Stepping into one of Albuquerque’s five Satellite Coffee locations made me think of an historical re-enactment of what it must have been like for a 70’s Seattle-ite to step into one of the handful of original Starbucks, a chain on the verge of explosive expansion. Satellite is still locally owned and locally roasted but expanding quickly, especially when you consider that Satellite is a spin-off of Flying Star, a restaurant and cafe in the Albuquerque area with 8 locations and a full service menu. The creators of Flying Star liked their coffee so much they started a business where their coffee, and not just their food, could be the star. (I should add that this Satellite shouldn’t be confused with Satellite of Seattle serving Stumptown coffee)
This particular location – right across from the University of New Mexico on historic Route 66 and the only Satellite branch I’ve been to – is clean and trendy without offering an earth-shattering aesthetic. It’s filled with lots of red and brown chairs, both leather and cloth. The centerpiece of the space is an enormous round couch, surrounding a tall padded pillar with each seat on the couch “orbited” by a small table. Overall, it was a pleasant environment to work in and offered free wifi.
Satellite’s menu consists of the usual array of contemporary cafe coffee drinks as well as various frou-frou, albeit creative and appealing-looking, smoothies and tea-based concoctions. They also have a decent food menu. I personally was fond of the rise and shine breakfast sandwich – a spicy, green chile and sausage version of an Egg McMuffin. The drip coffee is brewed in a Fetco, and a chalkboard sign hanging over the brewed coffee suggests that Satellite rotates their coffees on a semi-regular basis. On the three visits I made, however (two of which were on the same day), I found them serving their Moka Java blend.
While fine enough and certainly a clean, drinkable cup, I can’t say I was particularly impressed by this blend of coffee. Satellite says that it is a medium roast, but seemed darker, or at least tasted largely of that roast. The decaf I ordered faired a little better but suffered from a similar roast-centric flavor which got better with a bit of cream and sugar. I did buy some of Satellite’s Tanzania Peaberry (a dark roast) to try at home, which would have given me a better sense of what else they have to offer, but somehow managed to lose it along the way. Oy!
The espresso proved slightly better. On the plus side, it was sweet and mild and tasted of roasted nuts. On the minus side, the crema was a bit thin, it was served in paper despite my specifically requesting that it was “for here,” and it was a tad watery. The equipment used was an automatic that I wasn’t immediately familiar with and my notes, like the Peaberry coffee, disappeared before I could make it home to check. If anyone has some further information on their machine, please feel free to chime in. (see comments below for machine details).
My overall impression is that the folks at Flying Star and Satellite are business savvy and have an impressive way with food. They have plans to keep expanding and probably can make something of a go of it given that they know coffee well enough to serve something above the norm. The coffee is fresh roasted and there is something inherently appealing about the fact that they roast their coffee themselves. Still, the roast-heavy flavor and apparent de-emphasis on coffee making skills amongst their staff smacks of many of the less appealing aspects of most major coffee chains. Until these things are remedied, there better places to pursue good brew in Albuquerque.