The State of Coffee in Austin

Posted: October 30, 2011 in coffee roasting

We took a weekend getaway to Austin, TX. It’s not far from Houston but it was far enough to relax and recoup some of the energy drained by recent projects that demanded so much time and effort from both my wife and I. For this little weekend getaway I took no coffee with me. Just coffee expectations that I thought Austin could meet.

After all, if you Google-Map search “coffee” in the Austin area the city is covered with pushpins. You’d look at the sheer number of pins and think the chances of me having a great espresso in my first 24 hours pretty good.

They were not. 😦 I did find some great coffee – so read through or skip to the bottom if you want to find out what I think would be worth your visit. The images are taken from the better cafes.

I don’t think it’s just because I’m spoiled by roasting my own beans ordered from Sweet Maria’s Coffee. Sweet Maria’s is the very best of the best of the whole world. So, yes I agree I am a coffee snob or spoiled brat because I get the best beans, roast them fresh for consumption. But I expected “Weird” Austin to provide me more opportunities to find some cafes with similar concepts for excellence.

This is not a serious review. If it was a serious review I’d be trying single shots of espresso and marking the flavors using my flavor wheel mousepad I purchased from the Specialty Coffee Association of America convention last spring. Instead, I’m here to relax and enjoy myself, so I’m just ordering a small mocha with two or three shots so I can kick back, relax, and enjoy myself. This could mean reading on my Kindle, chatting with my lovely bride, hopping on Wifi to browse, or playing Word With Friends, or just solitaire.

By serendipity we arrived in time for the Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival at the Auditorium Shores park just over the 1st street bridge from downtown Austin. We walked the grounds just a few blocks from our hotel and had a fabulous Korean BBQ-Mexican burrito from Chi-lantros, and some tacos including the fried avocado taco from Torchy’s Tacos. All very delicious. I really loved the Korean-Mexican fusion in the BBQ beef burrito.
We walked along the river and crossed the bridge into downtown, half-heartedly trying to locate the free ATM that the app on my phone was promised nearby since I just depleted what little cash I had. Instead we took a break and tried a giant snickerdoodle cookie and mocha from BLVD Espresso and Dessert Bar for my first coffee in Austin.

I ordered a small double mocha, so it should have been about two ounces of espresso to about 8 or nine ounces of soy milk and chocolate. It was very mild– the balance between coffee and chocolate was almost right. A triple might have been better suited but it was late in the day for that much caffeine. It was weak, there was no punch of coffee flavor it was entirely too mild, even for a double it should have had more flavor. It’s hard to diagnose so far from the counter– I think a little harder tamping of the grinds might have improved the shots and improved the flavor punch for me. Also, the cookie was not a standout, not very memorable and perhaps a little on the stale side.

Sunday morning dawned we left the itchy sheets of the hotel to find some coffee and grub to break the fast and get to the downtown campus of Austin Stone Community Church. I wanted to try the Crepes Cafe but we didn’t have time so instead stopped at Jo’s Coffee on second street. Here we ordered triple soy mochas and split a blueberry muffin. The coffee was definitely the worst of the weekend. The triple tasted and felt like an overrun double, the milk overpowered all other flavors in our drinks. Jo’s definitely won’t get a return visit, Starbucks ranks better than Jo.

After church I changed into shorts and we zipped out to the shores of Lake Austin for Mozart’s Coffee Roasters. I’d investigated them from my Google searching and looking forward to visiting this shop on the small boardwalk. The atmosphere was incredible! The area is called Oyster Landing and there are two restaurants included in the boardwalk area. I’d like to see the roasting operation more closely but it does not appear to be at this location anymore. The small Probat Roaster at the front of the store looks to be decoration now, if the plastic buckets so close to it have any say on recent usage.

Mozarts was pretty good coffee and the atmosphere as I already mentioned was the best with the water lapping at the dock just below. The double small soy mocha wasn’t amazing but it was definitely the best of the last twenty-four hours and it merited a return trip later on during our visit. The menu leaves a lot to desired– I couldn’t find a thing to eat on it! I really wanted something like a breakfast taco and couldn’t find out if I could order one. I asked the counter person for assistance in getting something non-sweet to eat and was offered two different quiches. As soon as I ordered and paid I discovered by observing the next guest in line that there were breakfast tacos… The Bacon quiche was good, but I was a little miffed with the lack of help especially when I saw what I wanted after ordering.

We hung out here at the Mozart’s Coffee on Oyster Landing and enjoyed sitting in the sun room adjoining the deck and used the wifi to work on social networking and blogging. Easy, tasty, and useful. We stayed all the way until lunchtime and ate at one of the other establishments of Oyster Landing, Abel’s. I had one of the their specials of the day, which was an awesome Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork Sandwich for me. I really wanted to come back to Oyster Landing again and eat at The Hula Hut to experience their Polynesian-Mexican fusion food but it did not work out that way. Perhaps another time.

Later on Sunday afternoon we stopped at Progress Coffee which is back through downtown Austin and just on the other side of 35. It’s an unassuming old warehouse in a typically weird part of Austin. I read on their website that brewed Intelligentsia coffee so my hopes were high. After all, Angela drank a straight shot of Intelligentsia espresso at the SCCA Convention and enjoyed it, and she does not typically like black coffee let alone straight espresso. However, having Intelligentsia coffee alone does not make a good coffee shop.

The chocolate syrup used for the mochas didn’t look like much, but I can be ok with that, after all I am able to make a good mocha at home with Hershey’s syrup. We each had a double small soy mocha. It was merely “meh”, but not the amazing shots of espresso I was really hoping for. It is a dirtier building, not just weird, but dirty with lots of annoying flies. The wifi was really awful as well, so sitting around and trying to use the ‘net was impossible. It was easy enough to put in the password from the chalk board but it took me over an hour to get an IP address so that I could connect outbound. So overall, not a good experience though the coffee wasn’t nearly as bad as Jo’s, but I would not give them another chance to redeem themselves.

Fortunately, Monday started of much better. I took us to JP’s Java pretty early. I’d been here before, about 5 years ago when I took the kids camping we stopped in for a coffee and I knew it got crowded with people sitting around with their laptops. We got there and easily found a table with chairs and power to accommodate us for a few hours.

At the time of my first visit the Clover machines were just the rage and JP’s had invested in one so I had to try it, it was my sole reason in going through Austin on that camping trip. The Clover is a great machine. It makes a cup of coffee like a French Press but cleaner like a vacuum pot would. Is it better than an Aero Press? Not sure, it may not be any better than the awesomely simple AP. I enjoyed the cup of coffee produced by the Clover again this visit with a bright Costa Rica Santo Elena Estates while my wife enjoyed a double soy mocha. Enjoyed? Oh yes, JP’s was definitely the best. After I finished my Clover cup I also had a mocha and actually part of another.

One side thing about this visit- it’s interesting to see the difference that the brand of soy milk can introduce. Angela’s first mocha came out and we thought it tasted like dairy milk and she had to go back to the counter and confirm it was soy milk. It was, but two minutes later the barista brought her a fresh one just in case he had messed up. Customer service for the win! Definitely visit JP’s when you are in Austin, awesome coffee, the Clover machine, and an amazing customer service attitude. We stayed several hours working on our computers, using the wifi, trying breakfast burritos and more coffee. And more coffee. And a return visit for multiple more coffees. JP’s is the best of Austin.

  1. I guess I’ll need to try JP’s. My favorite so far has been Mozart’s, while most other shops in town are more about the atmosphere or attracting a specific community than the coffee itself. I know that about a year or so ago I saw that roaster up front working overtime. I’m not sure if it still is or not.

    Anything good in the League City area? I haven’t lived there in a while but my last visit a few years ago didn’t indicate much was going on (though I was mostly around the old town area). I suppose that is why you roast the beans yourself? 🙂

    • coffeeortech says:

      There is nothing very good in all of Houston. Well, there are a few in town (like Catalina Coffee) but nothing good between midtown and Galveston island. It is exactly why I had to start roasting. 😉

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