I have to thank the fine members of Coffee Geek for pointing me in the right direction on this trip. I was headed to McAllen, Texas and fearing the worst when a double recommendation came my way – Moonbeans Coffee in McAllen and Jitterz Coffee in nearby Mission. The tip was pretty much on target, at least for MoonBeans. I never did make it over to Jitterz. While this cafe may not mark the second coming of coffee in South Texas, the folks there do a decent job. I’m also willing to bet that it’s probably the best gig going in town.
My biggest challenge turned out not to be enjoying the coffee, but simply finding it. I somehow failed to register MoonBeans subtle play on words and found myself looking for MoonBeams cafe out on Ridge Road amongst strip malls dedicated solely to health care offices and a gym. Apparently someone else was confused about the name as well since no such cafe exists. I assumed the worse for a while, only later thinking to call information, whose kindly robotic services put me in contact with MoonBeans’ cashier. Only after I got home and actually stared carefully at my photos did I even figure out the source of my confusion. That said, even the correct name can still be misleading since Google Maps lists three locations for this cafe in McAllen and there is at least one other cafe with this name in San Diego.
Having finally arrived, I took in the scene and deemed it a pleasant enough place with their jute-bag-meets-homey-cafe decor. MoonBean’s aesthetic might not be my ideal, but it offered a welcome relief from the unrelenting, and rapidly expanding, cookie-cutter chain stores and empty fast food buildings converted to mexican restaurants that dominate the entire South Texas scene. There’s a teeny roaster in the back, wifi, a stage for open-mic night and the bar up front. MoonBeans staff pull shots from a two-group La Marzocco Linea and offers three brewed coffees – one light, one dark and one decaf – from airpots stored behind the counter. Noteable was also Moonbeans pretty terrific selection of beer – a bucket of 5 bottles for $16 of some pretty decent microbrews and imports – meaning that MoonBeans makes for a formidable evening hang out spot after you’ve had your compulsory Mexican food.
The cafe uses a LM Swift grinder, which may not lead to the gold standard of hand crafted coffee but in theory does wonders for standardizing quality by ensuring that each shot is ground to order and consistently well-tamped. My espresso was slightly above average, which was better than I had or could have hoped for anywhere else in the area. The crema quickly dissolved and the espresso was a tad abrasive, but otherwise had a decently creamy mouthfeel and stuck to an unoriginal set of flavors in the vein of brown sugar and vanilla.
I also ordered a cup of the Guatemalan coffee – their light roast for that day. In addition to those two coffees, MoonBeans sells around 4-5 different freshly roasted beans in half pound and 12 oz. bags. The Guatemalan coffee struck me as probably the right roast for this coffee. It had some solidly good caramelized, sweet notes without being burnt or bitter. It was a clean, fresh and enjoyable cup with no real distinguishing features.
I guess the bottom line is that this while this cafe is nothing to sneeze at – something you might want to be careful doing this close to Mexico unless you want to be quarantined for Swine Flu – it offers freshly roasted, decently well-made coffee. It may not be the cafe of your dreams, but it will answer your basic coffee needs.