Remember the opening scene in So I Married An Axe Murderer? The one where Mike Myers gets served a ginormous cappuccino topped with thick, dense foam? And it's 1993, and Mike Myers is still cool, and everyone is all grunged out and Gen-X and happy drinking cappuccinos that look like that?
The spirit of that 1990s coffee scene is alive and well at Village Coffee Roastery in Scottsdale. The beat poets have changed into businessmen in BMWs, but when it comes to the coffee, nothing has changed. And we kinda like that.
Don't get us wrong: The coffee at Village is not that good. But the space is great, the staff are friendly and informative, and the drinks are so adorably outdated (in terms of execution and in terms of flavor), that you have to kind of love it there.
Coffee, like everything else in the world, goes through stylistic changes. These changes usually reflect advancements in what we know about roasting, sourcing, or preparing coffee. Village Roastery has been open for 19 years, and it's not that their coffee is bad per se, it's just that it tastes a bit behind the times. Their coffee is the Waldorf Salad of the beverage world.
Take, for example, the Village macchiato. From the Italian for "marked," the drink is comprised of espresso with just a small amount of milk. We can't speak for the Italians - they do things their own way. But the modern American macchiato is produced by steaming and pouring the milk as you would a latte or cappuccino - smooth, creamy foam, without large bubbles or a choppy texture. Most baristas who are worth a damn can pour latte art in this tiny, 2-3 ounce beverage. It's a pretty good test of a barista's skill level.
At Village, they forego all expectations and resort back to the 90's manner of doing things, which basically goes as follows: aerate the crap out of a small amount of milk, so you wind up with a dense layer of milkfoam. Pour off all milk that isn't foamy. Shovel a few spoonfuls of poorly textured milkfoam on top of a layer of espresso. Serve that puppy and call it a day.
The espresso at Village is a beast in its own right. Coffee blends, as a whole, have been declining in popularity for a long time. The recent tendency has been in favor of single-origin offerings that highlight the unique qualities of each bean or region. The exception to this is found in espresso; single-origin espressos have a reputation for being unbalanced or finicky (but this also has a lot to do with the talent of the roaster and barista.) So when modern shops do use blends, they tend to keep them very straightforward.
Most high-end specialty coffee roasters use two or maybe three coffees to craft their espresso blend. Four would likely be deemed extraneous. A five-bean espresso blend is virtually unheard of these days, at least from the more innovative cafes. But that's exactly what you'll find at Village Roastery: a blend of -count 'em, it'll take your whole hand- five different coffees.
That being said, the espresso at Village is not terrible. It's not great, but we've certainly had worse. The roast influence was evident in this cup: this was a toasty, bitter espresso. But there was also a fair amount of sweetness to the blend, and the extraction was not obviously skewed in any direction. This was surprising given the high volume of the drink. We'd estimate there were at least three ounces of espresso in our macchiato, which is a good ounce to ounce and a half higher than the current specialty coffee industry standard.
Which brings us to the coffee: specifically, the Lekemti from Ethiopia. Perhaps the greatest testament to Village's retro-ness is the fact that they still employ self-serve coffee urns. The coffee in these urns was lukewarm, which is actually great for tasting as certain flavor compounds become more overt as the drink cools.
This coffee was escribed as being "a light to medium roast", "full in body with a nice brightness." Oh, how things have changed since the days when this description would have been remotely accurate!
The Lekemti displayed less roast influence than the espresso, but it could still hardly be described as "light roasted" by today's standards. The roast style was a bit heavy-handed, and a light charcoal or carbon-like quality tinted the cup. That being said, it's pretty impossible to mess up any bean from Ethiopia. With a nice herbal quality, some sweet baking spice notes, and a concord grape finish, this coffee was not entirely terrible. By today's standards, it was mediocre; by 1996 standards, it was stellar.
It may sound as though we're being a bit hard on Village, but to be truthful, we really liked the place. The coffee is only so-so, but the place has a sort of charisma and down-to-earthness that is unexpected, given its high-end Scottsdale location. Who knows, maybe in another twenty years things will cycle back around and Village Roastery's coffee will again be relevant. If not, no big deal - we'll keep coming for the atmosphere, the friendly service, and the flashbacks.