(ThreeFifty’s claim to fame, or at least to my high rating and four visits in two weeks, is definitely their bakery. I first had the ricotta muffin from the bakery and it was amazing. I typically despise muffins, agreeing with those who call them bald cupcakes but not this muffin. The creamy ricotta on the inside was a fresh bite that added flavor, moisture and texture to the wonderful muffin. Other pastries that I have consumed include a ginger scone and blueberry lemon pound cake. Both had very subtle flavors from their main ingredients but were perfectly balanced. My boyfriend has also ordered two of ThreeFifty’s quiches. The savory side of the bakery has also had great results. The crusts of the quiches have constantly been buttery and flakey. The mini quiches also pack in quite a lot of ingredients into each little bite, more filling then their size would indicate. The only reason why I marked the bakery down a quarter of a point was due to the fact that they were out of my precious ricotta muffin not once, but twice! Oh the horror! I suppose it did force me to review other treats, however it was still upsetting).

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Overall Rating: 4.4

Coffee Shop Review #17 Elixr Coffee Roasters

What came out of the briefest stint in Philadelphia was this wonderful coffee shop and roaster. Five points for five categories holds true in Philly.

Location-3.5 (I am forced to discuss location based off of feel and recommendations because I did not get a chance to traverse the whole city myself for the coolest areas. I would put Elixr Coffee Roasters in the SoHo of Philly, with high end boutiques and a random Chipotle flanking the Sydenham Street location. So if your Uniqulo bags are weighing you down or you are staying at one of the many hotels on Broad Street stroll on over for a relaxing visit).

Barista Cuteness-5.0 (The men behind the counter at Elixr were charming and very friendly. After explaining my own affinity for coffee and sharing that I also worked at a coffee shop wonderful discounts and conversation streamed in. The baristas were very in tune with the DC coffee scene and loved swapping restaurant and gelato recommendations. Stellar personality and attractiveness should garner the three bonus points but a five will suffice).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4.5 (As the name suggest Elixr Coffee Roasters is not only a cafe but also a roastery and they serve up their own single origin beans ad espresso blend. I started with a Cafetin pour over from Costa Rica. The cup was slightly bitter and not my favorite cup of coffee. For those who like fuller bodied coffees with darker roasts this is a fitting selection. I did enjoy the earthy taste of the coffee but it was a little one note. I grabbed a cappuccino on my way out which was made very well but the espresso could have been a bit more robust. On my trip back to Elixr the next morning I scooped up a bog of Konga, a single-origin Ethiopian. This coffee has proven to be extremely delicious with a bright, natural acidity and interesting floral notes).

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Ambiance-5.0 (I spied Elixr before even going in by the large plated glass windows that looked in to the cozy wood interior. The coffee shop was bustling, warm, and cozy. My three favorite things. In addition, the charcoal and blue tones were demure yet still very interesting. The large mural over the cushy seating pit was striking and is apparently changed out every so often. Wooden tables and chairs provide sturdy tools for work while the couches have a thoughtfully placed backs that provide outlets and spaces for cups of coffee. There seemed to be a mix of families, students, and professionals all seamlessly blending in a rich and vibrant sea of sweaters, saucers and coffees).

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Food/Pastry Selection- 3.5 (I am hoping the quaint pastry selection quality aligns with the rest of Elixr but I am purely judging on the options I saw. The fresh croissants were certainly calling to me in the morning but a prized doughnut shop awaited (review to come). I will have to sample on my next trip or maybe some write-ins can attest to the treats’ greatness).

Overall Rating: 4.3

Coffee Shop Review #16: Malmaison

Blowing dust off the DC map and bringing you a new Washington coffeehouse. Categories out of 5.

Location-3.5 (The location of Malmison can be seen as both very good but also inconvenient. Malmaison is located off the Georgetown Waterfront on K Street and is the last warehouse before the Potomac Parkway begins. Once you manage to get all the way down to Mailmaison’s cafe you are rewarded with coffee and treats that you can take to the waterfront and enjoy).

Barista Cuteness-3.5 (The baristas at Malmaison are cute and charming. They are not out of this world gorgeous but so genuine instead. Some are more experienced than others and are eager to talk coffee with you. Other baristas just carry friendly general conversation).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-3.5 (Due to Malmaison’s location I only travel there to spend have a beautiful waterfront day. This makes for my main purchase to be iced coffee. However, the ice coffee they prepare is very unique. Last time I tasted my iced coffee it was so striking I had to compliment the barista and inquire on the preparation method. I learned that he pulled a single origin Guatemala drip through an espresso machine to make the drink, so weird but so good! The result was very bright brew that was super zesty and fruity. The cafe serves up Mad Cap a great roaster out of Grand Rapids, Michigan that has a Lab and Training Facility in D.C.).

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Ambiance-2.5 (Another reason I only visit Malmaison during the Spring and Summer season is because there is indoor season. Malmaison is also a full fledged restaurant serving brunch and dinner so you are going to have to battle the diners for the limited seating. The interior is very posh and lux, which supports the modern French mood but it is not the most warm and inviting atmosphere for a coffee shop. If you do sit inside you will probably be subjected to the upstairs lounge, which becomes a club at night so it is far too swanky for casual coffee sipping).

Food/Pastry Selection-4.5( the pastries at Malmaison are absolutely phenomenal. I am completely addicted to their almond croissant, which is filled with creamy marzipan and topped with toasted almonds. The treats are crafted by the French pastry chef, Serge Torres, a cousin to the famous Jacques Torres chocolatier. Baking certainly runs in the family because his desserts shine at Malmaison. I have also sampled an apricot pastry and was not disappointed. Next on my list to try is the macaroons. I wish there were some savory options to pair with the cakes, cookies, and other sweet baked goods locked under glass domes at the coffee bar).

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Overall Rating: 3.5