I learned on my recent trip to Albuquerque that the 2008 USBC is happening there right now! Of course, the “B” in this case stands for “bowling” and not “barista,” but this realization isn’t as disappointing for me as you might think. You see, bowling brings to mind another “B”, “The Big Lebowski,” which I recently re-watched. I’d like to think that the Dude would be pleased to stumble into a town hosting a major bowling competition, although he might think that the players should chill out. It’s just a game, man. I think it’s worth mentioning that the Dude was also one to spend copious amounts of time chasing after coffee, even if it was coffee liquor poured over ice and smothered in half and half.
So I rounded out my recent trip to Albuquerque, channeling the Dude, by visiting a café that I might normally have been too uptight to venture into. While I had read some moderately positive remarks about Winning Coffee on the internet, I still remained skeptical. My visual assessment didn’t give me the greatest vibe, but I tried to remain open-minded and I was rewarded with at least one small surprise.
Winning Coffee is located just across from the University of New Mexico campus which made it a perfect place for me to stop off in between meetings. It’s also located right next door to Satellite Coffee, but there’s no risk of mistaking it for that slick, mini-chain. Winning coffee is your typical college coffee dive, replete with third-hand tables and chairs, punked-out kids, starving students, eccentric and vocal arguing professors and straight up crazy people.
Outside, Winning offers ample sidewalk seating for smokers and for days when it’s not too hot or too cold. Inside are two substantial rooms with considerable, but quite weathered charm. The ceiling is painted over pressed tin and the floor gorgeous, but gouged hardwood. The first room contains the coffee counter and a that collection of very used furniture. The second room resembles a 1970s church fellowship hall with it’s collection of wooden and laminated tables and white plastic folding chairs. The pleasant surprise is an older-looking Diedrich roaster. It certainly is nice to see that even one of the grungier cafes in Albuquerque isn’t afraid to get into the roasting game.
On my first visit, I ordered an espresso. I wasn’t able to get a make on the espresso machine. It was on a back counter, pressed against a wall. It was also quite old. I could make out that it was a 3-group, semi-auto, very likely a second-hand machine, but I’m not so good at pinpointing older makes and models, especially without a label. I’d like to think it resembled the Millenium Falcon – worn down but sturdy and dependable – when it fact it probable resembled the Ford Maverick I used to own – holding together just barely, with the help of some bondo.
The espresso itself was solidly drinkable, but not anything noteworthy. It had a decent, slightly golden crema and was a little smoky. It wasn’t particularly complex, but was smooth at first turning a little harsh in the back of the throat. Overall, I would say it was a little less pleasant to drink than the espresso next door at Satellite, but it also seemed to be a shorter pull.
On a later visit, I ordered a cup of their brewed Peruvian. It was a heavy roasted, dark coffee with some hints of chocolate, but also fairly roasty. I could have been imagining, but I want to say it was a fresher tasting roasty coffee than other similar caliber cafes you’d find around the Bay Area. Winning does rotate their daily coffee, which they brew on Fetco brewer. I noticed only after I ordered that they also serve a French Press of your choice from one of their 12 bins of beans. The beans looked a tad oily and dark, but there’s a lot of comfort in noting that the coffee is roasted fresh. (FYI, Winning, like the other roasters I’ve visited in Albuquerque, all get their green beans from Royal Coffee Importers.)
Even channeling the Dude, however, I can’t say this cafe is a winner. For it’s genre of cafe, it doesn’t do too badly. The coffee is freshly roasted and the staff was more than friendly, despite the intense heat and long lines. Nevertheless, I felt the need seek out one last shot before leaving town.