About a year and a half ago, I got into the whole coffee thing. Dark roast, light roast, mochas. One of the things you notice right away is the desire to try new kinds of coffee and different coffee houses, always searching for the ultimate cup.
I’ve come to the conclusion that gas station coffee and run of the mill restaurant coffee is rather lame. A restaurant like The Café on the other hand is another story.
At home, Folgers’ decaf rules the day. I found on a blind taste test that decaf is just fine, and you sleep so much better. 100 % Columbian seems popular also. What really surprised me was the variance in coffee houses. The barista truly does make a difference with how well a mocha or smoothie turns out.
The standard by which I judge all Ames’ coffee houses, is Zanzibar’s on Ingersoll in Des Moines. Aside from a young slender blonde who couldn’t make a mocha to save her life, Zanzibar’s baristas are the piece de resistance when it comes to preparing the magic bean. Assuming they don’t open up an Ames location, we have what we have.
I used to think Café Milo on Mortenson was one of the best. I thought other than their location (surrounded by students as far as the eye can see), that their baristas were top notch. Nope. A recent visit bought a mocha sans whipped cream! Sacré bleu! Considering you can only get a seat there when ISU is not in session, and now that their baristas are suspect, it is definitely not worth the drive west. In July they did have the capability of making the best mango or banana smoothie in town.
Stomping Grounds on Welch Ave is a non-starter. They make a decent enough product, they are just in the heart of campus town, no place for an adult. Talk about squatterville!
Café Diem on Main Street can be good, or great, it all depends. On the plus side they have E.W. and a ton of ambiance. On the negative side they can have squatters out the wazoo, and a shortage of ceramic mugs. Have you ever tasted a $5 mocha in a paper cup? Not good. I tried to imagine Zanzibar’s serving a mocha in a paper cup, couldn’t do it. Great breakfast sandwich, incredible muffins, and a to die for salted caramel brownie.
Bruegger’s Bagels on Lincoln Way is a bright spot. They don’t do the espresso based drinks, but they do your basic light roast, dark roast and decaf. Their bagels are delicious, with all the cream cheese you’d ever want, and in any flavor. One of the best dark roasts in town, but when they run out, it’s 10 minutes till the next pot is brewed. One pot at a time?? What’s up with that? (it happened again this morning, the last quarter of the cup was topped off with house blend because they ran out of dark roast. I don’t understand that, you spend thousands of dollars getting your building and facilities, and you have one coffee pot?)
Panera Bread on South Duff has its moments as a coffee house. The light roast is definitely the keeper there. Mochas are for the most part a big pass there, temperature can be room temp, no whipped cream sometimes, poorly mixed. Good coffee and baked goods keep it on the rotation though. Things like the breakfast quiche make it fun.
Starbucks at 327 Lincoln Way is one I was slow to warm to, but it is fast catching on with me. Medium roast is a so-so. The dark roast was very good. They like to serve everything in a paper cup, so I didn’t go there for a year and a half, at least for mochas. Then I discovered this week they do have ceramic! A very passable mocha (as pictured above) was had there today. Piping hot, good taste, plenty of whipped cream. Much potential. Sometimes hard to get a seat. (I had another mocha there this morning. Maybe they’ll never be Zanzibar’s, but they seem to be consistent. It was hot, had all the right ingredients, and I was able to get it in a mug. That beats a lot of the places. Plus, I now have a Gold Card, which allows me to earn fabulous points and prizes!)
Burgie’s on Airport Road is a major player. At the “go to work time” there looked to be 5 baristas churning out the goods. The light roast was so-so, never been a fan of Guatemalan coffee. The dark roast on the other hand really grows on you, struck me as unique. The mocha’s temperature was barely adequate and it’s taste was decidedly weak. Edge? Starbucks. The chai tea latte? Adequate. No cinnamon sprinkled on top. A little blah. The blueberry scone? Okay.
(The curmudgeonly coffee critic doesn’t care if it’s “a great study place!”, your home would make a great study place, or how “friendly” the baristas are.)
[So in the last 24 hours from 10/14, I have gotten vary lame dark roasts from Starbucks, Bruegger’s and Burgie’s. Absolutely no consistency. A pox on all their houses I say. I bought some ‘Dunkin Dark’ at the grocery store and will make my own in the morning.]