Posted Fri May 31, 2013, 5:29am Subject: The Java Sojourner - Indianapolis - Edited
By doing his homework, the Java Sojourner has edited out the negative attitude in the original draft of this post and replaced it with a more balanced and informed report of coffee in Indianapolis. As far as I can tell, there are two roasters in Indy. Julian Coffee Roasters currently offers 28 varietal roasts or blends on its website and about 21 or so flavored coffees, about ten decafs, most flavored, and teas.. They sold their café in Zionsville. A message left on Julian Coffee Roaster’s answering machine inquiring where I could find someone pulling their espresso was returned by a very polite and appreciative person named Wes. I visited all four of the locations that he suggested. All four of them were grinding Julian's Le Crema Espresso. The first place he suggested was Mo'Joe Coffee, 222 W. Michigan Ave., (summer hours 6:30-8:00 weekdays, 8-8 sat and sun). They pulled the best shot in Indy from their La Marzocco. It had good crema, the aroma was nutty and slightly fruity. The first sip was a creamy taste, turning to chocolate. The second and third sips were slight licorice, the final sip was toasty. It was a good cup. The cafe is large, shared with a used textbook store. The ambiance is comfortable with gentle swing music playing in the background. They sell food and have a delicious-looking 'pastry station' run by a self-proclaimed pastry chef. Free parking in front of the cafe and bookstore. Henry's on East is also pleasant, smaller but still with 12 tables and plenty of room. The cup was very hot but not too hot to drink. It had good crema with a slightly sharp nose. I enjoyed the heat, but I think it brought out an initial musky taste (neither good nor bad) that abated as the cup cooled. The overall flavor was good. The cup started out with a nondescript musky flavor that turned nutty. The second sip was the same, except that it was pleasantly bitter at the end. The third sip was earth/'rooty'. As the cup cooled, there was a nondescript bright note, followed by chocolate. The final sip was dusty, then sweet, then toasty. It might have been infused a tad too hot, but it was a good cup. Their hours have been scratched off the door. They are at 627 N. East Street. They serve breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch. There is meterless on-street parking available but parking was a little tight on a Monday morning. Foundry Provisions was the third suggestion by Wes. It is on the corner of 16th and Julian. It is also open 7 days, from 630 on weekdays, from 8 on weekends. It closes at 8 on most days but stays open until midnight on Friday and closes at 3 on Sunday. There is a good amount of on-street parking. The cafe was very popular on a Monday morning, but with 4 groups of bank seating, two tables, a long wall counter and two easy chairs, there was plenty to choose from. They also have pastries and in this case they had croissants from Circle City Sweets. I love a croissant with my espresso and this one was good with a respectable grade of B+. The cup that they pulled from their Stella semi-auto had good crema and a nutty nose. The first sip was nutty with a bright nonspecific note. The second sip was also nutty while the third sip had the musky taste that I tasted at Henry's, then became nutty. The next sip was dusty, turning to bitter, then chocolate. The final sip was chocolate. Another good cup. The final suggestion from Wes was Eagle Creek Cafe in Zionsville. No boldface for them. This was the cafe owned by Julian Roasters that was sold to new owners who have abandoned anything resembling coffee skills, while keeping the Astoria machine. Just suffice to say that the espresso was served to me in a demitasse cup and that half of it was left when the cup was returned to the bus counter. They will probable be able to stay in business since they serve a good deal of food, although the maple-nut muffin that my wife bought was also worth forgetting. The cafe is airy and pleasant and is located amid quaint-modern small locally-owned shops on a pedestrian-friendly main street. There are no chain stores and no fast food stores. It is a pleasant and attractive browsing neighborhood, that is best that I can say about the cafe. B Java on Lafayette Road northwest of downtown Indy roasts his own SO and varietal blends and has a very good reputation within Indy but two visits to the café were disappointing. The espresso blend that he and his barista pulled on the Simonelli were not very well developed with respect to crema, body or flavor. In addition, a decaf Americano was sampled on both visits. On the first visit the decaf was tasteless and Andy, the owner, suggested that I try the decaf RBE (Rawanda Burundi Etheopean blend) when he roasts some. That was available for the Americano for the second visit and it had a very slight caramel tone if one concentrated hard on the taste. It was virtually devoid of flavor but still has more taste than some Americanos that I have had in some well-reputed cafes in other locations across the U.S. Monon Coffee in trendy Broad Ripple has all the proper trappings for a decent coffee café: funky décor, location, tattoos, piercing, Simonelli; everything except the coffee. They have a moderately developed lunch menu, the standard salads, sandwiches, and juices. For the decaf Americano, they were pulling a decaf espresso blend from Martinez roasters in Atlanta, Georgia. The Americano had a roast taste and that is all. For the real espresso, they pulled a roast from Ancora Roasters, out of Wisconsin. My notes are sketchy (sorry) but I believe that they blend several roasts from Ancora for their house espresso. The cup had thin crema and body. The first taste was wheaty – not raw or underdone – just cereally, then there was a very slight chocolate taste. The second sip started out the same, but then there came a rancid, stale taste. I did not finish the little that was left. In comparison, The Cornerstone Coffeehouse is a modest café that shares the kitchen of next door Moe & Johnny’s restaurant. Their main offerings are food, but since ‘coffeehouse’ was in their name, I decided to stop by. This was an OK espresso for Naptown. The waitress did not come across as having any barista training but she seemed to know how to work her full automatic. I could not tell the make or model. I decided not to ask for a decaf Americano and went straight for the espresso. I made sure that I asked for a ceramic cup ‘for here’. It was coffee cup sized. They brew Black Thunder, roasted by Ancora. The cup had no nose, no crema and thin body. The first taste was nutty, then bitter. The second taste was nutty, then bitter. There was almost a flavor trying to arise as a cocoa-like note, but not quite. That was all. No report on Indy Coffee would be complete without a visit to Lino’s Coffee, technically in Speedway, Indiana, in the shadow of the Brickyard, the Indianapolis 500 track. Lino’s is from Italy and is a multinational coffee café, much like an embryonic Starbucks (in more ways than one). As of this writing, Speedway is the only franchise opened on this continent, the rest are in Europe. Why they would pick Naptown for their first incursion is beyond me, but I suspect that it has something to do with racing. I visited Lino’s when I first arrived but lost my tasting notes but the memory remained disappointing. I just paid them a second visit, with similar results. I ordered an espresso ‘for here’ and a butter croissant. Since they were an Italian café, I did not have to request a ceramic cup. Their espresso cups are quite nice. The waitress behind the counter (I will not assume that she was a barista) asked me if I wanted a single and I said yes. Why double the inevitable? If my tongue missed the point, I could always ask for another. I asked her what roast they were grinding. Lino’s sells their own roasts, six regular and one decaf. Two roasts blend Robusta with Arabica beans. In looking over their bags of beans, it seemed likely that ‘Da consumarsi entro il’ meant ‘best if used by’. The date on the bag was three months from now. I decided that I needed to look no further, but I could not help myself and the next bag had a date seven months into the future. Must be a recent delivery. The waitress did not know what they were grinding, but there was a lot of it – the doser of their grinder was half-full. I asked for my espresso to be freshly ground and she said she would do it. I did not watch to see if my request would be fulfilled or forgotten. I write about what the cafes deliver, not what I can cajole or bully out of them, as some do. Since my first visit, Lino’s has entered the coffee capsule trade in a big way. Most of their roasts are available as pods. They make pods for Nespresso and pods for Lavazza. At Lino’s in Speedway, you can order sandwiches, gelato, chocolate, some pastries, beer and wine. I had a sandwich on my first visit, but I won’t go into that. To their credit, Lino’s sells a top-notch butter croissant, grade A. It is crispy on the outside, soft and flaky on the inside and has a good butter flavor. I used to buy 15 per week from them until they cut me off at Christmastime in order to have enough on hand for the holiday. I hadn’t been back since. My espresso came to the table with the butter croissant. The cup had no nose and thin crema. The taste was nutty, then bitter, then chocolate. The strength of the flavors was thin, suggesting stale. Regarding the croissant, I often mention that cafes usually serve their croissants room temperature or (gasp) cold and thereby miss an opportunity to earn hospitality points. Lino’s was one of the few places that served the croissant to me warm. Unfortunately, it was warmed in the microwave, not in a radiant oven. The crispy, buttery pastry that I had known well from a few months ago came as a warm, sagging, soggy lump of pastry. As some Coffeegeek readers know, if you heat bread in a microwave, it gets tough and chewy. No where can this effect be more noticeable than in a once flaky and tender butter croissant. Oh, well, at least the flavor was still there. Postscript regarding Mo'Joe: I made my third visit on a Friday and the tattooed man and woman behind the counter were replaced by a tall man on the register and a short woman on the LM. No tattoos (an ominous sign). My espresso order was placed on the counter in a large, thick-walled ceramic mug. After I apologized about my reluctance to take the proffered espresso and asked whether it could be redone in a small cup, as before, because I find that the flavor is affected by the cup size, she pleasantly agreed to redo it and I saw the fellow at the register smiling and nodding at me. When the usual cup was handed to me, she said: "I totally understand. Coffee ritual is important." No, she totally misunderstood. And the shot was sour. That is it. I will be leaving Naptown for Baltimore in a month and I can hardly wait. More café reviews from Charm City in the future. In summary, if traveling through Indianapolis, good coffee is to be had ahead of time in Dayton, Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky or Chicago, Illinois, depending upon your direction of travel, but if you must stop and refill, the three cafes just north of downtown (Mo'Joe, Henry's, Foundry Provisions) are convenient to interstate 65 and they will pull you a good cup. Perhaps not on Friday. TJS
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