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Jun 24, 2006 06:57 AM

Coffee wars update

It's been a year since I started drinking coffee again, and months since I started detouring to Blue Bottle and hanging out weekday mornings at Ritual with my iBook. In that time, Organica mysteriously closed, Blue Bottle's beans continue to impress me with their sweetness, and Ritual's baristas consistently made the best cappucino. The grilled ham and cheese croissant at Ritual is good too.

This week I needed a little variety on the wifi scene, so I stopped in at Coffee to the People, on Masonic near Haight. It's a sunny place, with a very young, very friendly clientele. Everyone is like 10 years younger than anyone at Ritual, and they don't appear to be starting companies or writing novels. It's hard not to like a place that has huge bags of compost available at the front counter. I got a cappucino and watched as the perfectionist who made it created truly beautiful wet foam, like a giant cup of marshmallow fluff.

The coffee was fine. I might drop in if I lived closer. The music was unbearable though: a double Cat Stevens CD. Even the homeless man sleeping in the comfy chair eventually got up and fled.

A teenager sitting across from me had a Dade County sticker on his iBook and I ask if he's from Miami. "Yeah, I just moved here."

"How do you like it so far?" He's not sure. "Everything organic here."

But here's my real complaint: the wifi's flaky, or maybe Mac unfriendly. I keep getting this message:

Please wait...

The Broadband Booster is currently measuring your network connection.
Service will be available shortly.

Friday after work on my way to a party, I had to meet a friend in Palo Alto and decided on Coupa Cafe, a place I'd always meant to try. We both got the spicy iced hot chocolate, and I got an order of arepas with shredded meat.

The iced hot chocolate is just a terrible idea. It's hot chocolate poured over ice, so the ice melts and the hot chocolate is watered down. Like people who don't know how to make iced tea. What a waste! The chocolate at the bottom was pretty good although not spicy the way say Jacques Torres' chocolate is.

The arepa was wonderful--delicate and airy. It was accompanied by a handful of overdressed fancy greens. I should have just gotten two of them.

But the highlight, on a hot afternoon, went by on a tray to another table: a glass of ice and a carafe of mint lemonade. Delivered on a tray by a smiling man. I had to have one.

It's definitely a well-heeled crowd but less whitebread than a lot of places in Palo Alto. The strivers were across the street at NOLA or up the block at the Blue Chalk. Everyone has a laptop. Two guys in striped shirts even walked by with MacBooks still in the boxes, direct from the Apple store. (Or maybe the boxes were empty. I didn't look).

Like the best internet cafes, Coupa is a great place to work. It's quiet and shady and cool inside, the network is fast, and the staff is very friendly. As I left, the guy behind the country told me to come back soon.

Coupa Cafe is on Ramona near University Avenue in Palo Alto. Open until 11 p.m. every night. Prices are high--$1 more than Ritual prices, and not as good, but you're paying rent. Next time I'll try the coffee.

(Are those pieces of chocolate as good as they look? I meant to get one of the roses or rainbow-colored Hawaiian macadamia nut candies but forgot.)

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  1. Coupa Cafe-I love their regular hot chocolate. Thanks for the tip on the mint lemonade. I'll have to try that one day.

    1. I've enjoyed the chocolates -- I usually get the dark square with hot chile. Their desserts are also usually quite good, esp the round individually-sized cakes. Their cookies and muffins can have low turnover though, so inquire about their age befure making a choice..

      1. Great report. I keep meaning to get to that other coffee place in Palo Alto, the Italian one. Sorry, I'd search for the name, but at this point I'm never going to get caught up to the current day.

        Coupa Cafe has grown on me. I don't usually get more than coffee, hot chocolate or the Chuao chocolates. In spite of all good intentions, I never have tried the arepa. Will give that mint iced tea a try.

        Chuao chocolates can be WONDERFUL or ... eh. Coupa also sells Chuao Mayan hot chocolate which still is one of my favorites of a spiced hot chocolate.

        As for the best of Chuao it is that wonderful passion fruit caramel ... like a heart ... cute, eh ... heart ... passion fruit.

        You know, somewhere there exists on Chowhound what I'm looking for about on Chuao but I can't find it and I'm too tried to try more. Here's my tasting notes from a word document. If I ever find that post, I'll edit this and link to it

        Here's the link to Chuao with pictures and descritions of the chocolates.

        WOULD BUY OR GIVE AS GIFTS (in order of preference).

        CHEVERE: who would have thought that goat cheese, pear Williams butter cream and crushed black pepper corns would be this good. Like tangy chocolate cheesecake,

        CAMBUR: Banana and brown sugar caramel ... mmmm .... You would think more chocolate makers would combine banana and chocolate.

        PICANTE: I never imagined raisin, cabernet caramel, spiced up with pasilla chili and cayenne pepper could be such a winning combination

        ZEN: I contemplated the lovely white chopped ginger. Missed the tea flavor, but it didn’t matter.

        MELAO: A salt butter caramel with the salt enhancing the soft caramel interior. .

        MARACA: macadamia nuts, dark caramel, rum these flavors really worked well together and complemented the dark chocolate coating.

        GRAN CACAO: I Wondered what 73% cocoa chocolate meant. It’s almost like chocolate liqueur it is so rich. Really, it tastes alcoholic, but it’s not.

        HONEY TRUFFLE: Cream orange blossom honey ganache thin dark choclate shell, coated with powdered sugar ... lovely. ,

        MULATO: almond marzipan and fine pieces of roasted macadamia nuts just was tasty. The bronze glitter would make a nice presentation at a dinner party. Very elegant.


        COCO CANELLE: Upscale almond joy. A whole roasted almond covered with soft coconut flakes blended with a touch of cinnamon

        ALMOND TRUFFLE: A center of chocolate hazelnut and almond praline dipped in Venezuelan milk chocolate. I loved the roasted almond and pistachio slices covering the truffle. The ground almond.hazelnut center was lost by the assertive coating and just seemed gritty.

        CACIQUE: Rum/raisin flavored, but much too subtle. There was the tiniest hint of rum in the after taste,.

        GRIGNOTTINES: Just not as good as the description. Roasted and caramelized almond slivers, mixed with finely chopped pistachios and orange peel, blended together with dark Venezuelan chocolate

        NOCCELLO: I’m just not a hazelnut fan.

        FRAMBOISE: This is just me. I’m not a fan of “Pate de Fruit",. No matter how excellent, they just remind me of the chocolate jelly candies in my childhood Whitman sampler. The candies people would take a bite out of and put back in the box. This is very good, but not for a tasteless creature such as myself.

        LE CITRON: Ok, but the lemon pulp blended in a soft caramel with fresh mint infused cream was too subtle for my tastes.

        CARDAMON: Not a cardamon fan

        MODENA: Another description that didn’t match the taste caramel deglazed with strawberry pulp and balsamic vinegar from modena.

        TIRAMISU: This is the only one that was really off target for me. I would have said German chocolate cake rather than tiramisu. Mascarpone cheese and coffee liquor

        DIDN’T TRY

        MUSIU: Creamy filling spiced with cinnamon and a touch of grand Marnier covered with Venezuelan dark chocolate.

        GIANDUJA: Hazelnut and almond paste enhanced with fresh vanilla and a hint of coffee, covered in Venezuelan milk chocolate.

        MOROCHO: One layer of almond and hazelnut praline paste; one layer of dark chocolate butter cream with a hint of Calvados, covered with Venezuelan milk chocolate.

        RIO CARIBE: Artisan made almond and hazelnut praline covered with Venezuelan milk chocolate.

        WILD TRUFFLE: A dark rich ganache dipped in dark Venezuelan chocolate and delicately rolled in cocoa powder.

        1. the Italian coffee shop you're thinking about is:
          Caffe del Doge
          419 University Avenue
          Palo Alto, CA 94301
          Mon-Thu, Sun 7:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.
          Sat 7:00 a.m.-12:00 a.m.

          Ever time I go to Coupa Cafe I ask about the passion fruit caramel and they never have it, so their chocolates are limited.

          1. Linking:

            Coupa Cafe
            538 Ramona St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

            1 Reply
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I am so glad I am back to reading posts on chowhound. I love this thread. Unfortunately now that I am a part time employee at a Java shop with a single syllable name on the East side of Petaluma, I am recusing myself from coffee related comments:)
              Melanie, Windy and RWOrange, you really should be getting paid for your great posts!
              I am personally looking for Coffee where pigmented folks are the clientele==> A cafe with true Latin or Caribbean flavor would be a natch...