Best Coffee in Baltimore

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Since moving to Baltimore a year ago, I’ve made it my mission to seek out the best caffeine options Charm City has to offer. A self-professed coffee snob, (remember my little coffee shop in the mountains?) I have pretty specific criteria for what grinds my bean.

  • Ambience: this may come as a surprise, but I don’t care how good the coffee is, if you can’t serve it in a real mug in an atmosphere conducive to hanging out, it won’t be on this list.
  • Coffee quality: yes, I am judging your espresso machine. A dirty set-up makes me nuts.
  • Authenticity: what makes the coffee shop unique? Is there a story behind the business? Can love be found in that cup?

Best Coffee in Baltimore

(in no particular order)

  1. Common Ground (Hampden) – this is a case where ambience trumps actual coffee quality. While they source good beans (from Ceremony and Zeke’s) their espresso game is errr…better to order a drip coffee and one of the excellent muffins. The place is very busy so the coffee is always fresh. Well-trod, eclectic furniture basically forces you to makes friends with your neighbor. With tons of character and charm, it is the neighborhood coffee house perfected.
  2. Ceremony Coffee Roasters (Mt. Vernon) – coffee done right. Supreme attention to detail, talented baristas and excellently roasted beans makes this place coffee snob heaven.  As far as coffee quality goes, this is Baltimore’s best. The shop itself is very clean and modern without being sterile. This company obviously cares about the coffee drinker’s experience. Great place for a meeting.
  3. Charmington’s (Remington) – Hooray! The trifecta! This shop is basic, but adorable and obviously well-loved by a strong group of regulars. I even saw a barista from a rival coffee shop coming in to order her morning joe (with her work shirt on!). The coffee (sourced from Counter Culture) is excellent and the baristas know how to prepare it, with love I might add. The service here was super friendly and quick. Charmington’s embodies what’s good about Baltimore.
  4. Jabali (Fell’s Point) – this place is so unique, I have to mention it. As far as authenticity goes, you can’t get more real than the owner roasting, brewing, and serving the coffee himself. Assembling homemade coffee sleeves from paper towels and a glue stick, the quirkiness of Jabali is irresistible. The shop itself is full of antique character without even trying. Which is why I hesitate to send you there, the place needs an update and  an investment in coffee equipment. But it’s a fun experience all the same.
  5. Red Emma’s (District North) – another unusual coffee experience that can’t be missed, this coffee spot offers affordable vegan/vegetarian food amidst a politically fueled book store. You have to see it to believe it! Great place to send visitors from out of town for a true glimpse into the Baltimore arts scene.
  6. Park Cafe & Coffee Bar (Bolton Hill) – adorable little nook with darn good espresso and food to boot. The place gets unbearably crowded during peak times, but it’s worth making the effort to get here for the impeccable service, sleek atmosphere and spot on coffee served in REAL mugs.
  7. Dovecote Cafe (Reservoir Hill) – not exactly a coffee shop, this cafe is has so much goodness, it must be mentioned here. You will be most welcome to snuggle up to homemade baked goodies and a coffee, but their breakfast and lunch items are not to be missed. There is a lot of love in this place, from the decor, to the menu, to the extra welcoming staff and customers, it seems like this place is a magnet for straight up friendly folks. Going to Dovecote just makes me feel good. Plus! They have an exciting, continuous line-up of art and food related events and are making a helluva a dent in a neighborhood that needs it.

So go check out these favorites if you haven’t already. And a quick plea to the coffee Gods: we are in need of a cozy coffeehouse here in Highlandtown/Canton/Patterson Park neighborhood. (Maybe it’s time Yellow Arrow makes a reappearance?)

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Let’s Go To Maine

Roadside house in Maine
Roadside house in Maine

Let’s pick apples for juicing and drink a beer with a cinnamon sugar rim.

Let’s crunch leaves and choose a few really red ones to put in our hair and admire the wind blowing the birches.

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Let’s drive up the coast and stop when we see a cozy place to have tea looking over the water.

Let’s praise the blue fall sky and the peeling white houses with glassed-in porches.

Let’s drink too much coffee and scarf thick peanut butter cookies.

Let’s listen to the accents and wish we could drop an “r” like that.

Peanut butter cookie time
Peanut butter cookie time

Let’s eat bass caught in the backyard river with our fingers and sweet corn that’s a little too small.

Let’s get jobs here and stay the winter by the fire eating noodles without a plan.

Let’s go to Maine.

Machias, Maine
Machias, Maine

Kona Coffee Festival Recipe Contest 2013

100% Kona coffee
100% Kona coffee

Contestants showed a wide level of creativity and originality at the annual Kona Coffee Recipe Contest, part of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival held on November 3rd at the Sheraton Keauhou. Professionals, culinary students, and amateurs all competed in separate categories in the divisions of entree and dessert. Competitors were also required to create a table display to showcase their dish, an impressive site to see.

After setting up for the judges, the public was invited to enter the ballroom to enjoy a “Big Island showcase” featuring local products while the judges sampled the dishes. Winners were then announced:

Professional Category
Entree Division
1st: Angela Kenyon, Beach Tree Restaurant at the Four Seasons
2nd: Connor Butler, Daylight Mind Coffee Co.
3rd: Samuel Varron, Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa
Dessert Division
1st: Samuel Varron, Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa
2nd: Doug Connor, Daylight Mind Coffee Co.
3rd: Patti Kimball, Kimball Catering

Culinary Student Category
Entree Division
1st: Charles Chute
2nd: Gary Cyr
3rd: Derrick Henning
Dessert Division
1st: Kanaina Kunitake
2nd: Gary Cyr
3rd: Meagan Lederer

Amateur Category
Entree Division
1st: Paula Mijo
2nd: Gwen Edwards
Dessert Division
1st: Barbara Housel
2nd: Sabine Andresen
3rd: Gwen Edwards

Serving up 2nd place winner Biscuits & Kona Coffee Gravy to the hungry crowd
Serving up 2nd place winner Biscuits & Kona Coffee Gravy to the hungry crowd

That Gwen Edwards lady is me you know. This was my second year competing in this recipe contest, which I consider to be the fiercest competition on the island. As you can see this year I submitted both an entree and a dessert and both recipes were plays on existing dishes, baklava soaked in coffee syrup and biscuits with a coffee mushroom gravy. It was good fun because some people were a little nervous about tasting the coffee gravy and kept asking me if it was chocolate.

If you’ve followed this blog for awhile you know  that it’s kind of my thing to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible. Even though it’s not necessarily a requirement of the competition, it’s important to me to show just how easy and delicious it is to use local products. Both recipes are below, locally sourced ingredients are in green.

Kona Coffee Festival events are going on now through November 10. Don’t miss out!

Big Island Baklava, 3rd place amateur dessert winner
Big Island Baklava, 3rd place amateur dessert winner

Big Island Baklava
Makes about 24

1 cup butter, melted
about 11 filo dough sheets
1/2 lb crushed Big Island macadamia nuts
½ lb coconut flakes

For the syrup:
1 cup very strong Kona coffee (I get mine from Kona Rising Coffee Co.)
1 cup Hawaiian grown sugar
½ cup Big Island honey
4 cardamom pods

Pre-heat oven to 350. Using a pastry brush, grease a 9×13 inch glass baking dish with some of the melted butter.

Cut your filo sheets in half horizontally, this way they will fit the pan easily. Lay one sheet of dough in the pan and brush with butter. It’s ok if the dough tears or crinkles a little. Be sure to keep the dough covered while you are working so it doesn’t dry out. Repeat laying one sheet of dough down at a time and brushing with butter. Do this until you have 8 layers.

After buttering the 8th layer, sprinkle a thin layer or crushed mac nuts and a thin layer of coconut flakes on top of the dough. Layer 2 more sheets of dough on top of the nuts, buttering each. Repeat this until you have 3 layers of nuts. Then cover all with 8 more layers of buttered dough.

With a very sharp knife, cut baklava into squares or diamonds and bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.

While the baklava is baking, make the syrup. Add coffee, sugar, honey and cardamom pods and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Immediately bring down to a low simmer for about 7-8 minutes or until syrup thickens a little.

Once baklava is done baking, drizzle syrup over the baklava (removing cardamom pods first) and allow to sit for about 4 hours so that the syrup can be absorbed. Garnish with any leftover mac nuts and/or coconut. Enjoy!

Biscuits and Kona Coffee Gravy (for the adventurous)
Serves 4-6 as an entree

For biscuits:
2 ½ cups flour
1 TBL baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp Hawaiian sea salt
2 tsp Hawaiian sugar
¾ cup butter, cold
1 egg
¾ cup buttermilk or milk, cold

For the gravy:
1 TBL olive oil
2 cups chopped Hamakua Alii mushrooms
½ cup chopped onion
2 TBL mirin
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup strong Kona coffee
1 TBL flour
1/3 cup milk
1 TBL butter
salt to taste

To make biscuits: Preheat oven to 375. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl with a whisk. Cut butter in small cubes and add to bowl. Working quickly with your hands, incorporate the butter into the flour until butter is the size of small peas. You may want to put the bowl in the fridge for a few minutes after mixing to make sure the butter stays cold.

In a small bowl, whisk egg with milk. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in eggs and milk. Use a fork to mix all.

Lay dough out on a floured surface and knead until dough comes together. Work quickly so butter doesn’t get warm. Press until about 1 ½ inches thick then use a biscuit cutter to cut into rounds. Reform excess dough and repeat. Place biscuits on a cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until nicely browned.

To make gravy: Add oil, onion, and mushrooms to a pan over medium heat. Sautee until soft and browned. Add mirin and cook 2-3 minutes. Add coffee and simmer 10-15 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk flour and milk and add slowly, whisking constantly, to the pan. Whisk until mixture is slightly thickened. Add salt to taste. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter.

Top biscuits with gravy and enjoy!

 

Artisan Kona Coffee

A rainbow of coffee beans

At least a thousand chickens come running as I pull into the gravel drive of Mele Maluhia Farm, where Kona Rising Coffee is grown, harvested, and roasted. From tree to table, Maria DaSilva and Shawna Gunnarson are the artisans behind a truly special product.

It’s 5:00pm, about an hour away from sunset and time for the animals to get fed. Not only do they grow coffee, but the farm may as well be considered an animal sanctuary housing sheep, goats, pigs, geese, and turkeys, most of them rescued from dire straits. Shawna shows me around the farm, feed buckets in hand, tailed by geese and sheep. The 4,000 coffee trees on site are all organically grown, and because Kona coffee trees are indeterminate, meaning the beans do not ripen all at the same time, mechanically harvesting beans is out of the question. Every bean is picked by hand. In a typical year, that amounts to about 3,000 pounds.

Shawna leading the way through the coffee trees

The mother-daughter team then take that harvest and “pulp” the beans, that is removing the outer red skin, ferment them, dry them, hull them and roast them. Phew! I surely minimized the steps involved here, so you should know that tree to table coffee making is laborious, especially when producing a gourmet product like Kona Rising does. Maria and Shawna estimate they spend about 20 to 30 minutes creating their coffee per pound. Did I mention their yield is about 3,000 pounds? You do the math.

And it’s more than just the time spent on producing the coffee, but the attention to detail that goes into each step that impressed me most. Kona Rising does not roast their beans until ordered, ensuring the customer receives their order at it’s peak of freshness and tastiness. As Shawna described the roasting process, she began picking over the green, un-roasted beans in her hand, tossing out any bad ones and explaining that each pound that’s roasted gets the same special treatment. Find out more about their specialty roasts here.

Coffee ready to be roasted

Passionate coffee drinkers themselves, Shawna introduced me to the world of coffee cupping. In their tiny roasting kitchen, she heated water to exactly 195 degrees then measured out exactly nine grams of three different roasts, freshly ground, into each cup. The cups must also be a standard size and color and after previewing each roast by smell, added exactly four ounces of water to each cup. We waited about, no exactly, three minutes before using a special cupping spoon to remove the floating grounds and then sampled each coffee by slurping it as loud as possible. This allows the coffee to hit all your taste buds, plus it’s pretty fun. Cupping in this way is done when coffee is being judged for quailty. Judging is typically based on fragrance, aroma, flavor, acidity, body, uniformity, and balance. Like wine, coffee tasting is complex. Get a first hand glimpse of competitive coffee by attending the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival cupping competition on November 6th and 7th.

Over wine and cheese over looking a calming koi pond, Maria and Shawna describe the work they’ve done on the farm since taking it over in 2006. Most of the 4.5 acre property was overgrown at that time and needed to be cleared of invasive trees and shrubs to make way for more coffee trees and a slew of native trees and plants they’ve added since then. The farm had been using conventional practices for over 50 years, meaning it took some time to convert the land to the organic methods they use now.

While I would have liked to spread out my sleeping bag under the stars right next to the fire pit and stay awhile on this peaceful farm, it was time for a shot of espresso for the drive home. Not only do these farmers drink coffee all the time, I think it must run through their veins.

Going to cupping school

*Kona Rising Coffee Company is sponsoring me in the upcoming Kona coffee recipe contest on November 3rd. 

Cream of the Crop: Kona Coffee and Dessert Tasting

Kona Rising Coffee Co. offering up their excellent cold brew

Where can you taste all the very best Kona coffee the island has to offer and work on a sugar high at the same time? At the Cream of the Crop event held every August at the Four Seasons Hualalai of course.

Elite Kona coffee farmers and roasters face off in cupping competitions to see who has the best cup of joe in categories such as organic and estate grown coffees. There is also an amateur and professional Kona coffee dessert competition. Winners will be announced soon, check back here. Entrance, parking and coffee and dessert tastings are all free to the public.

Although it can get very hot at this event, the outdoor venue offers plenty of shade and the ever mindful Four Seasons supplies ice cold water for all. Live music plays in the background and a it’s only a short stroll to admire the shoreline or enjoy one of the resort’s restaurants. In addition to coffee and desserts, there are plenty of other vendors offering locally made products such as art and clothing.

Coffee highlights came from Kona Rising Coffee Co. and Buddha’s Cup. Good luck to all. If you missed the event this year, mark your calendar for next August.

Ka’u Coffee Festival Ho’olaule’a

Iced mocha from the Flyin’ Hawaiian

The Ka’u Coffee Festival‘s big event was held on May 4th in Pahala. Crowds of people from all over the Big Island and beyond gathered to enjoy the best coffees Ka’u has to offer.

There were plenty of coffee samples, ono food, crafts from local vendors, music, dancing, and the “Ka’u Coffee Experience,” a sampling of coffees prepared in a variety of different methods by brewing experts.

Clouds for days but no rain

Who knew there were so many different ways to make coffee? The coffee experts carefully weighed the beans before grinding, brought the water up to specific temperatures before brewing, and showed us that the size of the spigot matters when pouring water over coffee grounds. The most unique brewing method was the cold brew; ice slowly melts and drips through a coffee filter to create a special drinking experience 12 hours later. Now that’s caffeine commitment.

Cold brewed coffee

We enjoyed a teriyaki beef plate made with local beef by the 4-H club and an iced mocha from the Flyin’ Hawaiian coffee truck. Our favorite coffee of the day (although it was extremely hard to choose) came from Rusty’s Hawaiian with great, fruity flavors.

4-H’ers say, eat local!

If you missed it this year, mark your calendars for next year’s Ka’u Coffee Festival held in spring in Pahala.