Thursday, August 14, 2008

Morning Coffee in Waikiki

Ham and Cheese Croissant from Saint Germain Bakery.

You know you're either having a great time or things have really gone awry when you're feeling crushed in the morning from last nights' partying. And while you'd prefer to sleep in bed longer, the six hour time difference causes tremendous jet lag and your body is screaming to wake up even thought you're still incredibly tired.

Time to get some coffee.

From our 15th floor roost at the Acqua Waikiki Wave hotel the view is magnificent. The slopes of the Ko'olau mountains to the right dotted with expensive homes (that once used to cost $300K) and the urban ghetto that is Waikiki below our feet. And Waikiki is just that: a tourist ghetto.

Tilly, Michelle and Polly in search of coffee.

At the corner of Kuhio and Seaside Avenues, and backing up to the grotesque International Marketplace, our hotel is smack dab in the middle of Waikiki - and it's making me depressed. Depressed because this is what most people come to think Hawai'i is all about. It's dirty, seedy and a facade of what Hawai'i is really about. Ever since my days driving tourists for Roberts Hawaii, it's always made me sad that so many tourists come to Waikiki and think that's what Hawai'i and O'ahu is all about.

But tourist depression aside, I'm in need of coffee and a little nourishment. Luckily, my favorite Japanese-style bakery Saint Germain has set up an outpost next door to the hotel. For those of you unfamiliar, these Japanese-style bakeries typically make some truly fantastic French-inspired breads. My favorite is the plain, old white bread that's crusty with a springy, spongy interior that crisps beautifully in the toaster. Spread on some butter and allow it to penetrate into the crevices and it's true baked perfection.

We make a quick pit stop to pick up a couple of handheld breakfast pastries: ham and cheese croissant, almond croissant and something custard filled. And while it would have been nice to have enjoyed our coffee with the baked goods, they just didn't make it that long.

My way too foamy cappuccino at Honolulu Coffee Company.

The Honolulu Coffee Company has been around for quite some time and the original owner was pretty obsessed with offering a quality product in nice environs. The Waikiki shop, located in the former Alfred Dunhill shop in the Sheraton Moana Surfrider Hotel is a really nice-looking coffeeshop with rich wood textures, open windows and a Kees Van Der Westen Mistral three group espresso machine. My last visit here didn't leave me with very positive feelings about this shop. But promises of quality coffee in the land of my second home are few and far between and Honolulu Coffee was our best bet.

The girls aren't exactly hardcore coffee aficionados, as evidenced by their choice of the Iced Nutty Hawaiian Latte - a Starbuckian concoction of espresso, milk and hazelnut syrup over ice. It's not bad as far as flavored lattes go and they sucked them down pretty hard. A bit too sweet and syrupy for my tastes though.

I went with something a bit more traditional: a cappuccino. Of course, the problem with these kinds of places is that they offer three sizes of cappuccinos. Still, in this day and age of "enlightened" coffee professionals, there are those who still follow this arcane and disrespecting practice. I had to make sure they understood that I wanted the "smallest" cappuccino possible and that I would have it "for here."

Michelle and the Iced Nutty Hawaiian Latte.

Watching the practices of a shop is more than telling. The barista still follows the "I must clack the lever of my grinder as loud as possible" mantra that's so popular amongst modern-day baristas. It's a pretty busy shop so they grind slightly ahead of their demand - not exactly the ideal approach but they seem to pound through the coffee so it's not so much of a concern.

From there it's sixty-four ounce steam pitchers and a general lack of cleanliness when it comes to the pitchers. They maybe have two - and they're in constant use without being washed out. How do I know this? There's that telltale buildup of old steamed milk forming on the inside of the pitcher. Wiping and keeping your steam wands is a step in the right direction but that old mil crusting inside the pitcher is not.

Tilly hides from the peering eyes of a frustrated coffee professional.

And while the steaming technique looks pretty good and they're attempting latte art, when it comes to my cappuccino there's no preheating of the cup and the barista dumps the milk into the cup pouring off the side of the pitcher to get more of the foam into the cup.

Unfortunately, "cappuccino" here seems to mean "more foam." Just make a drink with a lot of foam and you're done. My cup is half foam. The delicate balance between espresso, milk and foam is gone - obliterated by a preponderance of foam. As far as foam goes, it's not half bad. It's slightly sweet, not too hot, microbubbles and has nice texture without being dry. Add a bit of sugar and the drink is actually okay. But it's only "okay", with a little more thought, effort and adoption of standards, this could easily have been a "killer" cappuccino. Instead, it's merely okay and that's a shame.

Saint Germain Bakery Waikiki
2301 Kuhio Ave., Unit 117A
Honolulu, HI 96815

Honolulu Coffee Company
Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel
2255 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815

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