Great Coffee Susan

Appreciating Great Coffee or Helping Fellow Coffee Lovers Keep Their Standards High

Quartermaine Coffee Roasters – So Hard to Like

I have a like-dislike relationship with Quartermaine Coffee Roasters.  Quartermaine and I go way back to my American University undergraduate days when I worked at Davenport Coffee Lounge, the on-campus coffee shop.  (Side note: Davenport  is where I began to learn about great coffee.  Another side note: Davenport has changed a lot since my college days.  Final side note: At some point I’ll write more about Davenport.)  Quartermaine roasts great beans.  I remember looking forward to receiving a new batch at Davenport every week.  And I love how it roasts locally in Rockville, MD.

When I moved back to the Washington, D.C. area a year and a half ago, I was so excited to learn that a Quartermaine coffee shop is near my new home.  Unfortunately this fact damaged my relationship with the roaster.  (I visited the coffee shop a few times before deciding to find another place for good coffee.)  The service there is horrendous.  The folks behind the counter don’t know how to communicate with its customers when it comes to paying for an order or even serving a drink.   And learning about their beans is like pulling teeth.  I guess obtaining assistance for a bean purchase is a lot to ask of a coffee roaster.  Ok, ok, I know working at a coffee shop may not be living the dream for lots of people.  I’m sure several of these folks would rather be elsewhere.  I get that.  I get that many of these baristas work there to pay rent, buy food, support their writing — basically help fund their real dream.  That’s fine.  My issue is this poor customer service damages the Quartermaine brand.  I still like Quartermaine coffee but I don’t consume it a lot because I don’t want to deal with poor service nor encourage it by giving this place anymore of my business.

Well I was delighted to learn that Addie’s in Rockville serves Quartemaine coffee.  (Interestingly it serves Illy espresso though.)  Last week my husband and I went there for first time.  First of all, Addie’s is a great find.  We both really enjoyed our lunches.  (It’s part of the Black Restaurant Group.  I’m a fan of one of the Group’s other venues, Black’s Bar & Kitchen.)

While we both agreed ahead of time to not order dessert, we ended up buckling.   We shared the Chocolate Toffee Pecan Cake, and I ordered a cup of Quartermaine decaf coffee.  The dessert did not disappoint – completely worth the extra calories!  However the coffee did.  It tasted stale, bitter and like it’s been sitting on the burner for a long time.  Sigh.

What a shame.  Quartermaine roasts great coffee.  I wish I didn’t experience such disappointment when trying to enjoy it.

Coffee & Vinyls: Such a Hipster Combo…but Rook Coffee May be a Truly Cool Find

A couple weekends ago I was in Brooklyn for a bridal shower.  After the shower the bride-to-be and few of the guests walked around the neighborhood, Carroll Gardens.  We stumbled upon Black Gold Records.  It’s a coffee shop and record store!  Someone mentioned how it’s such a hipster place. The group agreed.

Black Gold Records sources its beans from Rook Coffee Roasters based in Ocean, NJ.  It’s a very young roastery with a sweet story.  We each ordered a cup of the decaf coffee with almond soy milk.  It was not bad at all.  I think it definitely has potential.  I’d like to try the coffee at an actual Rook location before I draw true conclusions though.  I hope to visit them in the near future.  In the meantime if you do, let me know what you think.

A Grown Up Place for Good Coffee

Last week I visited some dear friends in northern California. After landing at the San Francisco airport I drove up to the Sacramento area and then made my way down to Berkeley/El Cerrito, San Francisco and Palo Alto/Mountain View. Of course I enjoyed really good coffee along the way. I’m inspired by the notion that places such as Temple Coffee & Tea in Sacramento not only serve great coffee but also create a mature, grown up atmosphere.

As I walked into Temple Coffee & Tea, I immediately noticed the wood furniture and industrial design. The cafe is spacious and uncluttered. The floor is concrete and the tables are long giving a communal atmosphere. Green plants appear to be strategically placed throughout the store. I didn’t feel granola crunchy at all. If anything I felt like I was in a very forward thinking, cool yet extremely professional design studio – at the very least what this studio would have as a reception area. The only people around were professionals holding meetings or taking a break from the office.

The barista brought the coffee to me at the table I settled into. I had the Ethiopia – Amaro Dernaye as a pour over which was divine. Temple uses floral, lemon, soft with clean finish as its description. I also picked up some pistachio and definitely experienced the clean ending. It’s not an overwhelming bean but definitely not disappointing either.

I also indulged in a raspberry lemon scone. Temple uses Old Soul Company and one other baker for its baked goods. I love how coffee shops are starting to care about the baked goods they serve. The food is no longer seen as just an obligatory object full of flour and butter. The scone was delicious.

Thanks to roasters such as Temple, Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia, I think we can say good-bye to major attitude, granola, crunchy college days. We’re grown ups now.

Bad Service is Not Worth It

On a flight to Boston, my husband and I decided to grab some coffee and a snack in Harvard Square.  I knew just the place, Crema Cafe.  I stumbled upon it when I was in Boston last.  This place serves George Howell Coffee.  I was so looking forward to a wonderful cup of coffee before we officially began our day in New England.  Well, we may have gotten great coffee but our experience there was disappointing thanks to the woman who took our order and rang us up.  She clearly did not want to be there.  She was so focused on giving us attitude and essentially trying not to do her job that she didn’t charge us for the pound of beans I explicitly showed her so she in fact wouldn’t miss it.  Well she did.  Before we even took a sip of our drinks, we already had a bad taste in our mouths.

Why do some cafes still think it’s acceptable and even cool to provide bad service and attitude?  I’m willing to pay a premium for great coffee but like paying a premium for a superb meal at a restaurant, part of what I’m paying for is the service that delivers it.  When service is bad and the cafe employee is flat out rude, I’m no longer willing to give the place more business.  Thankfully, especially in most major U.S. cities, the number of cafes that provide amazing coffee along with good service is growing.  (Over the next few months I’ll share examples of such places.)  And even if I’m in an area where my options are very limited, I’d rather wait until I return home to have a great cup of coffee — I usually drink Blue Bottle — than give someone money for bad service.

Skip the Coffee If You Must

“I’ll have a vodka tonic with Kettle One.”

“Give me a Guinness.”

Such care is taken with ordering a cocktail or beer or even a soda.  For some, if the restaurant doesn’t serve Coke, then forget about it.

Even when we order food, we have particular preferences.

“I’ll take the house omelet but can I have egg whites?”

“Do you use grass fed beef for your burger?”

So after a swanky cocktail, scrumptious organic-grass-fed-free-range-locally-grown-truffled-meal why settle for taking whatever hot, black liquid a place serves?

Many who serve you in restaurants have no clue as to the kind of coffee they offer not to mention how to prepare it.  I’ve found myself deciding against ending a wonderful meal with a cup of coffee because of either the lack of basic coffee knowledge or the fact that the coffee offered is not good.

Fortunately we’re seeing an increasing number of highly reputable restaurants such as Jose Andres’ Think Food Group restaurants, list their roasters on the menu.  Andres’ east coast restaurants offer Counter Culture Coffee while The Bazaar in L.A. serves Intelligentsia.  I love dining at such restaurants.  I even select a restaurant based on the coffee it serves.  Not only am I going to have a satisfying meal but I know I’m going to end on a high note with a great cup of coffee.

Start asking your server about the coffee.  Who roasts it?  What’s the origin?  If s/he doesn’t know then it’s best to skip the coffee.  Why ruin a wonderful meal?

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