CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Previous Coffee Columns >> 2 Cafes in Long Beach
A couple of months ago I left the cool grey skies of Sheffield to visit family in Southern California. While I was there I met up with my old friend Jimmy over a coffee. We decided to meet at a cafe in the neighbourhood in which I used to live, back before I decided to move away from Long Beach and become a Seattalian and later a Brit.
Hot Java is on a corner across from Bixby Park, which in the old days was famous for its Iowa State picnics, so-called because they were gatherings of Midwestern transplants who had moved to Long Beach in search of sunshine. Because of these picnics Long Beach earned the nickname Iowa By The Sea. The park has evolved throughout the years, and Long Beach has come a long way from the quaint image of IBTS.
As it was a typical warm and sunny May day, most of the cafe customers were sitting outside at the sidewalk tables, with only a scattering of people inside, mirroring the cafe's nearby neighbour, Portfolio Coffee House. All of Hot Java's coffee drinks are served in paper cups which is a bit of a disappointment. But my cappuccino was very nice tasting, if a bit heavy on the milk, so I can't complain. (When a barista pours a cappuccino into a tall paper cup there is a tendency to use too much milk.) Jimmy had a half decaf cup of serve-yourself coffee. There were several choices available in thermos carafes, so he went for the Foglifter, an appropriately named coffee for a cafe located a skip and a jump from the ocean.
Aside from the coffee Hot Java offers paninis, English muffins, and wraps, and there are regular comedy nights. My overall impression was of a good Long Beach hangout.
On another day I decided to try a coffee place near my mother's house. She lives in Los Altos, the suburban area of Long Beach in which I grew up where most of the houses were built in the 1950s. The neighbourhood's two claims to fame are the Los Altos Shopping Center and California State University, along with plenty of broad boulevards and huge car parks. It's definitely a car-dominated area, proved by the fact that every time I've visited my mother in Los Altos and gone for a walk I've never run into another pedestrian, save for the occasional person taking their dog for a quick sniff-around.
Einstein Brothers Bagels is located in a car park adjacent to Verizon Cable. Their main attraction is obviously the bagels, which come in a typically wide American variety of choices. (I bought a Cinnamon and Raisin bagel and an Everything bagel, which fortunately has no bits of kitchen sink in it.). I was almost heartened by the sign over the espresso machine that said "Darn Good Coffee". I half expected FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper to walk in at any minute. Sadly the machine had push-buttons, but with the burr grinder on top of the machine filled with beans I figured it couldn't be awful.
When I ordered an "espresso macchiato" the young man asked, "Iced, frozen, or hot?" "Um, hot," I replied. As he entered my order into the till I noticed he'd punched in "Caramel Macchiato". I immediately stopped him and said I wanted an espresso macchiato, which is just an espresso with foamed milk. He replied, "Oh, you want a latte." No, no, no! "Okay, just a single espresso." He was obviously very confused at this point, so he sent a young woman over to make my espresso. "You want that iced?" she asked. As this was Long Beach and it was warm outside, I decided to try an iced espresso.
"Sure, iced is fine," I said. "Um...you couldn't put a bit of steamed milk on that, could you?"
"Sorry, we aren't trained to do that," she replied. This baffled me: they've got a milk steaming wand on the espresso machine and they make cappuccinos and lattes and caramel macchiatos which have steamed milk -- but they aren't trained to steam a bit of milk for an espresso.
I got the impression these Einstein brothers are definitely no relation to Albert.
The barista then gave me a big plastic cup with a big shot of espresso over ice and pointed me to the milk and sugar counter. Okay, I thought, I'll make my own poor man's iced macchiato and add a bit of milk. It was actually not too bad, even though it was miles away from an espresso macchiato.
The bagels look quite good, though, and there are lots of bagel sandwiches on the menu including one with honey smoked salmon. There are also a selection of breakfast bagels and eleven different cream cheese shmears. But I have to admit I felt very strange sucking on a cube of ice while I was having an espresso. It was quite disorienting...but then suburban Southern California is intensely disorienting, like a vast museum of concrete.
Speaking of concrete museums reminds me of a recent e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend about museums:I was inspired by a special report in the Economist about the growth of museums around the world. Besides obvious contenders, like the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the article provided an interesting list of lesser known museums devoted to uncommon subjects. I can probably pass on the museums of tap water and toilets, but the Museum of Phalluses is a must-see. The Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory is in Rome; how did I miss that? The Burnt Food Museum in Arlington, MA might be worth a visit (and the acronym BFM is a nice coincidence with the sour beers from Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes in Switzerland I've enjoyed recently – in particular the "Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien", aged in Pedro Ximenez sherry barrels. The Icelandic Phallological Museum (in Reykjavic) claims "the world's largest display of penises and penile parts . . . . [including] 280 specimens from 93 species of animals includes 55 penises taken from whales, 36 from seals and 118 from land mammals, allegedly including Huldufólk (Icelandic elves) and trolls." Having seen the Bay Bridge Troll, now I want to see a troll penis. Let's hit the road! I am so glad that I had the chance to visit the Polyester Exhibit in San Francisco at the Museum of Modern Mythology back in the 1980s. I still occasionally spout the knowledge I learned from that tour (such as the fact that polyester starts off in white plastic pellets which are eventually processed into shirts decorated with brightly coloured parrots, palm trees, surfers, dancers, and pineapples.) What gems of trivial knowledge could one pick up at the Museum of Carrots or the Museum of Lunchboxes?