Friday, November 21, 2008

Lulu's at the Octagon

I'm in Santa Cruz for a day to interview winemaker Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon for an article I'm working on, and headed over to Lulu's at the Octagon, one of the slicker specialty coffee shops in the area. Owner Manthri Srinath is very passionate about coffee and espresso (check out this exchange between him and the blogger who writes the caffeinated rantings site who gave Manthri's other cafe, Lulu Carpenter, a mediocre review).

I've spoken to Manthri in the past and he certainly cares a lot about his cafes and the quality of coffees and espressos they make. That's why he has been willing to spend a lot to get the best equipment. At the Octagon he has a Clover for brewing coffee, and a 3-head La Marzocco Mistral for espresso. The Clover, as I've discussed in previous posts is a super expensive, super precise machine created a few years ago to help better prepare a cup of coffee. It was the darling of the specialty coffee world until Starbucks bought the company that makes the Clover earlier this year.

The Mistral is like the Ferrari of the espresso world. Handmade in Italy, it features "exposed, naked saturated brewing groups and dual-boiler technology and is intended for trendy, radical locations," according to the La Marzocco site. If that doesn't get you hot, I don't know what will. Normally, these machines, which have to be specially ordered, come with just two group heads, but the barista today informed me that Manthri had the company build him a three-head machine instead.

I ordered a double shot of their Cooper Street blend, and was told it's a blend of Ethiopian beans. I didn't expect much since I've been less impressed with espresso blends recently. They're blended to be smooth, inviting, and in my opinion, offer less excitement than single-origin shots. However, this was something really special. I didn't have anything to write on in the cafe to capture what I was getting, but it lacked any trace of bitterness and had a high-toned fruitiness that I assumed came from naturally processed coffee beans (where the coffee cherry is allowed to dry in the sun, giving the bean inside a sometimes mustier, softer fruit flavor profile than a washed coffee, which is brighter with acidity).

I wasn't planning on buying any beans, but had to get a half pound of that blend, and I can't wait to fool around with it on my set up at home. I also walked out with a moka brown espresso mug and saucer. These are cute little cups that you see at all the specialty cafes, and are hard to find in stores.

I bought a cup of one of their Colombian coffees from the Clover, but after drinking that tongue-covering espresso, I couldn't really pick apart the subtleties in this cup.

If you in Santa Cruz and want a top-notch coffee experience, I suggest visiting Lulu's at the Octagon. It's in downtown in a beautiful building, and the coffees and espressos are a cut above what you'll find at many specialty cafes.

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