Last weekend, we took the drive up from Southern California to Napa and Sonoma in Northern California for Russian River Wine Barrel tasting – wine tasting futures. So what does this have to do with coffee?
Well, we followed Highway 101 all the way up. Not quite the spectacular scenery as Pacific Coast Highway 1, but a beautiful drive this time of year. And along the way, we took the time to stop at a few coffee houses. Hey, I love the wine, but a few stops at a couple of great coffee houses was the highpoint of the weekend for me.
As part of our ongoing series to spotlight the emerging and growing specialty coffee culture, what a great opportunity to start in our own backyard with some of the finest specialty coffee houses and coffee roasteries that California has to offer.
This road trip was also an opportunity to track down a few coffee houses brewing with the Clover. We’ve been talking about this the past few weeks and have been looking forward to sampling some great coffee brew and finding out first hand what the Clover can do.
With the coffee culture preeminence so clearly defined in the Pacific Northwest, and the epicurean preference for fine food and fine wine in California, you might expect a more established California coffee culture, with artisan roasters and truly wonderful coffee houses abounding everywhere.
Not quite the case, but we’re getting better. Northern California has led the charge ahead of Southern California, but we’re starting to see the emergence of more interesting specialty coffee houses and boutique roasters springing up in Southern California as well. Which means one thing. The consumer interest and demand for great coffee is growing. And that’s what we like to see at the Gourmet Coffee Zone!
Back to the road trip, our first stop, Joe Momma’s Coffee in Avila Beach, CA.
Joe Momma’s Coffee
310 Front Street
Avila Beach, CA 93424
Avila Beach is a beautiful beach side community tucked in between Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo. And the community is lucky to have a great coffee house like Joe Momma’s Coffee.
We arrived around 10:30 am Friday morning, and enjoyed a very pleasant visit and some great coffee. The store was comfortably busy, with several contented locals relaxing on the sidewalk seating out front, sipping coffee while enjoying the ocean breeze and view of the bay. Plenty of comfortable and inviting space up on the second level with a few more happy coffee customers either visiting with friends or working away at their computers.
I’m sure it’s not unusual at all to find students from Cal Poly State University, only a few miles up the road in San Luis Obispo, find their way down to Avila Beach and book some time at this appealing coffee house.
Joe Momma’s Coffee opened for business about ten months ago, mid summer 2007. They embrace direct trade (a notch above fair trade) and include a selection of organic coffees and teas on the menu. Also affiliated with the business is an organic spa and a natural clothing store.
Their motto is “Honest Coffee * Worthy Views”. Smart and to the point, it is about great coffee, with a sensible commitment to environmentally and socially conscious values. Great coffee is about passion. And these folks have the passion.
In a more literal sense, the “worthy views” may also apply to the spectacular ocean view out the front window of the store.
How’s that for a serene and relaxing view while you enjoy a fine cup of fresh roasted coffee, or a superbly crafted latte?
We met Jonathan Withers, barista and store manager. Jonathan was gracious enough to spend some time with us in between tending to the customers’ drink orders. Jonathan, along with a great team of folks give this place a very friendly vibe. They love coffee, they know coffee, and they’re eager to provide a great coffee experience for the customer.
Serving single origins and blends from two great specialty roasters, Intelligentsia and Ritual, this is serious coffee. Intelligentsia follows a simple philosophy, “buy, roast and serve the finest coffees available”. Intelligentsia selects and roasts stellar coffee with a respectable commitment to the farmers. As mentioned, it’s obvious that Joe Momma’s Coffee shares this same feeling.
A view of the menu and the pastry counter as you step into the store. The store has a clean, stylish feel and the decor speaks with a compliment of pleasing bold colors (just like the coffee).
I was anxious to sample my first coffee brew from a Clover. But first, a shot of espresso to get warmed up. Black Cat, of course. Intelligentsia’s signature espresso blend.
Jonathan pulled a shot at the La Marzocco FB/80, prominently featured right up front. I enjoy an espresso bar setup where you can watch and engage with the barista.
And a respectable shot of Black Cat espresso indeed. Nice, full syrupy body, hints of caramel, fruit tones, with a lingering dark chocolate finish. Intelligentsia Black Cat is always a favorite of mine.
Next, a few cups off the Clover brewing system. See this previous Clover writeup for more details and background.
I went with two Intelligentsia single origins, a Kenya Kangocho lot, and the Guatemala El Cuervo.
The Kenya starts with a more intense aroma, with hints of lemon citrus and floral tones, and a sweetness throughout.
The Guatemala El Cuervo is produced from coffee grown in the HueHuetenango region of northwestern Guatemala, known for rich soil and ideal coffee growing conditions. This is the classic bourbon cultivar (pronounced bore-bone) common in various growing regions of Central America. Nice balanced acidity with a brightness, fruit traces of apples and berries, creamy mouthfeel, sweet with a chocolate finish.
The results in the cup for both coffees were superb coming off the Clover.
There’s an optimal extraction that you’re after to bring out the full qualities of the coffee in the cup. Under extracted, and you have a weaker cup, that doesn’t reach the full potential of flavor, body, and aroma, including the more subtle characteristics that may be present. Over extracted, and you start to introduce flavor defects including the bitters that tend to eclipse the best and most pleasing aspects of the flavor profile.
The variables to hit the optimum extraction window are water temperature, fineness/coarseness of the grind, ratio of ground coffee to water, and brewing or steep time. You can work with all of these parameters using a simple coffee press. But with a French press, it’s not easy to precisely control water temperature, and you can easily under or over extract missing the optimum steep time. And a coffee press usually takes about four minutes to brew, not to mention the cleanup to contend with afterwards.
Think of the Clover as a very expensive automated French press that enables precise and repeatable control of the four variables – water temperature, grind, coffee/water ratio, and brew time. The Clover is faster than a French press, and typical settings can produce a finished cup in under 90 seconds. The objective is to quickly and precisely brew a single custom cup, hitting the optimum extraction window each and every time.
As Jonathan explained to me, the Clover doesn’t arrive at the optimal settings automatically. Lot’s of testing and trial and error is necessary in order to arrive at the preferred settings that deliver the results you’re after. It’s a fair amount of work to line up a full set of parameters for the various coffees that a store may want to brew. Even with the Clover, you’re relying on the skill and tasting experience of the barista to arrive at the optimal results.
And just for comparison, Jonathan let me sample a defect cup where the brew time was taken a mere 4 seconds past the preferred extraction threshold. The cup was detectably bitter. Only 4 seconds too long. Surprising, actually.
Wrapping up, we had to try a latte. If you’re a latte fan, they don’t come any better than this. The organic milk really does taste better, with a special rich feel and flavor. And a proper drink is not complete without the latte art on the top. Nicely done!
If you’re in the area, make it a point to stop by Joe Momma’s Coffee for a visit. It’s a perfect stopping point midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco if you’re making the drive along the 101. If you’re a local, you are fortunate to have this special coffee house nearby.
Next time we head up north, we’ll most definitely be paying another visit.
Next installment, a review of Lulu’s At The Octagon in Santa Cruz, California.