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A Caffeinated Journey: Part 1

And so begins my journey, A Caffeinated Journey…

Since Minneapolis Coffee Guide is all about coffee and we created this space to share with others our love of coffee by exploring and showcasing local coffee shops, cafes, and roasters; I thought it would be great to start a blog series devoted to my personal experiences with coffee in the home and in the community for those interested in hearing about different shops in Minneapolis, coffees from various roasters, coffee preparation, and all things related to coffee. My hope is that this information will be interesting or useful to people interested in coffee or looking to have great experiences. Also, I look forward to hearing from members of the community about their experiences with coffee. We all are in this together and learn from one another! A few key points I would like to mention:

  • Our site is not reviewing shops, at this time. Google reviews have robust information from the community concerning specific venues.
  • Our site does not promote any one coffee shop or roaster over others. If I say I enjoy one shop/roaster in particular, it is not to the detriment of any other shop. We essentially promote all local coffee and roasters!
  • Our site is 100% positive. You will not see any negative talk concerning any shop or roaster. We are here to share our experiences and give thanks to the coffee owners, baristas, and patrons.
  • We are not being compensated by any coffee shop or roaster.
  • While I absolutely love coffee, I still enjoy and limit myself to one to three cups per day. Like everything, moderation is the key (just a personal disclaimer!).

Coffee is about community and we would love to hear from you and always consider other contributors to our site. If you have any ideas, or would like to contribute some of your caffeinated experiences, please contact: info@minneapoliscoffee.guide or use our contact form.

Anelace Coffee

With that being said, I begin this journey at Anelace Coffee in the Holland neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis. There is no particular reason I chose this destination first, it simply is the first shop I visited when I decided to start this blog series. Again, please note this is not a review, but my personal experience (which I suppose could be considered a review, but that is not the intention).

Anelace Coffee is a relaxed shop on Central Avenue in Minneapolis. I visited today with a friend and my infant daughter. My first impression upon walking in was how beautiful and open the space is. The ceiling design is a beautiful architectural feature in this space. The baristas are very kind and engaging. The atmosphere/ambiance is nice. Subtle, light music fills the shop and matches the aesthetic quite nicely. The lighting is soft, but ample. This shop offers a great space for study, work, relaxing, and just simply enjoying a great cup of coffee. I ordered a cup of espresso, sparkling water, and a beautiful chocolate pastry (akin to the type we had enjoyed on a trip to Belgium). We were not able to stay too long, but were able to enjoy the delicious coffee and pastry, and to find out that one of the roasters they prepare is Counter Culture Coffee (they feature a rotating selection of single-origin beans). I picked up some Fast Forward beans, recommended by the barista, to try at home in the french press and moka pot. Stay tuned to hear more about this experience! I look forward to visiting this shop again soon!

Coffee at Home

The morning began with my daughter running into the kitchen with her two wooden coffee cups to have coffee time with mom (she just started walking recently, so when I say “running”, it is walking at a very enthusiastic pace for coffee!). She had her pretend coffee and some water, I had a delicious Lavazza Deciso Espresso (intensity 10) prepared in the Nespresso (DeLonghi) machine. We were introduced to this machine in Bruges/Brugge, Belgium and absolutely love it.

Convenient European-Style Coffee

A close to perfect cup of espresso every time! This machine has small capsules that are placed in the front of the machine, which brews an individual cup at a time, a bit like Keurig, but better (more environmental friendly and espresso, rather than brewed coffee). Please read a comparison of the Nespresso vs. Keurig products. I would only add that there are more options of Nespresso capsules (other than the proprietary brand) becoming available at this time. Thus far, we have tried Nespresso’s proprietary brand, Peet’s Coffee, Lavazza, Woken, and Archer Farms (found at Target stores). We will discuss some of the attributes of the different brands in a future post.

Our favorite brewing methods at home are still a french press or moka pot, but with time constraints, we are always looking for a way to get a good, quick cup to start the day. Nespresso  and instant coffee varieties have become a fun part of this journey! Until next time…

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The Quest for the “Perfect” Cup of Instant Coffee

L'or Intense Instant Coffee

Why Instant Coffee?

Since this site is dedicated to all things coffee, we thought it would be interesting to explore the (not so perfect) world of instant coffee. Yes, instant coffee has its place as a convenient alternative to a fine cup of brewed bliss. If you are on-the-go, camping in the deep woods, or if the office-supplied coffee just doesn’t cut it, instant coffee may be the way to go. We always have a supply on hand for those busy mornings, when we do not have time to await the french press. Our personal search to find the best instant coffee for our shelf inspired this sampling, which is the first taste test on our quest. The final results are subjective to our household, but we thought we would share our findings, as some may find it useful or interesting. Please note, we are not professional tasters, just two people in love with coffee. Also, we are not affiliated with any of the companies or products that we are sampling, nor have we received compensation from them.

Our Method

We decided to do a blind taste test with a sampling of four different instant coffees. Scott prepared the test and I (Nicole) was the lucky tester! The coffee was prepared in a separate room (the kitchen) and was brought to me in random order. The coffees sampled were Starbucks VIA® Pike Place, Carte Noire / L’or Intense® , Sudden Coffee® Columbian Cristalina, and Starbucks VIA® French Roast. These are the surprising, unbiased results of the blind taste test, based purely on my perception.

Our Results

Prepared Instant Coffee

Starbucks VIA® Pike Place Roast (medium roast)

starbucks via pike place

This sample had a dark appearance, a light froth, and had an initial scent of instant coffee. The taste was bitter, slightly dusty, and acidic. The aftertaste was bitter.

Carte Noire / L’or Intense® (dark roast)

l'or intense

This sample had a light appearance and had slightly more froth than the first sample. The scent was fragrant and sweet. The taste was smooth, light , and had a sweet flavor. The aftertaste was less pronounced than the first sample.

Sudden Coffee® Columbian Cristalina (medium roast)

sudden coffee

This sample had a nice light brown color and a light froth. There was a distinctive brewed coffee aroma. The texture of the coffee was a bit grainy in appearance, but was not apparent while drinking the coffee. The aftertaste was minimal. I noted that I had the desire to continue drinking this sample.

Starbucks VIA® French Roast (dark roast)

starbucks via french roast

This sample had a dark appearance and no visible froth (it may have dissipated, as this was the fourth sample). The aroma was strong and there was a slightly, astringent quality to it. The taste was bitter and acidic. The aftertaste was strong.

Conclusion

I presented my taste impressions and my brand assumptions to Scott. I was surprised to find that a coffee that I previously was fairly impressed with, the Starbucks VIA® French Roast, had not fared well in my taste test. I think the power of perception, based on branding, can sometimes lead you to believe you like something that, perhaps, you actually do not. After having an unbiased impression of the product, based upon senses alone, I discovered that Sudden Coffee® was my first choice and Carte Noire / L’or Intense® was second. Both Starbucks VIA® Instant Coffees did not appeal to me, although I do typically love a cup of brewed Pike Place Roast or French Roast. Scott noted that when have had VIA® instant coffee in the past, we raved about how good it was. Knowing what kind of coffee it was ahead of time must have skewed our perception. That said, the VIA® line of instant coffees are clearly better then most of the national brands of instant coffee on the market (Taster’s Choice® , Folgers® , etc.).

instant coffee finished

The quest continues…

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Regional Roasters: ARCO Coffee’s Norseman Grog

Arco Coffee Norseman Grog

ARCO Coffee

To kick off the blog, I want to give a nod to the first locally roasted coffee that I ever had to pleasure to enjoy. Originally from northeastern Minnesota, I recall being fairly unimpressed with Folger’s, Maxwell House, and the other brand name, ground coffees that were available at the local grocer. I started drinking coffee at an early age, with my Finnish grandmother giving me coffee with a lot of cream and sugar, accompanied by kropser, from the time I was able to walk.

Church Basement Coffee

The Iron Range of Minnesota has not traditionally been a hotbed of locally roasted, thoughtfully-crafted coffee. Growing up, I knew I liked to drink warm coffee during the cold winters but never savored the taste or felt a strong sense of pleasure from drinking coffee. In fact, I still recall the tea-tinted coffee of the local churches during fellowship and thinking about how the lack of strength almost made even the worst coffee palatable. Aside from Farmer Brothers and some of the other industrial coffee vendors that were prevalent up north, I recall seeing ARCO Coffee’s simple, round logo at one of the local diners. I started making the connection that when I drank the diner’s weakly brewed ARCO Coffee with breakfast, I could taste something unique and different, albeit it ever so slightly.

Grinding Beans

Piquing my curiosity, I decided to keep an eye out for ARCO Coffee when visiting the grocer so that I could make a strong cup and really get a feel for the taste. I wanted to determine what made it different from the national brands. Fast forward to a day trip to Duluth, armed with the knowledge that coffee does not naturally come ground and in a can. Realizing that ARCO Coffee is headquartered in the Twin Ports, I made it my mission to find ARCO’s whole bean coffee. After an exhaustive search, a small specialty store in downtown Duluth had a sack of ARCO’s Original House Blend. Since ARCO has been roasting coffee since 1916, I wanted to give their original, signature roast a try. Making a pit stop to my grandma’s to dust off and borrow her old, rarely used wood and metal grinder, I struggled to twist the handle and crank out enough grounds to fill the basket and brew a very strong pot of coffee.

The Start of Something Beautiful

After taking the first sip, I couldn’t believe the depth of the flavor and sequence of sensations and tastes that passed across my tongue. Prior to that day, I viewed coffee as harsh and an acquired taste that sometimes needed to be dealt with by an inundation of cream and sugar. After that day, I began drinking black coffee exclusively. This may sound like a silly story, but for someone from a no name town surrounded by forests and mines, it was enlightening.

Back to the Grog

Having experienced a number of locally roasted coffees from Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, and elsewhere, I still have a place in my heart reserved for ARCO Coffee. In fact, I periodically order 5 lb bags of their ARCO Kenya AA Coffee and Norseman Grog varieties. Their Norseman Grog is a flavored coffee, but the flavor blends so well into the coffee that it almost feels like it somehow naturally originates from the beans as a part of the roasting process. The blend fuses vanilla, rum, and caramel with a Scandinavian blend of coffee beans. The flavor is especially enjoyable when made in a coffee press, and the 100+ years of roasting experience shows in this artfully crafted blend of flavored coffee.

Despite some people’s feelings about flavored coffee blends, I enjoy this variety of coffee from the Twin Ports among a number of regional roasters, like Tiny Footprint Coffee Company in Brooklyn Center and Bootstrap Coffee Roasters in St. Paul. As a representative of Minneapolis Coffee Guide, I look forward to sharing more coffee varieties from the region and hope that others get as much enjoyment from coffee from the Twin Cites and Twin Ports as those of us at Minneapolis Coffee Guide do.