A few weeks ago, I discovered a little-known cafe located in the Baltimore County Public Library in Towson, which happens to be down the street from my office.
A coworker gave me their website and I quickly realized this coffee shop is legit. There are some seriously professionally trained baristas there, specializing in ALL forms of brewing coffee/espresso. That’s kind of their thing – they don’t believe any one method of brewing coffee is THE method. So they offer all of them. And when I say all, I mean all…
Needless to say I was impressed before even trying their coffee. Then I tried their coffee.
That needed it’s own paragraph for emphasis. Wow, I thought the in-house syrups at Cunningham’s and Atwaters were good. Nope. This place has actual vanilla bean pods sitting at the base of their syrup bottles.
I spoke to one of the baristas about her background. She said they were very fortunate to have been trained by an internationally-renowned barista. I was like, yeah, fortunate for all of us.
I had an iced vanilla latte and watched as she used a method I had never seen before. Despite it being an iced latte, she still steamed the milk. Having that bit of foam at the top of your iced latte makes a surprisingly tasty difference. She explained to me that you should never pour espresso directly into cold milk because it changes the flavor of the espresso. So basically EVERYONE’s doing it wrong. That, and their espresso content starts at a minimum of two shots (unlike some *ahem, Starbucks* coffee shops) so you’re always guaranteed a strong espresso flavor.
Here is barista, Marni pouring her amazingly-steamed microfoam [think velvety] into the latte.
Another reason to check them out – they have super cute magnets on the espresso machine. I want them.
bb’s cafe originally opened as spro at the library in 2006, but they have since (2011) opened a second coffee shop (keeping the name spro) in Hampden, Baltimore – sprocoffee.com.
I can’t wait to try them out in Hampden! Have to say the little seating area at the library cafe is lacking ‘ambiance’ – but hey, I’m definitely not complaining. I have a new coffee run go-to within walking distance of my office! Sorry Zeke’s, you’re history!
So I was perusing the farmer’s market held near my office every Thursday. Today is pretty rainy and especially windy (up to 40 mph winds). I was hoping to get my usual coffee from Zeke’s Coffee booth (local Baltimore roaster), but alas he wimped out and didn’t show due to rain. Side note — isn’t a rainy day the best time to get coffee? Bad business decision.
Anyway, I opted to try just a straight hot coffee from Cunningham’s booth (see Cunningham’s post). As mentioned before, Cunningham’s uses Ceremony Coffee Roasters beans and I’ve had great luck with their lattes. Their coffee however, bleh. I am continually surprised by how much I don’t like the flavor of their coffee, I’ve even tried their beans for French press at home. I don’t mean to bash this coffee roaster – they’re local and considered by most to be a fairly high-end coffee. Just consider yourself warned.
I think what’s happened here is I’ve finally accepted that Cunningham’s is awesome and Ceremony is not. Cunningham’s makes their own syrups and has delicious latte creations, perhaps good enough to mask the coffee flavor I’m not so fond of. Nonetheless, today I was left with gross coffee on a rainy day and a broken umbrella. Thanks a lot, Zeke.
Ahhh it’s that time of year again… the leaves are changing, the air is crisp, and coffee shops across the country are rolling out their pumpkin spice lattes.
I’m here to give you a direct PSL-to-PSL comparison from three coffee shops: Starbucks, Bean Hollow, and Atwaters.
Starbucks – bleh.
So it used to be that the only advertised place you could get a pumpkin spice latte, was Starbucks. At the time, sure, I might have liked it – I mean, who doesn’t want pumpkin pie in a cup? But then as local coffee shops started jumping on the PSL bandwagon, I had something to compare it to and realized, it’s pretty much crap.
Starbucks claims that this year their PSL is new and improved with REAL pumpkin. Guess what, Starbucks – all the local coffee shops have been doing that since the beginning. Nonetheless, I gave the new Starbucks’ PSL a chance. Nope. Tastes exactly the same as far as I can tell. I don’t know how it’s possible to use real pumpkin and still taste the same, but they’ve managed. I didn’t even finish half the latte.
I was happy to see today that Atwaters is now offering their own pumpkin spice latte. As mentioned in my Atwaters post, they make their own syrups, and as I took the last few sips of this latte, it was clear they use pumpkin pie filling in the mix. So good. I would recommend giving it a stir though to make sure you’re getting all the pumpkin pie goodness throughout; it tends to sink to the bottom if not stirred enough. Go get one!
Bean Hollow Bean Hollow is a cute local coffee shop in Ellicott City’s (MD) historic district. They [and their pumpkin spice latte] have been around a long time and I keep forgetting to give them their own blog post! They have served consistently good lattes since I started going there in high school. Plus, they roast their own beans, which I frequently use at home for french press. But more about that another time – their PSL is delicious! They’ve always used real pumpkin pie filling and were the first ones to do so as far as I know. I definitely recommend spending a fall day on Main Street and swinging by Bean Hollow for their PSL or other delicious seasonal drinks (try their new ginger spice latte – equally as delicious, if not more, oh snap!)
I hope that wherever you get your pumpkin spice latte this season, it is delicious. 🙂
Today is National Coffee Day (not to be confused with International Coffee Day on Oct 1), and what better way to celebrate than grabbing a cup o’ joe (or latte) from a local coffee shop near you! Unfortunately I have not been to every local coffee shop in the country (should this be a goal?). Nonetheless, these are my recommendations:
If you’re in Seattle, grab a latte of your choosing at Zeitgeist Coffee.
If you’re in Baltimore, grab a coconut latte at Charmington’s or an equally
delicious caramel latte at Artifact Coffee. I also recommend the coconut latte at Daily Grind in the Fell’s Point area.
If you’re in Catonsville grab a caramel latte at Atwaters.
If you’re in Towson, grab said caramel latte at Atwaters, or a cinnamon toast latte at Cunningham’s.
If you’re just in the mood for some good coffee, I’d recommend grabbing some Zeke’s iced or hot coffee at La Cakerie in Towson.
Given we are already halfway through summer, this post may be a little overdue. Nonetheless, I need to share the latest and greatest I’ve learned in iced coffees this year.
Number 1: Ice Matters.
Both in shape and quantity, ice can make all the difference (go figure) in whether your coffee tastes refreshing and strong, or flat and diluted.
Of all the coffee shop offerings I’ve had, I tend to prefer semi-crushed or small cubes in my iced coffee – this could be purely subjective. I like the ice for more than it’s cooling function, it’s a texture thing. Plus that clinking in your glass makes it feel more like summer. I find that when coffee shops use huge ice cubes, they tend to form a cold layer at the top of your glass, and when using a straw you end up with a mouthful of room temperature coffee at the bottom. You have to keep shaking your glass to get it uniformly cold. That’s no fun.
On that note, the barista needs to know what she/he is doing – I used to think filling your cup with ice was just to jip you out of more coffee. This is not the case – if your cup is only half full, that ice will melt too fast and water down your coffee before you finish it. This is true even of refrigerated coffee. When they do it right, you’ll be left with some ice in your cup after finishing.
Side note on barista laziness – unless you’re getting Starbucks’ version of a macchiato, make sure they STIR it for you… you don’t know how many times I’ve gone for that first sip, only to wish I could spit the mouthful of luke warm syrup pile that just entered my mouth because they couldn’t take 5 seconds to finish combining my drink. It’s called a spoon, people.
Number 2: Simple Syrup
I recently discovered that the sole reason I wasn’t loving some coffee shops’ iced coffees was because of the simple syrup they use. I mean, they tasted okaaay, but I realized what was throwing me off is how simple syrups can taste like artificial sweeteners. Simple syrup is just sugar dissolved into water (on the stove), which is actually a great invention for cold drinks that need sweetening. However, there are a range of sugars and concentrations you can use (despite its simplicity) that will alter the taste of the coffee.
What spurred this whole post was my discovery of Atwater’s simple syrup (coffee geek-out?). They use Sugar in the Raw!
Sugar in the Raw (turbinado sugar) is simply sugar that hasn’t had all the molasses pulled out of it, leaving it with that golden brown color – lighter than brown sugar, darker than granulated sugar. It’s subtle, but it does give it a distinct slightly-richer flavor. Apparently when used for simple syrup, it’s delicious! Of course Atwaters also uses Counter Culture Coffee beans (see Coffee Shops tab), which never disappoints.
The funny thing is after realizing what I didn’t like about simple syrups, I started using Sugar in the Raw packets in my iced coffee, despite its inability to dissolve in cold drinks. If the coffee’s good, it can still add just enough sweetness to maintain that delicious cup (assuming you don’t prefer your coffee black). But now I know where they use Sugar in the Raw simple syrup! Maybe I should get a job in their marketing department.
Number 3: Don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid to try out your own recipes at home. There are all kinds of syrups, honeys, flavored creams, and combinations that you can create to make an amazing iced coffee drink at home. You can probably find about 253 recipes on Pinterest too (assuming there’s one for ever photo of iced coffee sitting on a rustic wood tabletop). Recently my husband bought me some dried lavender and I plan on using it in my own simple syrup. In this case, all that’s required is dissolving sugar into water on the stove, letting it cool, then adding the lavender seeds and letting it sit for a good few hours, if not a whole day. I should be left with a subtly-flavored lavender syrup (if all goes well).
Now go enjoy some iced coffee while the weather’s still hot!