Napoli Coffee enjoys a brisk and friendly local business. At least, that was my take during the couple of hours I spent there doing some work one morning. I watched a steady flow of customers chatting with the baristas, who knew both their customers’ names and their regular orders. You can see the appeal that Napoli has. They have a bright and sunny corner location that gives the cafe lots of natural light (even if it located in a strip mall in a strip mall infested part of town), outdoor seating, friendly staff and most importantly, decent coffee, or at least the promise of it.
That promise of good coffee is what drew me to Napoli in the first place. (That and the free wi-fi which I desperately needed for my work.) I had read somewhere that Napoli used coffee from Batdorf and Bronson, a roaster about which I had read good things, but whose coffee I hadn’t yet tried. As I stepped inside the cafe, I spotted the large Batdorf and Bronson placard posted onto the front surface of the coffee counter, confirming the rumors about this cafe’s coffee.
Napoli’s coffee story, however, turns out to be a bit more complex. Napoli uses Batdorf and Bronson’s Dancing Goats espresso blend for their espresso, but typically rotates through their stock of 4-5 different coffees from Caffe Umbria for their brewed coffee. At least that’s the case most of the time. On the day I visited, they were sticking solely to their Batdorf & Bronson beans, brewing up the Dancing Goats in addition to using it to pull shots.
I tasted the brewed Dancing Goats (stored in an airpot), and while fine, I can’t say I was impressed. It was freshly brewed and it certainly was not bitter or over-roasted, but the coffee exhibited the kind of roasty flatness I often associate with espresso roasts brewed as coffee.
Instead, I ordered a double espresso, which, to my surprise was pulled on a bright red La Marzocco (an FB 80, I think). Their high-quality equipment, however, didn’t help the espresso much. It was very mild, nutty with a pine-like aroma. The crema was a tad thin and pale, and while not unpleasant, it was timid, lacking any prominent brightness or depth. I think the culprit was largely a long pull that left the shot watery.
I had better luck with the Ethiopian beans (from Caffe Umbria) that I purchased and brewed at home. The coffee was medium to full-bodied and just slightly syrupy, with lots of blueberries and banana. Napoli’s website and the barista I spoke to state that that this coffee is a washed Yergacheffe, but it tastes much closer to what I would normally expect from a Harrar. Either way, it was good and certainly shows the potential for what you might ordinarily find with Napoli’s brewed coffee.
I do have a couple of complaints. First of all, when I bought my beans, Napoli put them in a bag with their own stamp on it. This is a big pet peeve of mine. Napoli, after all, did not roast the coffee. Second, my espresso was served in paper instead of ceramic despite ordering it “for here” and not “to go.” Thinking that my order might have been unclear, I mentioned this to the barista. She informed me that it wasn’t a mistake; Napoli simply no longer serves anything in ceramic. While I’m glad they aren’t ultra uptight about serving espresso in paper, it’s a little extreme to abandon ceramic completely. The silver lining, if there is one, is that Napoli uses compostable paper cups.
Finally, I have to mention the interior design. The inside is comprised of two main sections. Several tables line one set of windows, accompanied by a long power strip (the “work” area). Most of the floor, however, is covered by a vivid green (see the color of their sign, only brighter) rug, dotted with a combination of similarly hued, upholstered green chairs, as well as tables with glossy wood surfaces and black iron legs and backs. Jutting out prominently into the middle of the room, is a light colored, stone fireplace, of the gas and fake wood variety. The furniture is clean and nothing is second hand, but I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that I had accidentally wandered into an indoor patio showroom located in 1990s suburbia.
The bottom line is that Napoli Coffee uses decent beans, has good equipment and is clearly enthusiastic about coffee. While the beans I brewed at home were good, I didn’t see this potential realized in the store. It just goes to show that beans plus machine don’t make good coffee on their own. While I can’t say I’d recommend a trip across town just for their coffee, they are almost certainly the best coffee in their immediate area. With a little work, they could be even better.