by gayla mills
Coffee arouses all sorts of passions and causes people to do crazy things-stay up all night, get involved in South American bean wars, fly to Paris, leave one's lovers ("but I don't like Kenya Roast for breakfast every morning.") To make matters worse, everyone has a different idea of what good coffee is, and where they feel most comfortable drinking it. Since it's a hopeless task to discuss all the places in town where one can get a good cup of coffee, I'll merely provide a brief glimpse of three cafes downtown, where one can get interesting variations on the old standard grind.
The oldest café, the Roasted Bean, has two floors. The non-smoking section upstairs is light and airy, with three floor-to-ceiling windows flooding the room with sunlight. The downstairs is darker, with a comfortable bohemian feel. It's as if the room has soaked up hundreds of lazy afternoons spent sipping coffee, reading leisurely, and chatting about matters long since forgotten.
An antique brass espresso machine gleams brightly on the counter. Alas for cappuccino lovers, it's been out of commission for some weeks, with no plans for repair in the near future. But before you despair, there's a solution for those who like a lethal dose of caffeine in one cup. It's called the push-pot method and has some definite advantages over the traditional style. For one, you can have any one of the 24 types of bean to choose from, in any strength you want. If you'd like Dutch Chocolate Almond thick as sludge, it's yours. French Roast on the light side? No problem. And for only $1.00, the price beats any espresso in town. There are usually several pastries to accompany the drinks, including Danish, muffins, and cookies, although the selection runs thin by mid-afternoon.
Café Giancarlo's light blue walls, white-topped tables, and green plants lend it a cool, secretive feeling which makes it a perfect retreat on a summer's day. A gallery of paintings line the walls. Rotated every three months, they include watercolors, oils, and sketches, and make for a pleasant view. While I was there, a weekly discussion group had gathered to drink and talk at leisure. Time felt as it stood still.
Giancarlo's coffee selection is basic: espresso, cappuccino, and regular coffee. The cappuccino, however, can't be beat. It is served rich and strong (but not too strong) with cream and chocolate shavings. On the side of the white porcelain cup sit two small almond macaroons. They are quite delightful, especially if you want one of their scrumptious tortes, mousses, or Danish, but are on a diet.
The Coffee Exchange, with its high ceilings, shiny brass trimmings, and trendy pastel colors, has a crisp, upscale feel. The Exchange has an impressive roasting machine in the front window. There one can view the store's many varieties of bean being roasted from green to dark brown.
The Exchange has an extensive selection of flavored cappuccino drinks, including frangelico, maple syrup, amaretto, and chocolate. Their Café Athenia-a blend of honey and cinnamon added to the cappuccino and cream-is a real treat. For those who enjoy unusual flavor combinations, they serve cold coffee mixed with chocolate and mint. They also make a nice café au lait (coffee with steamed milk) for those who prefer their coffee less strong.
All three cafes have food as well, although space doesn't permit me to expand on their specialties. They all offer good lunch fare-sandwiches, soups, and salads. Café Giancarlo serves continental cuisine on weekend nights, and its daily menu includes wine and bee. The Roasted Bean and the Coffee Exchange both have fine Sunday brunches, as their loyal followers will attest. But above all else, these cafes offer a chance to pause during the day, sit quietly with the smell of fresh coffee around you, and put aside your cares.