It’s incredibly humbling to find that even painstaking research can occasionally let you down. In all my recent trips to Albuquerque, I somehow overlooked The Grove. To be fair to myself, I didn’t actually overlook it. I had noticed it on several occasions but their somewhat limited hours never seemed to quite work with mine. To top it off, the outside of the store fails to indicate that this cafe serves as a southwestern outpost for none other than Intelligentsia.
My motivating tip finally came from Jay Caragay, who mentioned the gorgeous 3-group La Marzocco GB/5, but happened to overlook the roaster. To his credit, he did seem to be suffering from some severe intestinal distress. I sadly didn’t have that excuse. Of course, when I looked up the menu at the Grove on the magical internets, there it was: Intelligentsia coffee. Maybe I need an assistant to keep these kinds of details from falling through the cracks.
When I finally made to The Grove, I was pleased to find things as good as I expected. The food is top-notch cafe food: fresh-baked breads and delicious (buttery) pastries, well constructed, local and organic sandwiches, salads and soups. The inside of the cafe is pleasant, open and filled with natural light and they sell plenty of items, including bags of Intelligentsia coffee.
I started with a cup of brewed coffee – the Otono blend (apparently no longer available on the Intelligentsia website). I picked that over the Diablo blend, which is what it is: Intelligentsia’s concession to the dark-roast craving masses. What I got wasn’t bad: it was a clean, medium-bodied, but rough, peppery cup with orange, cinnamon and clove. When I contrasted that to the highly fruity description on the package, it made me think that it was either made poorly or old. The Grove brews their coffee in a commercial Fetco machine and stores it in an airpot. It was also late afternoon shortly before closing.
The next morning’s espresso was a breath of fresh air. In case you haven’t followed the news, Intelligentsia recently revamped their espresso line up with new packaging, new philosophy and more importantly, new recipes for their blends. I hadn’t yet tried the new Black Cat and didn’t know what to expect or how I would know whether what I tasted was distinct from The Grove’s particular rendition. Regardless of what it was supposed to be like, my first shot was really good. It was very smooth, with notes of toasted almond, melon, a bit of earthiness, lots of chocolate and a clarity in the cup that was surprisingly like you’d get from lever espresso machine. It lacked the intensely bright quality Black Cat used to have but made up for it with well-rounded sweetness. I was pleased find some corroborating notes just a few days later. The new Black Cat is very good.
I also tried a shot of Black Cat Decaf. Also very good. It was a bit brighter than the regular Black Cat, but only slightly. The shot was very creamy and mellow with just a little roasted green pepper and bittersweet chocolate. I picked up some decaf for home, along with a bag of Flor Azul. The coffee for sale was mostly dated within the week. I sadly missed the newest shipment by a couple of hours. Look carefully, though. There were a few bags well over two weeks.
The one barista who pulled all my shots seemed attentive and skilled, grinding and watching each shot carefully. Some other, non-coffee folks were somewhat less knowledgeable although they were willing to ask around to try and answer my pestering questions. Overall, I think The Grove does justice to the product they use, but like any cafe with so many other (good) things going on, it’s not as though they have a full staff of coffee experts. The trick for them will be maintaining consistent quality across all shifts and ensuring that this quality stays high (i.e. that they not have all their eggs in one basket/barista).
Thinking about my next trip to Albuquerque, I realize that my decision will be tough. I feel somewhat loyal to Michael Thomas Coffee, which is to my knowledge, still the best local roaster in town and very good at what they do. However, the availability of well-performed Intelligentsia is a powerful urge to resist. I guess this is a good dilemma to have.