We recently took a California road trip and headed up to Napa and Sonoma for an enjoyable weekend of Russian River Barrel Tasting – wine futures. Along the way, we took the opportunity to visit several outstanding coffee houses.
Next stop, Lulu’s at the Octagon in Santa Cruz, CA.
And I apologize for the poor photographs. I promise to work on my photography.
Lulu’s at the Octagon – Artisan Roasted Coffees
18 Cooper St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
As the name suggests, this is a unique example of local 19th century architecture, a small brick structure actually in the shape of an octagon.
A view of the front of the store, and an outdoor patio seating area to enjoy when the weather is nice.
A large skylight at the top of the building provides a soothing, natural lighting on the inside. A beautiful cherry wood bench lines the perimeter of the interior and the seating area includes about a dozen small tables for two. An impressive, well equipped espresso bar and coffee preparation counter occupies the center of the floor.
We arrived around 5:30 pm on a weekend. The place was quite busy, and as you can see from my blurry photograph of the interior, every seat was inhabited by preoccupied, computer toting, coffee sipping customers. It appears that Lulu’s is a popular hang-out for students from the nearby colleges, UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo College. And Lulu’s at the Octagon has them covered with free Wi-Fi.
Lulu’s at the Octagon is the creation of owner and coffee entrepreneur, Manthri Srinath, who also owns Lulu Carpenters nearby in Santa Cruz, and the Coffee Cat in Scotts Valley. Manthri Srinath clearly has the passion for great coffee and it shows. See “Santa Cruz coffee entrepreneur Manthri Srinath on the perfect cup“.
At the Coffee Cat location, they do all of their own custom hand-crafted coffee roasting for all three stores.
We would have liked to spend more time with the baristas and find out more about Lulu’s, but with the busy flow of customers, we didn’t want to interfere and get in the way. So we got right to the most important business at hand and ordered up.
I started off with an espresso, of course!
I had a choice of two custom espresso blends, a more medium roast, and a darker roast. Aaron, the barista, recommended their espresso blend with a more medium roast for a subtler taste experience. Unfortunately, the grinder for those beans wasn’t working properly. So I went with their standard classic Espresso blend with a darker roast level.
I appreciated the tip, a good indication that the baristas know what they’re doing. If you can’t get the grind right, don’t bother. And, they were setup with separate grinders, another good sign, which suggests to me that they keep the grind properly and specifically adjusted for the two different espresso beans. This also prevents contaminating the different coffees grinds with one another, which tends to happen if you grind all of your beans through one grinder.
OK, it was time to pull my espresso from the La Marzocco Mistral espresso machine. La Marzocco sets a standard with innovative design, double boilers, PID (proportional, integrative, derivative) technology for maximum temperature stability, and visible saturated brew groups. This modern and trendy, futuristic looking espresso machine, in prominent view as you walk in the front door, always makes a bold statement at any espresso bar.
From my vantage point, with a view a little off to the side, I was able to observe a perfect reddish brown, syrupy mouse tail as my espresso was pouring into the cup. And the dark tan rich crema just kept flowing. My anticipation was building.
Let me tell you, that was a terrific espresso. Rich and smooth, slightly sweet, and a little smoke. Great balance, with a lingering finish that wouldn’t quit. Now, that’s what I’m talking about. If you’re not sure what a great espresso should taste like, go try an espresso at Lulu’s at the Octagon.
Next, we sampled three single origins, brewed on the Clover. At the Gourmet Coffee Zone, we’ve been talking about the Clover quite a bit lately. For more information about this innovative brewing system, see our article, Starbucks tests the Clover in Stores. Incidentally, Starbucks just recently acquired the Coffee Equipment Co, the manufacture of the Clover brewing machine.
OK, back to the coffee tasting.
First, a Sumatra Mandheling. This was a pretty typical Sumatran, rich body, lower toned acidity, sweet with some floral tones and a detectable chocolate finish. A truly great coffee with character, and one of my favorites.
Next, a Papua New Guinea. Coffees from this island in Indonesia can exhibit a fairly broad range of characteristics in the cup. The plantation grown coffees on the island are typically wet-processed, consistent and cleaner, perhaps more similarities to the clean coffees of Central America. Other areas in Papua New Guinea produce coffee using dry processing, and these are more typical of some of the exotic Indonesian coffee characteristics.
Not sure what to expect, the Papua New Guinea at Lulu’s had some earthy notes, an expected lower acidity, and some clear and present spice tones. I suspected this might be one of the dry-processed coffees, but couldn’t be sure. Definitely an interesting and flavorful cup.
The Ethiopian Harrar was a special treat. I don’t find too many coffee houses offering up this coffee origin. A very bright and lively coffee, with a fairly high acidity level, typical of the Ethiopian coffees. And the most dramatic and pronounced fruit characteristics of just about any coffee you will find. If you taste for it, you can often detect a hint of blueberry fruit in a good Harrar. And a brew coming off the Clover has a good chance of capturing this blueberry characteristic in the cup.
So, did my Harrar at Lulu’s offer up that most unique blueberry fruit? Hmmm, not sure I was able to find the blueberry, but the distinctive dried fruit was there. A delicious cup, nonetheless.
We’ve had the opportunity to enjoy coffees brewed with the Clover at four or five specialty coffee houses. My conclusion about the Clover. While great results consistently come off the Clover, I think it’s an exaggeration to say it produces a markedly superior brew unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. I do tend to see this over-hyped praise about the Clover.
Rather, what does set the Clover apart is the consistent ability to repeat the optimal extraction for many different coffees, virtually for each and every custom-brewed cup. The Clover machine provides an automated way to dial-in and control the four important variables; water temperature, steep/brew time, fine/course grind level, and ratio of coffee to water, and hit the right parameters for each coffee consistently, each and every time.
This is ideal for a commercial coffee establishment that wants to offer custom-brewed cup-at-a-time coffee, perfect for bringing out the best taste and flavor results for the many unique single-origins.
Keep in mind, if you are careful, and pay attention to the four brewing variables, you can produce an optimal extraction with a French press as well. It may be more difficult to reach the same consistent results each and every time with a coffee press, but a properly extracted brew from a French press will approach a properly extracted brew from a Clover.
However, a Clover can usually achieve the same results in under 90 seconds, where a French press is typically four minutes or more to complete a brew cycle. And, a French press is generally geared for brewing 3 to 4 cups at a time. Trying to brew custom single cups of coffee in a busy commercial coffee store environment with a French press will create a bottleneck and longer wait time for the customers, and is not nearly as practical and efficient as a Clover.
We definitely enjoyed our coffee experience at this distinguished coffee house. If you happen to be in the area, be sure and stop by Lulu’s at the Octagon in Santa Cruz for some great coffee.