Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Current Favorite Coffee Fix Venue: Catalina Coffee

I never really understood modern day coffee shops. To me they were overpriced and over hyped places to go, where everyone talked about the coffee, but it rarely tasted that good. I remember being in Seattle many years ago, where Starbucks and Seattle’s Best were competitors for the best coffee. I found their coffee tasting old and stale and expensive. Fast forward to 2008 where Starbucks, owns Seattle’s Best and there seems to be a Starbucks on every corner (sometimes across the street from each other). I find Starbucks in every almost every major city I go to and the coffee still tastes tired to me. Lately Starbucks are so oversaturated in the market they are closing stores.

I have tried some of the hip independent stores in Houston; Brasil, Daily Grind, Diedrich Coffee, Inversion Coffee House, and of course Seattle’s Best and Starbucks and none of them did much for me. I also reviewed Tous Les Jours, http://foodprincessreports.blogspot.com/2008/07/bread-and-some-recipes.html which I liked, but it is a bakery with good coffee in a grocery store. In 2005 I wrote a business plan for an internet/ coffee shop. It was difficult then to see financially how to make money just selling coffee and at that time, charging for the internet connection. Fast forward, many years later and free wi-fi is the norm and most stores sell food along with their coffee.

But I just didn’t get the coffee shop model. People seemed to really like them and often I found them crowded, despite what I thought was mediocre coffee and expensive. First and foremost I wanted good coffee, which meant freshly roasted and well prepared. It is more than a good espresso, cappuccino or a variant on that model. It starts with freshly roasted and ground coffee.

I use to go to Java Coffee to get my beans – but I never got it quite right. For a while I was roasting my own beans at home, which was great, but in my new place the smoke constantly set off the smoke detector so that no longer is no longer an option. I now mainly buy my roasted beans at Central Market, they seem to have a decent turnover at the store but the beans are not dated with their roasting date.

But something happened when I walked into Catalina Coffee http://catalinacoffeeshop.com/ with my Chowhound friend JavaPeg on Saturday. It worked.

I ordered a Kenya Peaberry coffee in a small French press for $3.00. I was delivered a pot and told to wait until the timer went off. Max the owner insisted I taste it without cream and he was right because I got to really taste the flavor. This is a place that takes their coffee seriously. The beans were perfectly roasted, ground and then the French press was the right way to make it. They gave me the press, kept a timer going behind the counter and then let me know when to press down.

The stars were aligned and I was drinking the perfect cup of coffee.

On my third visit they did the pressing for me, I liked the other method much better, especially since I sat there waiting for them to tell me when to press and the coffee got cold.

Javapeg ordered a Cuban coffee and raved about it.

The stars were aligned and I was drinking the perfect cup of coffee.

But a good coffee shop starts with the coffee but keeps going. I went back three days in a row to confirm my report (of course all in the name of research.) The owner Max is charming, a small dark haired fellow, with good energy and a wonderful smile, the baristas are friendly and the place intimate and roomy at the same time. I was there on Saturday, I went back on Sunday and had a croissant with my coffee and then yesterday afternoon I met a friend for coffee in the afternoon.

These people take their coffee seriously, so do I, I am hooked.


neverfull said...

great writeup!

Food Princess said...

Thank you - maybe we can go for coffee some time.

Anonymous said...

Cool post. :) I'm with on the coffee house problem. It's just gotten too commercialized and the "overnight baristas" making the coffee really don't know or appreciate the art and science, you know?

Unknown said...

The cortado (half espresso, half steamed milk) I ordered reminded me immensely of the cubano coffee I got in the Miami airport in 1996. (Why that food memory sticks with me is a another story). It was fantastic. I'll definitely go back. The location isn't convenient enough to make it a regular stop when I'm on my way to work, but I can easily see the occasional hang. It was a great place!

Ruthie Johnson Miller said...

Dying to go here... I'll definitely have to venture over next weekend. Have you been to Waldo's?

Food Princess said...

Ruthie - I have not tried Waldo's but it sounds more like a place to hang out than a über serious coffee house from the reviews I just read on Yelp.