Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Perfect Caffe Latte

I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for those who’ve become successful by doing one thing very well. La Colombe Torrefaction makes coffee and arguably does it better than anyone else in the country.

There are many places to get the Philadelphia-based company’s artisanal coffee blends and chances are you may have had it in other coffee shops, markets and in many of the finest restaurants in the country—including, La-Bec Fin, Daniel and Le Bernardin. My favorite place to enjoy the full flavor and richness of this wonderful product is by ordering a caffe latte in its original retail location just off Rittenhouse Square.

High ceilings and large windows allow plenty of sunlight inside. A simple layout of chairs and tables allow folks to mingle or relax and provide something that is rare in a retail environment of any kind: space. Behind the mahogany bar, skilled baristas prepare drinks with precision, efficiency and artistic flare. Housed in Italian hand-made Fima Deruta cups and saucers, the caffe latte is the perfect blend of warm milk and espresso. Its silky texture and rich, mild flavor warms the soul. It also is consistent, so no matter who is behind the bar, the results, even with its high standards, are the same.

The coffee bar is located in the city’s swankiest neighborhood, a half-block from its most popular park, and a quick stroll from its business district. This results in a true mix of office workers, creative folks, students, those who toil in the leisure arts (unemployed), and workers from the small businesses in the neighborhood. It’s a great place to people watch, read or meet others without the corporate pressures to buy more or move along that are part of the environment of chain coffee houses. In fact, its owners, Todd Carmichael and Jean-Philippe Iberti, are open about the fact that their primary focus is producing great coffee, even if it turns off consumers. For example, the cafe serves a limited number of coffee drinks and serves them all in a single size. The only other things customers can purchase are a small selection of French pastries, excellent French hot chocolate and coffee beans to go, which they will grind for you.

The company specializes in blending coffee. With few exceptions (such as a blend made only of beans from Africa), it has offered four blends since its beginning nearly 15 years ago: Corsica, dark roast; Phocea, medium dark roast; Nizza, medium roast, used for Espresso; and Monte Carlo, decaffeinated. At home we mainly use Corsica and Nizza.

It’s hard to believe that 25 years ago there were only a handful of places to get good coffee in the U.S. Then along came Starbucks, which educated Americans on the wonders of European coffee. But the company, along with other chains that followed, became more interested in world domination than in producing good coffee in a quality environment. Many independent coffee houses fall short because the owners and their staff often lack the experience and skill to make a quality product or create the proper experience.

By sticking to what it does best, La Colombe gets it right.

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