July 2008

Monthly Archive

Trip Report: Blue Fog Market @ California St.

Posted by on 16 Jul 2008 | Filed under: Beans, Local Brew

This small, local chain of delis opened in 2006. The shop is small but packed with a handful of finds. There are two chairs for seating in the corner, and near the coffee bar in front there’s a bench and a stand-up counter loaded with condiments along the California St. window.

Corner entrance to Blue Fog Market on California St. Stocked shelves inside Blue Fog Market

And speaking of the front window, they loudly announce their use of Blue Bottle beans. Here they prefer the Hayes Valley Espresso blend, and Blue Bottle requires then to hold on to the inventory for no more than 14 days on the shelf. Blue Bottle delivers their beans fresh beans weekly. (Interestingly enough, this weekend I met people in Davis who had Blue Bottle beans delivered weekly to their door.)

Using a two-group La Marzocco GB/5, they pull perfectly short shots with a crema that’s mottled and textured medium brown with some darker brown layered in it. The baristas here take pride in their craft, and the resulting shot is potent, pungent of cloves and herbal elements, and it packs a sharp flavor kick. Great stuff, really, and quite surprising for a deli. Served in black ACF cups — occasionally with a saucer.

Read the review of Blue Fog Market on California St.

Cash register and barista station, all in one at Blue Fog Market The Blue Fog Market espresso

In defense of “coffee Nazis”

Posted by on 15 Jul 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Foreign Brew, Quality Issues

Over the past few days, a small coffee story in suburban D.C. has blown up to rather ridiculous proportions — virtually requiring restraining orders and U.N. troops to intervene. A brief synopsis of the affair can be found on The Consumerist: Murky Coffee: Coffee-Shop Threatens To “Punch” Customer In His “Dick”.

The story involves an iced espresso lover who religiously believes “the customer is always right”, Murky Coffee and their policies towards what they do and do not serve, the often-belligerent-yet-often-entertaining Nick Cho (owner of Murky Coffee, and an occasional comment flamer here), and some really uncivil behavior that followed on all sides.

Now as much as Nick can be such a thorny guy, he’s entirely in the right on this issue. Murky Coffee’s motivations for not selling iced espresso mirror those of Intelligentsia‘s Bonfire of the Venti’s, which we wrote about last week.

Fire your bad customers

Sure, there will always be customers who presume they are always right and businesses must cater to their every whim. A U.S. News & World Report poll on this very issue indicates most of their readers believe Murky Coffee should just shut up and serve. Some have even gone so far as to rant, “YOUR JOB IS TO PUT BROWN WATER IN A CUP AND TAKE MONEY FOR IT.” Many consumers believe in their own divine right to consume anything they wish (as long as it’s legal), seeing themselves as untouchable. So they naturally take offense to any suggestion that their desires are somehow not accepted in a given place. It makes them feel judged or looked down upon.

But businesses need to reserve the right to fire some of their customers, existing or potential. Some customers, like the one who buys a $20 product and feels entitled to ridicule customer support staff for countless hours, can wind up being very unprofitable and can put the company out of business. Others, as in this Iced-EspressoGate incident, will draw a business away from its core competencies and focus. A business needs to preserve the kind of market they are after and not just chase down every quarter that might appear in the creases of the sidewalk.

Starbucks dulled itself into near oblivion by setting no limits to the amount of accommodations and concessions they made to grow their customer base, and they have completely lost their way for it. As much as Nick, and Murky Coffee, gets under the skin of some people — and as much as Iced-EspressoGate has turned the conversation into a mockery — if a business cannot stand up for its own quality controls and standards for the brand and culture it is trying to create, it has failed to differentiate itself from the next business down the street that will do anything for a buck.

If your business can’t stand for something and draw some kind of a line, what good is it? It’s certainly the question Starbucks investors are asking today.

UPDATE: March 5, 2011
New York City’s Not Invented Here psychosis is on display again, 2 1/2 years after the above: New York’s Puritan Chefs Want It Their Way – NYTimes.com. This from the city that gave us Seinfeld‘s “Soup Nazi” in the 1990s.

To quote the article, “New York has spawned a breed of hard-line restaurants and cafes that are saying no. No to pouring takeout espressos, or grinding more than a pound of coffee at a time.” What next? A New York Times piece about the new trend of local baristas participating in barista competitions?

If you can read this, you’re visiting us at our new home

Posted by on 14 Jul 2008 | Filed under: CoffeeRatings.com

This weekend’s move to a new (hopefully more reliable) Web hosting provider seemed to go rather smoothly. If you’re reading this post, you are viewing CoffeeRatings.com at it’s new home.

Since the whole ordeal to change Web hosting providers took us a full month, and since we don’t trust Web hosting providers all that much these days, we will be keeping our WordPress account at http://coffeeratings.wordpress.com/ for announcements and other emergency purposes should this site suddenly become “unavailable”.

But otherwise, we’re happy with the move (goodbye and good riddance, Burton Hosting!) and are looking forward to getting back to business as usual. Thanks for your patience throughout this transition.

Intelligentsia’s Bonfire of the Venti’s

Posted by on 09 Jul 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Foreign Brew, Local Brew, Quality Issues

Today’s Chicago Tribune reported on Intelligentia‘s plans to phase out the 20-ounce, venti-sized coffee beverage: Small. Medium. Gone. — chicagotribune.com. “Drinking our coffee is not like drinking jug wine,” the article quotes Intelligentsia founder and CEO, Doug Zell. Mr. Zell also goes on to compare the venti experience to “a watered-down, Big Gulpish version.”

We’ve been using the Super Big Gulp® metaphor at CoffeeRatings.com for years now. We can see the counterpoint made by Metropolis founder and co-owner, Tony Dreyfuss, that there’s a place for the 20-ounce coffee. But when a business, such as Intelligentsia, invests so much care and energy into making their brew, there are limits to “the customer is always right.” (Curiously enough, this slogan was first popularized in the U.S. by Chicago’s own Marshall Field’s, now Macy’s, department stores.)

Afterall, the road to Starbucks was paved with good customer intentions.

UPDATE: July 30, 2008
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times published a follow-up story, with an interview of Intelligentsia founder Doug Zell, as the bonfire approaches: Coffee chain decides less is really more :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Food.

The article interestingly asked, “What about those of us who like to linger over a pot of coffee and a few newspapers at home on Sundays?” We were reminded of the moka pot size preferences of Italians vs. Americans in our old post on moka pots.

Trip Report: Café Murano

Posted by on 08 Jul 2008 | Filed under: Local Brew

This café is something of a neighborhood favorite for its quirky atmosphere and ridiculously cheap (though not that great) coffee. Inside there’s found art everywhere — plus painted café tables, a couple of seats from movie theaters (with cup-holders), juicers on display, wine for $9 a bottle, and a few outdoor sidewalk café tables under parasols.

Entrance to Café Murano on Steiner St. Decorations inside Café Murano

Using a two-group La Spaziale, they pull fuller shots that sit tall in a Lavazza-branded IPA cups. It has a medium-to-dark brown crema that runs a bit thin. And given the pour size, the flavor is not surprisingly a little watery as well. But the flavor of the cup is one of the limitations here: it’s more a mixture of mild pepper and a bit of water.

Café Murano's two-seat movie theater experience We haven't tested Café Murano's puppy policy

I asked the barista what beans they used, and he noted that they use the el cheapo America’s Best Coffee for espresso and the el cheapest (OK: la más barata) San Francisco Bay Coffee (available at Costco) for drip — but only after a long pause.

It’s hard to know whether the pause reflect that he couldn’t remember or if he was sheepish about the café’s choices. But what do you expect for $1 espresso? Perhaps it was appropriate that I had to reach the place on foot once my 38L Geary Express Muni bus transformed into a front-seat brawl, grounding the entire bus for a long while to take down police reports.

Read the review of Café Murano.

The Café Murano espresso - a study in cheap

Trip Report: Danilo’s Bakery BaoNecci Caffè

Posted by on 05 Jul 2008 | Filed under: CoffeeRatings.com, Local Brew

Given that our headaches with our Web hoster are resolving themselves at a snail’s pace, we’re itching to get back to business as usual. So we are carefully returning to publishing here (saving copies of our databases as frequently as possible) — even though we risk a future “blackout” at any given time. How better to do that than with a classic CoffeeRatings.com Trip Report?

This is a quiet, local place that gets many SFers worked up as if they’ve experienced the Real Italy here — or at least something that authentically makes you feel as if you’re someplace else. And they’re not entirely off the mark. There are often authentic Italians speaking the language inside. And this has been in operation since 1905 — with the Lucchese Gamdaccini family now running the place (as proudly painted on the front door). They are a very friendly lot and offer fresh-baked Italian breads, biscotti, other baked goods, and typical café lunch items.

The café itself occupies a nice corner not far off of Columbus Ave. at Bannam Pl. There are some sidewalk café tables in front, large glass windows, and several indoor café tables and chairs.

Approaching the BaoNecci caffè from Green St. Baked goods in the BaoNecci

Using a two-group La Spaziale machine, they pull shots with a thinner layer of a medium brown crema, served in modern Miscela d’Oro IPA cups. The body is a touch thin, the Miscela d’Oro flavor leans towards the smoky/tobacco side with some pepper notes, and the cup has more of a potent aftertaste than an initial flavor. But overall, it’s a decent espresso. And drinking it in a location such as this only helps.

Read the review of Danilo’s Bakery BaoNecci Caffè.

The BaoNecci La Spaziale with the photo wall of fame to the left The Danilo's Bakery BaoNecci Caffè espresso

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