Monday, October 06, 2008

New Mexico: Albuquerque Coffee

Coffee and an English Muffin in the warm confines of Satellite Coffee.

What kind of coffee place is closed on Mondays?

It's my last day in Albuquerque and now that I'm recovered, I thought I would go check out The Grove again and give their espresso a try but they're closed on Mondays. Drats.

Good thing I noticed those other coffee shops on Central by the University the other night, so I head over there. It's around 8:30am and the streets are light - I guess it's pretty early for college students after a weekend of partying.

First stop is Satellite Coffee.

Satellite is a funky chain of cafes around town and the place looks like an Albuquerque's answer to Starbucks. Imagine an indie coffeeshop with the Roswell close encounters kind of vibe that's seriously trying to emulate a Starbucks environment within those parameter and you have an idea what Satellite looks like. It's slick, glossy and slightly weird, all at the same time.

As you walk in, you can't help but notice Satellite's Toast Bar. An assortment of breads and baked goods ready for toasting. I go for the English Muffin (they seem to be popular in Albuquerque), fork split and nicely toasted with butter.

Originally, I was thinking about a cappuccino but luckily, another customer was ahead of me ordering some sort of milk drink. As I watched the barista do his thing, I decided that the regular drip coffee would be the best bet. Once I saw the barista steaming a 64oz steam pitcher full of milk to the brim (and there were only two of us in line), I realized that perhaps this wasn't the cappuccino for me.

Instead, I went with a 12z cup of Costa Rican coffee. I asked if it was their Terrazu but the girl with my muffin didn't know. Either way, with some sugar and cream, it was an enjoyable cup of coffee to go with my buttered English muffin.

At The Spro, I can barely finish an 8z coffee, much less a 12z coffee and had to discard part of it. Not because I didn't enjoy it, but rather because I just had my fill and I knew that I had one more stop to make.

The Macchiato at Ecco Espresso.

Just a block or so away from Satellite is Ecco Espresso & Gelato. I don't know what it is with espresso and gelato places but they seem like an odd combination to me.

If one were to base their espresso expectations on decor alone, you wouldn't expect much from Ecco. That said, you probably wouldn't expect much from The Spro either. Ecco is a large and spartan space with slick walls and lots of echo (Ecco?). But I got to see the baristas making a drink for another customer and I was surprised. They actually looked like they knew what they were doing. Time to give them a test drive. Let me have a macchiato.

Here I am, a first time customer ordering a macchiato, I would have expected a query from the baristas asking if we were speaking the same language or if I were speaking Starbucks. There would be none of that. In a few moments, out came a proper macchiato. Just an ounce or two of espresso with a dollop of foam. Proper.

I thought that was pretty confident of them and was impressed by that alone. The drink was rich with bitter chocolate offset by the creamy foam. Perhaps not the best macchiato I've ever had but certainly a very good one. I wondered if any place else in Albuquerque could make drinks like this.

I requested a short pour cappuccino at Ecco.

Ecco follows a more traditional Italian approach to espresso. There's sugar on the counter for you to spoon as you desire and the baristas are cordial but not chatty. There's a mirror on the wall that allowed me to see some of their technique and it looked good. Even the espresso shots came out like dark streams of warm honey. Nice.

Assured that they knew something about our craft, I decided to have another round. This time a cappuccino. While the macchiato remained rooted in tradition, their menu demonstrated that their cappuccino was more American than Italian with three size offerings. I asked the girl behind the counter questions about their smallest cappuccino. In the end, I ordered a double shot cappuccino in a ceramic cup that was only filled about three quarters of the way with milk. That should emulate the size of a proper six ounce cappuccino.

Again, the bitter chocolate notes were there and the cappuccino was quite enjoyable. A nice find here in the desert.

Satellite Coffee
3513 Central Avenue NE
Albuquerque, NM 87106

Ecco Espresso & Gelato
3409 Central Avenue NE
Albuquerque, NM 87106

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