Jihye Chang


MSP favorites #1 – Rustica, Minneapolis

I lived in Fargo-Moorhead area for 4 years and visited Minneapolis as much as I could. One of my husband’s cousins lives in MSP, and he gave me a few recommendations including Rustica, Quang’s Vietnamese restaurant, Little Szechuan, Tampopo, and La Belle Vie. I have visited most of them, and finally decided to write about some of them as well as other favorite spots that I discovered on my own. I am starting with the Rustica Bakery.

This bakery is now quite well known to MSP residents. Sometimes the line is too long and the service gets slow, but it’s a pleasant place to visit and enjoy great breads, very good desserts, and simple and good sandwiches. It also serves good coffee- not my favorite, but good enough. The Dogwood coffee used to run a bar here as a part of “Bull Run Coffee”. They used to serve Hario drip and Syphon. Now Dogwood Coffee has their own coffee bar, and Rustica serves only espresso drinks or brewed coffee with a Clover machine. I used to be curious about Clover when it was getting a lot of hype, but I think any coffee brewed with Clover has a bit of muddy texture and unclean flavor.¬† I think single-serve coffee using Hario or Bonmac has far superior flavor, aroma and texture. Their baristas are well trained and skilled, but the Dogwood espresso blend is not my favorite. (too sour and, strangely enough, soy-bean like flavor..! I think it’s a personal thing.)

If I had to choose, I would pick croissants from the Patisserie 46 (will write about this soon), but Rustica’s croissants are still very flaky and subtly sweet. Any of their breads would make anybody’s day happier. I like their baguette and multi-grain loaves. Try their bread with butter option – you get to choose what you want to eat, except the baguette.

I also like some of their sandwich selections and dessert selections. (Eclairs are good, but a bit too big/ pies good, cookies good.) All in all, this is a great place and I would make sure to visit if I am driving into or leaving MSP. Oh, and don’t forget the fresh squeezed orange juice!

Rustica Bakery: 3224 West Lake Street, Minneapolis/ Tel: 612-822-1119

Monday – Friday: 6:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday: 7:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Website: www.rusticabakery.com

Favorite Espresso bean (for now) – Belle from Klatch



Last year I stumbled upon the “Belle” espresso by a micro-roastery in California while browsing the internet. There was a “coffee guru” guy (Kenneth Davids) and his website called “coffeereview.com” and the Belle espresso beans from the Klatch Coffee in CA got the highest ever score (94 points) by him. Davids described the bean as ”

Woops. I think I posted it before it was finished..! I can fix it on my blog, but not on this page..so here it goes:

“Intense aroma: brandy, chocolate, caramel. In the small cup medium in body but smooth in mouthfeel, crisply pungent yet caramelly sweet, with a tightly knit, understated complexity: brandy, caramel, cedar and flowers, hints of See Morewhich persist in the roundly rich finish. Masters milk with a gentle, brandied chocolate authority.”

So I ordered just to see how good it was and it turned out to be the best choice for my Ascaso machine. Ever since I bought that machine in 2006, I have used many different kinds of beans – Intelligentsia’s Black Cat, Barrington Coffee Roasting company’s Gold espresso, Peet’s, Gimme! Coffee’s Leftist, Counter Culture’s Toscano and Rustico, Batdorf & Goodman’s, etc. So far the Toscano from Counter Culture was my favorite, but this one provided a bit more depth and body than the Toscano. (Also the price and the shipping method used to be nicer.) It really tastes like chocolate and brandy, with really sweet smell of caramel.

The package used to look like the picture on the right side – now they have changed the packaging and their website outlook. Sure, the bag looks more modernized, and the website has a lot of useful information and cool facts about the company. The sad thing is that the price changed (upward), too. The Belle used to cost $12.95 for 1lb (about 450g), but now 12oz (350g) costs $11.95, which is similar to the Counter Culture Coffee’s pricing. Klatch still ships via USPS, and it’s much better than the usual UPS ground shipping.

Next beans to try are – Stumptown Hair Bender and Terroir. ūüôā

Great Cafes in America #3




It’s genius- a cafe called “Gimme! Coffee.”

Located in Ithaca (2 in Ithaca and now in a few other places, including NYC), Gimme! Coffee is one of those small, a bit snotty, and yet very charming independent coffee shops. Their Baristas know what they are doing, are friendly and cool, and they make perfect espresso macchiato with a dollop of heart-shaped milk foam, smooth latte with leafy-decoration and spectacular espresso.

I visited Gimme! Coffee on N. Cayuga St. in the spring of 2006, and I knew I would come back to Ithaca because I always go back to a place where there is a great cafe that I fall in love with. (Williamstown, Lenox, Atlanta to name a few.) Gimme! Coffee was using one of the La Marzzoco machines in 2006. This year they were using a machine named Mirage – a very sturdy, shiny machine that makes very thick, caramel-like, syrupy espresso. (The barista told me that Mirage is made by hand in Denmark.)

The Cayuga St. location has a very narrow space, small tables, and is always packed with Cornell students. It’s not fancy looking but it’s warm and cozy. Highly recommended for anybody need good coffee and decent (not as good as their coffee, but still good enough) baked goods.

* Their espresso blend, “Leftist,” is not my favorite choice for home espresso making (at least with my machine), but it tastes great in their own store.

Club Espresso, Seoul

LatteClub Espresso in Buam-dong, Seoul (image from www.clubespresso.co.kr)

Korea’s cafe scene has changed drastically over the past 10-15 years, and now the big cities in Korea are bustling with amazing independent roastery and artisanal cafes.

The term “roasted beans” was a very strange one in the early¬†90s as “coffee” in Korea meant ¬†instant powdered coffee for such a long time. The most popular and available kind back was a single packet of coffee granules with lots of sugar and palm-oil based coffee cream powder. (aka “coffee mix”, which is still readily available in supermarkets and convenient stores) In the early 90s, stores like Jardin coffee and Bremer coffee opened with the name “Wondu coffee” meaning coffee made from roasted bean (basically dripped coffee) and became very popular among young people. I was a high school student and loved giong to one of those Jardin shops with my friend in our school uniforms – it was like a very big guilty pleasure as we were not so sure if it was ok for high school students to drink coffee but it tasted good nonetheless!

The big sales point of such “wondu coffee” shops were flavored coffees. It was fun for a while but¬†soon I learned that those French vanilla flavored and Raspberry chocolate flavored coffee beans were old coffee beans with new make-up. Then in 1999 the first Starbucks shop opened in Korea – I was back for a summer break from my graduate studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, where one of the first Starbucks shops suffered a window damage from a local vandalism. After the huge success of the first Starbucks store located in the biggest women’s college in Korea, almost every universities in Seoul had to have one nearby. Every summer break I would go back home and there would be more Starbucks stores.
Then smaller chains started catching up, providing cheaper espresso drinks. Big shopping areas like Myungdong and a lot of college areas were covered with big and small coffee shops.

I cannot recall when the artisanal cafe movement began in Korea, but I remember visiting a small¬†coffee shop near Korea University where the owner was roasting his own beans and served really fresh and super-tasting coffee as early as 1996 or 1997. I would also hear about and visit some independent coffee shops with ridiculously high price tag ($8-9 for a cup of dripped coffee or cappuccino!) since the late 90s. Also many cake shops opened with small coffee bar as well as big bakery-cafe chains such as “Twosome place” and “Paris Croissant.” (Korean bakeries are very much like Japanese bakeries, which was largely influenced by French baking style. The cakes are much smaller and¬†lighter than the American varieties, and the selection is much larger.)

Quite a few really¬†awesome cafes¬†with great coffess with $4-5 price tag became popular during the past 3-4 years. These¬†shops are usually run by young people who recently finished their barista training,¬†who¬†roast their own coffee in the store, and who¬†run a coffee academy along with the cafe.¬†This kind of¬†artisanal cafes seem to be replacing the cheap, small chains and become more and more popular.¬†In 2007, a soap opera called “Coffee Prince No. 1″featured a high-end cafe that hired only men as their baristas and became a mega-hit in the TV box office. I think that raised the awareness¬†on the good coffee, barista, and so on. One interesting thing is that a lot of these artisanal coffee shops focus on the hand-dripped coffee. To me, it’s like a very delicate version of Costa Rican Chorreador – the barista takes great care of the water temperature, texture of the coffee, and height and direction of the water poured into the ground beans. Watching this kind of coffee-making is almost like watching a painter working on an art-work.¬†This kind of dripped coffee is 10 times better than machine dripped coffee, but¬†still my passion lies on espresso drinks…

One of the best coffee shops I visted in Korea is called “Club Espresso,” and this shop serves really amazing espresso drinks. They have a big roasting machine in the store, and they sell freshly roasted beans by the bag.¬†Pretty spacious and comfortable as well.¬†This shop also serves¬†really fantastic cookies, cakes, and cheese cakes, all baked in the store. The only problem is that it is a little difficult to get to unless you have a car. The owner here worked in various coffee shops in the early 90s and self-taught a lot of things before he went to Japan to learn some more.

Here is the direction:

Take the subway line 3 (orange line) and get off at the “Gyungbokgung” station.
Take a bus (1020, 7022, and 7018) and get off at the “Buam dong office” – it’s on the way to the “Bookak san” road.

Website: www.clubespresso.co.kr (only in Korean)

* There is a very famous dumpling restaurant called “Sonmandoo” if you follow the “Bookak san” road. They serve homemade Korena style dumplings at its best with nice view of the Bookak Mountain. Have a bol of dumpling soup or steamed dumpling there and walk down to get¬†some coffee at¬†the Club Espresso – a perfect day.

Great Cafes in America #2

Octane Coffee Bar and Lounge, Atlanta, GA

Octane cafeLatteEspresso Macchiato

Recently I¬†visited Montgomery, AL, to attend a music festival (See www.clefworks.org). Since I had a few extra days after the festival, I took a¬†day trip¬†to Atlanta to visit¬†a few¬†coffee shops in the city. My dear friend Deborah, who is one of the sweetest people I know but directionally challanged almost to the same level as I am, kindly agreed to drive with me. (Her husband Charles got worried and spent¬†considerable amount of time teaching her how to use the GPS machine…)

I¬†did¬†some research through http://www.indiecoffeeshops.com/¬†and¬†reviews on google and¬†yahoo. After a few days of web-browsing, I came up with a list of 3 coffee shops: Octane Coffee Bar and Lounge, Joe’s East Atlanta Coffee Shop, and Aurora Cafe. (Java Monkey and Dancing Goat looked great but they were more like a smaller “chain” not an independent coffee shop. However the beans from Dancing Goat turned out to be really great, so I am sure I will visit that cafe next time I am in Atlanta.)¬†

With the GPS shouting out loud, we had almost no problem¬†finding the lovely store, tucked in betwen Jefferson Street and Marietta¬†Street.¬†¬†(The store is right on the corner, so it’s easy to miss.) As soon as we entered the store, we knew it was going to be good – it was a large space with nice and relaxed¬†atmosphere,¬†high ceiling, and a lot of customers, and a La Marzocco machine!

We ordered a small latte and a double espresso macchiato along with some yogurt+granola and hummus snack plate. At Octane, they call the prepared coffee and the customers go to pick them up. I think this system works better because the time that coffee sits around, making the espresso go rancid, is shorter. Both drinks were prepared with such care and high quality Рcaramel colored espresso with pleasant aroma, deep and balanced flavor, and golden crema topped with beautiful foam and some art.

Before my visit I contacted them via email, and only the manager from Octane replied. He was not there when I arrived but one of the baristas was happy to help. (Thanks again, John!)

From John Deborah and I learned why La Marzocco machine is good – I always knew I liked espresso coming out of that machine, but did not exactly know why. John told us that it’s because of the separate boiler system that allows the supreme consistency and controll over steaming and extracting.¬†We also¬†learned that they use coffee beans from the Counter Culture – famous roastery in North Carolina. John explained that the baristas are trained with 3 steps – consistency (focusing on the consistency of dosing, extracting, and foaming), 100¬†Q and A test, and then a mock barista competition! Also they have a latte-art competition that’s purely for the visual pleasure and fun.¬†

Their granola was a bit too cinammon-y for my taste, and hummus was on the salty side, but for a cafe-food they were good enough. Their main focus is coffee, and they do have one of the best coffees I have tasted.

It is always nice to see people who really care about what they do and who are proud of their work. I will continue my journey to meet more people like the ones at Octane! (more information on this shop at www.octanecoffee.com)  

* I changed my plan and went to the “Tilt” coffee room as John recommended.¬†Tilt was a beautiful looking cafe, but the¬†drinks (latte and macchiato)¬†tasted too bitter. I think I am just not a big fan of Intelligentsia beans.. Joe’s East Atlanta Coffee Shop¬†was very much like¬†the Soma cafe in Bloomington, IN – a bit smelly, not-organized, but comfortable. Their¬†espresso drinks¬†were too mild and lacked the intensity and flavor. Joe’s cafe is one of the oldest independent cafes in Atlanta, and it seems to be still very popular.