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Feb 13, 2001 11:12 AM

best cuppa joe in phili

  • w

I've heard La Colombe (sp?)
who has the best espresso in center city?

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  1. La Colombe has this one locked up. Their retail operations are only a tiny part of their business. They supply coffee wholesale to the finest restaurants and hotels in New York, Philadelphia and Las Vegas including Le Bernardin, Le Bec Fin, the Four Seasons, the Waldorf Astoria, Daniel etc. All the best chefs in the country can't all be wrong at once!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Katie Benes

      where is their location? I have to be in Phili on Saturday, and want to try it myself.

      1. re: wb


        There are two La Colombe cafes. One is on Main Street in Manayunk, but the better known and more centrally located one is at 130 So. 19th Street, just off Walnut Street. The closest thing that Philly has to a *real* European cafe - lots of people with foreign accents, smoke, people playing chess and reading newpapers. Very cool place. My favorite thing to do is get a double latte to go, and go sit in Rittenhouse Square park and watch the dogs and squirrels play. A peaceful respite on a nice spring day...

        My Austrian mother-in-law (in a stunningly perverse example of "carrying coals to Newcastle") always takes a couple of pounds of La Colombe coffee back to Vienna with her whenever she comes to visit us!

        Enjoy your visit!

    2. g
      Gabriel Solis

      I hate to sound like a jerk, but I think La Colombe makes a terrible cup of coffee, or at least the one in Manayunk does. I haven't been to the one in CC because I was so disappointed with the other one.

      Though they may not really make that great of a cup of coffee, I think if you're going to be in central philly and looking for a cafe, you really ought to check out Cafe Lutecia (23rd and Lombard, right on the corner, blue awning). IT's mostly a morning place (they open fairly early, maybe 7:00), since they close at 4:00. If it's nice out, you can sit outside, but I like to sit inside, since it's the best way to satisfy my need to hear Maurice Chevalier recordings. Lutecia is a real neighborhoody place, and I think has a much nicer feel than anything else around there. The coffee is pedestrian (but palatable), the pastries are quite good. Not that it really matters to me, but...I've never been to Europe, but I suspect this place is pretty close to what you might find in France. The owners are French (or at least one of them is), and there are often a number of ex-pats, so to speak, sitting at the counter. The croque monsieur is pretty tasty at lunch time.

      Let me take this moment to mention that Cafe Europa on 22nd, maybe between Pine and Spruce, or between Spruce and Locust sometimes makes a good cup of java, but that's spotty, and the pastries are uniformly old and grim looking. Moreover, the owners are absolutely insufferable, and on that count alone I would urge people to steer clear of the place, if it hasn't gone out of business already (I haven't been past it in a while).

      Cafe Tuscany on Rittenhouse square is ok, though also spotty. When the coffee is fresh it tastes quite good--strong italian roasts--but often it has a harsh, metalic taste with no body. That said, if the weather is nice, it's awfully nice to get a cup and sit on a bench in the square.

      Frankly, I think Philly is not much of a town for a good cup of coffee. I've found lots of places that are nice to sit in, but none that really make a cup good enough to get me to go there just for that (After living in proximity to Peets in SF and Torrefazione Italia in Seattle, I feel like I may be permanently spoiled on that count).

      Oh, I do like the espresso at Fante's coffee counter in the It. Market (on 9th st.), but this is a bit like suggesting someone go to Zabars for a cup of joe. The espresso is quite tasty, but it's a kitchen supply store, so if you want a cafe, per se, you'll be disappointed.


      5 Replies
      1. re: Gabriel Solis

        What about that place in Chinatown I've always heard about? I've never been there, but heard the coffee was terrific and expensive, and they use some sort of exotic brewing system.

        1. re: Bilmo
          Gabriel Solis

          I've never heard of it, has anyone else out there? Bilmo, do you have any more info, with which you could enlighten the rest of us?

          Is it boiled coffee, as per the lengthy discussion of chinatown boiled coffe that's been on the SF list recently?


          1. re: Gabriel Solis

            I poked around the net and found it:

            Ray's Cafe & Tea House
            141 N Ninth St

            I forget what the brewing system is called, but it supposedly looks like lab equipment. It may have been discussed in Chowhound somewhere, I don't know.

            1. re: Bilmo

              Ray's does make a great cup of coffee, but it is VERY expensive IMHO. Between $4.50 and $8.50 for a cup of brewed-through-their-funky-lab-like-system coffee. YIKES! It *is* quite tasty, but only an occasional treat as it's a little too pricey for me. I didn't mention it before because I was defining coffee drinks and cafes as being Espressos/Cappuccinos/Lattes in a "European" type of cafe atmosphere. Certainly Ray's qualifies as a great cup of coffee in Philly, but it is somehow "different" to me than what I thought we were discussing. Ray's is sort of "Zen" for coffee - you get to watch your cup of Joe getting brewed through this funky glass lab equipment, complete with it's own little Bunsen burner underneath, and it is brought to you in a lovely porcelain cup and saucer with a little cookie and an even tinier (doll house sized) little personal pitcher of cream. It's a neat and very "civilized" experience and the coffee is quite tasty because the brewing system extracts a lot of flavor from the grounds (certainly more than traditional drip brewing would). But it's not the same type of jolt as the pressure extracted flavor of espresso/cappuccino that I tend to prefer. It's definitely an experience and might be more to some Chowhound's tastes than my own. They have an excellent selection of types of coffee to choose from, and there is always a "coffee du jour" that is a better deal than the others unless you really MUST have that cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain for eight bucks.

              As an aside, they also serve some very good food at Ray's. The dumplings are heavenly and it's a nice spot for a quick bite of Asian food or a cup of coffee and a pastry.

              1. re: Bilmo

                The system they use is a vacuum system. It's a very old concept. I think it was developed in Europe. there are smaller systems that you can buy for the home. I don't know where to find them though. I do know that Starbucks makes/sells a vacuum system that's comparable in price to a regular coffee maker.

                As far as quality of coffee goes, I prefer Torreo coffee in South Philly. I get my beans from them - fresh roasted. They're great to deal with and have. excellent coffee. Other places to avoid are the OLDE City coffee roasters in reading Terminal. The coffee's good, but we get major attitude if your not one of the clueless hipster, goateed Dharma and Greg set. But I guess you can say this about most coffee shops in Philly.

        2. My only experience with la Colombe' has been a negative one. I read their reviews and decided to order
          their coffee via thier website (which doesn't work). I called them up, got some foreign woman on the phone and said that I would have to talk to the boss - to order two pounds of coffee. I called later, got the boss who simply chuckled and said ,"No" and hung up.

          Maybe this attitude is why the french restaurants in the are love them so much.

          1. Best cup of coffee is at the 100 Mile coffee at Jack McDavid's Down Home Dinner in Reading Terminal Market. I brew the second best cup.


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