There's Cheeseburger in paradise, and now, Mocha in paradise: Atlantis Resort, Bahamas...
I am a confirmed coffee addict. Since I am also thoroughly addicted to chocolate, I prefer to kill the two birds with one stone. That is to say my preferred cup of poison is Café Mocha. Ever since this phenomenon blew out of Seattle some years ago, Ive come to favor this delightful combination of coffee, steamed milk, chocolate, and whipped cream. I say that in deference to those who have rewritten the history books to read that way since Ive actually been sipping mochas at Italian restaurants since Bill Gates was fooling around with Basic and traffic monitoring software.
I am decidedly not of the Peets school of coffeeyou can clean automobile parts with that stuff. And while I have many friends who are strict adherents to the Real Men Drink Strong Black Coffee school (one even calls anyone with the temerity to order Café anything a PCDPrecious Coffee Drinker), I dont let this bother me. I used to drink coffee constantly in my early days of software development. Its probably because I never slept (or perhaps why I never slept). But after completing one of the most grueling 1.0 product development schedules, I determined that this had to be bad for my health and cast about for something a little easier on the stomach and blood pressure (which makes it easier on those around me too, I might add). About the same time, mochas could be had ubiquitously. Voila! A new obsession was born.
Natures Perfect Beverage can be had at so many places these days. There are the Mom and Pop establishments. For some reason, they often have ice cream or sweets available. I think coffee has replaced the old ice cream parlors and candy stores. You have to be careful, though. Quality control is not uniform. The most common mistakes are to make the drink too scalding hot, to substitute foam for milk, and (worst!) to fail to supply adequate amounts or even any chocolate. A good example of this kind of shop that does a fine job is Abouche in Scotts Valley. Another would be Café Pergolisi, which sits in an old house in downtown Santa Cruz and is frequented by the local college crowd. Quite a spot, if you like people watching.
Next up are the chains. We have Espresso Royale and Starbucks where I come from. Both are excellent, although Espresso Royale has a particularly nifty sidewalk location in downtown Santa Cruz. Despite the additional real estate surcharges, it seems ever so much quainter than any place Ive seen in Palo Alto or Los Altos. They also have better goodies than Starbucks. While I'm on that subject, Starbucks' bakery goods are just the worst! I think they age them for three days in a warehouse before they even think about serving them.
Lest you think I am disrespecting (I heard Gene Burns use this word, which was the point I decided it had to be a real word, those who have heard Gene will realize hes a stickler for the English Language) Starbucks, think again. Those who know me realize that I will instantly stop anything I am doing if the suggestion is made to go for some buckage. We located our new startup in walking distance of a bucks because we knew of the phenomenal productivity advantages (from the startup before that, which was near one). You just cant beat a Starbucks. When I walked in my first (downtown Palo Alto, I remember it like many people remember where they were when man walked on the moon), my initial reaction was, How can this be so great, its just coffee? Boy, was I ever wrong. Now I understand why McDonalds succeeded. Starbucks is coffee that is exactly the same every time and in every store everywhere. Thats worth something if they make it the way you like. It seems they've conducted careful studies and train their people analytically so that it is the way most people like it. Smart business. Periodically I contemplate buying some SBUX stock. I analyze it, decide it is too darn high, and go on looking at other stocks. Meanwhile, it just keeps going up. Did I mention I think its too darn high? Sigh.
Ive saved the best for last. There are some truly extraordinary coffee drinks to be had out there. I will titillate you with just a few examples. First, there are many alcoholic coffees that I would be remiss if I left out. When my wife Kathy and I were learning to sail, we chose to do so in December. This is not ideal weather on Monterrey Bay. In fact, it is pretty stinkin cold if the truth be known. But it is easy to get your hands on a boat. After we finished with the boat, and our hands were freezing from lines soaked in cold Bay water, wed go to the Crows Nest to warm up. This is where we discovered Jamaican Coffee. Its basically an Irish Coffee made with rum. Talk about replenishing the vital juices! This stuff will put lead in your pencil, as they say. Try also the Ostrich Grill in Capitola for fabulous alcoholic coffees. I recommend their Junior Mint.
My second extraordinary coffee experience was at a place called Marinis in downtown Santa Cruz. Think of it as an Italian Delicatessen of sweet things. If you are ever in town, there are two things you must try, preferably together. First, the hand-dipped chocolate-covered strawberries are delightful little noshes (did I get that word right?). Second, their coffee drinks are completely over-the-top-to-die-for.
Let me try to describe my Café Mocha. Its a pleasure to remember every detail of the experience. It arrived in a beautiful glass cup the size of a Pittsburgh Steelworkers lunch thermos (those guys do not use the cute little Nissan stainless jobs that you see in everyones BMW). Huge, in other words. There was plenty of whipped drizzled with chocolate syrup. The chocolate and milk were perfectly proportioned and well dissolved. But now, the piece of resistance (my French isnt what it used to be)a big hunk of wonderful fudge hung on the lip of the glass the way most places put lemon on iced tea!
Looka that fudge wedge!
We serve Princesses here too!
A nice alternative from the school of prettier (rather than more and tastier) would be the mochas at the Los Gatos Brewing Company. They come beautifully layered and taste wonderful.
Finally, the award for chocolatiest mocha goes to another downtown Santa Cruz establishment. Adjacent to Book Shop Santa Cruz is a coffee and sweets cafe called simply "Chocolate". Order their cafe mocha and, "Oh my gosh!", you won't believe the chocolate hit you receive. I have heard a couple of folks opine that it's just too much chocolate for them--blasphemy! I don't really understand their secret. I know they ladle the chocolate from a heated tureen, and that these folks specialize in making chocolate desserts. Clearly their syrup is unusually high quality, perhaps made from scratch, and they use plenty of it.
Now frankly, some people think Im a little obsessed with my coffee, and they may be right. Im sure that as my wife is driving down the road drinking her Texaco 99 cent Big Gulp in her 70000 mile Ford Taurus (actually, we did replace that car finally), she may occasionally wonder if Ive lost my mind. Not really, dear. I just never got over the desire for indulgences found in any small child. Or, as another friend is fond of saying, Anything worth doing, is worth overdoing!
Anecdote: On a recent return visit to Texas, my sister kept wondering what my brother and I were speaking of when we used the term "Buckage". Now you know!
Anecdote #2: Entertainers often have interesting "special requirements" in their contracts over and above monetary issues. Bill Cosby has just one such requirement, but it's very specific. Cosby must have a triple shot of espresso with milk from Starbucks before he'll perform. Way to get wired, Bill!
Bob's Fave: Decaf Tall Mocha. I drink at least 2 a day! Kathy likes 'em too, as does David (though he prefers full cafeination). My Dad goes for Latte's because he's trying to keep his sugar intake low. Sadly, I have had to reduce my mocha consumption of late for the same reasons (thanks for the genes Dad!), but I'm stubbornly resisting the switch to lattes. I am now down from 2 a day to perhaps 3 a week.
Odd Factoid: A Cafe Mocha tastes better in a Starbucks to-go cup than in a ceramic mug. The reason is that the little orifice on the cup cap delivers the optimum mixture of whipped cream and Cafe Mocha, which is nearly impossible in a mug. If I have a mug, I usually just stir until the whipped cream has dissolved.
Coffee In Strange Places: I can't abide bad coffee--it's worse than no coffee at all. Whenever I'm visiting a new place whose coffee is questionable, or a known bad coffee provider, I generally order hot tea instead. If espresso is available, that's an even better alternative, and it has less caffeine than regular coffee. Somehow, it's very easy to get reliable tea results and very hard to get good coffee. Too often the coffee has that acidic scorched taste, particularly if you order decaf, which sits longer because it is less popular. If not scorched, then the brew was made from indifferent quality beans. Drip coffee made in fast food restaraunts is the bane of good coffee lovers.
The Coffee Mentat's Motto (appologies to Dune lovers!)
It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion, it is by the beans of Java that thoughts acquire speed, the hands acquire shaking, the shaking becomes a warning, it is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion.
My First Starbucks
I vividly recall my first visit to a Starbucks. One had recently opened in downtown Palo Alto where I was working for Louis Borders (Border's Bookstores and later the ill-fated Webvan) at the time. We had been going to a much closer mom and pop Espresso shop for my mochas and lattes. Starbucks was a new, more polished and buttoned-down approach. I remember thinking that it was pretty good coffee, but that their system for matching people to their coffees as they came out had to be a bad idea and would never work.
Of course they still use that system today, sometimes asking for a first name to write on the coffee, and it works very well. My thought on my second visit, after which the mom and pop never saw me again, was that maybe I should buy some stock. I reasoned that their coffee was pretty good, and I could see that one of their key ingredients would be that like McDonald's, it would be the same at every Starbucks. I went home, looked up SBUX, and promptly decided it was tremendously over valued. If I had invested $1000 at that point in 1993, it would be worth about $24,000 today (November 2004), a modest 24:1 return! Microsoft, by contrast, over that length of time, has returned only about 11:1.
Now today Starbucks is almost becoming a lifestyle. It's gone way beyond just being a cup a' Joe. People, including myself, engage in activities that are Starbucks-centric, such as meeting people there the same time every week, and so on. They have wireless internet there. It has truly become a destination.
My Favorite Starbucks
My favorite Starbucks is in Kailua Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. I love it because its right on the way to my favorite scuba diving operators. I stop there on the way to dive for breakfast, and on the way back from diving for a quick pick me up. Nothing can be quite so right as having a Starbucks in Hawaii!
Other Coffee-Related Content
The Anti-Bob Coffee Article. What else are friends for? Search for "coffee" and learn of the evils of PCD's..
Spicey Coffee-Rubbed Steaks: Red meat and coffee? I gotta get me some of that!
All material © 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.