The fine folks at Vovomeena have taken their coffee service out of the restaurant and into a brand new space at 111 West Monroe. The mid-century modern office building is the perfect location for Mornin' Moonshine's quirky, vintage aesthetic -- but while some of the cafe's visual details are perfectly polished, others seem blatantly overlooked. The same could be said of the shop's coffee products.
While the coffee at Vovomeena may be drinkable, Mornin' Moonshine just doesn't pass muster as a standalone coffee concept.
We loved Mornin' Moonshine's eclectic decor. A strip of what appeared to be mismatched orange carpet squares joined the walls to the ceiling. Simple wooden shelving housed loud, 1960's-style embroidered floral prints and vintage green glassware. Warm grey wooden walls line most of the room, while floor-to-ceiling windows provide a nice view of Monroe street.
Each of these design elements clearly required considerable deliberation, which made the things that were overlooked stick out like a sore thumb. Pastries were gorgeously displayed on cake pedestals under hefty glass domes -- but condiment bar sugar and honey were housed in sticky plastic squeeze bottles with handwritten labels. Ice was stored in an adorable retro ice bucket that was, while wildly impractical, at least in accordance with the decor. In stark contrast, iced coffee was served from a generically modern blue plastic container with a masking tape label. An array of Da Vinci syrup bottles (this might be the Natty Light of the flavored syrup world) were tackily displayed by the bar. Obnoxiously-branded China Mist iced tea containers sat on the counter.
The espresso machine setup was yet another detail that had been simply overlooked. Baristas should never have their backs turned toward their customers. Period. It's just bad service. When a barista has their back toward a guest in their shop, communication is immediately disabled. When communication breaks down, nobody leaves happy. Unfortunately, the machine at Mornin' Moonshine was set up along the wall farthest away from the customer in that scary place where backs are turned, eye contact doesn't exist, and bad drinks come to life.
Regardless of the Turned Back Situation, staff were kind and hospitable, and we have no complaints about the direct service we received. But we were a bit confused by the overall flow of the shop. Drink orders were passed from a multi-tasking register person to the turned-back espresso preparer. When drinks were completed, they were wordlessly set on top of a pastry case. The process for retrieving these drinks was unclear. Staff were happy to answer our questions, but the answers provided were not always the most knowledgable.
Mornin' Moonshine and Vovomeena both pride themselves on their iced coffee. In fact, "Japanese-style" iced coffee seems to be the cornerstone of Mornin' Moonshine's business. This method is -- dare we say? -- a little gimmicky, and generally tends to attract folks who are far more partial to form than function. The systems used to prepare this coffee are often ornate, steam-punky wood and glass devices that sloooooowly distribute icy water onto coffee grounds, drop by drop. Despite its inefficiency and variable results, the dripping can be a beautiful process to watch.
Weirdly, there was no dripper on display at Mornin' Moonshine, so we can't comment on their brewer's relative beauty. Staff noted that they were retrieving concentrated cold brewed coffee from Vovomeena -- a seemingly inefficient process for a standalone coffee shop.
We were also excited to try some of the infused iced coffees made from "propriety mash bills" that are advertised on Mornin' Moonshine's website. Surprise: They didn't have those in the shop either.
Mornin' Moonshine has only recently opened, and trust us, we're sympathetic to that. Every establishment has kinks that need to be worked out in the beginning. But it was pretty disappointing that neither the cold brew dripper nor the so-called "proprietary" coffee infusions had actually made their way into the shop. This seems to be less of a little kink and more of a complete lack of oversight.
What they did have on hand was the aforementioned blue plastic bucket full of "Black and Tan" iced coffee. When we asked about this, we were told only that it is a "strong roast" from the Roastery of Cave Creek. The brew was unpleasantly strong (as in, overly concentrated). It lacked clarity and subtlety. Concentration of flavor is not the same as depth of flavor; had the brew been diluted a bit more, the flavors in the coffee would have been able to shine in a much more enjoyable way.
We also tried a cappuccino. This drink came served in a twelve-ounce cup, which is about twice the size of the current specialty coffee industry standard. While this wasn't what we've come to expect from a cappuccino, we'll give anything a try. The espresso was invisible under a layer of dense, thick foam, which didn't quite fill the cup. When we took our first sip, we found that in addition to being poorly steamed, the drink was excruciatingly hot. As a result, those pillows of fluffy milk foam were deprived of all their sweetness. Our morning cappuccino, usually such a soft, gentle pleasure, was at once transformed into a terrible form of mouth-torture.
We didn't catch Mornin' Moonshine at their best. There are some clear quality issues that need to be addressed: The shop's proprietary items apparently didn't show up for work that day, and then they hurt us with their mean milk. But what the spot seems to need, more than anything else, is a complete vision for itself and earnest, wholehearted execution of this vision -- both of which, sadly, it lacked.