For 6 weeks I lived in Galliera Veneto, Padua, Italy, with an Italian family. It was a very small town, in the north of Italy–a completely different experience than 13 years prior when I had studied abroad in Rome.
In a different part of the country, under different circumstances and obligations, at a different point in my life, my life and adventures took a different course. I had done the big cities (Rome, Venice, Florence). Now, it was time for lesser known cities . . .
. . . like Cittadella!
Cittadella was a military outpost in the 13th century, so when you get off the train, you walk a bit, and within 5 minutes you’re in the heart and center of a walled city.
According to what I read and learned, it’s the only walled city in all of Europe! So, it’s a perfect stop to not just walk the entirety of the walled city, it’s enough time to check out the wall itself–that’s right, it has a fully functional walkway nearly 50 feet (15 meters) above ground.
Once you’re done walking the walls, checking out the shops, and feeling like a local, make a stop at Caffé Al Pozzo.
Every coffee shop, every coffee bar, is lovely. Every gelato place is excellent–you can get coffee there too. Nevertheless, I have a special place in my heart for Al Pozzo.
It’s small, but most bars in Italy are small. It has a lovely outdoor seating area, which on a sunny day must be magical; I was there during the winter, so I stayed indoors. The decor is a little fun, orange is one of my favorite colors. The coffee is superb; I got something different each time, and every time, it was delicious. Al Pozzo was also the first place I had brioche, a chocolate brioche, during my travels. This is heavenly. Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, the customer service was superb.
I truly appreciate anyone who patiently waits as I try to think of the right words, and fumble through my coins trying to figure out exact change. Al Pozzo does all of that–and more.
So, if you’re ever in Cittadella, stop by Al Pozzo–they’ll not only treat you well, but you’ll be able to enjoy some great coffee and brioche too.
I was recently asked what’s important to me when I go to a coffee shop. Obviously, great coffee is #1, but what else do I regularly note, observe, or look for?
Here are some things I note on my visits:
location (what is it close to, what can you do before or after your cup)
milk options (not all of us can handle dairy)
plug situation (so many of us go with devices, or go to work, so plugs are important)
clean restrooms (we are drinking coffee, we may need to use the bathroom)
parking situation (I’m originally from southern California, parking is important)
This is not everything, but these are the most direct and most common range of things I think about when writing and reviewing a place.
As I started this process, I realized that finding a small business, a local gem, meant sticking to a predetermined set of criteria as well as noting the peculiarities of a single place–what makes them particularly interesting or unique–like the abundance of seasonal drinks, the option to exchange books, or the chance to play board games. I’m sure as I continue researching and writing, as I grow as a coffee drinker and writer, I will expand and change my considerations, but for now this is it.
I have recently enjoyed some time in my hometown. Nearly three weeks of uninterrupted time has given me the chance to leisurely explore, and to find a new appreciation for my particular section of southern California.
On one particularly eventful day, I drove over to Chino Hills to visit Chino Hills State Park. In October, it happen to be 90 degrees, quite the unusually warm day to visit and hike around a park.
I enjoyed a nice breeze, some outstanding overlooks, and a short sweaty hike. It was a brief but beautiful visit. At its end, I really felt like something more than water, perhaps a good cup of coffee. Hello Google.
I had been researching local coffee shops since my arrival in southern California and I had stumbled upon Platform 909. It had peaked my interest but I hadn’t been close enough to make a stop. Turns out, it’s less than a mile from Chino Hills State Park!
Platform 909 is a Harry Potter-inspired coffee shop, which I did not realize until I entered it. For some reason I had focused on the 909 part, and fallen in love because this was my area code as a child. I just felt that it would be fun to go somewhere that was somehow honoring my original and specific Californian identity (someone from the 909).
Anyway, I walked in and was thrilled to see the sprinkles of Harry Potter decor. It made me think of Bad Owl, it made me feel like I had been transported to my other home: Las Vegas, Nevada.
The venue is relatively small, but there are plenty of options for seating (tall tables, small tables, a couple of cushioned chairs). The lighting is excellent, lots of natural light, which is my personal favorite. The parking is free and plentiful, which is important anywhere but certainly in southern California. Finally, the customer service is absolutely outstanding.
The woman answered all of my questions: they’ve only been open about a year, this is their only location, they serve tea along with coffee, and yes this a Harry Potter inspired place.
The barista also explained their Spanish latte.
Spanish Latte: coffee, condensed milk, a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Not overly sweet, not as much as you’d think; great hot or iced.
I decided to go for it–I purchased an iced Spanish latte.
It was delightful. The condensed milk was not overpowering, the drink had only a bit of sweetness. The cinnamon on top I immediately mixed into the drink, so when I was drinking I had hints of cinnamon here and there. The combination, the balance of condensed milk and coffee, was perfect for me. I had enough coffee and enough milk to enjoy my drink as well as get a dose of coffee/caffeine for the day.
If you’re in southern California, close to Chino Hills, make a stop at Platform 909, the coffee is magical.
So I went to Minneapolis, Minnesota–almost completely unplanned. This kind of haphazard and hopeful way of traveling needs to happen from time to time–spontaneity creates adventure, and adventure turns into fantastic stories.
The fantastic story: I went for romance, how idealistic and ridiculous of me. The happy ending: I fell in love with a city.
I’m a nerd at heart–history, architecture, and random non-tourist locales are my jam. I’m a different kind of tourist. I’m not one for the stereotypical per se. So my infatuation with Minneapolis is not just with the pristine view of the lakes, or the view of water everywhere, which for a desert lady was definitely a delight, nor is it with the Mall of America. The size of this mall is no doubt overwhelming, and it did have one of my favorite things in the world: an aquarium. I did partake in some of the stereotypical, I went to the Mall of America, but generally my adventures and sight-seeing is little more off the beaten path.
For instance, Minneapolis is home to the Basilica of Saint Mary–the first Roman Catholic basilica established in the United States. Architecture, art, and history are found in such places.
Not too far from the basilica is this wondrous park filled with art–apparently the Spoonbridge and Cherry pictured below is famous. I had never heard of it, but I loved it. In fact, the whole sculpture garden was beautiful.
In addition, Minneapolis is home to what is affectionately known as the most beautiful library in the state of Minnesota. Books are beautiful already, put them in place like Minnesota Central Library, and get ready to lose your breath. None of my pictures captured it well enough to post here, but trust me, it was stunning.
Now, in order to walk around the city, in order to keep up with the change of schedule, in order to adjust to a new plan, I needed some coffee. Good coffee. Great coffee.
Lucky for me, Minneapolis is home to quite a number of excellent coffee options.
Now, Penny’s–described as one of the Top 10 coffee places in the city– was my personal favorite discovery.
The outdoor seating looked wonderful for a nice spring day. I was there during the start of a hot humid summer so I stayed inside as the humidity was killing me. I’m used to dry heat and my curly hair needed a break.
It was good decision to sit indoors–inside was magnificent. There were some high seats right next to large windows, windows for walls, facing the street. Sip coffee, eat delicious food, and enjoy the view. There’s plenty to see in an active city.
There were also some cushioned seats just outside the proper cafe, nice seats for group discussion or sitting super cozy.
Now, what kind of coffee? I ordered a latte. I was originally going to request almond milk but asked about oat milk, as I had recently heard about its growing popularity. The barista was super friendly, they not only recommended it, they also explained how it was made and how it enriched the flavor. I asked a few questions, there was no line so I felt good about asking about their food and milk options; the barista was incredibly attentive and knowledgeable. A latte with oat milk–creamy, rich, absolutely delicious. Now, I ask for oat milk everywhere it’s available.
As for food, I opted for a sweet treat: a banana nutella crepe. Now, this item hit every note. The presentation of both items was impeccable. The combination of flavors was sweet but not overpowering. It was light but filling.
Penny’s is an absolute gem in a major city. It helped me start my first day alone, a day of solo travel, on the best footing possible. I cannot wait to go back to Minneapolis, go to Penny’s and have another crepe, and have some more coffee.
If you’re in the Twin Cities, make sure to check out Penny’s–and make sure to get some oat milk in that coffee. 😉
Coffee shops are avenues for personal development, relationship building, professional growth, educational pursuit, personal wellness, healthy living, neighborhood growth, and so much more.
Lately, I have chosen to look up from my screen, my comic book, and/or my journal. I have decided to listen, observe, and imagine what surrounds me. I wrote down what I saw on two separate occasions, and thought of all that I have seen in my experiences here, at this particular local favorite (Sunrise–if you’re interested):
a couple on their first date
a couple on their 1000th date
someone waiting for a date
a group of friends
a reader or bookworm–yes, with actual books
Coffee provides stimulation.
The coffee shop is a stimulating place.
If we just look up, if we take a moment to enjoy our surroundings we can all appreciate the amount of talent, potential, and love that comes alive in these very special spaces.
Go ahead, take a moment, and imagine the story behind the patrons around you.
Utah has a near monopoly on all the beautiful land in the United States . . . I think. It literally astounds me how much natural beauty is available in Utah. It’s ridiculous actually.
If you haven’t been to Utah, GO! There are so many active things to do. If you’re not active, there’s so much beautiful land to see.
St. George, Utah is situated about two hours away from Las Vegas. I heard from locals that it’s one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.
When I have driven to the Big 5 (Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon National Parks), St. George was always a layover. It was nice, small, clean, and a great place to stretch my legs before I continued to a park, or continued home. Recently, I decided to investigate St. George. Surely it had more to offer . . .
When you’re near Zion National Park and Bryce National Park, two of the most visited and famous national parks in the United States, it’s easy for people to miss something smaller.
St. George is home to Snow Canyon State Park. It has a mere $6 entrance fee, it’s an easy 4 mile scenic drive from one end to the other, and it’s quite simply gorgeous.
Snow Canyon offers a variety of trails, as I was recovering from an injury, I stuck to paved and easier trails.
I went at the beginning of March and it was the most perfect weather imaginable. As a hidden gem, there were hardly any people too, so there was a higher level of serenity and peace to enjoy during my visit.
I loved every moment of Snow Canyon. There were beautiful rocks and budding vegetation. For me, I was stunned to learn about lava tubes on one trail and then end up at a sand dune on another trail. What a mix of life!
As an experienced hiker, I had my backpack full of water and snacks to keep my energy up and keep moving from one trail to the next. Eventually though, it was time to stop. As I stated earlier, I was recovering from an injury and didn’t want the excitement to get to me, and I was starting to crave some post-nature fuel.
I drove away with a great sense of peace. I loved every moment of Snow Canyon, my love for Utah had somehow grown even more.
And, just when I thought this trip couldn’t get any better, I found Affogato.
Affogato is a local gem, just like Snow Canyon.
It’s a coffee truck, so seating is limited, just a few chairs outside. It’s a locally-owned business, a woman’s pride and dream come to life, and a relatively young business, so there’s an added element of beauty and joy in patroning Affogato. I have to say that something small, something uniquely belonging to a town, and a place that is someone’s dream makes the whole experience more worthwhile and special. You are more special and so is the coffee.
When I arrived at Affogato, I spoke with the baristas and received great direction. They had an interesting array of speciality drinks that peaked my interest, and I just couldn’t decide on my own what I should order.
The Feel Love Latte intrigued me because of one ingredient: molasses. I was further intrigued by my milk options–oatly milk?
The woman helping me with my order recommended the Feel Love drink (espresso, moscovato sugar, molasses, milk) based on a few likes and flavors I mentioned enjoying.
I ended up trying two drinks: Feel Love Moscovato Latte and an Americano. I also had a vegan brownie.
The Feel Love was a perfect choice for me. A smooth drink, flavorful but not too sweet. The Americano was good–I drank that on my way back to the hotel. The brownie I saved for dessert later. The brownie was outstanding; it was moist, rich, and I wish I had bought two.
Affogato was an outstanding experience. I loved the kind of coffee they offered, it was truly different. I appreciated the staff–they were incredibly friendly and helpful. I liked the idea of a coffee truck, when you’re surrounded by so much beauty, you need to sit outside and enjoy the view.
Go to Utah. It is incredibly beautiful, everyone I have ever encountered has been so kind, and there is truly a tremendous amount of natural beauty everywhere you go.
Start off with St. George, Snow Canyon, and Affogato–trust me, you’re gonna fall in love too.
Welcome to my favorite part of the world: the Bay Area.
I have a deep love, unconditional love really, for the Bay Area, specifically San Francisco and Berkeley.
I consider the Bay Area more than home, it is heaven on earth.
One day . . . when I’m a millionaire . . . I’ll live there. For now, I’ll just visit and encourage you to do so as well.
When you visit San Francisco, and I know you will, and you really have to, I recommend a stop at Home Cafe.
Enjoy the hills! Enjoy the outdoors! Take the Muni, get a Lyft, or walk over to Noriega St. and 20th Ave. It’s part of the experience.
It’s a small venue and there is no outdoor seating.
I went on a Saturday morning and had to take my food and drink to-go. It was packed–line out the door.
As the line moved, I noticed long tables, seats next to big windows, and a fun policy: no devices.
While no one is going to kick you out, I saw someone on a laptop, this establishment encourages conversation. I appreciate that, and it plays well into this idea of “home.”
Well, it’s not pictured because I took it to-go, and I opened it up, and I tasted it, and then I devoured it. I’m not sure how I breathed I ate so fast.
What did I get? Condensed milk toast.
I feel like San Francisco is the only place where toast could be marketed and purchased as a meal. I would say I fell for it (I bought toast?), but honestly it was an amazing dessert, or large pastry. So amazing, when I opened my container I couldn’t stop to take a picture or consider anything but shoving it into my mouth.
Now, this trip was made possible by one of my best friends who lives in San Francisco. She got some toast as well, but hers was the special of the day. We both shared some of our toast with her baby. Her baby loved every bite–every bite we managed to share with her. So that’s three great reviews on the toast–that means get some toast!
And what goes with toast?
If you look at reviews online, one thing people keep saying is: drinks are great for Instagram!
Well, as important as pictures may be to some, and I understand presentation is crucial, let’s face it: it needs to taste good.
And this is where Home Cafe won my heart all over again. I ordered their famous birthday cake latte. Presentation and Instagram worthiness: A+. Then, the first sip.
It was sweet, but not overdone. It had a creamy feel to it. It wasn’t exceptionally strong, but from what I gather it’s not meant to be a strong elixir of coffee or caffeine. It was just delicious.
I’m not a chugger of coffee, I usually allow it to cool for about 5 minutes and then I sip for a good 30 minutes. That did not happen. I drank this quickly. It was simply a perfectly balanced drink. Truly delicious. I craved it every day after our visit.
My friend? She got a coconut almond latte. She enjoyed her drink as well, but I think birthday cake latte wins. We did not share any coffee with her baby. We did however drink our coffee and eat our toast at the San Francisco Zoo. That’s right: the zoo!
Home Cafe has an intimate venue, Instagram worthy coffee, delicious coffee, insane toast options, and a great location–just four miles from the zoo.
So, with all of that in mind, the next time you’re in San Francisco: get some coffee, and toast, at Home Cafe–and if there’s nowhere to sit, or if you want to drink and eat with a pretty neat view, head over to the zoo! And when you’re done at the zoo, go back to Home Cafe–let me know about the rest of the toast!
When I refer to a “coffee shop,” I have a specific image and understanding.
For me, a coffee shop:
serves coffee (duh!)
serves breakfast items, specifically small items like pastries, cookies, croissants, and/or bagels
exudes coffee–as its main item served, I immediately see coffee, smell coffee, and hear the sounds of coffee
For me, a coffee shop is NOT:
serving a wide variety of drinks–it may have tea or chai or lemonade, but the overwhelming focus is coffee
serving meals–it may have a couple of food items, but there is no waiter/waitress taking my order
I have recently received a slew of recommendations for great coffee and future coffee shop posts. I will definitely try them, I can’t resist a good cup of coffee. I will consider all visits a possible post item too.
However, for the most part, when I research or consider coffee shops to travel to, partake, and share with you, I have a very specific set of criteria that I keep in mind and prioritize for my ventures.
Now you know my focus, but perhaps I should expand my definition. So, I ask: what do you define as a “coffee shop”?