"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cafe Au Lait (Puerto Rico Importing Company & Roasting Plant) - November 6, 2010

Cafe au lait at
Roasting Plant
 Cafe au lait, an often neglected relative of cappuccino in a city infested by Starbuck's and myriad other self-deluded coffee shops, seems to be finally gaining some recognition, perhaps as a part of the efforts by the coffee shop industry to differentiate and to offer more varieties without venturing into the vulgarity of, for instance, gingerbread latte.  However, just as most of the cappuccinos are distasteful, if not downright offensive (with only one exception - Fika), cafe au lait suffers the same sad mistreatment in New York. I suppose as long as the New Yorkers are getting high and mighty on venti latte and frappecino for the caffeine and sugar, little attention will be paid to the taste. Mind you, I am not saying Starbuck's does not have its merits:  I prefer Starbuck's to most of the other establishments on offer if I am in need of a shot of caffeine up my blood stream for they are at least the lesser evil and relatively consistent in quality - the only benefit of mass-branching.  I do also feel a certain degree of sympathy toward Starbuck's:  They did have a high corporate philosophy and ideal, at least in the early stage of its growth, as I had once wet my hands behind the barista machine in the bygone days. 
Cafe au lait, consisted of coffee and milk, is simple and yet it requires the utmost performance from both of its ingredients:  Coffee needs to be strong, yet not bitter, and preferably the French roast; and the milk must be truly milky and rich - the kind that will give you a layer of delicious cream if you let it sit, the kind that will foam up beautifully when heated to make the angelically dense and creamy foam in a cappuccino.  Low-fat and - I can barely bring myself to say the word but - non-fat cappuccinos are sacrilegious and, let's face it, idiotic.  These non-cappuccinos are only ordered by people, who have been ignorantly gliding through their lives without ever realizing the fundamental distinction between a cafe latte and a cappuccino, not dissimilar to the blissfully unaware with tattoos in letters, which have been misrepresented by the tattooist and misunderstood by the tattooed.  Cafe au lait, served in a proper cafe, comes in two jars - one for coffee and one for the steamed milk - to be mixed by the drinker in a ratio of one's own choosing.  You first measure coffee in your cup, then you add milk.  Voila, a cafe au lait.

Puerto Rico Importing Co.  
Wandering in SoHo with plunging blood sugar and caffeine level, I passed by this store with a promising antique-looking facade. A store proud of its beans must also make good coffee, I assumed, all too naively.  Cappuccino and cafe latte are to be avoided in unknown establishments as they are subject to high risk of being truly repulsive:  I am not a three-month old who needs so much calcium and an adult enough to hold my caffeine. Cafe au lait a la Puerto Rico Importing Co. was made of two ingredients:  Bland coffee and watery milk (or milky water).  It, however, had the desired effect:  It was so bad that it shocked me into full wakefulness instantly.  The only satisfaction I got out of this store was my "Told you!" addressed to my fellow sufferer, who almost committed the error of buying their beans before ordering the cafe au lait but was smart enough to heed my advice to try out the coffee first.

Roasting Plant
Wandering around in West Village on my way to Tea & Sympathy for some Assam, where I have stopped going since they started substituting the abominable cupcakes in place of the good old English cakes for their afternoon teas, it became necessary to find some hot drink in the blustering cold before I died of hypothermia.  The clear pipes where beans shot up and down were entertaining the first twice but started to be mildly irritating the third time.  The same fellow sufferer, again, wanted to commit himself headlong into buying their beans before tasting the coffee, which was much voted and voiced against by me, ever the wiser.  A small cafe au lait came to approximately $3.50, which was the size of one-third of a tall Starbuck's latte.  Price is relative:  If someone is willing to pay $100 for a cafe au lait, that is the right price for this person independent of whether the cafe au lait is really worth it in absolute value.  Therefore, I held my opinion until I sipped the cafe au lait:  It was so bad that I laughed out in utter disbelief.  Again, it was a concoction of bland coffee and watery milk; each ingredient managed to be the vaguest shadow of what each purported to be. 

This is the state of affairs of the coffee shops in New York City.

Puerto Rico Importing Company
Address:  107 Thompson St., New York, NY 10012
Phone:  (212) 966-5758 New York, NY 10012

Roasting Plant
Address: 75 Greenwich Ave., New York, NY 10014
Phone:  (212) 775-7755

No comments:

Post a Comment