It was 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon, getting dark and cold outside. Me? I had been sitting in my father-in-law’s car for nearly two hours, my daughter sleeping peacefully in the back. I was ready to get out. I had already missed a chance to stop off at the Donut Plant – even the cops don’t look favorably on a father leaving his daughter sleeping in the car for a donut run – and now I was about to flub my hastily thrown together plan to visit Oslo Coffee. Oh, the sacrifices of parenthood.
Before Oslo, I don’t remember the last time I discovered a good coffee spot. I mean the kind of discovery where you don’t have a tip or a recommendation or haven’t read a review. I was returning to Manhattan from Brooklyn a few months ago, coffee from Gimme! in my hand (a pre-blog excursion, but I can say that Gimme is worth the trip!), when a guy sat down across from me on the subway. His cup said Oslo. I noted the name to look up later. On the plane trip home from New York, I struck up a conversation with a couple from Brooklyn. The conversation turned to coffee and they mentioned their favorite spot, Oslo. It seemed the Nordic gods were calling to me. I made it a point to go on my next trip back east.
After starting the car, re-parking it a few feet away and clearing my throat, I was happy to find my daughter awake from her nap. We headed inside. The northern and main location (the southern location is close by but I had trouble finding it) was really pleasant inside with some pretty good seating and an old Probat roaster teetering on some wooden planks, pipes protruding wildly out the back, hastily inserted into the walls.
The guys behind the counter were nice and explained that they hoped to have it up and running soon, but that the zoning laws were starting to wear them down. Until that day, they’ll continue to get their coffee from a New Jersey roaster (not sure which one) who blends and roasts it to their liking. They have only a handful of coffees with a couple of single origins and some suitably Nordic named blends like Thor.
Seeing as it was nearly 5 PM, I ordered a decaf cappuccino and a Thor house blend (to take back home for someone else who didn’t mind the late night caffeine). The cappuccino was a little stale tasting and I can’t say the foam was particularly noteworthy. I would give it a 2, but I have to recognize that it was a decaf.
The Thor blend was really intriguing. I don’t remember the beans in the blend, but there were three. I think mostly Central American. It had an impressive complexity about it with clear and distinct low medium and high notes. I can’t clearly describe the flavors, but none were bitter and there was a definite burst of acidity. What hit me was a musical analogy. It was a little like a tritone chord – harsh and dissonant at first, but something I grew to appreciate even if it wasn’t comforting. This complexity in their house blend and their aspirations to roast their own, despite the poor espresso experience, lead me to give them a 3. These guys are worth watching.
Update 4/3/09: On my most recent trip to New York I stopped quickly back by Oslo mostly to take a few pictures although I couldn’t help but retry the coffee that worked well in the shop but not so well at home. It turns out there have been a few changes. They’ve pulled out the roaster, but the owner is starting to play around with some roasting off-site. I tried a bit of that coffee – his new blend – and wasn’t particularly impressed. It was fresh tasting, but certainly pushing the envelope in terms of over-roastedness.
The good news, that I didn’t actually know before, was that Oslo uses Caffe Vita for its espresso. Now I wasn’t wowed by Vita’s Fuel blend that I tried a while back, but it can make an above-average espresso that’s certainly better than your usual chain coffee affair. And, at Oslo they use a handsome 3-group Synesso Cyncra to pull your shots so they must know something about coffee (I lost my notes so please let me know about the machinery)! Of course, I was in a rush, so I didn’t actually try the espresso.
Overall, while I don’t discount my original experience with the Thor Blend, having re-tasted it at home, the current blends dark roast, and my experience with Vita’s espresso, I have to downgrade Oslo slightly.