Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Java Man, Part One: I generally do a pretty good job suppressing my rare snobby tendencies. But I admit I'm insufferable when it comes to the subject of coffee.

That's because I can't afford too many luxuries in life: no Lexus, no two-week cruises, no Chateau d'Yquem after dinner. But the $20 or so a month I shell out for first-rate beans isn't a lifestyle-altering amount of money. More important, I certainly get my money's worth of pleasure from my daily grind.

This all came to mind as I was sitting in Coffee Plantation by the Harkins cineplex off Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard. Coffee Plantation pioneered the Valley's coffee-house scene. When I came to Arizona, the original Tempe location had the concept more or less to itself. And the concept was a smash.

Coffee Plantation grew and grew, even when competitors started flooding the Valley with coffee houses. But somewhere along the line, Coffee Plantation seems to have forgotten what made the business such a hit in the first place: good coffee.

The brews I had before a recent Saturday-night movie were absolutely wretched. The regular blend tasted like it had been sitting around since lunch. Espresso was improperly prepared. And I had to resist the urge to flee when I saw the name of the evening's decaf special--Rainforest Crunch.

Coffee Plantation has been so successful that the operators may think all they have to do is brew it, and the customers will come. Well, maybe that was true in the old days. But if coffee lovers have to put up with coffee like this, you can bet they won't come back.

Java Man, Part Two: Now that Starbucks seems to be in every burg in America (and going international, too), I wondered if the company had any plans to open a full-fledged Valley branch. (There are mini-operations at Sky Harbor International Airport Terminal Four and at Barnes & Noble bookstores.)

A call to corporate revealed the answer: no. But the marketing folks did reveal that Starbucks is now in the ice cream business. In a joint venture with Dreyer's, the company is putting out five coffee ice cream flavors: Italian Roast Coffee; Caffe Almond Fudge; Dark Roast Espresso Swirl; Javachip; and Vanilla Mocha Swirl. They're good--and they should be, at about $4 a quart. You'll find them at the supermarket.

Java Man, Part Three: Where does this coffee snob get his coffee? I order mine from Peet's, a Bay Area roaster who's a stickler for quality. I'm particularly fond of the Arabian Mocha-Java ($10.75 a pound) and Colombian decaf ($9.95). Peet's also offers a wonderful variety of high-quality teas. Once you've sampled the Darjeeling Fancy ($5.75 a quarter pound) or the sublime Extra Fancy ($9.75), you'll never be able to use a tea bag again.

For an order form, call 1-800-999-2132.
Department of Amplifications and Corrections: In a review of Rosario's a few weeks ago, I misidentified the tentacled creatures in the cioppino as octopus. The owner reports they're squid. I'm happy to set the record straight.--Howard Seftel

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Howard Seftel