Handpresso Auto – Espresso on the go

March 22, 2012

For all of us who have a daily driving commute, the Handpresso Auto may just be the perfect solution. Check it out on Uncrate here.Image

Espresso Ice Cubes

April 27, 2011

Check out these Espresso Ice Cubes courtesy of Gizmodo!

Profile: Hudson River Coffee House

November 29, 2010

Anton Pasquall (seen at the bar above), coffee roaster and local entrepreneur has been prepping for the opening of the Hudson River Coffee House at least since we met at Larkfest, the capital region’s largest music festival, this past September, and probably much earlier before. Pasquill, a local coffee enthusiast, and recent alumnus of University at Albany, has been the spearheading frontman of the Hudson River Coffee operation.  The joint got off to a little bit of a rough start with the opening date repeatedly being pushed back due to issues with their electricians etc., but they are now in their soft opening period, and we decided to take a first look.

The Shop

The semi-subterranean coffee house is adorned with brick walls, granite tile floors, and lots of dark wood. It’s located at Hudson and Quail, in the infamous  “college ghetto.” It definitely has the right feel for a coffee shop. Not too big, but big enough that it could be bustling at times. While we were checking it out, there was a nice mix of people, mostly local college students and twenty-somethings working on laptops, Skyping with friends, and contributing to the overall vibe. Lots of folks who knew Anton, the owner. Things felt very laid back. The music was mild and appropriate, not overbearing, but sat right in place with the rest of the ambiance. The place still feels new, but with a little wear and tear, could be easily reminiscent of a good friend’s basement with the addition of a huge coffee bar. Bonus points for the vintage arcade game – we’l love to see a high score chalkboard for regulars. The coffee house holds promise of local music and art, though right now the music and art consist of what’s playing over the speakers, and a giant sculpture of a head next to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game respectively. We have high hopes of what could come.

One of the most exciting things about this new java spot is it’s hours. 8am-midnight weekdays, and until 3am on weekends. Finally a coffee shop that understands there are people in the world like us who would rather be sipping joe until the wee hours of the morning than out at a bar any day. Hopefully business will succeed enough to allow for these hours to continue.

The Coffee

Hudson River roasts their coffee, well, down by the Hudson River. Anton told us that he goes down to the Capital City Coffee Roasters to roast so he can bring back fresh beans, unground. He brewed up the Hudson River House Blend, a Sumatra-Guatemalan mix that he created. The coffee was an appealing, traditional style house blend. Good coffee flavor, earthy, on the bitter side. It had a medium body with a long smokey finish. Anton tells us they’ve also got a dark roast in-house, and are working on more roasts to come. Additionally the bar boasts lots of flavor syrups and teas if you’re into that sort of thing. As Hudson River continues to grow, there are going to be a lot more options for food, pastries, and other coffee related treats.

Room for Improvement

It’s hard to give this place the full once-over because they are still in their soft opening, and they are still flawed by their infancy. Things we’d like to see in the future include the following: Better WiFi. We ended up having to tether a cellphone to get any decent signal to write this post. Improved lighting, something a little less industrial and a little more inviting. Christmas lights perhaps? Finally, we are eager to see what kind of music and art the coffee house brings in; this can be a major contribution to the area, and provide a new creative outlet for local students.

UPDATE: They were in the process of getting a new router to fix the WiFi issues when we were leaving.


All in all it looks like Hudson River Coffee House has this game pretty down pat. For day one, they are off to a strong start, and we can foresee this being a pretty happening new spot in Albany. If they keep up the good work with coffee, and can gain a following with some of the localized students, this could become one of the capital regions hottest spots for java, especially with the recent closure of the Muddy Cup. In any event, we’ll be there at their grand opening party with


Brother Suarez
Just the Sauce
DJ Far East

You can too for $5 at the door. Find out more info on their Facebook page here.

Profile: Uncommon Grounds – Albany, NY

October 22, 2010

Before going into any sort of depth about Uncommon Grounds (UG), let us just say that this place really exemplifies a good, larger scale café, and we’re proud to be reporting on it.

The Shop

Uncommon Grounds is a micro roasterie, sandwich and bagel shop with a lot to offer. Located in the Capital Region of New York State, places like UG can be hard to find this far north in the state. Large, homey, and dedicated to the finest things a café has to offer, UG boasts a broad selection of coffees roasted in-house, daily. The ambience is suited to a wide demographic of patrons ranging from the local college kids to the long time residents of Albany, NY. Ordained with a lovely, vintage Probat roaster right in the common space, and burlap sacks of green coffee piled waist-high around the perimeter of the café, UG makes no effort to hide the fact that they roast their own beans, a rarity in a city’s who’s coffee culture largely revolves around which Dunkin Donuts has the shortest lines. The walls are hung with photography from local artists, for sale at a reasonable price. We weren’t too thrilled with the work, but we’re not complaining about a coffee shop hosting art, in fact we are happy to see it.

But as the informed coffee drinker knows, art, nice paint and a pretty roaster don’t automatically equal a decent product. This is where Uncommon Grounds really shines through. The sheer breadth of what they have to offer is intimidating. Bagels, sandwiches, pastries, tea, and other assorted beverages are all offered on nice big chalkboard menus behind the bar. The staff was friendly, pretty informed, and unafraid to talk about the coffee with us, though clearly trying to push through the rush of people.  HBCB would probably go broke trying to sample all the different items here inciting us to return over and over again. As far as the blueberry crumb muffins go, we’re pretty satisfied.

The music struck us as a little strange: mostly oldies and classic rock. We heard Smokey Robinson, Clapton, and “Thriller” (huh?). This may be one area where the café might rework its marketing strategy, but more on that later.

The Coffee

On to the coffee. HBCB sampled two single origin roasts. The first, a Bolivian, served at exactly the right temperature: hot, but not scolding. Immediately upon first sip, the freshness of the roast could be detected. These beans had to have been roasted no less than 24 hours prior, and likely that morning. The coffee had bittersweet notes of apples and a surprisingly light, but pleasant body. Very autumnal all in all.

The second roast we tried was a Mexican, also light bodied but with spicier notes of cayenne pepper and a smooth mouthfeel going down. The roast didn’t taste quite as fresh, but how can you complain when there are free refills and free WiFi?

As far as the coffee is concerned, this is just about the best selection we’ve found in the area, especially considering it is roasted 100% in house. Uncommon Grounds features a huge selection of bulk coffee for sale at pretty decent prices, many of which we will try to get our hands on for reviews in the coming months.

Room for Improvement

Considering how stoked we are about this joint, we don’t have a lot of complaints, though we would like to offer UG some pointers as to how they might push their establishment from great to exceptional. Humbly, we offer this:

Paper cups: great if you are on the go, not so great if you want to sit and enjoy your coffee, not so great for the environment. Though we understand the convenience of not having to wash dishes, and being able to brand your coffee in its container, we’d love to see Uncommon Grounds offer porcelain or ceramic mugs for the patrons who want to hang out. It will keep our coffee hotter, better tasting, and save some friendly trees. Moreover, UG could sell these mugs, or even feature local artists to design mugs quarterly.

Music: This was particularly peculiar to us. The upbeat 70’s and 80’s jams are nice if you into grooving that way, but for a coffee shop, we’d like something a little more mellow and conducive to conversation or studying. Perhaps this is just our musical taste, but something more along the lines of S. Carey, Four Tet, or even Norah Jones feels like it would be a little more suitable, and really relax the environment.


Despite our little nit-pickyness, Uncommon Grounds is definitely a place we will be returning. Great atmosphere overall, cool people, awesome coffee, and a great service to the Capital Region. UG, keep doing what you are doing. You’re doing it well.

You too can check out Uncommon Grounds at either of their locations in the Capital Region

Albany: 1235 Western Ave.

Saratoga Springs: 402 Broadway

HBCB Double Feature – Nantucket Coffee Roasters

September 21, 2010

Nantucket Coffee Roasters (NCR) is a roasterie based out of…you guessed it, Nantucket Island. Those of you who aren’t familiar with Nantucket, it lies just 30 miles south of Cape Cod, MA. Nantucket is the kind of place where people use “summer” as a verb; the island’s population increases fivefold during the summer season and is hallowed ground for tourists and swanky property owners alike. Maybe you’ve heard of “Nantucket Reds?”

Yeah, we know. You don’t have to say it. Whatever, this is a blog about coffee, not absurd pants.

In any event, HBCB is bringing you its first ever double feature from a single roaster. Recently gifted a couple of bags from the roast house by one of our readers, we decided to lay it down.


First to bat was NCR’s Sumatra. The Sumatra beans were lightly roasted to perfection with decent consistency and color. Points to NCR for their roasting technique here. Indonesian coffees like Sumatra are often over roasted because they take on color slowly, but NCR nailed it with this roast. The beans smelled sweet and of citrus. Once ground, they released notes of cocoa.

The brew itself was nicely balanced with a light body, and mild acidity. The coffee would be suitable for a morning cup, tasting of mild fruit – peach, grapefruit. The finish was one of the most pleasantly surprising aspects of the brew. Though very straightforward at first sip, the coffee develops slowly over time, leaving your mouth tingling and contemplating its complexity. Very nice indeed.

HBCB Vertict: 8.2/10

Pros: Clearly crafted beanwork. Great complexity in the finish.

Cons: Silly pants.

Ethiopian Harrar

Next up was NCR’s Ethiopian Harrar. The Harrar contrasts the Sumatra in many ways: full city roast with aromas of black pepper and spice. The grounds smelled rich and powerful. At first it smelled like this was going to be a very charismatic cup of joe.

The brew itself didn’t exactly reflect what had been expected. The coffee is surprisingly light in body with mild acidity. Notes of black pepper, and spice shine through, and the finish is slightly bitter and ashy. Not exactly what you always want with a quality cup, but one supposes you could pair it with desert. We wouldn’t recommend this on an empty stomach, but perhaps after dinner, or with something sweet.

HBCB Verdict: 6.4/10

Pros: Definitive and unmistakable.

Cons: Acquired taste, not great for any old time. Oh, and those damn pants are still ridiculous.

All in all NCR proved to come through with some respectable coffees, particularly the Sumatra. Next time you are “summering” on the cape, hop on a ferry and check them out. Maybe you can even sport your reds, asshole.

Review: Victrola Coffee Roasters – Empire Blend

July 28, 2010


Victrola Coffee Roasters is a small roasterie out of Seattle, WA. Obviously, Seattle is known for it its coffee (hello Starbucks), but Victrola has managed to keep itself both known yet not infamous. HBCB recently checked out their Empire Blend, a blend they pitch like this:

In homage to the art deco masterpiece that popular opinion believed was impossible, our Empire blend was thoughtfully created to carry the distinction of “the only blend that is not espresso”. We chose three Latin American coffees that would compliment each other well in body, acidity and mouthfeel and the results are delightful: tobacco, dried fruit and toasted marshmallow followed by a clean, balanced cup full of sweet chocolate and linear acidity. Perfect if you can’t decide on a single origin, perfect with toast in the morning or cookies in the afternoon.

The beans came in a very simple brown paper bag with the company’s victrola logo on the front, and a date roasted stamp on the bottom.. As pictured above, the emblem evokes an old-timey feel. These beans were on the lighter side but had very rich aromas of mocha and coffee. The grounds produced a very full smell – incredibly warm and nostalgic. Once the coffee had brewed, it released its flavors of chocolate, mocha, and that pure, undeniable coffee flavor. The finish was of oak and black cherry.

This coffee is light in body, and low in acidity. As advertised by Victrola, it would make a good cup for either morning or afternoon given it’s mild, yet complex characteristics. Good job, guys. Next time I’m in Washington, we’ll definitely be paying you a visit.

For you Seattle readers, you can go get a fresh cup yourself at any of the three café locations in Washington found here.

HBCB Verdict: 7.7/10

Pros: Mild and versatile without compromising complexity.

Cons: Availability.

Review: Stumptown House Blend

June 23, 2010

After a small hiatus, HBCB is back, and with lots to share. This week we’ve got Stumptown Coffee’s House Blend. Stumptown started in 1999 in Portland, OR with a small micro-roasterie, and over the course of the next ten years opened up several roasteries and cafés around the country. Stumptown has long been a frontrunner in contemporary coffee culture, and offers a variety of single origins that span the globe, as well as a catalog of four of their own blends. After being gifted a pound of their famous house blend, we thought we’d look into it.

Stumptown has very elegant packaging in brown paper bags with minimal content. The bags are pre-formatted with the company’s logo, and a kangaroo-like pouch in front. Stuck into the pouch is nice little cardboard card with the title of the coffee and the cupping notes. Smack on the bottom of the bag is printed the roast date (+). The beans, while in the bag looked small, but of equal consistency, and smelled of cocoa and coffee (yes, coffee is an appropriate smell to associate with coffee). The roast was an even, light auburn, and the beans had the texture of soft matte.

Once ground, the beans released floral and fruity notes: cherry and mango, to give the grinds a sweet, but bold aroma. Brewed, the coffee took on a dark maple color, and gave of an incredible smell of coffee which filled the room. It had a medium weight body which went down smoothly and left a finish of chocolate and pepper. The coffee’s acidity is tempered though not unnoticeable, the kind of coffee that makes a good cup at any point during the day.

Overall, this is one solid cup of java. Stumptown’s genius shines through here more in their restraint than their complexity, not to say that the coffee isn’t well-balanced, which it is. Stumptown has done exactly what a good roaster should do with their house blend: they have made a great cup of coffee, and not tried to push it any further than that. The blend is unique, yet familiar, and tastes the way coffee should.

HBCB Vertict: 8.9/10

Pros: Tastes like coffee in the best of ways, craftsmanship in balancing.

Cons: Not much.

Review: Juan Valdez’s Pico

April 21, 2010

Juan Valdez (JV) is a coffee company that specializes in Columbian coffee beans. These guys have been around since 1959 and have done a lot of work with the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Columbia to promote education, healthcare, and other social programs for Columbian coffee farmers and their families.

HBCB took JV’s Pico for a spin recently. In the bag, this coffee has a nice rich smell which is clearly exposed when the medium/dark beans are ground – full of chocolate and earthiness. Aromatically speaking, there is a certain sweetness that shines through once the coffee is brewed. The coffee has a really nice, medium body to it, enough to feel the sensation of the liquid in your mouth, but not sludgy or thick. Complimented by a tempered acidity, the coffee has a prominent bitterness that some may find overpowering, but if bitter is something you enjoy in coffee, Pico might suit you. In terms of flavor, the coffee is rich with earthiness, that leaves a soft feeling on the sides of the tongue. Consider pairing it with something sweet to balance the intentional bitterness.

This is true anytime of day coffee, nice to wake you up in the morning, great for a cup to get you through the afternoon, and perhaps even with desert. Very staple.

At $9.99 a bag, this may not be the best bang for your buck. The coffee is good, but nothing too special. If you shop around, you’ll likely find something of equal quality for a few bucks less.

HBCB Verdict: 6.4/10

Pros: Bitterness (if you’re into it), conscientious company, good for any time of day.

Cons: Bitterness (if you’re not into it), a little pricey for a less than outstanding coffee.

Profile: The Daily Grind – Lark Street, Albany, NY

April 1, 2010

This past weekend, HBCB had the good opportunity to visit a local micro-roasterie out of Albany, NY. The Daily Griind is a family owned micro-roasterie that serves up a nice choice of coffees  They have two locations, one in Troy, NY, and the Lark Street location in Albany, NY. The Lark Street location is divided into two parts, upstairs is the roasterie and merchandise shop, and downstairs, in the basement, a small, intimate café. The café had a great ambiance – low lit, and you are confronted with the counter as soon as you walk in the door. The staff were super knowledgeable about their coffees, and weren’t afraid to give their personal opinions about the roasts.

The Columbian we tried was a light roast, but very full flavored with a medium body, and nice complexity. The difference in tasting fresh beans was pleasantly clear, so if you are in Albany area, definitely check out this spot.

Review: Wicked Joe’s Sumatra

March 16, 2010

Wicked Joe (WJ) is a coffee roaster out of Brunswick, Maine. They are admirably dedicated to producing quality, fair trade, certified organic, and bird friendly coffee. From their website the company looks like a nice collective of coffee enthusiasts, who have pretty vast experience in the coffee world, and come from a variety of places in the US. They’ve branded their company with a fun, cartoony art style, and classic New England lingo (hence “Wicked” Joe) in an effort to produce what they like to call, “epic coffee.”

WJ gets a big bonus for their dedication to good business relations. These guys are really careful about how they purchase their beans, which farmers they work with, being certified organic, and environmentally sustainable and friendly. They work with Rainforest Alliance, a cool biodiversity non-profit, and proudly declare their eco and farmer-friendly outlook in their mission statement.

Sumatra is a region of Indonesia which has been producing coffee since the 18th century. Sumatra is known for being grown in nutrient rich, volcanic soil, and after 300 years of growing coffee, it is pretty safe to assume that the good people of the Sumatra region know a little bit about how to grow a mean bean. However, on our end, it is our responsibility as bean heads to represent the best of the quality product in the roasting process. This might be where WJ fails a little, but we’ll talk about that a little later.

WJ’s Sumatra will run you about $8.95 for a twelve ounce bag of whole beans. This is what they have to say about the roast:

Delicate malty aroma, slight sweetness, rich, earthy spices throughout, peppery, nutty, smooth, low acidity, heavy body, syrupy, subtle apricot and cherry notes, dark chocolate finish.

The beans had a medium to medium-dark roast, and were very consistent size and color. They had a sweet earthiness in aroma with hints of maple, and eventually chestnut, once ground. After brewing, the coffee took on a rich cedar color and further nutty, earthy aromas.

At first sip, HBCB wasn’t too impressed. While still at high temperatures, the earthiness tasted more like soil, with a noticeable lack of acidity. We certainly wouldn’t call this a “heavy bodied” coffee, as WJ does, but it is neither unpleasantly thin. The great surprise came as the cup cooled a little bit, and some of the subtler pepper and spice  notes had their chance to shine through. A word to the wise: allow this cup to cool slightly before drinking to avoid an unpleasant burnt taste.

The coffee finishes with an unsurprising, yet appropriate bitterness for a coffee of this caliber.

So why should a seemingly qualified roaster produce a product that isn’t particularly spectacular? Well, it turns out that often Sumatra beans get over roasted. Due to the nature of the growing process in this region of the world, the beans take on a lighter color than normal when being roasted, thus roasteries feel the need to roast Sumatra for longer periods of time, darkening their color, but ultimately inhibiting their potential. Perhaps if WJ took them out of the roaster one or two minutes earlier, they could have avoided the mildly burnt taste of the coffee.

All in all, this is still a pretty decent cup of (Wicked?) Joe. It makes for a nice daily coffee – not something you break out after a dinner party with colleagues, but certainly more than enough to get you out of bed and get the kids to school. It makes for a nice morning cup, particularly with its low acidity (easy on an empty stomach), and isn’t nearly as bland as some of the more well-known store-bought brands.

HBCB Verdict: 6.7/10

Pros: Affordable, cool company with good intentions, and innovative  branding, low acidity (if you are into that)

Cons: Mildly burnt flavor (especially when at highest temperatures), unimpressive finish, potentially over-roasted beans.