Virginia B. Wood unscientifically surveys local foodies on local coffee.
By Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Nov. 14, 2003
All the hue and cry about an independently owned local coffee shop for the airport lobby rather than one more faceless national chain outlet got me thinking about the state of local coffee. First, I should explain my strange relationship with coffee. I love the flavor of coffee, the aroma of coffee, even the idea of coffee. But for a variety of reasons, I can't drink much coffee, so I'm not what you could call a coffee snob. I don't own a French-drip pot or have a sacred preparation ritual. I don't religiously visit a respected purveyor to purchase whole roasted beans from a certain region of the world (although I really liked Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee when I visited there and would love to have more some day). I won't make fun of you if you prefer jamocha almond fudge or hazelnut vanilla coffee, nor am I particularly well versed in the whole slanguage that goes along with the new coffee-shop culture. However, as an ardent supporter of locally owned independent food and beverage businesses, I've reviewed Chronicle polls and interrogated the coffee aficionados of my acquaintance about the places that they patronize in their quest for a great local cup of joe. Here are the results of my highly unscientific research.
Hundreds of Chronicle readers every year, as well as many of the friends I interviewed, are big fans of Little City (916 Congress, 476-2489; 3403 Guadalupe, 467-2489), the outfit that blazed a trail on Austin's main thoroughfare 10 years ago. Owners of the downtown shop, artfully designed by Jean Goehring of the Chop Shop and Matt Hovis of Action Figure, pioneered outdoor seating on the avenue. Over the years, both shops have become known for their small-batch, drum-roasted beans, which produce a more consistent product, according to roastmaster Travis Kizer. South Austinites rave about Jo's Hot Coffee (1300 S. Congress, 444-3800), though we suspect it's as much for the quirky outdoor shop's definitive vibe and the opportunity to observe SoCo's rich pageant as for the coffee itself. Margaret Milligan, who is herself expertly pulling your coffee beverages at the Whole Foods downtown bakery counter several days a week, gives very high marks to a relatively new campus-area shop called JP's Java (2803 San Jacinto, 494-0015). "Their baristas are extremely professional, they take special care to prepare each drink to your personal taste, and they do very artistic things with the milk on the lattes," Milligan explained to me last week. "Also, you can tell their machines are well-calibrated for things like the density of the grind, the water pressure and temperature, because of the quality of the finished product." As a matter of fact, two baristas from JP's will represent Austin in the National Barista Contest in Atlanta later this year, according to owner J.P. Hogan. The other new coffee spot generating lots of buzz is Babbo's Italian Gelato & Coffee (1206 W. 38th, 451-9555). I've raved about Matt Lee's exquisite gelatos and sorbettos, and they were a huge hit recently at our screening of Under the Tuscan Sun. However, both chefs Will Packwood and Emmett Fox assure me the coffee at Babbo's is every bit as exemplary as the gelatos, and they are both chefs who should recognize an authentic cup of Italian espresso. Babbo's offers a full menu of coffee beverages and will be glad to make your drinks with beans imported from small-batch roasters in Tuscany. All this coffee tawk has me jonesing for a latte binge. Please go out and have a cup of coffee for me.
Local Glamour Quotient
Just when you think nothing glamorous ever happens in Austin, royalty just happens to drop by. Stateside for a speech at the UN and a charity gala in his mother's hometown of Philadelphia, Prince Albert of Monaco spent a recent weekend in Austin being squired around by old friends visual artist Bob "Daddio" Wade and PR maven Pam Blanton. The Grimaldi scion enjoyed meals at Güero's, Ranch 616, Buster's BBQ, and Castle Hill Cafe during his whirlwind visit. We're told Prince Albert is a big fan of Daddio's artworks, two of which hang in the palace in Monaco.