May 252013
A charming exterior, matched by exceptional coffee inside.

 As you may have gathered from some of my other writing, I have sort of a special relationship with coffee. My brother is a pretty fantastic nano-roaster, and so I’ve been spoiled for the last several years by having a ready, local source of freshly-roasted goodness in all sorts of exciting varieties.

When I’m on the road though, sometimes sacrifices have to be made. In an airport or in an unfamiliar area, sometimes I have to resort to what I call “medicinal coffee,” which I don’t at all enjoy, but which fills the need for my daily caffeine intake.

So when Katie and I left for Nashville on our anniversary trip, I anticipated a lot of that medicinal coffee in my future. But I had forgotten that I had two secret weapons in the War Against Starbucks: a smartphone, and a copilot to work it while I drove. Just past Louisville, Kentucky we were starting to feel the need for a morning dose, so Katie fired up the interwebs and started looking at places along the upcoming exits.

Click this picture because it’s beautiful.

What she found was an absolute gem. Nestled in a sleepy little town you’ve never heard of, we came upon La Grange Coffee Roasters, and we were blown away. The storefront is gorgeous, the interior immaculate, and the charm undeniable. The centerpiece of the store is the absolutely stunning roaster seen at right, but they aren’t too proud to also display the old, rewired popcorn popper they used to get their start. I was in love just walking into the place, and chatting with the staff, which included the master roaster’s wife, made me like it that much more. These were people who run in two of my favorite circles: small business owners and students of the magical black bean. We chatted about cottage industry laws and small starts with big passions and the silliness of having signs in your own home reminding that “employees must wash hands before returning to work,” and then we took our small cups of happiness and were on our way.

La Grange Coffee Roasters is the sort of place that makes you want to move to the small town just to be near it, and that’s before you even try a sip of their shockingly good coffee! I ordered a double cappuccino and Katie a latte, and I wish now that we would’ve stayed to enjoy them, because they were just incredible. The blend was solid, and it was perfectly roasted, which is such a rarity with espresso drinks most places. It was so good, we almost delayed our return trip by an hour just to stop by again, but we were pressed (ha! A coffee pun!) for time.

Two tiny cups of disappointment.

Sharply contrasting our experience in La Grange was the first coffee shop we tried in Nashville. It was called Dose, the reviews were decent (always a gamble near a college campus), and it sat near enough to where we were staying that we wanted to give it a try. The novelty to your left is what they call a Sidecar, which is a solo espresso and a macchiato, presented in such a way that you can compare the two espresso preparations. I was game for the idea, and with the beautiful experience from La Grange still in my mind, I sat down to sip, relax, and enjoy.

And then I did none of those things. The espresso wasn’t just burnt, it was lit on fire, thrown into a vat of napalm and tossed through the gates of hell. This was way past even Starbuck’s usual level of bean abuse. It was like they had made espresso out of charcoal. I can’t explain it, but I don’t think it was even ground correctly, as the whole drink had a gritty consistency. More than one of the reviews we read had mentioned that Dose was a good place to go if you wanted a pretentious coffee experience, and I’m inclined to agree. I would add that with all their pretense, it would’ve been nice for them to pay some attention to their product, as well.

Ever notice that the simple menus most often contain the best food and drinks? This is not a coincidence.

The pendulum swung again later, when we visited 8th & Roast, Inc., a spot of caffeinated sunshine on Nashville’s south side. Their roaster is not as prominently displayed as was La Grange’s, but it is no less excellently used, as I was soon to find out. My first impression, other than the chill-hipster decor, was the menu, which featured no novelties (mocha-cookie-crumble-pomegranate-cinnamon-acai-caramel-frappe-what?), but instead a broad array of traditional drinks. Do the simple things and do them well, and you’ll be successful at whatever you do.

Simple presentation for a simple drink,
 that will blow your mind with its quality.

Caught up in the spirit of trying new things, I ordered a Cortadto, a drink I had never heard of before, and now I wonder how I lived without. Roast Inc’s version of the Spanish beverage includes a whopping 4 shots of espresso that needs its own superlative (espressissimo?), cut with an equal volume of warm, steamed milk. The result is a quick, easy, and powerful drink that, because it’s so tasty, seems like it’s over too soon. Simple, but perfectly done. I’ll be adding this drink to my rotation of favorite espresso preparations.

The barista saw me taking pictures, and so he made
 this one extra pretty. How can you not love that?

Katie ordered a latte again, and this drink blew both of our minds. A detail that had escaped me as I experienced my cortadto became readily apparent when I tasted her latte, and that was the quality of the milk. Coffee can be bad or good, but when it comes to espresso-based drinks, it’s still only half the equation. Like true artisans, the owners and baristas at Roast Inc paid attention to that detail, and it showed. The milk was full of taste and creamy, and steamed to a perfect consistency and temperature. I’ll confess that in all my years of drinking every imaginable variety of espresso drinks, I had never paid so much attention to the milk before. But then, it had never been this good before.

If you ever find yourself craving a cup in Nashville, Roast is one place you absolutely must go. They take pride in their work, and it comes through in every cup.

It’s on a hill, and there are daisies
 in the garden, so…. yeah.

The last place we had coffee on our trip deserves special mention not for the coffee (it was Starbuck’s French Roast… ugh) but because it was where we stayed. The Daisy Hill Bed & Breakfast is situated in the historic and beautiful Hillsboro district of Nashville, and although the coffee and the breakfast each morning were so-so, the accommodations were really lovely. This was our first experience at a B&B, and Linda, the proprietor, ensured that it won’t be our last. Our room was comfortable, private and well appointed, the house comfortable and attractive, and the neighborhood beautiful and peaceful. We were close enough to downtown to walk (which we did), but far enough away to avoid the noise and traffic. By the end of our stay we felt very much at home at Daisy Hill, and will definitely look to them again when we visit Nashville in the future.

A house so pretty that the neighbor two doors down remodeled their place to look just like it. No joke. We actually pulled in the wrong driveway when we first arrived.

  One Response to “145 – Adventures in Coffee”

  1. […] to check out Press Coffee on Wayne Avenue, downtown. One of the joys in my life is checking out little independent coffee shops like this, and Press did not disappoint. They pull off the hipster atmosphere without seeming […]

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