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  • RANDY PENCH / rpench@sacbee.com

    Rucha Powers, left with son Royal Sabin, 3, Justine Belson and Anne Marquiss enjoy brew and atmosphere at Insight Coffee, Eighth Street.

  • RANDY PENCH / rpench@sacbee.com

    Expand your coffee tastebuds with our "Grounds for Success" java ratings.

  • RANDY PENCH / rpench@sacbee.com

    Daniel Baer helps customers at Old Soul Co. at 1716 L St. rear alley, one of the capital's many upsurging coffeehouses.

Rating Sacramento's independent coffeehouses

Published: Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 10AANDE
Last Modified: Monday, Feb. 27, 2012 - 8:41 am

During a whirlwind tour of the city's best coffeehouses, we ordered the same thing from each: espresso, cappuccino and a standard coffee, also known as a "drip" coffee. We also ordered two pastries, considered the service, the ambience and factored in certain intangibles, with an admitted bias against solo customers staring at their computers in silence at the expense of the overall energy and volume of the room. A great coffeehouse shouldn't feel like a library.

Such tastings – and rankings – are subjective and unscientific. For instance, to "pull" a great espresso takes both skill and a bit of luck. But the discerning barista will pour out a poor espresso and redo the pull until a good or very good one is realized. We considered the body or mouthfeel of the coffee, the aroma, the complexity of pleasing flavors, as well as the finish. A great espresso takes seconds to drink, but the flavor coats the mouth and should last for some time.

Cappuccinos are based on similar fundamentals, with a bias against the trend of adding too much steamed milk, which diminishes the flavor of the espresso. The micro-foam cap is both an aesthetic and functional component – it keeps the coffee and milk warm. A bland, watery cappuccino is considered a failure.

Drip coffees at the city's best coffeehouses taste considerably different from what we were used to from a Starbucks or Peet's 15 years ago. There is much more complexity of flavors – notes of caramel, berries and various fruits or nuts are often abundant. This kind of coffee comes from beans that are not over-roasted to a dark roast, which limits or even obliterates the bean's character.

Thus, these ratings are based on a snapshot in time, the specific beans used and the skill of the barista. They are subject to change.

– Blair Anthony Robertson

Old Soul:

37.7 (out of 40)

Espresso: 9.5

Sweet up front, complex, full, syrupy body, long finish.

Cappuccino: 9.2

Notes of berries, hints of sweetness, floral finish.

Drip: 9.5

Great balance of flavors, complex, rich, mild acidity, earthy finish.

Ambience: 9.5

Showed how our alleys could be cool. Large warehouse/industrial feel. Good people-watching. Often lively conversations. Some seating could be improved.

Broadacre:

36.8

Espresso: 9.9

The best in our tasting, practically an elusive "God shot." Tremendous body and mouthfeel, lively complexity, long finish with hints of sweetness.

Cappuccino: 9.3

Nice balance of foam, steamed milk and coffee.

Drip: 9.1.

Clean flavors, nice depth, slightly earthy, mild bitterness on the finish.

Ambience: 8.5

A work in progress; quirky furniture, eclectic music; cool points for organizing Second Saturday bike rides – to other coffeehouses!

Temple:

36.7 overall

Espresso: 9.6

Great mouthfeel, thick and rich, slightly smoky, broad flavor notes, smooth finish.

Cappuccino: 9.0

Pleasing mouthfeel, but weak espresso taste.

Drip: 9.3

Earthy and nutty up front with mild acidity on the finish. Notes of honey and chocolate.

Ambience: 8.8

Lots of solo customers staring into computers. Can be as quiet as a library. Nice furnishings, good natural light and sidewalk patio.

Insight:

36.7

Espresso: 9.5

Slight bitterness up front, rounded finish, nice body and complexity.

Cappuccino: 9.2

Lots of coffee flavor, medium body, nuttiness balanced by acidity.

Drip: 9.0

Good all-around, straightforward, mild acidity, decent finish with slight bitterness.

Ambience: 9.0

A work in progress, large warehouse space, appealing use of rustic materials; great natural light. Lots of conversations.

Chocolate Fish:

36.6

Espresso: 9.5

Good crema, excellent body, sweet nose; deep, balanced flavors.

Cappuccino: 9.6

Best in our tasting; good texture and temperature, pleasing nuttiness and mild acidity.

Drip: 9.0

Caramel notes, balanced flavor and acidity, but a tad weak.

Ambience: 8.5

Isolated location during non-business hours; large nonsmoking patio, modern décor inside; needs longer hours to compete with the best on the grid.

Naked Lounge:

35.2

Espresso: 8.8

Good crema and mouthfeel, deep flavor, decent finish, served in cup that was too large, causing it to cool quickly.

Cappuccino: 9.0

Nice cap of foam but too much milk; good temperature but bland and watery.

Drip: 9.2

Smooth and balanced but not a lot of nuance.

Ambience: 8.2

Lots of solo customers staring into computers. Good corner for people-watching, but it can feel like a library inside.

Java City:

32.8

Espresso: 8

Surprisingly good, a tad over-extracted, decent finish.

Cappuccino: 7.8

Too much milk but good overall.

Coffee: 8.0

The coffee shows great improvement over past years. Good balance, some complexity and depth.

Ambience: 9.0

Updated décor, brighter look, eclectic clientele. Nice spot to hang out.

Coffee Garden:

32.5

Espresso: 7.5

Pleasing, long finish, good flavor and balance, hints of smoke, thin body, no crema.

Cappuccino: 7.5

Balanced flavors but thin body.

Drip: 8.0

Balanced, medium acidity, decent flavor, a little weak.

Ambience: 9.5

Great back patio, people having conversations, few laptops, very dog- friendly.

Coffee Works:

29

Espresso: 6

Burnt and dark aroma, hints of chocolate flavor, thin body, significantly over-extracted.

Cappuccino: 6.5

Good foam, bold flavor notes, throaty and burnt finish.

Drip: 7.0

Choice of dark, medium and light roasts; our medium had high acidity, good flavor, little complexity.

Ambience: 9.5

A neighborhood joint with lots of regulars who actually have conversations. Good pastries.

Boulevard Coffee:

26

Espresso: 5.0

Burnt toast in a cup, little if any crema, bold but very bitter finish.

Cappuccino: 6.0

Nice foam cap but thin body, burnt flavor notes.

Drip: 7.5

Good balance, full flavor; simple, pleasing finish.

Ambience: 7.5

Lots of conversations, good natural light, patio feels very close to busy street.

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