The travel I do for work usually affords me the opportunity to try out good, sometimes even stellar, coffee in far away places. My most recent trip to Anaheim was sadly not one of those. I had a list of places I wish I had visited. I even had some spare time in my schedule. The problem was that these places were not accessible to me, at least not without a car. Let my suffering serve as a lesson to you. Don’t think you can get by without helping the rental car companies of the greater LA/Orange County area.
The Vile High Club
Despite my dim prospects, I hoped my morning flight might start my day off right. Jet Blue serves Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, which can be perfectly drinkable, even considering the airline’s use of sub-standard coffee equipment and pre-ground coffee packets; I’m not too proud to say that I’ve had semi-enjoyable cups of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee on Jet Blue flights in my past.
Sadly, this cup did not compare to even my mediocre memories of the stuff. It more closely resembled church-function coffee, dispensed from large urns in fellowship halls, than anything remotely palatable. I took an obligatory picture and set the cup aside, not realizing that this coffee was a harbinger of other bad cups to come.
Coffee and the Tragic Kingdom
My walk to Disney main street that night (a truly horrid place) revealed that most of my researched coffee prospects were going to be a bit farther way from my hotel than I had hoped. The only cafe of some curiosity within reasonable proximity was one called Cafasia. (A play on the words Cafe and Fantasia or the connective tissue fascia? You decide.) It turned out to be a glorified snack bar residing in the Sheraton Park Hotel complex along South Harbor Blvd. The coffee was from Seattle’s Best, raising in my mind several new questions about the reliability of the adjective embedded in this roaster’s moniker. I opted not to try any coffee noting that the Starbucks at the Marriott where I was staying was probably at least as good.
A Flower in the Rough
Despite my optimism, I was at least pragmatic. I had packed my new aeropress, some fresh coffee, and a grinder. A little bottled water passed through the in-room coffee maker a couple of times to bring it up to temperature and I was able to enjoy some semi-decent Americanoesque beverages. So while I may have been seen traipsing about my conference holding the Styrofoam cup from my room, the coffee contained within was something of an oasis. The jury is still out as to whether I give the aeropress a completely hearty “hoorah,” but it certainly does have its place as a stalwart traveling companion.
Good Equipment ≠ Good Coffee
The finale to my trip found me sauntering up to the Sweet Jill’s/Polly’s Gourmet Coffee kiosk located at the Long Beach Airport. I felt a flush of excitement as I spotted a 2-group LaMarzocco Linea and a Mazzer Mini, but was suddenly saddened seeing this fine pair penned up inside a glass display case, the grinder filled with oily residue that even a case of Clearasil might have trouble drying up. I began to hatch a plan to free this duo, allowing them to roam wild dispensing espresso as nature intended on the open plain. Worried, however, they might get run over as they fled the scene, I opted for making them feel appreciated instead. I stepped up to the counter and ordered an espresso.
As life would have it, the machine was in need of repairs. The silver lining was that Sweet Jill’s had another kiosk on the other side of the terminal stocked with identical equipment. I rolled my luggage back across the terminal sidewalk to find two guys swiping their ID cards through the cash register. The dying beeps emanating from it’s tiny speaker didn’t bode well for the prospects of actually purchasing anything, but at least the espresso machine was fully operational. Neither of these two guys knew how to work it, however.
I trudged back to kiosk one. I wasn’t desperate for coffee and I wasn’t dying to try Polly’s Gourmet coffee, but I do hate sitting by when easy solutions are obvious. Besides, this homely operation could be the coffee-Cinderella that I had been waiting to find all trip. I suggested to barista number one that she trade places with the two guys in kiosk two. That way at least one of their two kiosks would be capable of dispensing espresso. My fall back plan was to suggest stepping behind the counter at kiosk two and preparing a shot myself.
I sat down to wait. Within about five minutes the two guys from Kiosk two arrived for a game of barista swap. I followed barista one back over to kiosk two and stood there to wait for my espresso. She emptied the grinds already sitting in the doser into the portafilter. I asked if she could grind the coffee first. She obliged and then pulled the shot into a shot glass before pouring it into a paper cup. The pull took all of 15 seconds, but I was simply too beaten by this point to insist upon a re-do. The upside is that she charged me all of $.80. At that price, it’s hard to say it wasn’t worth it.
The end result was not as terrible as it could have been. A thin layer of crema remained on this relatively thin-bodied espresso. Having had a lot of aeropress coffee in the past couple of days, I’d compare it to a shot of that ilk, made with fairly mediocre coffee. It was not good – a little harsh – but was marginally drinkable. It might even have been surprisingly unshabby as an Americano with a little bit of sugar.
Before I headed off for my flight, I commented to the barista that their kiosk had some good espresso equipment and that the managers ought to provide some training on how to use them. She said they had been trained. I didn’t feel like arguing the semantics of “train” so I grabbed my stuff and headed to my plane. My flight home was uneventful and I wasn’t even tempted to order the Dunkin’ Donuts.
Location: Sheraton Hotel, 1855 South Harbor Boulevard, Anaheim, CA
Rating: unknown but probably not too good