Looking for a good cup o' joe? Try these places out on your next road trip...
We should thank Kaldi.
He’s the Ethiopian goat herder who noticed that when his goats nibbled on the bright red berries of a certain bush they became more energetic (jumping goats). After trying the beans himself, he was exhilarated and took the berries to an Islamic holy man in a nearby monastery. But the holy man disapproved of their use and threw them into a fire, from which an enticing aroma billowed. The roasted beans were quickly raked from the embers, ground up, and dissolved in hot water, yielding the world's first cup of coffee.
We should also thank the Brits, who through their attempts to tax tea, unwittingly helped make America a nation of coffee drinkers.
When I travel, one of the ways I stay grounded is by connecting with a local town or population at their local coffee bars. Some choose a different type of watering hole, but for me, the preference is coffee.
This last week I had the opportunity to visit a few coffee houses unlike what we usually see in the cookie cutter strip mall infused Southwest.
First up was Palenque Coffee and Doomsday Donuts in Ripon, Wisconsin...
With a faux log cabin look on the outside and a stereotypical Mayan logo, I’ll admit, I was skeptical. Was I ever surprised. Once I entered the doors, I was welcomed into what can only be described as coffee heaven. Rugged and minimal on the inside, this place is off the charts!
I had a cup of Indian Monsoon coffee. Light, medium roasted, this coffee was exceptionally smooth and had absolutely no bitter after taste. 100% stunning.
But coffee is not their only gift. These guys also sell the most ambitious donuts I have ever come across. Imagine a s’mores donut. That’s right... a plain cake topped with chocolate, small graham crackers and tiny marshmallows. Or maybe you’d like a cream puff sandwich filled with raspberry filling or an old fashioned maple bar... topped with a strip of crispy bacon.
They call them one of a kind donuts and the selection changes everyday. Believe me, they are worth every penny of the $1.00 - $2.00 price, and they look great as Cesar demonstrates here.
I’ll be honest, I have no idea how a place like this will stay afloat in a small town like Ripon. I hope it does... because it is the only place in town where a young man from Puerto Rico can work in a Mayan themed coffee house selling fresh roasted java from around the world paired with a great American classic, the donut, updated to a new standard.
Next up are a couple of places, Spots Coffee and Cafe Aroma, both located in the Elmwood District of Buffalo, New York.
Spots Coffee has a few locations around town but since I was in the Elmwood area, that’s the one I visited. Here’s what you get.
A large interior with a distinctly rugged urban feel. Brick walls surround the coffee bar and kitchen area while the exterior of this corner building is framed in large glass windows, making you feel like you are right in the middle of the action.
With local art and fantastic coffee, this place oozes coffee house charm. We took up a seat in an old church pew that had been repurposed and became a nice local addition to the interior design. Surveying the crowd, there was definitely a mixture of the local population. Moms with kids, students from nearby Buffalo State studying and businessmen in suits were all sharing space in the large dining area.
But as nice as the facility was, the coffee was why we were there and we were not disappointed. I had a wonderful cafe breve, my friends had a caramel machiatto and a double espresso. My breve came with great art on top and the machiatto was also well displayed, a Spots tradition.
Spots is a big place. Think tables everywhere and lots of small groups populating the place. If I lived nearby, I’d be there often. It’s spacious, has free wifi and a great menu for lunch and dinner. In the end, we were all very satisfied and not wishing at all that we had gone to Starbucks, just a block away.
My final stop before heading to the airport and the flight back to Las Vegas was Caffe Aroma.This place is other worldly if you have been raised out west. Small, with not a lot of tables, dark wood and granite, it was old school, complete with local microbrews and beer on tap.
My espresso was strong and not bitter at all and my friends Americano, hot and smooth, as it should be.
What separated Caffe Aroma from nearby Spots or Starbucks was the atmosphere. Small and intimate... if you are here, you are part of the village. My friends called it the neighborhood coffee house and it was. Think of it as the bar where everybody knows your name. If you were a regular, my guess is that they would even know your drink.
If you want to understand the ethos of the people of this area, spend a day here. I had a great conversation with a guy just talking politics. Other groups were discussing the baseball playoffs. This is where President Obama or Governor Romney ought to be if they want to know what is important to Buffalo.
So there you have it. If you are in Ripon, Wisconsin, get a great cup of coffee and a fantastic donut at Palenque. If you are in Buffalo, don’t miss a chance to check in at one of the Spots locations around town... And if you want to know what makes Buffalonians tick while enjoying some great java or even a glass of Southern Tier Pumking Ale, make sure to visit Caffe Aroma in the Elmwood District.