Extreme Caffeine: Houndstooth, Monkey Nest, Epoch
Coffee is a dish best served hot. Or cold. One of each from 3 Austin shops that sling a mean bean.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 09.06.11
4200 N. Lamar Blvd., No. 120. 531-9417, www.houndstoothcoffee.com.
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday. 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Hot: A micro-sourced Guatemalan coffee called Gemelos, roasted by Counter Culture Coffee out of North Carolina. It's $3.14 a cup and worth it, one of the shop’s rotating specialty coffees. Armed with a timer, a silvery beehive-shaped water kettle and the concentration of a microbiologist, Sean Henry pours water through a metal filter cone into a curvy glass beaker. The whole assembly sits on a glass scale you might use for other addictive indulgences. Henry will tell you the steel filter lets the coffee oils pass through, and the faintly iridescent sheen on the cup will attest to that. The tasting notes talk about candied ginger and citrus. I won't pretend to have the cupper's palate for that, but I know subtlety and precision in a cup when I taste it. I know respect for the bean. Slurp loudly and savor quietly.
Cold: Locally roasted Cuvee Coffee cold-brew ($3.05). When a shop shows this much engagement with straight coffee, I'm inclined to take the cold version on the rocks, with no sugared or dairied adornment. The reward is cold voltage with texture like supple fabric and depth best appreciated without a lid and straw.
5353 Burnet Road. 505-8033, www.monkeynestcoffee.com.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday. 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday. 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Hot: Seeing drip coffee in bulk pots and a French press north of $7, I went a direction I seldom go, the path of sugar and cocoa by way of the Spicy Monkey Mocha ($3.15). But cinnamon and cayenne are strong attractors, and the spice tempers the sweetness and swirls the senses with possibility. Something about cinnamon, like the aroma of optimism. The barista layered a leaf pattern across the foam, set off white against the speckled chocolate brown, and in that super-sized espresso cup, this drink almost made me forget I take my coffee black. Just don't tell my former Statesman colleagues I ordered something called a Spicy Monkey.
Cold: How can the roast of the bean rise through the frothy camouflage of an iced latte ($2.70)? Like this. An unfussy blend of milk and freshly pulled espresso in a thick-walled short-pint glass. It's an easy-glide refresher, and a hot-weather necessity as it turns out, because every low-slung armchair and bistro table at this new and tidy wood-floored shop was full, and I banged this out on the patio, where it was 101 in the shade.
221 W. North Loop Blvd. 454-3762, www.epochcoffee.com.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Hot: Cafe au lait in a beer mug fit for a mead hall. Now we’re talking. The coffee comes from an airpot, but the milk is steamed to order without fuss, and the price is right at $2.75 for a large. Stir in a little honey, or if you want the sweet without the bees, Epoch gives you simple syrup, a quick workaround to the global sugar-dissolving-ratio problem.
Epoch is an Austin coffeeshop in true form: mix-and-match chairs and tables, a warren of environments for laptoppers, studiers and phone networkers. Games like Scrabble and Go fill one table, and a bookshelf on one wall is clearly populated by a fan of Robert Jordan, plus a few works by James Patterson and that Maureen Dowd book that made the menfolk throw a fit a few years back.
Cold: There are so many reasons that an iced triple espresso shouldn’t work. Espresso is a quick-shot energizer that loses a degree of appeal for every degree Fahrenheit it drops. But this is the best $2.50 snowcone you’ll ever have. The crushed ice is packed so dense that it stops the meltdown in its tracks, and the big bitter flavor of the espresso comes through in every sip. Even halfway through this Imperial pint glass, the pitch-black espresso keeps its shape, making it the in-between solution to the table-grazer’s dilemma: Do I get the espresso I love and look like an empty-cup moocher of free wi-fi, or do I compromise with ice for longer-lasting appearance’s sake? With this glass, that’s a choice you don’t have to make.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)