Hudson River Coffee House: Verdict

photos by andrew franciosa

So a while back, I posed my feelings about the run-of-the-mill coffee shops Albany is cursed with. Since then, I’ve been to Mocha Joe’s in Brattleboro, Blue Bottle in Brooklyn, Gimme! in Soho and The Hudson River Coffee House on Quail Street right here in Albany. The above photo details what I got when I ordered a small coffee and a shot of espresso from The Hudson River Coffee House. The photo below is the detail shot of the espresso I received.

The espresso: When I ordered, I was asked whether or not I wanted a single or double shot. I took the single option since I didn’t need a significant quantity. The guy who made it, dumped previously-ground grinds into the basket from the chamber in the grinder, gave it a lackadaisical tamping, put it into the machine, and pressed a button. He then set my paper cup under one of the two spouts, and a metal milk pitcher under the other. My drink was capped, handed off and he went back to the pitcher to either dump it out or make himself a drink. Shit, even at Starbucks they offer you the other shot since they pull in multiples of two.

The shot tasted like it looked. There was no crema and it tasted as if you were licking your hands after dealing with a fresh bag of rubber bands; not the nutty, complex and concentrated taste I’ve grown accustom to. It was also room temperature from being put into a huge, cold cup (not to mention the incredible amount of waste this is, which almost bothers me the most out of this whole ordeal). At both Gimme! and Blue Bottle you get your shots in a pre-heated shot glass with a small cup of seltzer or water to wash it down, unless you specify it as to-go. The shots there look as if they are pouring dark amber paint into these cups, with a rich, and long lasting crema (it usually stays behind in the cup). Look at the second photo in the Gimme! guide to latte art, to get a comparison shot (no pun intended).

The coffee: Perplexing. I was mostly puzzled by it. At temperature it tasted transparent or weak, I guess. I don’t know really how to describe it. It definitely wasn’t offensive or bitter, just kind lacking all flavor. As it got colder, it did what all coffee does and started tasting funky, but to no fault of THRCH. When I return there, I will definitely opt for a coffee rather than a shot. I want to solve this puzzle.

Also, I was very happy to see them using Soy Blenders as their soy milk. It’s in my opinion the best and tastes the most like a non-flavored milk product. Maybe even like regular milk; that said, I haven’t had regular milk in over five years. I added this to the rest of the coffee and happily finished it. It definitely nudged it in the right direction.

The space there is really awesome though. Arcade games, chess boards, a place to buy cards (???), plenty of seating and even a few nights of dancing with the Heady Pro gang, it’s definitely adds to the neighborhood as a good adaptive use of an old space. I just really wish their main product, coffee, stood out more than the fact they made a cool room. I was sincerely and genuinely hoping to be able to stop mail ordering my coffee from Mocha Joe’s and finally be able to support a business in my own city. I guess that since Anton clearly understands the reason why all the coffee in Albany is awful, he decided to not offer a knock-out product since people will buy the coffee regardless.

Oh well.

Want good coffee in Albany? You’re shit out of luck.

UPDATE 11/25/14: This post is out of date. Read this for the most current info.

The headline isn’t entirely true. You might have had a cup of coffee at my house.

Everyone who knows me, knows the (insane) extent that I go through to have good coffee. There’s really no secret to having good coffee either. The beans need to be good. The roast needs to compliment the beans. They need to be used within days of being roasted. The grind needs to be appropriate for how you’re brewing it. All the aforementioned steps, when stated out loud are painfully obvious; yet it’s completely baffling that Albany has such a developed collection of incompetence disguised as coffee shops.

To me, the most painful thing is that every shop has all of the necessary fixtures and equipment to do it correctly. They simply lack the knowledge to do it any way other than what they’re used to. Blue Bottle Coffee in Williamsburg prepares every cup of coffee one at a time and they’re unfailingly busy from the minute they open, to the minute they close. Yes, this takes extra time, but if cars were cars, everyone would drive a Hyundai. For those who need their coffee right away they will go to Stewart’s and add 8oz of french vanilla CoffeeMate to make it drinkable, but that’s what they’re proud to be voting for with their dollar.

The next most disappointing thing is that most of these shops roast their own beans, improperly using machines which cost would pay off my student loans in full. If you can’t do it right yourself, get a wholesale account with Gimme!, Grumpy, Stumptown, or Blue Bottle and swallow your pride. You’ll make more money and have more people in your shop than you’ve ever had because people will travel, wait and pay for known quality. (The cost of coffee from any of these places is the same as  you’re used to, and often the beans are the same or about a dollar more than Starbucks.)

Most often at fault, are low quality beans, which are roasted to oblivion to mask their low quality. Real roasters don’t even use “light” or “dark” to describe their roasts. Brace yourself for the knowledge bomb:

In its most simplistic definition, roasting is the process by which the coffee seed is made edible for consumption. The roasting process is the means to the end, and in the end there should be no premeditated dark or light roasts, but only these 3 possibilities:

  1. The coffee is too underdeveloped, flavors taste vegetal
  2. The coffee is properly developed, flavors are revealed and highlighted
  3. The coffee is degraded, nuances masked by improper and over roasting

Of course, all of this has little meaning without the context of the quality of the green coffee (coffee seed) itself. If the quality of the green coffee is poor, then all that ‘proper development’ will do is highlight the intrinsic negative characteristics of the coffee (defects and the off tastes of cellulose). If the green coffee is of high quality and has complexity, uniqueness, balance and sweetness, then it is the roaster’s job to develop, reveal and highlight these characteristics.

Source: the Gimme! Blog

With out nerding out too much, I make all my own coffee one cup at a time. I own a commercial grade burr grinder (the things that spin with blades are not grinders by definition) and a scale which I use to weigh out each cup’s worth of beans. Rinse the filter, add beans, water and wait. Repeatable perfection. It’s not hard, and costs about 40¢ per cup when all said and done.

As far as the new Lark coffee shop and the one on Hudson & Quail, I have low expectations. Call me a curmudgeon, but all I see is business majors looking to establish an appreciating asset and flip it. Oh well, I’ll just go downstairs and make myself better coffee anyway.

What exactly is TweetzzaPizza?

[tweetmeme] Maybe you’ve heard. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe you don’t care. But there’s been a lot of rumors on the internets about Albany’s illicit, via-twitter, pizza service. Albany is already laden with places to get your pizza fix, but this one, is different for a few reasons. It wasn’t until our all-giving God bestowed the best innovation of the past 2,000 years upon us, twitter, that this anonymous, sketchy and somehow amazingly well received ‘business’ would be able to exist. Seemingly modeled after New York Cities Bread.Butter.Cheese, Albany seems perfect for their own tangentially similar service.

Using better ingredients, including local and organic Champlain Valley flour for the dough, from scratch sauce from local tomatoes sourced from either a recent farmers market or the Honest Weight Food Co-op, you’re getting more than a gimmick. The food is actually better.

It basically goes the same way you acquire any other illicit item. You get the phone number from your friend, shoot off a text, they tell you what they’ve got. If that’s satisfactory, ask how long and give them an address. After an unknown passage of time, you exchange money for goods. Except here, maybe you’ll tip.

Sound up your alley? Follow them on Twitter to get one step closer.

Expect an in-depth behind the scenes look at Tweetzza soon.