Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Some Things in Life...

...are often found unexpectedly, and therefore are those that make, or should make, at least some amount of lasting impression upon us. I often used to say that I do not like surprises; though over the last year or so I realized that was not quite right. I don't like disappointing or bad surprises. I do like nice ones; and there are an awful lot of nice ones out there is you just let yourself admit it.

One of those surprises, at least for me, was a coffee shop. Not a dinner, or a cafe where you sit down and drink coffee, but rather a place in the business of selling coffee and tea. I found the coffee shop in Greenwich Village (New York City) quite by accidental chance. I was at a favorite restaurant of mine, a sort of hole in the wall place on MacDougal Street called Yatagan's, that by the way makes a Gyro for which to kill (I will not say to die for because if I died trying to get it I would not enjoy it as much). I went back to my car, on Bleecker Street, and the old fashioned store front of The Porto Rico Importing Company caught my eye. It was somewhat from another time, maybe back in the 60's when storefronts still had a certain warm charm to them instead of the flat fronted stores of today with their stark cold metal window and door frames. This place had a certain charm to it, what with its red awning, wooden framed doors and windows, its set back double door entrance, the small brick step which you had to surmount to reach the doors, the gilded hand painted wording in the front window, the small standing blackboard advertising each week's specials, and the small bench out front. It was not only charming, it was inviting.

Why it had not caught my eye before was a bit of a mystery. Maybe it had caught my eye this time because I had been thinking of my wife, and wanted to do something nice for her, just one of those little things, plain and simple, we sometimes do to let each other know we think of one another often, and that we can enjoy together with one another and our children. Sometimes I buy bread she likes at a Jewish bakery in Williamsburg Brooklyn; or buy tarts at a certain German bakery in Ridgewood , Brooklyn; or I shop for wurst and cold cuts at a certain great German butcher shop in Ridgewood (where they have their own smokehouse). Maybe that day, because I was thinking of my wife, I figured I would try picking out some good coffee for us to enjoy together. Then again, maybe it was just that the warm, inviting look of that old fashioned storefront called out to some part of me from years ago, and I could not resist the nostalgic Siren's song; but whatever its allure, after I had seen that storefront what could I do but go inside.

As I entered the store, the first thing to strike me was the wonderful aroma of coffee. Sure I was taking in a lot of things by way of my other senses, but my sense of smell was sent to a heavenly high as soon as I got my first whiff. Then I glanced around to see, among other things, numerous huge open bags of coffees for sale, each with a small sign sticking out the top displaying the type of coffee, and price, in its respective burlap bag. There must have been at least 30 or 40 such bags of coffee beans, maybe a bit more. There was a quaint old fashioned counter to the right of the entry, the coffee bean bags were also on the right side of the store further back than the counter. To the left were al sorts of coffee makers, tea pots, cups, teas and other things for sale, many set on old fashioned wooden shelves, others on free standing displays, all with a center aisle for the customers.

The place was not jammed packed with customers, but while I was there it had a steady flow of customers coming in and out. Most already seemed to know what they wanted and did not need to look around. As for me, I was looking at the contents of each burlap bag, and leaning over some of them a bit to sniff their contents (no touching the beans allowed). I don't recall exactly which two or three coffees I decided upon that day, but am sure at least one was a French roast, black as midnight, and strong as Heracles. The other was a nice medium looking brown bean that I was sure my wife and daughter would prefer over the French Roast. I was not all that sure about my son, as it turns out, he likes them all.

I think that I got our favorites that very first time, but if not then I found them by my second visit there ultimately deciding that the French Sumatran and the Tanzanian Peaberry were out of this world. Of course, I have purchased quite a few other coffees in the year or so that I have been shopping there. There are coffees from the world over, from places such as Costa Rica, Hawaii, Jamaica, Tanzania, Sumatra, Colombia, Mexico to name a few. Some we have tried included the Hawaiian Kona at about $24.00 per pound it was the most expensive that I have bought. It was, in my opinion good, not worth the high price. They have another very expensive one, Jamaican Blue Mountain or something like that at about $49.00 per pound - it is a bit too expensive for me to even try a pound - though maybe a quarter pound someday. Others I remember as being very good were from Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia. I try to get something in both a French roast and a milder regular roast each time I shop there. I have also bought one or two blends such as a shop regular called Auggie's Blend, mmmm good. I have enjoyed almost all of them. There is something wonderful about freshly ground good coffee, and I am not a daily coffee drinker, although I do enjoy it immensely when I have a good cup or two. My wife, daughter and son really like the Tanzanian Peaberry (or Peabody as I mistakenly called it for at least three or four purchases until one of the clerks told me she remembered me because of how I said it). They also liked the Costa Rican regular roast too. Linda also enjoyed the Hawaiian, as did my Celina and Brendan, but Linda also thought it was not worth the higher price. The other regularly priced coffees were either better, or just as good. Tastes differ though, so maybe you would like the Hawaiian more than we did.

As to the prices, well let me just say that I think they are a bargain, at least for New York City anyway. I live on Long Island, about 24 miles or so from this shop, and my local grocery store sells freshly ground coffee, that I have to grind self service, for the same price or higher than most of the regularly priced coffees at The Porto Rico Importing Company! Many of there coffees go for about $6.99 to $7.99 per pound. Each week the shop also has specials such as a house roast, or a Colombian sometimes for as low as $3.99 per pound. There is a different choice or three each week on the for sale coffees. They also sell organically grown coffees at a slightly higher price than those grown by more conventional methods; maybe a dollar per pound higher. In addition they also have a good sized selection of flavored coffees, but I usually avoid them. As for me I am a bit of a purist when it comes to coffee, I like it hot, black and nasty (very strong and tasty); of course my family likes some of the flavored ones, so maybe next time I’ll pick out a hazelnut or Vanilla flavored one for them. In addition they have a good assortment of sweets (most coffee flavored I think) for those of you with a sweet tooth. I was there just yesterday and I picked up our two favorites along with a third one to try. That one is called Guatemalan Margogipe.

The shop has a wonderful staff of store clerks to help out the customer. They will explain the nature of the various coffees, make sure you have it ground to the correct size for your coffee maker and filter type, and just be totally pleasant throughout the whole process.

They have been in business since 1907, and I certainly understand why. So if you are ever by chance in this area, and are a coffee lover, a tea lover, or just like the smell of coffe and the allure of an old fashioned store with very polite clerks, then don’t miss this place!

All the best,
Glenn B

Edited to Add: I just saw that they have their own web site, and at least two other stores. They offer internet oredring and delivery too. Go to if interested.