Jihye Chang

“Espresso”

Chan’s Espresso Bar-One of the best espressos in Seoul!

If you want to see a lot of good lo0king young people hanging out, or taste the “it” food for those young people, or hear Korean indie rock bands performing, you need to visit the Hongik University area (aka Hongdae). I have a soft spot in my heart for this area, but it is so far away from where my parents live or anywhere that I visit regularly that I rarely have a chance to go there whenever I am in Seoul.  But this summer I had a mission – visiting the rising star cafe of this area, Chan’s Espresso.

Their machines are very fancy and justly famous among Korean bloggers – Synesso and La Marzzoco espresso machines, the Clover coffee machine, Mazzer grinders, Everpure water filtration system, and even the orange Smeg refrigerator. Instead of roasting their own beans, Chan’s imports beans from the famed Tim Wendleboe of Oslo and Intelligenstia of Chicago. Unfortunately, that means that the beans will never be completely fresh due to the shipping time from Norway and USA to Korea. However, I think it works better than roasting poor quality beans, which happens often in a lot of new roastery-cafes in Korea. Also they don’t do the latest Korean cafe fad of cakes, sandwiches, or waffles – only coffee. I like that.

Let’s get straight to the point: I was highly impressed with the Tim Wendleboe double shot cappuccino! It was a totally new experience for me to enjoy espresso so deep and layered with so much complexity. It also looked much thicker than the regular espresso shot, and had an almost terra cotta-like color. I usually prefer espresso on the sweet side and not too acidic, but this Tim Wendleboe cappuccino had a really pleasant acidity that I enjoyed very much. Also it had a deep sweetness as well as really great body-feel to it. I wish I had been able to compare the Tim Wendelboe espresso to a shot of Intelligentsia, but by then I had already consumed too much coffee and could not handle any more! Oh well – such was my luck.

My husband ordered Tim Wendelbo’s Kenya brewed by Clover. That was not as good as the cappuccino. It was too muddy, had too much sour flavor, and just not good.  It might also have been the Clover machine, which I find myself liking less and less…

Anyways. Chan’s cafe is cultivating a very serious fan base already, which doesn’t surprise me at all given the quality of their coffee. It’s a place that I will definitely go back next time I am in Seoul.

Location: Seogyo-Dong, Mapo-gu, 409-10 (“Parking lot street”, aka “Joochajang georit”)

To find your way: Take subway #6. Get off at the Sangsoo station. Exit #1. Turn back and go toward “Geukdong Electronics” and look for a restaurant called “Yogi” and 7-11 convenience store. Take the small road between those two and walk toward “Donkatsu cham jalhanun-jib” and you will see Chan’s on your right. (It’s a labyrinth kind of area with many little cafes and restaurants, and Chan’s has a big, black steel door and a big glass window at the front.)

Price: Espresso for 5500 won (about $4.8)/ Macchiato, Cortado, Americano for 6000 won/ Latte, Cappuccino, Mocha for 6500 won

Favorite Espresso bean (for now) – Belle from Klatch

belle1

belle

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. 🙂

Great Cafes in America #3

gimme32

gimme51

gimme41

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.

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 – caramel 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.

Great Cafes in America #1

Lenox CoffeeLenox Coffee in Lenox, MA

I love drinking espresso and espresso macchiato. It all started when a guitarist from Argentina at Indiana University told me that he considered dripped coffee as “polluted water.” I tried what he was drinking and loved it instantly. Since then I have been very interested in independent cafes that take pride in making great espresso. Interestingly I always found one or two great coffee shops whenever I was in a music festival or music residency! The first one was in Sarasota, but I will start from the one near Tanglewood as it is one of my favorite places in the world.
I was an instrumental piano fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center in 2004. At TMC fellows get free meals but the meals are cafeteria-style..hence no good coffee. I was craving espresso so much and one morning I decided to explore the small downtown in Lenox, which is in between Tanglewood campus and the dormitory fellows stay. I asked someone randomly, and the person directed me to the “one and only” cafe there. There it was – Lenox Coffee. It was a very small, warm, crowded place with one person writing down orders on a small post-it/ one person making the drinks/ one person handing out the drinks and cleaning up the tables. That’s where I learned about the La Marzcco machine and leaf-art on a cup of latte. Boston Symphony’s driver (I think he drove the conductors), who is an Italian, would come to drink their espresso and say “Bravissimo!.” The service was slow and the guys who worked there were not too friendly but they knew how to make really good coffee. I never cared for milk-based espresso drinks until I ordered a small cappuccino with double shots there – until this moment I cannot forget that wonderfully aromatic cup of cappuccino, with perfect foam, in a brown cup! I went back in 2005 and they were still busy and great.

This year, 2007, I had a house concert in Berkshire at the home of Claudia and Carl Shuster’s. I met them in 2005 during one of the rehearsals for Ligeti Horn Trio. They were so supportive and friendly, and we have kept in touch since then. They host a house concert all year long at their beautiful house in Stockbridge, and this October I was invited to perform. The first thing I did when I arrived from Hartford airport was to visit Lenox Coffee. And…sadly it had changed. The place smelled a bit funny, probably due to careless cleaning, and their machine was Synesso. The person who made my small-double-cappuccino said he preferred it to La Marzocco, but the cappuccino was not as good as I remembered. Still good, but not as good. But still I would visit just for the fond memories I have from 2004 and 2005. That place made me happy and smile.