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Entries in Food & Drink (38)


Starbucks Has Landed

Starbucks"I'd like a double-espresso, Peruvian mint-mocha, latté with two shakes of Swiss chocolate bits and a dusting of Mexican vanilla powder.... to go."

"That will be eight dollars sir..."

Starbucks has come to our little neighborhood. I've suspected it was a Starbucks for a while now, but just this week the "Starbucks Coming Soon" signs went onto the small building just around the corner. I actually first heard the rumor at the local Caribou coffee from one of the employees and the more I saw of the building as it was raised, the more that rumor was confirmed.

What's odd is, this Starbucks was built in the parking lot of the new hospital building in our neighborhood, which replaced a few old hotels. Apparently the little plot Starbucks is on used to be an old gas station, which was not sold to the hospital. It might have been a pricey purchase too, since the hospital didn't go for it and because its situated on a main road and is very near the Interstate.

Should be interesting to see how the local traffic flow changes on the main boulevard with no left turn gap in the median where the Starbucks is situated. I can already imagine seeing many u-turns at the next gap going northbound to get to the café. Even more likely are long lines at morning rush hour, blocking the right lane going southbound, which leads to the highway on ramp. But maybe not. It may all depend on how traffic flow works and how quickly Starbucks employees can crank out $4 lattés. :-)

I'll also soon find out if Caribou's few months of already being in the neighborhood will help them compete well with Starbucks. Caribou has a better location overall, being on a corner of two main boulevards, though now I could see southbound coffee buyers maybe going for Starbucks instead. This is going to be interesting to watch.

So, now I'll have my choice of Starbucks and Caribou within a reasonable walking distance of home. I'm hoping that the Starbucks will have WiFi capabilities, but it seems Milwaukee is not on the radar yet... though we are a test market for WiFi McDonalds (which I still need to check out). Once Starbucks has opened up, I'll have to take a field trip.

Have a great weekend all!


Black Coffee Convert

French PressFunny, that I should write this post, since for a really long time I wasn't a fan at all of straight, black coffee. Always thought it was too bitter, too acidic and much preferred smoothing out my coffee with a little cream, half and half or with some frothed milk.

Well, something happened in the last few months, and I must give credit where it's due, which would be the old French Press coffeepot that Michael Ashby turned me on to a while back. Since making coffee in the French Press, I've actually started to grow fond of drinking it black. Initially, I did it to taste the coffee and see how it compared to drip, but as I did this and tasted the rich flavors of the coffee oils, I grew attached to that flavor. Now I really love the taste of freshly ground black coffee.

Of course, I still love a frothy cappuccino, a smooth, milky latté or some good quality half and half in a rich cuppa coffee. But now, I'll bypass the creamer section at the local coffee shop and drink it black 90% of the time. Maybe for those of you who love a cup of black joe, that's normal, but for me, it's quite a change... and it's a good change too.


French Press Coffee Fan

Back in August, I mentioned making changes in my daily coffee routine, which included picking up a Bodum Chambord 8-Cup Coffee Press coffee maker for $30 (at the advice of Michael Ashby) and giving it a try.

Well, after about a month and a half of using the French Press, I've become a huge fan of the coffee it produces. I think the best way to describe it is this:

"French press coffee tastes like fresh ground coffee smells."

Yep, the scent of freshly ground coffee is something I believe you can literally taste in French press coffee. And boy, it's good stuff.

I've learned that the oils of the coffee bean carry much of its delicious coffee flavor and scent. French press coffee retains these oils, while drip coffee traps them in a paper filter or boils them into oblivion. These oils, left in press-style coffee are what sets it apart.

Two other important differences are: a coarsely ground coffee bean, and water temperature that's hot but not boiling. Coarse ground coffee mainly keeps the metal filter from clogging up, though I think it may also have some impact on flavor. Meanwhile, boiling water can cause the coffee oils to scald and get bitter, while hot but not boiling water leaves the oils and their flavors intact.

If you're being tempted reading this account, the French press process is quite simple. First, heat water on the stove or in an electric kettle. Place your coarse coffee in the carafe (about a tablespoon per 4oz cup). Let the water boil, then take it off the heat until boiling stops. Pour the hot water over the coffee in the carafe and stir the coffee into the water with a plastic spoon. Put the plunger on the carafe but don't press it down yet (I do this to trap heat inside). Wait 4-5 minutes and press the plunger. Pour and enjoy!

The only real caveat to press coffee is, you'll have a little more cleanup on your hands than with a drip pot. You can't just toss the old paper filter full of grounds and rinse out the carafe like you can with a drip coffee maker. With French press coffee, the carafe and the plunger assembly needs to be at least rinsed off and dried before making a new batch of coffee, (I tend to wash everything each time). Still, the coffee you get is well worth the extra hassle of cleanup and like me, maybe you'll find the cleanup therapeutic.

The product of this combination and process is a delicious, rich and smooth cup of coffee... which is a little bit of a problem. Now when I visit my favorite local coffee shop, I'm less impressed with drip-brewed coffee. I've been utterly spoiled by my French press pot! :-)


Howdy Caribou Coffee!

Caribou CoffeeIt all started when one fine day, Giuseppi's, an Italian restaurant in our neighborhood, posted a liquidation sale sign. Giuseppi's restaurant had been on the corner of Bluemound and Highway 100 for ages, and I was a little concerned about what might replace it. Last thing we needed around here was a cheesy strip mall.

I watched and waited, until one day, a sign went up with a rendering of a new shopping center. Giuseppi's decided to rebuild on the same spot and anchor the group of shops with a compact version of their former restaurant! They had also secured a Qdoba Mexican restaurant and a Caribou Coffee shop as their other tenants. Yeah!

I'd been to Caribou in Minneapolis downtown and at the airport and loved their coffee and great design sense. In fact, I now realize I'd been to Caribou way back in the 90's -- long before visiting my first Starbucks. So, you could say I was pretty happy to get this news. :-)

As the months passed, I watched the building being built. The design of the structure (I hesitate to call this a strip mall because it's so classy) looked quite nice, with cherry wood trim, high ceilings and full glass windows at the front of each store. On one end of the building there was an odd little bit jutting out, which would become Caribou Coffee.

Fast forward to Tuesday, September 16th (today). This was the first day Caribou was open to the public, and to celebrate, free coffee of the day was being offered to anyone who stopped by between 11am and 1pm. Being one to not turn down good coffee (especially for free), Gail and I brought Nathan over to Caribou, to pay a little visit. There was a good amount of traffic into Caribou, though I suppose free coffee will do that. Still, the shop is located in a great location and should do well.

I'm quite pleased that Caribou has come to our neighborhood, because it will offer me a nice place to work if I need a change of pace and It's just only a 5 minute walk away. Caribou's interior looks like an Alaskan lodge, with wood everywhere, comfortable chairs tucked into the corners of the shop. There was even a fireplace burning near the entrance. All in all, a slightly different (and nicer) atmosphere than the average, much more sterile Starbucks. I really like that it feels comfy and inviting.

By the way, Caribou makes it pretty clear they're going after Starbucks, which is good to see. One sign in the store suggested that their coffee is always fresher (21 days old max) and below the headline, sat two bags of coffee -- a Caribou bag on the left and next to it a green coffee bag with circular logo covered by a paper bag with eye holes. It was pretty clear this represented ol' Starbucks.

The coffee was very good -- not bitter or over-roasted. I'll have to try their espresso shots another day. I've heard good reports from other coffee-loving friends who love Caribou's coffee, and I must agree, they were on the money.

Now I just need to convince the store manager to install free WiFi with Internet access, and I'll be set -- the perfect office away from the office, just 5 minutes away. Dyn-o-mite! :-)


A Coffee Update

Coffee makersI'm a coffee lover who is always looking for ways to improve the coffee I drink. I've come across some revelations since I posted Good, Cheap Coffee back in June that I wanted to share.

First, I received some great comments on the Good, Cheap Coffee post, primarily from Daniel Stout and fellow Palm OS User Council member, Rachel, which got my mind thinking about making better quality coffee. Daniel offered suggestions about nice espresso makers, and the difference in quality between his old Krups (like mine) and his new Gaggia. He also mentioned how important fresh coffee is to the mix.

Well, as much as I would love a Gaggia or other high-quality home espresso machine, we can't really afford it at the moment. Darn. However, I was able to take Dan's fresh coffee suggestion to heart, by picking up some fresh espresso roast at Milwaukee's Alterra Coffee Roasters. Wow, that made a big difference in the flavor compared to the pre-ground Goya espresso I had been using.

Then, in August, fellow weblogger and coffee freak, Michael Ashby mentioned digging up an old Bodum French Press pot after his coffee maker busted and how much he was enjoying the excellent coffee it made. When I mentioned his post to my wife, she reminded me that the now defunct Coffee Trader (a very popular Milwaukee east-side coffee hangout in the 80s and 90s) used to serve tasty coffee in french press pots. Many memories of visits to the Coffee Trader and the delicious coffee they served, floated to the surface of my mind.

So, Inspired by Michael and memories of the Coffee Trader, I used a part of my PalmSource Champions $50 quarterly gift certificate to pick up a Bodum Chambord 8-Cup Coffee Press coffee maker. I should have it next week, and I can't wait to try it out! :-)

With my mind still on coffee, I re-read comments by Rachel on the original Good, Cheap Coffee post and saw that she loved the coffee she makes with her Italian stovetop Moka Pot. I had a stainless steel pot like this in my single days, and really loved the coffee, but have since lost track of my pot.

Then I remembered -- Gail and I had been given a Lavazza Carmencita moka pot and two demitasse cups as a wedding gift by Martin & Thea, two good German friends who had come over for our wedding. So, today at lunch, I located and dusted off the Lavazza, and cranked out several ounces of thick, rich espresso-like coffee on the stove. Mmmm, and was it ever good stuff!

So, I am happy to report that I'm re-learning ways to make really good coffee and it's still surprisingly cheap -- the Bodum French Press is only $30 and Moka Pots start at around $30 as well. Maybe they're a little more work than a Mr. Coffee drip maker, but the results are so much better.

Hey, have a great weekend!