I recently played with some coffee’s from Intelligentsia and figured they were worth a brief discussion. Since my primary focus in the coffee world is espresso, the coffees I will be reviewing are the Black Cat Espresso project, and the Analog Espresso.
Black Cat Espresso:
Originally intended as an espresso, this coffee opens up to be much more citrusy when pressed at 9bar. I was very happy with the well-rounded flavor, that is best reached between 199-201˚F. Stands ground on its own, though is well suited to come through in milk based drinks as well. I would buy this coffee again, and I probably will.
I gave this coffee a 90.8 without any cupper’s adjustment.
This coffee received a 90.6 without adjustment.
Both of these coffee’s really impressed me, demonstrating that they are fit for much more than espresso based drinks. I like the Analog mostly as a straight espresso coffee, while the black cat original lent itself to milk drinks a bit more boldly. I I would strongly encourage anyone pulling shots to give them a try.
For a bit of perspective. I am someone who has roasted their own coffee, and has been obsessed with coffee and espresso production for the past decade. I have tried hundreds of micro-roasters from 5 different countries and can pretty confidently say I know a good cup of coffee. That said, I was pretty impressed with what I tasted at SPCH. For more information about me, see the “about this blog,” section at Coffeeandneuroscience.wordpress.com
First, the coffee.
I ordered an espresso, something I would not do at any shop around here for varying reasons. It was a solid shot, seemed like a triple ristretto. sweet, bright, and with a lot more body than I’ve come to expect north of manhattan. Something you would drink to enjoy, not just to wake up, but it did pack a punch as well. This reflects on truly fresh coffee, a good even grind and tamp, the right temp on the water, and more importantly a barista that knows how to pull a shot.
My girlfriend ordered a mocha, which was another solid product. The milk was textured perfectly, was not burnt (felt ~130˚) and while there was no latte art, it was definitely micro foam. The taste was balanced, unlike SBx where a mocha tastes like chocolate milk this one actually tastes like coffee. We were both pleased.
Tools of the trade.
The first thing I do when entering a new coffee shop is look at the beans, the grinder, and the machine (particularly the steam wand). The grinder is a Mazzer Robur-e, a pretty solid machine, it’s price alone would indicate that they are serious. The beans in the hopper looked to be a full-city roast, much lighter than any of their competition and another sign they know what they’re doing. The machine on the other hand confused me. I believe its a slayer 2 group, american made machine. I was surprised I could hear the rotary pump operate when the barista pulled shots.. this may be due to the open bar style stone counter. I noticed all the PF’s were bottomless, which gives a nice show and has a debatable effect on flavor, but more importantly provides diagnostic information about the grind and tamp to anyone watching. Still I don’t know much about the machine, but like most, its essentially just a hot water pump.
They don’t roast, but really nobody up here does. At least they source from a solid shop that knows espresso, unlike some of their neighbors…
The nice thing was the steam arm was clean… this cannot be said for any of the local competition, and really more people should complain to those places.
I saw, no sign of a syphon pot (something that would really look the steampunk part), nor single brew pour overs, I didn’t see french press, nor aeropress, nor turkish. It seems your only hot options are espresso based drinks and a few ready-brewed options. They do have a selection of teas, and frappe/smoothie drinks as well, but Ill leave that to the sugar hungry to review
I also saw pastries, nothing uncommon to the area. I hope they invest more here as that can really be a deal breaker for many people. Ever notice how there is nowhere to get french macarons in northern westchester? Im just saying…
The appearance and location.
I can’t say Im thrilled with the location Sure its close to the town center, right off route 6, and less than ten minutes out of peekskill. But, it’s a hard left onto baker street, inaccessible by walking from the town center, and the parking lot isn’t very large. That aside, the building and the shop look clean which can’t be said for many of their competitors.
The interior is different from what you would expect. As another reviewer has mentioned, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the idea most people would relate to steampunk culture… THANK GOD. The owners didn’t waste time or money gluing unnecessary gears to tables, wrapping everything in brass, or pretending it was 1895. Instead, the interior is comfortable and warm. The seats are big and again its clean.
Here however, is what I don’t like; there isn’t much seating. Around the hearth are several large leather chairs that while comfortable, could easily have been replaced with small 2 seater cafe tables, enough to sit 2-3x as many people. The bar space near the espresso machine is small, and it doesn’t quite feel like you’re allowed to stand their and finish your single.
Hands down best shot of espresso I have purchased north of manhattan in a long time. They could use some new and novel foods and pastries, but its hard to find a supplier around here. I’d like to see more diversity in their brewing options, a pour over rack is an inexpensive way of individualizing each cup, and some syphon pots would really pull together the steampunk look (especially on halogen burners), not to mention they’re one of the best ways to prepare coffee. I don’t know much about their tea menu, but if they can source whole leaf teas (say in bulk from adagio) it would also be a nice thing to see.
While PCH has a cult following owing to its location and trendy bar staff, Black cow has its location (s) roaster, and atmosphere, coffee labs has their location, roasting, and never-ending line. NONE of these places, even those who roast their own, can pull a shot like that. Nearly all of the competition suffer from dirty stores, sour faced, under trained baristas, and grossly neglected steam arms.
I don’t care about the Labs “best shot in westchester,” or WBC awards, every time I’ve ordered a shot its come back bitter -a sign of over-roasted coffee, and high temp pulling. Not to mention the standoffish baristas, never-ending line and lack of seating. Also, $3.50 should get you more than an 8oz drink -and hey, who said its okay to drown an 8oz mocha with 3oz of chocolate anyway? Too much of the brooklyn appearance, but a failure to deliver.
The PCH has great seating and food, but their coffee supplier flat out sucks. Their coffee is typically stale (you can tell by the oils, but more obviously the flavor) and burnt. They rely heavily on syrup based concoctions that equate them with SBx in my mind. They steam milk well, and they know how to present their products, but it seems like they’re more image than anything else. They do however, have the best café food of the bunch.
The black cow is nice, but hit or miss on the coffee, I like them but not for espresso. solid shops with good locations nice staff, but could do better to emulate 3rd wave coffee.
TL:DR; SPCH has better coffee, a cleaner shop, and more skilled staff than any of the locals, they come short on seating, location, brewing options, and food. I also imagine as they begin to hire new staff their will be a bit of inconsistency behind the counter.
This review will be posted on fb, Yelp and my own blog: CoffeeandNeuroscience.wordpress.com
Edit on 2/28/2014
I went in again recently and while I was in the store remembered that I had forgotten to order coffee for my machine at home. I decided I would at least try the coffee they were using since it had yielded such good results the last time I was in. I was very surprised to see that the coffee was actually roasted that morning. The coffee is sourced from Dallis Bro’s in Brooklyn and I am glad to see I can get fresh coffee on the fly if I need it. I just pulled a shot at home, and I am considered ordering some more of their product to do a full review.
Man would you look at that microfoam…
I recently switched to 1% milk when the grocery store was out of my preferred 2%. I rationalized that at the very least it would save me some extra calories and how different could it be? Terrible, is the answer I’m looking for. Sadly the 1% would not steam as evenly or as smoothly as 2% and it really put a bland taste to my morning coffee. Im glad to be rid of it and back on my usual grind. It did get me thinking though. I originally switched to 2% with the mentality that it still foamed up quite well and was a major break in caloric and fat intake compared to regular milk. I remember switching and immediately noticing a difference in my stomach, but little change in taste. This is one of very few changes I make in my life to spare my own health, and usually I don’t exercise or eat healthy food intentionally. There was a brief period where I decided a bit of regular cardio wouldn’t be the worst thing… it was, and I do still ride a bike once in a blue moon. Still my eating habits are generally pretty poor and I had to wonder how this would effect me in my profession.
According to a JAMA article from 2012, 44% of US physicians are overweight or obese. They even went as far as to correlate weight gain with entering a residency program. The New York times once ran an article discussing physician weight on patient affect, as you would bet its pretty bad. The article referenced a paper in the International Journal of Obesity which found that patients actually trusted their physicians less and were less compliant with their advice.
How can this happen? Physicians are of course some of the last people you would predict to allow themselves to lead an unhealthy lifestyle. Perhaps the stressful work, long hours, and easy access of fast food choices plays a role. I know that while I definitely realize its bad to eat burgers everyday, I still enjoy them.
So where does this leave me, not to mention my fellow students and physicians who also partake in less than stellar dining habits? How ethical is it for physicians to give health recommendations they themselves cannot uphold? I cant say that my most recent trip to McDonalds didn’t come with some guilt. At the same time though I felt I had earned it after a long day of studying and hey, check out this awesome Jake toy it came with.
So I figure Ill start this off by reviewing one of my local favorites Café Grumpy in New York City. It’s been my standby for quite some time and it definitely deserves a spot at the top of the list.
For the coffeegeeks out there: Im pulling these shots at 9.2bar and 185˚ for 25 seconds. I use 18g of grounds to produce 36g of espresso. While this is a little cold for most blends, I found that it provides the most “dynamic range,” on this
coffees flavor profile.
So where can I start? The dry beans smell great, its more of a round smell with a bit of cocoa and hazlenut. The dry ground has more of a dried cherry aroma, but with more higher notes to it as well. In particular, dried orange peel. I know it sounds like Im pulling these flavor references out of thin air, but try and remember they’re just that references. Obviously the coffee smells like coffee, but this is me trying to be more descriptive.
Pull a shot and you’ll get whatever your little heart desires. I like the high notes of this coffee, so as I mentioned earlier I pull on the cold side at 185˚. Here, like many coffees, you’ll see more of the citrus, sour flavors
come out. What makes this coffee stand out is the lack of an over the top astringency brought on by the low temp pull. I was pleased that even pulling a brighter shot like this, I could still taste a dark (85%) chocolate background. This comes out to be much more present if you crank it up to 195˚. Above 200, the coffee flattens out.
This coffee is one of few that I drink on its own as espresso. Though, it’s worth noting that it makes a great cap or latte as well.
The scoring below is my attempt at standardizing a highly subjective field. The scale is really from 0-10 however any coffee that scores below a 7 in any field is automatically removed from the list.
Please note that my scoring is usually a bit higher than SCAA ranking, perhaps I’m more easily satisfied. Additionally I score based on espresso pulls with the exception of wet aroma and clean cup.
A full description of the SCAA’s cupping guide is here