The drive from Albuquerque to Gallup is a long one, especially late at night, and neither the drive nor the destination held much promise for good coffee. I’m not sure about you, but facing such deprivation starts to make me a little stir crazy. Even though I was armed with my Hario hand grinder and some Barismo Nimac Kapeh, I found my eyes drawn to any mention of coffee with the hopes of finding something exciting, despite my rational brain telling me that the reality would be otherwise.
Halfway there, this man walked into a McDonald’s complete with McCafe. While a decaf Americano sounded like a good idea, it turns out the cashier had no idea what one was (to be fair, neither it, nor espresso is actually on the menu). When I explained to him that you add hot water to a shot of espresso, he laughed uncomfortably and said “why would you do that?” After a more lengthy explanation, the lightbulb went off. “I see,” he said. “You add a pump,” he made a large pumping motion with his hand, “of expresso and put water in it!” At that point, he let me know that they didn’t have decaf espresso, which seemed suspicious given that there were two hoppers on top of their super auto. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to risk the threat of no sleep that night. I ordered a regular decaf coffee, which, he brewed on the spot. Although what I consumed was vaguely artificially “coffee” tasting, it was a surprisingly decent cup of decaf, especially for a dollar. It seems that McDonald’s has mastered the art of quality in spite of skill and may deserves a closer look by this blogger.
Once I made it to Gallup, I set out to find a decent cup of coffee. The pickings were slim. A Starbucks recently opened inside the local Safeway and there were a few McDonald’s scattered about (I’m unclear whether they include McCafes), but I wanted to try something local. I found The Coffee House on the New York Times travel guide. It was also the only independent coffee house listed for Gallup on Delocator, so I headed there the first chance I got.
The Coffee House didn’t have a whole lot to offer inside or out, although the building, like much of what lies on or near this section of old Route 66, retains some old charm of yesteryear. The painted over pressed tin ceilings and faded wooden floors had character despite the mauve-pink plastic covered, institutional-looking wooden chairs. The espresso I ordered was similar – some potential but not much on execution.
The espresso machine is an older two-group La Cimbali semi-automatic. While no pumping action is required, it would have been preferable if the barista had used a grind-to-order action when preparing espresso for me and my colleague. Especially unappreciated was the action used for my shot of filling the portafilter, taking a call and then failing to tamp the ground. It beats me how, but what came out was neither harsh nor bitter. It also wasn’t really espresso. This very long shot was short on body and crema, but nevertheless proved drinkable. While I wouldn’t order and espresso again, I might consider ordering an Americano.
The more positive aspects of my shot might be attributable to The Coffee House’s selection of Allegro Coffee as their roaster. This is the same coffee used by Whole Foods. While I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Allegro beans, I typically find them better than many mainstream alternatives. The house coffee I ordered was slightly over-roasted and only slightly less appealing than the equivalent airpot-stored coffee I might get from Whole Foods. I didn’t catch the origin of this bean.
One real highlight of The Coffee House was the food. They offered a decent selection of freshly made sandwhiches with an oddity in these parts known as fruit. It was a bit pricy at over $8, but my Waldorf Chicken Salad sandwhich was a welcome burst of fresh, healthy food in a land of (somewhat delicious, but heavy and unceasing) southwestern road food. When it came to the coffee, there wasn’t really an alternative was there?