February 2nd, 2012 by Jihye Chang
It is always hard to find a satisfying cup of espresso macchiato in mid-sized towns in the USA. Sometimes one can find small gems like Cafe 116 in Fergus Falls, MN, but usually one gets stuck with big chain cafes or local stores that serve not-so-desirable shots.
I have been living in Tallahassee for about 6 months now, and I almost became serious about opening a cafe myself. This is a college town with a big student/ faculty population, and there is not one good cafe that’s open past 10pm. (Plus there is a perfect location empty right across the street from the music school.) There are 2 cafes that are charming and popular enough, good for occasional visits and spending time with friends (Black Dog Cafe near Lake Ella and Killer Coffee near the New Leaf market). But still, there was no place that served espresso with good body, chocolate color, and golden crema. Or a cafe that would serve pour over. Or even freshly roasted beans. Nothing to provide the “great college town cafe feel” such as Gimme! Coffee in Ithaca or Tunnel City Cafe in Williamstown.
But! The wait is over (and so is my wish to open a coffee shop in Tallahassee) – a man with an ambition and a clear vision opened “Atomic Coffee” on Tennessee as of January 27, 2012. I made my first visit on February 1.
First of all, the equipment. My husband went to check this place out on January 31 as it’s close to his school. He texted me right away saying “hey they have La Marzocco” This is the machine. If you see this or Synesso in any cafe, you can see some seriousness. This is not a cheap machine. This also requires certain skills to use well, as I hear from my barista friends. It’s just a very serious investment. Robert told me that he trained with Counter Culture/ Intelligentsia in Atlanta, and they wouldn’t let someone to open a cafe using their beans unless the cafe is equipped with quality materials.
They also have Hario pour over system, which is my (and my husband’s) favorite method for brewing coffee.
And the beans – I was so happy to see bags of Counter Culture beans (mostly single origins) and the red bag of Intelligentsia’s Black Cat!
I ordered Kenya Karatu pour over (12oz) and espresso macchiato. Robert (the owner) used a timer for exact extraction time, and this cup was really yummy. I shared it with a friend visiting from Brazil, and he was very pleased with the quality as well. (he said “even without sugar, I can feel a bit of caramel”
And the macchiato – I just ordered “as is”, not adding a shot.
Ah. The earthy and edgy flavor of the Black Cat. ! I have missed it so much.
Menu and atmosphere: The countertop near coffee station is granite, they use good quality ceramic cups for the “for here” orders. There is not much decoration going on, but a very clean feel to the whole place.
They also have a few selections of sandwich items and baked goods, which they make by hands in their kitchen. Everything is priced reasonably, and I am sure I will try them out soon. There’s a good selection of refrigerator items such as coconut water, smoothies, etc., and even breakfast items.
The service: It was a bit slow when I visited, and a lot of people were waiting for their orders to come out. On my second visit, it took me 13 minutes to get a cup of cappuccino. I think it is mostly the first-week issue. I do hope this will improve. Maybe it’d help if they had 2 baristas working – one for espresso drinks, one for other drinks.
From next week they plan to sell some beans from Intelligentsia and Counter Culture as well. I regularly order my espresso beans from Counter Culture, but I am really excited to get some Black Cat beans through the Atomic Coffee. (Shipping cost from Intelligentsia’s website doesn’t work for an individual consumer.)
Location: 625 West Tennessee Street/ Phone: 850-727-8744
Open: Monday through Friday, 6am till Midnight (might expand during final weeks)/ Saturday and Sunday 8am till Midnight
Caution: Parking is tricky. Students and faculty memebers of FSU can park in the garage and walk here, but I don’t honestly know how non-school population can visit this place.
Update: As of mid-April 2012, this place is still packed. It always seems that half of the campus comes here to hang out, talk, write paper, eat, and drink coffee. I still like their coffee and sandwiches (try the French toastie or smashed and dashed), but there is almost always a long line. (And some of the people who work here are not the most efficient..) However things move faster than when they just opened, and the quality is still good. If you don’t mind waiting or young& loud crowd, this is still the best place for good coffee and some light lunch in town.
I also tried out the All Saints Coffeeshop that a lot of people seem to like. Their espresso was surprisingly good – not the same kind as Counter Culture or Intelligentsia, but with a bit lighter body and more “impact” on the first sip. I really liked it. But! The place itself was a little too “in their own world” for me. (And a bit smelly, too.) Probably a good hang-out place, for a slightly different crowd..
Update as of January 2013: Still the best in Tallahassee. I like their espresso macchiato, and some of the muffins (pistachio) and sandwiches (waffler/ hangover helper). It gets so crowded with college students during the school year; service can be slow; it’s usually loud, but still their espresso beats all the other cafes in Tally. Here’s a better photo of their drinks. Enjoy!