Costa Rica Coffee in 2018

costa rica coffee
Some Costa Rica coffee turned into tasty beverages at Cafe del Barista in Arenjuez.

You’ve probably heard that Costa Rica coffee is ridiculously good. That’s true to a certain extent: You can walk into just about any establishment, pour yourself a mug of brewed coffee that’s been sitting around for hours, and still not need to put any cream or sugar into it.

Espresso is another story, and espresso-based drinks are my bag. I judge establishments by their ability to make a cappuccino – and I like the new-fangled style that has latte-style microfoam and arrives in your hand at drinking temperature. This sort of thing is pretty rare in Costa Rica. Most of the caps I had were too hot, which made them bitter. Many of the baristas nailed the foam pretty well.

Anyway, let’s take a stroll through the places where I drank some coffee and espresso. (Note: I usually only drink coffee four days a week. But I seriously indulged myself for all 10 days of my trip.)

Cafe Milagro in Manuel Antonio

Cafe Milagro in Manuel Antonio and Quepos is well-known. It’s not just a coffeehouse, but a full-service restaurant that keeps going well past dark. It’s a great place to grab a fish sandwich.

costa rica coffee
A cappuccino at Cafe Milagro

They also serve a tasty brewed coffee, probably my favorite of the type that I drank in Costa Rica. Their cappuccinos are so-so.

The short craft beer – or cervezas artisenal – list, is a nice feature for visits later in the day. Not extensive, but still a good start.

Downtown Coffee Roasters, San Jose

Downtown Coffee Roasters is in a pedestrians-only section of San Jose. And it is by far the best place to get espresso. Their cappuccino is absolutely perfect – right temperature, foam and taste. They also do a fine nitro cold brew -- I actually drank both on the same day, and you can imagine the result of that much caffeine. But I regret nothing. Would do again, 12/10.

I know this is a shorter write-up than some of the others. But Downtown Coffee Roasters was my favorite, and there are only so many ways I can say that. 

Doka Estate, Alajuela

I was a little skeptical of a coffee plantation tour. It sounded like boredom to me. But we wanted something to do that afternoon, so I went along with it. And I was proven wrong.

costa rica coffee
My not-so-inner 12-year-old couldn’t stop laughing at this statue.

It was very cool to see the amount of care and energy that goes into a drink so many of us love. There’s also a good bit of innovation. Ray, our tour guide, was engaging and knowledgeable -- and he let us try some of the tasks. Hands-on activities are always good! I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I’ll say that it’s worth your time, even if you think you know coffee.

Speaking of which, the tour included samples of four different types of brewed coffee. And I plunked down an extra $3 for a shot of espresso. It was a good shot – nice crema, which is always a good indicator. The Doka plantation is too far away to drop in for a casual morning cup, but it was still a nice place to sample some drinks.

Cafe del Barista, San Jose (Aranjuez)

I had some high expectations from the vibe at Cafe fel Barista. I expected them to be as good as Central Coffee Roasters. They were not. They were a cut above Cafe Milagro, though. Be careful if your Spanish is rusty: They serve spiked coffee drinks, too, at all times of day. That’s how the wife wound up with her crazy concoction.

costa rica coffee
The menu at Cafe del Barista

The cappuccino was pretty good, definitely more of a modern style with the latte-style foam. For me, it was a bit too hot and a bubbly. Still one of the better ones I had in Costa Rica, but not a match for Downtown Coffee Roasters.

48 Hours in Atlanta – Business Travel Edition

I recently had a chance to spend 48 hours in Atlanta. Since it was strictly for business, I didn’t have much time for recreation. Any fun I had would come in the form of a tasty beverage following a meal following a session in the hotel gym.

This was my first time in Atlanta; a co-worker described it as a generic southern metropolis. I was extremely pleased to find out that this is not actually the case. With very little time or effort, I found local flavors all within walking distance of my hotel (it’s fair to admit that my walking distance might not be yours – on a recent trip to New Zealand, I averaged more than eight miles of walking every day).

48 hours in Atlanta
Mexico and Korea collide in all the right ways at Takorea.

If you ever travel for business and wind up in Atlanta, especially in the Midtown area, here are a few places you should visit in Atlanta in the hours before or after your work activities.

Takorea

I am generally the last person to hop on the fusion of cuisine. It took me years before I gave a Vietnamese-meets-Mexican place near me, and I felt foolish once I discovered how much I liked the food – even if it wasn’t exactly authentic.

With that experience in mind, I made a snap judgment on this Korean-meets-Mexican place. Good move. The Uber Bop bowl at Takorea was loaded with banchan, pork, an egg and just the right amount of spice. Finishing it was a challenge, but I gladly accepted. You might also do well with the bulgogi quesadilla.

I also found a fairly impressive list of local beers, both on draft and in cans/bottle; the server recommended the Blind Pirate Blood Orange IPA, which went nicely with the heat from the Uber Bop. The service is also very friendly, but in a genuine way rather than "the corporate suits will fire me if I’m not sugary polite" manner. In short, I’d take Takorea home with me in a second.

48 hours in Atlanta
I always look for a real cappuccino when I travel. And no, Starbucks doesn’t count.

The Dancing Goats Coffee Bar – Midtown

I love it when a barista gets excited about making a cappuccino. What that means is "everyone has been asking for sickeningly sweet drinks, and now I’ll get to show that I have some real barista skills without tons of sugar getting in the way."

That was the reaction I got both times at The Dancing Goats. Both times, the cappuccinos were of solid quality. They were definitely a quantum leap past a Starbucks cappuccino. I’d place them in the top 20 percent of caps I’ve had, but they wouldn’t get into the top 10 percent. That’s still a solid performance.

I wouldn’t recommend their donuts since they’re a bit on the dry side. Dancing Goats is roomy and has reliable wifi sans password. And yes, they have water for the taking and the staff is very personable and talkative (as long as it’s not the morning rush).

48 Hours in Atlanta
Brewery perfection: The Torched Hop


The Torched Hop Brewing Company

After arriving, checking in and getting dinner, following Google Maps to The Torched Hop was my first priority. This is nothing less than an absolutely perfect local brewery – from its open, airy space to its mix of brewed-onsite and guest selections, it’s the sort of place that would be my Number One choice if I lived in Atlanta.

You can check my Untappd profile for evaluations of everything I tried in my flight and beyond. I’d have to say, though, that the flagship Hops-de-Leon IPA was my favorite. The biggest surprise was the Holy Citramony; I’m typically not a lager fan, but this IPL was carbonated perfectly and actually packed with hops.

The service is largely DIY: I would go to the bar when I wanted something. There did appear to be table service and desserts, but I didn’t take advantage of either of them. Maybe next time.

Maverick Coffee in Scottsdale – A Quick Review

maverick coffee
A look at the barista work area and menu.

When I was in Australia and New Zealand, I discovered flat whites and the joy of savory snacks along with coffee. Here in the U.S., flat whites are a rarity. And most of your coffeehouse snacks lean on the sweet side; the antipodean cafes, though, recognize the value of a spinach-mushroom-feta muffin.

If you live near the southeast corner of Shea Boulevard and Scottsdale Road, though, Maverick Coffee has you covered. You’ll get just-about-Australian coffee experience thanks to owners who are Australian. There are a few tweaks versus what I experienced (most notably, the cream and sugar are out for customers to use, where it seemed like all the Australian coffeehouses added them upon request).

maverick coffee
A look at some Maverick Coffee drinks.

Maverick Coffee serves flat whites, and also a super-nice drink called a piccolo. I guess a lot of shops would call it a cortado … but a lot of the different names are about splitting hairs, and there are fewer absolutes than anyone wants to admit. If you’re less into espresso drinks, Maverick Coffee also makes a terrific Chemex.

Now, about those Aussie meat pies on the menu – they’re delicious. The brownie is sludgy and moist, just the way I like a brownie. And even if you’re a coffee fan, trying the iced white tea sometime. Maverick Coffee also sells little bags of nuts called … Nut Sacks!

maverick coffee
“That’s right, Star … bucks. I AM dangerous.”

And parents, you’ll like this: There’s a room toward the back with a sliding wooden door. You’ll find games and books for them to enjoy (and there are books for regular ol’ grown-ups, too). This is a nice family-friendly feature.

The seating in the main part of Maverick Coffee is also comfortable, with couches, low tables and high tables, plus plenty of power outlets. The lighting is comfortably dim (and the fixtures are super cool and retro-industrial). I also like that the music isn’t overwhelmingly loud.

Mwpid-img_20150710_150850974.jpgaverick Coffee also keeps and icy jug of water for customers to chase the coffee – which is also very Australian. I didn’t see any restaurants in Australia or New Zealand that didn’t have a “serve yourself” water setup; I like that a lot better than A) waiting for a server to refill my water or B) servers filling my water when the level is down a half-inch.

Scottsdale, count yourself lucky to have Maverick Coffee.

The Phoenix Hipster Travel Guide

Phoenix hipster
Crikey! We’ve got Phoenix hipster scenesters in their natural habitat at Lux. Look at the plaid plumage on that specimen!

Hipsters should keep their trilby-wearing, Indie-loving, PBR-guzzling butts out of Phoenix. There’s nothing for them here, right? Just look at this city: Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the sad public transit, the dearth of a true creative class. But there’s also a glut of dive bars, indie music venues, thrift shops and espresso bars. Plus you can sound uber-ironic and contrarian by telling your DJ/mixed media artist/php developer buddies back home that you think Phoenix rocks. So maybe a traveling hipster can get something out of Phoenix.

Well, then, let me help you build your itinerary with my Phoenix hipster travel guide. Check out these four places, and you’ll get the real Phoenix hipster experience.

The Clarendon Hotel

If you visit Phoenix, you need a place to stay. Frequent rooftop parties, DJs and modern-retro styling make the Clarendon Hotel a perfect crash pad for visiting hipsters. And it’s a choice location – walking distance from a light rail station -- the preferred hipster mode of transport aside from fixed-gear bikes. Consider this THE choice place to stay in the Phoenix Hipster Travel Guide.

Lux Coffee Bar

A way-too-serious DJ scowling at his Mac laptop like a submarine sonar operator listening for depth charges. A parking lot filled with beat-up cruisers, fixies and Scions. Shouting to be heard over the clamor.

Phoenix hipster travel guide
To get this rare shot of a hipster-free Oasis pool, the management at the Clarendon announced a 2-for-1 oversized sunglasses special in the gift shop. (SOURCE: The Clarendon Hotel via Wikimedia Commons)

This is Lux Coffee Bar. You can find far better espresso in Phoenix. But you can’t find more skinny jeans and awkward facial hair per capita anywhere. The menu has all the usual espresso suspects, plus trendy comfort food items. Finally, Lux has one of the most annoying, ill-functioning-on-all-browsers websites you’ll encounter.

FilmBar Phoenix

Looking for a film that doesn’t rely on explosions? You’re in luck – FilmBar is the place to find the old, the serious, the "so-bad-it’s-good" features that you’ll never see at a mega-movie megaplex. And there’s a genuinely impressive beer list featuring a smattering of Arizona-brewed items -- FilmBar might lose hipster points for not having PBR on the list. But you can’t argue that showing some Ingmar Bergman and French films from the 1950s doesn’t even the score. No Phoenix hipster travel guide is complete without FilmBar.

The Lost Leaf

How hip is The Lost Leaf? It’s website extension is .org, not .com. Odds are, the band booked for the night will have a stand-up bass. It’s no strip mall bar, but a nicely renovated bungalow. That’s hip. There’s also 140 bottled beers, some sake, some wine and even a few non-alcoholic beverages. You may feel out-of-place if you have no odd piercings or tattoos. But you’ll satisfy your people-watching needs, along with the desire for a choice beverage.




Kaffitar Stands Out as Reykavik’s Best Espresso

I’m in Iceland.But I feel more like it’s high noon on Main Street in a dusty Old West outpost. The barista looks friendly, but I know I’m being sized up.

"What can I get you?" she asks – the shot-puller’s equivalent of "your move, pardner."

"A cappuccino, please," I reply – the espresso lover’s equivalent of "draw"

Ah, the cappuccino. It will quickly reveal with this Kaffitar place on the Laugavegur in Reykjavik is all about. There’s no sugar or syrup or fancy ingredients to hide behind. This is no double-mocha-latte-pumpkin-spiced frappe with sprinkles and extra whipped cream. Just espresso shots, milk and a bit of steam. And every smart barista knows it.

It took a few minutes for my cappuccino to emerge. Between the crowd and the care, that’s a good sign. Then I took a look: It was a wet cappuccino, which I prefer to the "dry" variety capped by about two inches of airy foam. Here, I saw a nice, dense microfoam.

I took a careful sip. The temperature? Perfect. Hot, but ready to drink right then and there. No trace of bitterness from over-roasted beans or nuclear-hot water.

There’s more to a cafe than just even the espresso drink, though. Kaffitar was filled to the gills, locals, travelers and tourists alike. Some pecked on laptops. Some  read. Some talked to a friend. Others struck up conversations they didn’t know a few minutes ago.

Perfect.

We spent several days in Reykjavik, and we had to explore the other cafes. There’s no excuse for marching back to the same place. But Kaffitar set the standard. Some espresso drinks came close – but they couldn’t quite match the barista skills on display at Kaffitar. Some actually bested it in atmosphere: Cafe Rot is about as friendly as it gets, especially when the World Cup is being shown on a big-screen TV in the basement. The desserts at Sufistinn were spectacular.

But overall, Kaffitar is the one I’d bring home with me if I could magically transplant it walking distance from my house.

Iceland’s Coffee Culture a Cure for the Common Starbucks

suffistinn
Sufistinn Kaffihus - tasty coffee, amazing desserts near Reykjavik, Iceland.

Three Great Coffeehouses in Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik, the capitol of Iceland, is absolutely bristling with inviting coffeehouses. Kaffitar, Cafe Rot and Sufistinn Kaffihus are three of its best.
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