A few weeks ago, I followed up on an invitation to visit micro coffee roaster Café eXcellence in Audubon, PA. For those living in and around Philadelphia, the name of this boutique coffee company may sound familiar. Though it might be “micro” in size and capacity, the java coming out of Cafe eXcellence is macro in flavor.
Currently, the company offers just under two dozen blends from 25-plus countries, as well as a recently introduced line of herbal teas.
The “factory store” as it’s billed, is open Monday- Friday, from 8:30AM-4PM. You don’t need an appointment to pop in and stock up, but because cuppings are a bit labor intensive, procedure calls for advance outreach.
We had the opportunity to meet with Anthony Valerio, the family-owned company’s president, at the end of our visit. Humble, yet passionate, he certainly gave off the impression of a guy who works hard, appreciates the business’ success, and who has lived the ups and downs of launching a niche brand in a very competitive market.
The tour itself was led by right-hand java genius, Irene Satterwhite (a fellow member of Les Dames d’Escoffier), whose passion would make her an impressive brand ambassador for any company. Her follow-through—from a casual conversation one evening to a series of follow-up emails—made an impression, as did the effort put forth during the tour. I actually felt guilty toward the end of the tasting, because there were so many cups, spoons, coffee presses, and tea steepers left for Irene to clean up and put away.
I would have loved videotaping the entire experience, because walking around, touching, smelling and sifting, and listening required my full attention—taking notes and photos was very distracting, and diluted the experience. Throwing caution to the wind and not recording the bulk of the details resulted in an information gap, however, everything you need to know is on the company website. I can’t do better than this graphic version of cafe eXcellence’s history, but I can vouch for its coffee being as standout as some of our region’s top contenders.
Just recently, I was dining out at Paramour (Wayne, PA), and after a ridiculously decadent meal, we got our hands (and lips) on a sublime bold cup of Joe. I remarked to our server, how satisfying the coffee was (and went into my usual schpeel about how a bad cup of coffee can ruin an otherwise amazing meal) and the light bulb went off when he revealed the coffee’s brand. I had known that Paramour served Café eXcellence, but it was nice to experience a moment of validation regarding the quality of this brand’s beans. (One of these days, I need to write about the fabulous meal we had there; took me by surprise.)
Along with a front-row seat to numerous pounds of just-roasted beans loudly bursting out of the 450- 525° roaster, visitors can take home a burlap or sisal bean bag (based on availability) as a souvenir. (I happily snagged two for my son’s college apartment—and put in an order for two oversized French presses.)
Here’s what the big coffee bean dump looked like. (Caution: this video is wholly UN-pro.)
Roasting starts between 510-525°, depending on the weight of the coffee going into the drum… 85 lbs. starts at 510° and a 100 lbs. starts at 525°. The roast will finish between 450-475 depending on the roast profile.
The darker the roast, the higher the temperature—and, the least caffeine. (If you’re pulling an all-nighter, stick with lighter-colored beans/blends.)
The main event was the coffee and herbal tea cupping, a savory combination of Costa Rica El Indio, Sumatra Lintong, Full City, French Roast and delectable (and colorful) MajaTei teas: English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Sencha Green, Strawberry Green, Apple Cranberry Green and Destiny Chai. In total, the fledgling tea program features 14 varieties of both loose leaf and pyramid teas. I’m not sure my photos do these colorful blends justice… the hues of some reminded me of dying Easter eggs.
Regarding the coffee we sipped, each flavor had its own flair. Guided by Satterwhite, we thoughtfully engaged our senses, sipping, licking, lapping and sniffing to measure flavor, acidity, aftertaste, and body. The process was one cup at a time (and only a few spoonfuls at a time to avoid getting too hopped up), and as we moved from cup to cup, we took in hints of citrus, smoke, sweet fruit, and earthiness. We also noted that as the coffee in each cup began to cool, new flavors emerged.
As a French press or vintage Pyrex percolator drinker, I can’t speak for how this tastes brewed under different conditions, but prepared by our seasoned cupper, each spoonful was flawless. Check out the coffee bean tree and get a gander at some beans and bags…