Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Cafe Vue, Melbourne Airport

Yup, more airport "dining".  Much like my review last week of the baked goods from Bar Pulpo by Movida, I visited one other location in the Melbourne Airport to acquire some goods to bring on my flight to supplement in-flight dining: Cafe Vue.
The moment you get through duty-free in the Melbourne International Airport, Terminal 2, there is a cafe with a bright pink neon sign.  It gets pretty awful reviews.  But clearly, attracts the captive audience, as it is the first dining establishment you encounter airside.
"If you are heading overseas, Café Vue located past customs also offers a range of quick take away meals, cakes, chocolates and pastries as well as exceptional coffee.  
Our signature Café Vue Airline boxes (for breakfast, lunch and dinner) are designed to be taken on board your flight. Full table service is offered throughout the café with a quick snack menu and a more substantial, traditional menu available as a la carte or a fixed priced Menu du Jour. This is available for lunch and dinner accompanied by an extensive wine, beer and cocktail list. Change the way you fly!"
And I still had more hope for this than even more stale food on board?
Cafe Vue offers a bit of everything.  A cold case with pre-made sandwiches.  Pastries.  Cookies.  Coffee drinks with 5 Senses coffee, "an exclusive blend crafted by Five Senses and Vue de monde".  Beer, wine, smoothies, milkshakes, cocktails.  A menu for sit down dining with sandwiches, salads, burgers, meat pies, ect.  There were signs about "Airline boxes" too, intended as quick grab and go items, but I didn't see any actual details on these.

I opted to just get a few baked goods for my flight, avoiding the likely mediocre airport dining, and moving on to the Qantas First Class lounge for my actual meal.
Cookie jars, bottled drinks, whole fruit .
The counter area starts with grab and go drinks, fruit, and cookies.

From the jars, I got both cookies, one large peanut butter cookie, one small "yo-yo".  They were out of chocolate chip.
Peanut Butter Cookie. $6.90.
This was a large cookie, and not the style of peanut butter cookie I am accustomed to at all.  It was a hard style, with halves of peanuts in it, in a base that wasn't as ... peanut buttery as the type of peanut butter cookies I like.  It was almost more like a slightly peanut flavored shortbread, with peanut halves in it, if that makes sense.

Not my thing, but I brought it to my peanut butter cookie loving partner, who took one bite, and made a face.  Clearly, not his style either.
Yo-Yo. $3.00.
What is a yo-yo?  I have no idea.  But, why not try it?

It seemed to be a fairly plain cookie sandwich with sweet filling.  Maybe some lemon flavors to it.  Hard style cookies, very sweet overall.  Eh.
Cold Case Desserts.
From the dessert cold case, I got the granola bar and chocolate crispy thing, as the pickings were slim.

I almost got another dessert item, but I didn't think the cupcake would hold up well, I dislike citrus desserts (so no orange cake or lemon tart), and everything else was sold out.  I was sad the Fairy Bread cupcake was sold out, as I do love 100s and 1000s!
Granola Bar. $8.50.
The granola bar I purchased to enjoy layer in my journey when I would potentially need something substantial if in-flight dining failed me.

It was actually a really good housemade granola bar, loaded with nuts (halves of peanuts, slivers of almonds), seeds (sunflower, pepitas), and dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins, dates).  It was sticky, in messy fingers way, but enjoyable at the same time.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

It had a great play of textures, nice sweetness (although, much like a dessert, not really a snack), and I liked how peanut forward it was.  I'd get this again.
Valrhona Chocolate Crackle. $4.50.
The chocolate crispy crackle thing was a bit amusing.  The cashier tried to cram it into a plastic container, but it wouldn't close.  So he just mashed it in, and left the lid open, shrugging, and saying "it doesn't fit".  No solution was offered.

It was actually quite satisfying though, in the "morning" on my flight.  Crispy, slightly sticky, chocolate rice crispies.  It was kinda like having chocolate breakfast cereal, which, at the time, was not a bad thing.  It did use decent Valrhona chocolate, it wasn't just mildly chocolate rice crisps.  I nearly ordered some milk on the flight to just have with it, and really make a sweet cereal.

This was in the cold case, and solid when handed over, but, it crumbled immediately as it warmed up, and didn't hold together at all.  It required a spoon to eat, which wasn't bad, just, messy.  An odd item, but I enjoyed it at the time.  I'd get it again ... for breakfast too.
Sandwiches, Salads, Yogurts, Fruit.
I skipped all the pre-made sandwiches, salads, and yogurt and muesli pots, as I didn't need real food, and I didn't want refrigerated items.
The pastries line up was a bit depleted, just banana bread, one type of muffin, and raisin swirls, although the signs indicate that they normally have several types of croissants and more muffins.

From the pastries, a muffin, the only kind they had, which I was told was raspberry.
Raspberry Muffin. $5.20.
This was actually not too bad.

It was a bit dry, with quite a crisp top, but, the flavor was nice, and I liked the generous fruit, the berries added moisture and fruity bursts of flavor.  Better than those from Bar Pulpo.
Café Vue at Melbourne Airport Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, February 25, 2019

Starbucks Reserve

I've reviewed Starbucks many times before, including the sandwiches, pastries, and even the yogurt, and of course, the drinks, including new and seasonal beverages, and frappucinos.

But, not all Starbucks are created equal.  And I'm not just talking about larger stores with slightly expanded offerings, or locations with more talented baristas.  I mean, entirely different concepts, such as, Starbucks Reserve.
"Starbucks Reserve is the complete and total commitment to the immersive experience of coffee craft and the ongoing pursuit of the world’s rarest, most exalted, most sought-after small-lot coffees."

They really do offer a far premium experience.

Starbucks Reserve only has a handful of locations, in major cities around the world: Shanghai, Milan, Tokyo ... and of course Seattle, New York, and, San Francisco!  My visit was to the San Francisco location, which opened in 2018, just a few blocks from my house.

The Setting

"Apart from the full-scale theatricality of the Starbucks Reserve™ Roasteries, our bars offer a more intimate small-lot coffee experience. These are the perfect places to pick up Starbucks Reserve™ whole bean coffee, enjoy a handcrafted Starbucks Reserve™ beverage and chat with a barista about all things coffee."
Bar Seating and Ordering.
The entire front of the store has different ordering stations and bars, with one area dedicated to hand crafted drinks, another to the espresso machine, another to cold brews, another to infusions, and so on.

You can see real glassware lined up in the back. Yes, glassware, at Starbucks, for dine-in service.
Huge Interior.
The SF location is really quite large and spacious feeling.  The high ceilings add to the feel dramatically.  Everything is beautifully designed and decorated.
Light Filled.
The space really is inviting, so much light, huge wall of all glass windows.
Reserve Branded Merchandise.
You can even pick up special Reserve branded mugs, etc, plus the Reserve coffee beans, and higher end brewing equipment for home brewing.


Starbucks Reserve is not the place to get your non-fat, no-whip, skinny vanilla frappucino.  I mean you could, but, the Reserve menu offers so much more.  
Inside Menu (April 2018).
The menu at at the Reserve location does include things like macchiatos and lattes, but, rather than your standard caramel macchiato there is a vanilla creme anglaise macchiato (yes, it really has a custard in it!) and the lattes come in flavors like rose honey.   The cold brew even comes cocktail style, shaken with bitters, and topped with a cherry.

The main attraction though, at least for me, was the different brew methods to chose from, and of course, the large variety of higher end small lot coffees to pick from.
Reserve Coffees (July).
The Reserve coffees are all small batch, so they change out regularly.  The selections were entirely different at my first two visits.
Ice Cream & Flights.
Ice cream!  At Starbucks?! Yup, everything from classic affogatos to malts made with cold brew and bitters.

The final menu section is "Experiences" of flights, where you can try either different coffees brewed with the same brewing technique or the same coffee brewed different ways, to compare.  24 ounces total.



I opted for the Chemex as my brewing technique on my first visit, as I've never tried it before, and know it is known for yielding a very smooth cup.  I was warned that it would take nearly 10 minutes, which wasn't a problem for me.
Chemex in Action.
"This distinctive hourglass-shaped brewer prepares coffee that's unparalleled in its smooth, crisp clarity."

Everything was weighed out, and prepared with care.  Available in one size only, 24 ounces.  You are warned when you order this that it is more than 20 ounces, and the barista confirms this is ok.  Since I was sharing once, and ordering decaf another time, this was, indeed ok, but Starbucks decaf packs more caffeine than most ...

Interestingly, my second visit, I was told Chemex, and press pot, aren't eligible for rewards, since they are designed to be shared (24 ounces only), and only "single" serving items are available with the reward (so it also excludes the flights).  How a $20 venti crazy Frappuccino creation counts as single and $12 Chemex doesn't could be a great subject of contention ...

And even more interestingly, on my third and fourth visits, Chemex was again an option.  I think the barista that told me it wasn't must have been misinformed, or Starbucks very temporarily switched their policies?
Chemex Brewed Sun-Dried Ethiopia Haile Farm. 
"Aromatic florals with candied citrus and orange peel flavors."

Since I got my coffee to-go, it came in a paper cup, but if I were planning to consume it there, it would have come in a real glass.  Still, no standard Starbucks cup here, the dark color and logo matched the feel of the entire place, far more classy.  My barista apologized that she had no matching reserve lids, and had to settle for the white one.

As for the coffee, I went for an Ethiopian selection, given my affinity for the region in general.  

And ... well, it was an incredibly smooth cup of coffee, as promised.  It wasn't necessarily a very complex coffee, nor a very dark deep flavor, but, it was pure and it was clean.  I enjoyed it.
Decaf Costa Rica Hacienda Alsacia.
"Sparkling acidity balanced by citrus and milk chocolate flavors."

On this visit, I was looking for a decaf, and the only option was the Costa Rica Hacienda Alsacia, which I had before as a pour over (see below), and didn't love it.  The barista who prepared it then strongly encouraged me away from the Chemex, but the one this day this other barista said it was good that way, so, I gave it another try, using Chemex, since its not like I had another choice for decaf anyway.

It was ... fine?  No funk, no staleness, not too high acid, but again, as in the pour over method, it just wasn't anything special, and I certainly didn't find myself really wanting another cup.

It also left me incredibly jazzed.  I know it was decaf, but I think Starbucks packs some punch in their decaf ...


My second visit, I was not allowed to pick a Chemex or press pot per some rule changes on reward redemptions, so I went for the pour over.  My server said, "hey, since it is free, why not do it as a siphon?  Way more expensive and much better method too.  Maximize your reward!"

I liked his style and eagerly took the offer, I didn't actually realize they did siphon brewing, the menu only listed Clover, pour over, press pot, and Chemex.
Siphon In Action!
Of course it looked like a science lab, fire! beakers!, and folks did like to see it in action.  I think the server had a bit of fun too, I don't think people order these that often.  It seemed faster than Chemex actually?
Siphon Brewed Hawaii Ka'u.
"Creamy milk chocolate flavor with an almond sweetness."

For my bean choice, I went with the Hawaii Ka'u, from the south side of the Big Island.  I was drawn in by the tasting notes of creamy chocolate and almond sweetness.

It was a lovely coffee.  I don't have the proper language to describe it, but it was incredibly smooth.  Not a hint of harshness, acidity, or anything.  But not boring in any way, there was a complexity and depth, just not jarring ones, if that makes any sense.  It was a intense brew, I generally drink lighter styles, and originally thought I'd water it down a touch, but actually, as my pallette opened up, I embraced the depth.

I really enjoyed this.  I don't know if it was the variety of bean, the brewing method, or combination of both, but I was really impressed, and would get it again in a heartbeat.

And this time, I did get a signature black lid.  Such stylish cups, seriously.

Pour Over

All Starbucks locations will do pour over if you ask, so this is not unique to the Reserve locations, and is not what I normally opt for.  However, on this visit, I wanted decaf, and I asked the barista for his recommendation on preparation style.  He told me that he thinks pour over is the best as it brings out the nuttiness, or even just as espresso.  He seemed to genuinely not believe the Chimex, which is how I was going to order it, yielded as good of a result.  I took his recommendation.
Decaf Costa Rica Hacienda Alsacia.
"Sparkling acidity balanced by citrus and milk chocolate flavors."

This was ... fine.  It didn't taste like a decaf, that is for sure.  No funk, no acidity, etc.  And it was decently complex.  But it was a bolder, darker style that wasn't quite what I tend to prefer.

I'd consider getting it using another brew method if it was the only decaf available, but certainly wouldn't intentionally seek this out.