There’s plenty to give Philadelphia a unique flavor besides the cheesesteak. The city is entrenched in American History that infuses the place with a kind of ornery spirit about the way things get done. And it’s just a theory, but I’m convinced that all those narrow rowhouses and tiny streets must have left, ala Jane Jacobs, some indelible mark on the population’s character, even if I can’t quite articulate just what that mark might be.
Putting aside the intense and widespread poverty visible in Philadelphia’s ghettos, the city does offer extremely affordable, yet decent urban housing options to folks willing to make the move to a city with less to offer than than it’s more expensive neighbors. It is still in close proximity to New York and DC and recently, it has begun to sprout a burgeoning art and food scene that’s even attracting some outside media attention.
What about Philly coffee? It seems to me that it’s much like the rest of city. Philly is lacking a true all-star that can compete with the big leagues of Stumptown, Intelligentsia or Counter Culture. Sure there’s La Colombe Torrefaction, but from what I know about them (regretfully, I have not been there), La Colombe is probably more on par with what Peet’s coffee used to be – good, very (perhaps too) dark roasted, wide-spread, but not ubiquitous. There is a growing interest in cafes and micro-roasters with something resembling a third-wave way of doing things, but progress is slow because the demand for this kind of coffee just largely isn’t there. That said, there is a lot of promise based on the coffee I did try even if it’s going to be a long, slow revolution to awaken people’s tastes.
Of course, I’m no expert. My recent trip to Philly was only my second. To help offset this, I didn’t wade into Philly coffee completely cold. I enlisted my best friend who just moved to Swarthmore and a couple of other good friends who are Bay Area ex-pats. I also got some terrific tips from Bill, at Pure Coffee Blog (a genuine Philly coffee expert) and a few other coffee folks along the way.
What about the coffee? Stay tuned. The first of five reviews will be here soon, but I do want to add one final qualification. The reviews that follow may have violated whatever statute of limitations exist on blogging. These entries are coming in at just over a month after my actual visits. To my 5 regular readers out there, including my mother, I do apologize.