Category Archives: coffee shops

Agia Sophia

gfx_index_logoI’m just going to come out and say it: Agia Sophia is a coffee shop/bookstore that is run by a group of Greek Orthodox priests who sometimes serve as the baristas. It draws a lot of Colorado Spring’s young and hip Christian crowd and is adorned with all manner of Eastern Christian religious icons and books. This is all very strange. What surprises me is how warm and welcoming it is, for everybody, and the quality of the coffee (which is really what’s important). Continue reading

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Filed under Cities and Towns, coffee shops, Colorado, Colorado Springs, reviews

Alterra at the Lake

Remedy for jet lag after arriving in Milawaukee, WI:

1. Wake up early, drive to 1701 N Lincoln Memorial Drive, park in the public parking area behind one of the largest and strangest coffee shop buildings you’ve ever seen.

2. Change into your running clothes. A light jacket may be necessary.

3. Run the Lakefront Park Loop; enjoy the incredible views of downtown Milwaukee, Lake Michigan, and multitudes of nubile co-eds who frequent the area.

4. Return to the parking lot, towel off, stretch, head inside.

5. Partake in some of the best coffee and espresso you will ever have. Continue to enjoy views of Lake Michigan and Milwaukee’s pretty young things. Eat a Cowboy Cookie.

6. Repeat as necessary.

Filling the nooks and crannies of the former Milwaukee River Flushing Station (we have no idea what a river flushing station is or does. Or why it exists in an area of Milwaukee that is riverless), Alterra at the Lake is the most unique of Alterra Coffee‘s numerous cafes located throughout Milwaukee. Spanning numerous levels and rooms, with tables looking out on to Lake Michigan, this lakefront location epitomizes everything we love about local coffee shops; amazing coffee located within an architectural revival that forms a community centerpiece. Alterra is local and proud of it, spreading its great coffee and espresso throughout the Milwaukee area. The Americano here is the second best we have ever tried.

In addition to its wonderfully unique location, Alterra at the Lake is located in the middle of the best running area in downtown Milwaukee. Pretty young things aside, the runs near the cafe bring you past some of Milwaukee’s oldest, and richest, neighborhoods, packed with architecturally stunning homes and landscapes as well as numerous stair cases that are great for a side diversion and beaches to round out the mix. The ample parking behind and near the cafe make it a great spot to start and end a run.

Price-wise, Alterra skews toward the more expensive side of things, but the quality of their products make it worth the slightly higher cost, as do the highly attractive, overly hipster baristas that handle the crush of customers with smiles and efficient drink slinging. The attractive coolness of the staff might make you feel like a high school dork all over again, but better than starting your day looking into the eyes of the dark side.

Beyond the baristas, the coffee and the location, Alterra at the Lake, and Alterra in general, is one of the most community centric coffee shops we have come across. Involved in numerous partnerships with Milwaukee area cultural, environmental and community building groups, including Second Harvest of Wisconsin, the Urban Ecology Center, and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Alterra is committed to community building, making enjoying their coffee and locations more enjoyable overall. This is a coffee chain that we would be happy to see become a bit more ubiquitous in the community. Alterra coffee, and especially Alterra at the Lake, has become one of our favorite bean dealers; check it out for the runs, stay for the coffee.

Alterra Coffee: 9 locations

Alterra at the Lake

1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53202

Hours: M-F: 6:30am-10pm, Sat and Sun: 7am-10pm

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Filed under Cities and Towns, coffee shops, Milwaukee, reviews, Wisconsin

Amante Coffee

Soccer uniforms, cycling, wine, happy hour and gelato.

These are the things that immediately come to mind when I think of Amante, and the fact that coffee isn’t first on the list isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Amante bills itself as “an Italian experience”, and it works hard to fit the image of a modern, Italian style cafe. The result is a blend of bohemian coffee house and Euro-mod, with some Boulderite stylings to balance everything out. Amante is full of metal tables and chairs to go along with its sleek counters, coffee cups and baristas, but at the same time the local art hanging on the walls and mountain chic clientele gives the cafes a more community oriented feel. It’s undeniably a strange mix, but don’t let it scare you away; these places are good places to hang out with a cup of coffee, and definitely worth checking out for both their location relative to the outdoors and drink amenities.

With one location on Walnut, in downtown Boulder, and the other on North Broadway, the cafes provide great anchor points for cycling sorties into the foothills surrounding Boulder. The north location, with its larger location and huge outside patio area, is a great place to start, or end, a ride, as it is located near the beginning of  the Ward/Jamestown/Lyons cycling corridor and can play host to a lot of parked bikes and their riders. The Walnut location is located near the Boulder Creek Path and the Canyon/Magnolia/4-Mile/Sugarloaf/Sunshine/Flagstaff routes, but with its smaller size and limited bike parking this location is not as well equipped to handle large cycling groups.

Coffee-wise, Amante is a decent spot to get your bean fix. Nothing spectacular, but higher quality than many other coffee shops in town. The Americano’s  (our bellwether) are smooth, dark and slightly sweet; one of the best I’ve had East of Portland. The coffee is also good, dark and more bold than most house coffees.  Amante is the exclusive distributor of Ghigo family coffee, “the most popular coffee and espresso in Northern Italy.” This doesn’t mean much to me, but if you’re into the Ghigo then this is the spot for you. The cafe shines with its happy hour deals; coffee derived cocktails and wine that are priced incredibly well for the amount of alcohol they provide you; a good place to check out between dinner and the bars on Pearl Street.

The Amante staff is haughtily attractive. There is not a lot of smiling from behind the counter, as most of them seem to be afraid to break from their Euro-hip, soccer jersey encased, style. The men generally sport long hair and fashionably scruffy faces, while the women are attractive in either a jockish or bohemian way. No swamp creatures to go along with your coffee here. They are all fast and competent, but don’t be surprised if your order elicits a slightly veiled look of contempt as your true yuppie nature is revealed.

Overall, the Amante cafes provide a relaxed environment to enjoy soccer and cycling on TnV and enjoy and pre or post ride cup of coffee or espresso. Although the cafes don’t appear to do too much on the community side of things beyond displaying local art, their locations near rides, attractive staff and high quality bean make Amante a coffee shop worth checking out, regardless of its odd Euro-chic stylings.

Amante Coffee: 2 locations

Amante Uptown
4580 Broadway.  303-448-9999
5:45am to 7:00 pm M-Sat.  5:45am to 6:00pm Sunday.

Amante Walnut
1035 Walnut St.  303-546-9999
5:45 am to 7:00 M-Th.  5:45am to 10:pm Fri
and Sat.
5:45am to 6:00pm Sun.

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Filed under Boulder, Cities and Towns, coffee shops, Colorado, reviews

The Bean Guide: a coffee shop primer

A good coffee shop does a very unique and interesting thing. Through its existence alone it brings people, many of whom are in desperate need of caffeine and who despise the arrival of morning, into intimate, crowded and loud settings, makes them wait in line with relative strangers. All for a cup of coffee that is more expensive than can be made in the privacy, and quiet, of home. These places exert a pull that has turned drinking coffee  into a shared community experience that can be more gratifying than the coffee itself.

Of course, the community essence of coffee shops has been happily co-opted by corporate America. In an effort to create community as defined by corporate efficiency, the Starbucks and Seattle’s Best of the coffee world have predictable settings, in  predictable places where drinking assembly line produced coffee is all meant to “recreate” the coffee shop experience. We accept these places for what they are. Their ubiquity means that more people are being introduced to the wonders of the bean. And just because these corporate enclaves exist does not mean that independent shops suffer; there is evidence that suggests that having a Starbucks near an independent coffee shop actually increases the independent’s business. Check out Taylor Clark’s article about it at Slate.com.

But we are not interested Starbucks. Instead, TWW wants to know; where are the best (independent) coffee shops? What makes them great? And, perhaps most importantly, where are they in relation to a great run, ride or hike? To this end, this glorious dream of making sure you know where to get your outside and caffeine fix within mating distance of each other, we have established a few guiding principles that we look to when assessing coffee shops. Our hope is to include coffee joints that we find community centric, innovative, fun to hang out in (even if in spandex), produce insanely good coffee, and are near enough to a route to make stopping there an easy detour. In consideration of these principles, we assess coffee shops using the the following, rough, guidelines (listed in no particular order):

1. Ambiance: No one likes walking into a coffee shop that feels like a library. When the door opens is it talking and laughing we hear? Or the noise of Mac groupies popping their heads over their screens to assess whether to pause World of Warfcraft? Are we going to be mocked because of our spandex, or embraced? Important considerations.

2. Interior design: Yep, we’re metro, and we care about how the inside of a place looks. Is it warm and inviting or cold and modern? Are there big tables for spreading out? Is there art on the walls that was not purchased at Target? The look of a place goes a long way in determing whether to cover our spandex or running shorts with pants first.

3. Community focus: Not that sponsoring a softball team isn’t great, but we want a place that thinks a bit more creatively: free coffee for firemen, supporting coffee plant farmers in developing nations, microfinancing advocacy, participating in neighborhood events, free dog treats. Things that people can get involved in and care about, without having to swing a bat.

4. Quality of “the bean”: While being a great community spot and cozy couches can make a coffee shop fun to play scrabble in, if the coffee isn’t good, there is little point in sticking around. Our palates are not defined enough to get into the subtle nuances that good coffee entails, so we abide by our litmus test: ordering an Americano (espresso in hot water). In our experience, the quality of the Americano is directly related to the quality of the rest of the drink board. It should be dark and rich and taste almost sweet. Bere!

5. Attractivness of the staff: Admittedly a shallow and superficial value assessment that should have little bearing on the quality of the coffee joint, but c’mon, who wants to roll into the coffee house first thing in the morning to be greeted by the uggo skulking behind the counter like Gollum? “My preciouuuussss….” We don’t. So deal.

6. Location: The nearest intersection is not our concern here; rather, where is the shop in location to a great ride or run? How far away is it from a long hike? These are the questions we ponder when planning our outside/coffee double strike, hence we try and include coffee shops that can be used as a starting point, waypoint or endpoint for epic shred sessions.

7. Indy cred: Basically, is this place doing new, innovative things and rocking to its own beat, or has it been created from the Sears Catalog section titled “Independent Coffee Shop Components” with instructions in English and Chinese.

And there you have it; our rough shod guide to sorting out the good from the not so good when it comes to coffee shops. Check them out, let us know what you think and please, make sure when ordering not to call the girl behind the counter Gollum. Danka.

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