The spoils of addiction: a cappuccino quest

Josa Lamont | Features Editor

August 28, 2014

As an adult college student, I somehow acquired a coffee habit that grew to shameful regularity when I wasn’t looking.

And as an old college student, I had plenty of time to tire of the tangy flavor by altogether too much repetition.

I tried varying my flavors, my creamers, my drinks and my makers to no avail. As surprising to me as my addiction was is the fact that I had become a coffee snob. The syrups taste too sweet, the creamers too fake, and the coffee too bitter.

I had all but given up coffee for tea when one fateful morning on a road trip to Oregon I ordered a cappuccino in a local shop called the Limelight. It was a vintage comfort kind of venue with laidback staff and deep colors to emulate the scenery. The upcycled odds and ends pulled the rustic pole barn charm of the region inside.

There I found my coffee calling.

The buttery undertones were unlike any caffeinated drink I had ever tried. The rich smoothness and the stark boldness were just the complexity I needed to save my coffee connection.

But it was not to be that simple. On the remainder of our trip down the coast I ordered a cappuccino at nearly every suitable restaurant we went to, only to dash my excitement with meager immitations at best. Even “the best breakfast restaurant in San Francisco” (according to a Google search) came up lacking, when my Cappuccino was not only delivered in a cracked cup, but it was also cold and foamless.

Most cappuccinos tasted like old burnt coffee, while others lacked depth and demanded sugar. I would not concede my caffeine that easily, though, so when I returned home I continued my quest.

When an organic coffee shop in Los Angeles filled with people who all looked like affluent hipsters or eccentric directors offered up a suitable comparable cup, my enthusiasm was refilled. But it was at that time I began to worry about my morning commute.

As the start of the semester loomed closer it necessitated I localize my search.

To eliminate the basics I started simple. Starbucks needed syrup, the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf fell flat, both had an acidic feel and I expected no better from either.

Molina’s, a segway between The Hideaway Cafe and a thriftique store, held great potential with a clean cafe feel, vintage accessories, and an Italian menu. They surprised me with a bitter, burnt impersonation of a beverage, let alone a cappuccino: and I had expected more from the charming milieu.

In contrast to the modern and minimalist coffee shops I had been to Coffee Court brought a more traditional eclectic style to the table. The cafe is crowded with all kinds of coffee garnishes, trinkets, decorations, rugs, colors and murals. The menus are bright and long, and there are fridges and shelves with teas, red bulls, Starbucks’coffees, juices, and waters. It feels something like a convenient store and the cappuccino tastes roughly like it came out of a gas station.

Back to the Grind had been one of my favorite places for a Chai Tea Latte with their real ingredients, the giant open space, the beatnik undertones, the eclectic decor and the communal feel. They had an ersatz cappuccino that gave me another temporary fix, but I knew it would leave me disinterested again by the end of a semester.

But then in a fortuitous lunch time stroll, a friend brought me in to Augie’s Coffee House. Only to use the restroom at first, but little did I know then that all my efforts would come together in a vibrant frothy success.

Though I didn’t buy anything at the time or know it then, I had just dipped in to a happy new staple for my future. It was an unpretentious spot with quaint art and minimal styling. At the time it was filled with suited professionals, and in trips since it brims with downplayed privileged youth and edgy baristas. I didn’t know what to gather from my first impressions of a diverse crowd and understated decor.

On a hard night’s morning I decided to return to Augie’s to give their coffee a shot on my way to class. I was in no rush so I fumbled around downtown trying to relocate the hidden little corner cafe. I hoped, at best, for maybe a comparable cup to the enjoyable one I’d had in LA.

Foam had never really concerned me as a novice cappuccino connoisseur, but the even consistency and depth of flavor of this one caught me off guard. My first reaction when I touched the drink to my tongue was almost that of disgust, but I’ll characterize it more definitively in retrospect as shock. I almost immediately wrote my cap off as too strong. But the lingering flavor drew me somehow to try another sip and this time I realized my surprise was from a molasses like richness complemented by the buttery body I had been looking for.

This was not the cappuccino I had been searching for all this time: this was almost unthinkably better!

After each new sip I could not help but drink ravenously more. The more I had the more I needed.

This was my fresh fix. My new cap of choice. It was like tasting coffee again for the first time with a new depth and dynamic I had not yet known in my coffee tasting life.

With enthusiasm I now make the familiar trip up 12th street to Augie’s on the corner to pick up my buzz from my favorite coffee shop in downtown. The richness of their aromatic cappuccino is a coffee flavor I think even I may never tire of, and I would vehemently recommend to anyone. The first sip still shocks me every time.