Chestnut Hill Coffee Company Review

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The People

Chestnut Hill Coffee Company in Philadelphia, PA is the work of two entrepreneurs who have a heart for Philly and a heart for “off the chart” quality coffee. I left the Philly produce market for my 17 mile trip over to Chestnut Hill not knowing what to expect. I knew that John Hornall was the master mind behind the CHCC and because of that I had very high expectations. I mean, after all, he was the partner John Sanders at the well beloved and respected Hines Public Market Coffee for over 25 years. They are legends on the West Coast. If you are in a coffee shop of any quality standards on the West coast of the USA and say the name John Hornall or Hines Public Market Coffee there is no doubt people are going to know the name. But, on the East coast it is different. Over here we have to drive hours between quality shops. Many times shop owners and baristas are so involved in what they are doing they can’t keep up with what is going on down the street, much less 10 hours away in Philadelphia, New York City, D.C or Atlanta. But, even so, John is taking his West coast reputation and building on it in Philly’s most affluent neighborhood: Chestnut Hill. The owner, Sultan Malikyar, decided to open the shop after spending time in the restaurant business and then spending some time traveling – eventually falling in love with the Chestnut Hill area. And thus Sultan and John found the location and started what is fast becoming a revolution in the Philly coffee scene (read more here on the background).

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Sadly, I must say, I didn’t get to meet John or Sultan. What can a guy expect, after all it was a lazy, cold Sunday evening and everybody deserves a break! I did get to spend some fantastic time with Brian, Ben and Mikaela who were in the rhythm of a fast paced coffee bar.

Manning all stations!

Ben was not there very long, as his shift was coming to a close. But, he was helpful and we had some great conversation. Brian has the gift of yab! I do too, so don’t take that as a slam! He really is a great conversationalist and he absolutly loves coffee. He told me the position came open and he really couldn’t see how he could personally afford to bypass the opportunity. It wasn’t the money, as I think he does well enough doing Spanish translation services for the government, as much as it was the experience of being around the coffee shop and the education he would be provided. Mikaela’s father owns a coffee shop near downtown Philly, but she too felt this was an opportunity she couldn’t afford to miss. Working with John Hornall and drawing on his experience is worth giving some things up on a personal level.

The Coffee

Absolutly Perfect

After all, it is about the coffee. The espresso was smooth with no rough edges, at all. It had hints of pepper, cinnamon and was just a delight. They afforded me a pound to take home for the Faema to devour where my wife “likes” Toscano espresso, but nothing really else. She would rather drink a capp or a latte than to drink anybodies espresso strait. But, she had a shot of the espresso blend and she finished it with a smile saying that it was “truly the best espresso I’ve ever had.” Well, John, I love you guys, but I am just too much of a fan of Toscano to say that, but it was surely a top three experience. It really was satisfying and unexpectedly so. Unexpectedly because I am so freak’n picky! It takes a lot to satisfy me. That is a good thing, isn’t it?

The cappuccino she made was interesting. She asked me up front “We make an Italian style cappuccino with cinnamon on top. Is that what you would like to have?” And I responded with my mouth watering – Yes!

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And it was perfect. Just right. The foam was thick and full and the cinnamon was just the perfect touch. She has the texture right on the capps and lattes, no question there. The espresso really stands up nicely through the foam – a biggy with me, personally. I should taste the espresso distinctly and that I did taste. The staff is trained well and there is good consistency in the cup from one shot to the next and one espresso drink to the next.

espresso

If I must rate the Coffee, I must rate it a 4.5 out of 5. The only reason I am not going to call a “5” is because, me personally, I like more of a chocolate taste in my espresso – so it is really out of opinion.

If I must rate the staff, I must rate it a 5 out of 5. I mean come on, this is a John Hornall trained staff! I have a weird way of doing this rating in my head, nothing scientific, I guess. I try to think of their heritage (or where they get their training {the gang at Octane in ATL is a good example}). I then try to think about their consistency among the staff; Is there an steady and consistent training level among the staff. I try to detect the staff’s passion and I try to figure out if they are constantly trying to network with other baristas in other places to make themselves better. 5 out of 5 is right at Chestnut Hill Coffee!

The Vanguards of Espresso in Philly

The Ambiance

I love it. I love the “metal” feel of Octane. I like the “rough around the edges feel” of Murky Coffee, but this is what I would do if I had the money! 🙂 I have a pic on my Flikr of a real nice place in my home town. I took that pic on Christmas Eve and it was all dark and quite, but it is truly very comparable to the Chestnut Hill shop. The folks at Chestnut Hill have struck gold when it comes to a building that you can have almost limitless options with the ambiance of the shop. From the imported stained glass behind the bar, to the great drop lighting and up stairs seating that is just warm and cozy – I am in love with this place.

Upstairs SeatingStained glassLever Action!Downstairs Seating

A rating of 5 out of 5 on the ambiance.

A total rating of 4.83 – that is dang near perfect!

I hope you enjoyed the review and as time goes along more will be done of other fantastic shops on the East Coast and Mid West. For more pictures of my trip to Chestnut Hill, check out my flicker set. And I would like to say thanks to the staff for letting me waste their time! 🙂

3 responses to “Chestnut Hill Coffee Company Review

  1. Mr. Chaser,

    You are too kind. Thanks for the spiffy write. I am glad your time here was pleasant, the pics are awsome!!

    Next time your around, make sure somebody calls me so I can get my toosh back to the shop so i can meet you in person.

    Again, Truly thanks for the kind words.

    Cheers!!

  2. kool, I will come your shop coming soon i will meet you

  3. I visited today. Based on several write-ups, I had high expectations. I didn’t come to drink at the time, but to pick up a pound to drink at home. All in all the whole experience felt more Starbuckish and less CHCO. Maybe the house is more about serving on the spot,a comment I can also make about many other coffee houses. Personally, I’m a brew at home person, and when I inquired for the list/description of available beans, I was simply pointed to a batch of bean bags on the counter.
    The web site has no descriptions of their roast, blends either, and the site encourages one to stop in. Noting a bag of Sumatra up front, I selected it and asked for it ground to my specs. As a fan of this bean, and short on any kind of description of the other offerings, I figured it was a good place to start. I was asked if I had any questions on the beans at this point, but declined. Since it was already late in the afternoon and I had someplace to go, I declined the complementary cup. I haven’t brewed any of it yet , all I can say is that I it’s going to have to be damn good to live up.

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