I'm just back from a trip to the Northeast. I love visiting coffee shops away from home. Like most coffee travelers, I am looking for that perfect cup of coffee. A cup of coffee that meets or beats my daily cup. I discovered a lot of coffee that I can't recommend. I won't mention any by shops by name. Judging an entire coffee shop by a single cup of coffee isn't fair. Everyone has an off day. But in seven days, I can happily report I had three amazing cortados.
In order of consumption:
First: Café Pulse- This is a little kiosk in the South Market of Faneuil Hall Market Place. The barista was new, but the milk was steamed perfectly and the espresso had a strong finish, bitter like baker's chocolate. I had the misfortune of spilling some on my shirt; it made me sad. I misplaced the information I had collected about the specific espresso that I had but it was from George Howell Coffee. Having a consistent espresso in an outdoor market must be a challenge. Heat, humidity, sunlight, rain - basically the weather must create all types of challenges.
In my shop, we weigh the espresso constantly. Overnight the espresso pulling at 18 grams at 8:00 PM it's pulling at 16.5 grams at 6:30 AM the next day. Even during the course of the morning shift, the weight of espresso ground over 4.21 seconds can change. So kudos to the baristas of Café Pulse for managing a moving target so well!
Second: Derby Joe - The barista knows his craft. The shop is cozy and was nearly empty at midday, no back ground noise except a little music. I didn't hear him steam the milk. I point this out because I always listen to how my baristas steam milk. I believe it's a strong indicator of skill. Too much air and it's like a jet engine taking off, too little and it's like a cat being straggled. The espresso was Espresso Jimbo from Jimsorganiccoffee.com. Tasting notes from the site: "velvety smooth with dark chocolate-notes, spice, lemon and citrus." I caught a very pleasant bitter finish like baker's chocolate; the espresso stood up to the milk perfectly, just as it was advertised in the description on Jim's site. On a side note, I mentioned earlier that the shop is cozy. If in Salem, on a cold day, Derby Joe's would be my place of refuge. When I visited the weather was unusually cooperative for Massachusetts - 80 degrees, low humidity, a blue sky capped by fluffy white clouds- basically, a Chamber of Commerce's brochure type of day. While I will cherish the memory of the actual day of my visit, I have in my mind's eye of slipping into Derby Joe's on a cold, mid-December afternoon, when the sun sets at 4:30:15 PM and the wind carries dry and fallen leaves down Derby Street. I would huddle in the seat by the window, sipping a cortado and occasionally reading from Hawthorne's The Birth-Mark.
Third: Brew Box Café - I came across this gem when I was waiting for family to finish their tour at the Salem Witch Museum. Growing up 20 miles from Salem, I didn't need to hear Corey Giles groan "more weight" one more time. So I walked the two blocks to The Brew Box Café. Brew Box serves an espresso called Time and Temperature from Tandem Café & Roastery located in Portland, Maine. Time and Temperature is an espresso that changes seasonally; what I enjoyed was a light roast blend of beans from Ethiopia Sidamo and Colombia Las Brisas. Tasting notes are red berries, blondies and pillowy mouth feel. Okay - I don't know what red berries, blondies and pillowy mouth feel means. What I had was a balanced cortado, bright without it lingering forever on the tongue or corrupting the steamed milk with an unpleasant tanginess. Some bright and fruity espressos become muted or totally lost when served with steamed milk.
I admire Brew Box for serving a bright espresso and doing it so well. In my shop I used Anodyne Mind Tonic espresso for a year. When the grind and the pull synchronized, Mind Tonic was magical but sadly, my baristas struggled to consistently deliver espresso magic.
Please visit one of these shops when traveling in Boston or Salem. I would appreciate suggestions or feedback on shops to visits or coffees to try.