It’s past time to make a dent in my backlog of coffee shop reviews. Here are two in South Minneapolis and one on West 7th Ave., St. Paul. Without at first intending it, I see that an electrical theme has crept into these reviews: one Watt and two grounds.
Five Watt Coffee
This place at the corner of 38th and Nicolet features a rollup garage door in front and a resident unicorn. (Upon reading about the unicorn, Katharyn decided we simply must go. She also has a unicorn companion, you see, by the name of Spot.) Five Watt is not very deliberately decorated; eclectic touches & hangings abound. Seating is one long bench and basic wooden chairs. There are a few bar seats at a window counter and a couple of outside tables on Nicolet. The website explains about their unicorn, Fred, who is around a lot of the time, they say.
Vibe — Katharyn: Unicorn; Keith funky.
Crowd — 20- and 30-somethings, hip, some music scene people. One other greybeard. Very much a neighborhood place: nearly everyone who came in greeted someone who was already there.
Wi-Fi — 29.5 Mbps down (max 58.6), 12.3 Mbps up (max 18.5). Provisioning by Comcast residential. Latency 25 msec. No password on the Wi-Fi. Up to 8 others shared the signal.
Staff — Young with much hair & ink. Exceedingly friendly and helpful.
Beans — From $14 to $19 per 12 oz., with $2 off on Mondays. Here’s what was for sale during our visit: Line Check (espresso), The Residency (house blend, medium-roast Papua New Guinea and Columbia), Prohibition (a blend of Bourbon varietals), HalfWatt (decaf), El Mirador (Columbia), and Adobo (Ethiopia). No online sales.
Cup — We had the drip of the day (refills are free). “The Residency” was toothy and rich.
Food — The best almond croissants we have had in the Cities. Dark outside, surprising inside: more cake-like than resembling a mille-feuille. Slightly sweet, almondy, eggy. They serve Sweet Science ice cream — I have been wanting to connect up with their products since we moved here. I had the Berry Crumble (atomic symbol BC) for $3.75.
Music & noise — The Worst in You (Andy Shauf); the Gentle Spirit album by Jonathan Wilson. Most of the posters pinned to the counter were music-related. Two of the patrons I spoke with were friends of the local band CGW (see logo). The sound level was moderate but sufficient for my SoundHound app to identify the songs. Conversational level was energetic but not distracting throughout our visit.
813 E. 48th St. at Chicago Ave., Mpls. (Northrop / Nokomis) (website)
The space is bright with windows all along two sides of the corner shop. The entrance is in the corner of the building, which imparts a welcoming feel. Walls are deep blue with touches of other vibrant colors; there’s a scatter of oriental rugs. There is a kids’ playroom to one side with tables for the adults accompanying.
This establishment claims to have been the first kid-friendly (indoor playground) coffeehouse in the Twin Cities, established 1995.
Vibe — Katharyn: wow; Keith various. (Katharyn's word was formed upon first sight of the food case. The shop features a wider variety of food, and more interesting dishes, than we have seen in a coffee shop to date.)
Crowd — moms with kids; students, a neighborhood group meeting; seniors.
Wi-Fi — 390 KBps down, 320 Kbps up, provisioned by US Internet Wireless (!). (The speed seems improbably low; when I return to this coffee shop I will take a new reading and update the figures here.) Only 3 others on the signal. 29 other access points (!) visible, so the Wi-Fi environment is beyond crowded.
Staff — We were served by the owner, Hakan Sezer. At 3:00 pm the next shift of 2 younger baristas came on. Hakan was formal but friendly. The other staff interacted only among themselves and with regulars.
Beans — They roast their own on-site. 12 varieties were on sale the day we visited, all but one $12.50 / lb. (the outlier is $12.00). All are Fair Trade and USDA Organic and one is decaf. The website talks about “Selecting and purchasing among the top 5% of coffee beans produced in the world and custom roasting them in the traditional style in our small batch Turkish coffee roasters (custom-made in Turkey).”
Cup — I had a latte: pleasant and unremarkable. Katharyn enjoyed a red tea latte and pronounced it excellent.
Food — We shared a cold salad with cauliflower curry, which was inventive and tasty. A quiche-like gyro was excellent. The ham strada we shared had waited on the shelf a bit too long.
Music & noise — The noise level was moderate. The jazz playing at low volume was a bit more hardcore than usual (i.e., not “lite” or “smooth”). Other conversations were audible but not overly loud.
Fresh Grounds Café
1362 West 7th St., St. Paul (website)
This nonprofit “social enterprise” offers vocational training to at-risk youth, and also provides community space and services. Their motto is “Coffee. Community. Conversation. Cause.” The shop is a project of RS EDEN, a Twin Cities-based community human service agency with roots in the time of the Vietnam war, now offering affordable and transitional housing, halfway houses, substance abuse treatment and supervision, and employment readiness training.
The Fresh Grounds space is clean and bright with an entire long wall of windows onto W. 7th. Walls are painted in neutral colors. Furniture is comfortable. There’s a deep leather couch along the back wall and a pair of armchairs up front.
The parking lot beside the building is a nice touch on busy W. 7th.
This place does my do-gooder’s heart good.
Vibe — Katharyn: nifty; Keith innocent.
Crowd — A mix from high school students to twenty-somethings, business people, and retirees.
Wi-Fi — 49.6 Mbps downstream, 7.5 up. Latency 29 msec. Provisioned by Comcast Business.
Staff — Young, friendly, sweet.
Beans — Not for bulk sale. The coffee drinks use Starbucks beans, because the company is a sponsor.
Cup — We had an affrogato, a latte, and a cold turtle mocha. Not expert baristas — they are being trained after all — but perfectly competent. No floral design in the latte’s foam. Give these kids time, that will come.
Food — Copious and with high-quality ingredients. Katharyn loved the “adult grilled cheese” feature one day — three cheeses grilled in a not-too-sweet waffle on a waffle iron. I had a breakfast sandwich with ham & cheese on an “everything” bagel, and it was about the best I have ever had. We didn't sample the large menu of oatmeal preparations or the Sebastian Joe’s ice cream counter.
Music & noise — Music was at a background level; it was pleasant and upbeat on both visits. Most customers were heads-down in electronics or paper publications, with only one table of four business people talking. The conversation among staff was louder.