My first morning of Philly coffee sleuthing got off to a slow start. I rendezvoused with my friend D. in the IKEA parking lot. Having just moved to the area, his family still needed a few things. An IKEA shopping trip, car seat reshuffling and some creating repacking later, we were finally on our way to Chestnut Hill.
The town of Chestnut Hill has that quaint, historic, well-off Philadelphia neighborhood feel. There are cobblestone streets, the requisite street car and lots of colonial architecture. The outside of Chestnut Hill Coffee Company fits right in. The inside, however, is fully renovated with exposed brick and woodwork, stained glass and brick red walls. If I had to pick, though, my two favorite elements would be the wood plank lined turret that rises up through both floors and the bright yellow and chrome roaster. The two of them gave me alternating flashes of being trapped within a wooden castle, updated by Design within Reach, and going head on with the “Little Engine that Could’s” tricked-out yellow homey.
D. and I ordered a cup of the drip. It was a Yemen pumped from the airpot. It was a good, straightforward coffee and not particularly complex. It was roasted a tad darker than I would have liked, but then again, it was roasted in-house. From the little bit I’ve been able to gather, it seems that if you want high quality, fresh-roasted beans, roasted locally, Chestnut Hill is probably your best option. It’s quite possible too that they do better with some of their other beans. I’ll have to leave it to a return trip and D’s intelligence gathering to find out for sure.
The espresso is where Chestnut shined. We ordered a macchiato. At first, I was worried because it was taking the barista far too long to make that one macchiato; there was no line and no other orders. He then explained how he was having trouble with the grinder and was currently on his third attempt. What came out was a beautifully pulled shot that blended nicely with the milk. It had a good balance of fruit and something darker. Overall, it was somewhat on the sweeter end of espressos, probably a more medium roast. I’m not quite sure in the end what the issue was with the grind, but clearly the care and attention that should be given to making a shot of espresso was where it should be.
John Hornall, the roastmaster, and one of two partners, is a godsend to Philly. I sadly didn’t bother to introduce myself as he was being harassed by an older women who, reminiscent of someone from Berkeley, was demanding to pay more for her coffee as a way of improving the world. Rightly thought, wrongly presented. John brings plenty of expertise and a real sense of vision to Philly coffee – just listen to him here and check out those barista skills as well. Chestnut Hill is certainly moving on up.