Thursday, January 22, 2009

Review: Caffeination

Logo from Caffeination's official website.

Although you're feeling refreshed after a month-long hiatus from exams, the inevitable craving for a caffeine jolt is bound to resurface before you realize it. Even if you're fortunate enough to consider yourself stress-free and well-rested, who would turn down a hot cup of joe as the winter chill could mean frostbite and hypothermia from a mere walk across campus?

Well, worth the trek downtown to 21st and Chestnut is Philly's latest indie coffee shop, which opened its doors in November: Caffeination. If the witty name isn't enough of a draw, consider owner Mitchell Cohen's impressive brewing experience; a Vice President of EB Games for more than 15 years, he is also a graduate of the American Barista and Coffee School of Portland, Oregon, and spent time scouring the world to choose what he considers "the perfect roast" to offer his customers. Cohen settled on Yirgacheffe from Ethiopia, from which he roasts a full line of cold and hot coffee and espresso drinks.

With an extensive range of syrups ranging from blueberry to butterscotch, including sugar-free flavors like almond and pumpkin not to be found at chains like Starbucks or even at the uber-refined La Colombe, Caffeination brews something for everyone. A favorite is the inventive "candy bar latte" made with chocolate and caramel. Some of the cold offerings, like the variety of frappucinos, are even made with real ice cream. Decadence aside, Caffeination is also stocked with breakfast and lunch edibles like fresh-baked muffins and bagels, sandwiches and paninis on a wide range of bread, veggie wraps, and salads. Always on hand, too, are coffee shop standards like chewy cookies, cakes and pies, which are tasty but nothing special.

Seeking a caffeine rush but not a java fan? Caffeination was designed entirely around the concept of caffeine, so Cohen also sells a slew of tea-based beverages including the Red Tea Espresso (the world's first, he proudly explains). And expanding even further beyond the offerings of a conventional coffee shop, Caffeination has display cases lined with all manner of caffeinated products from mints and gum to lollipops and chocolate coffee beans to soap and lip balm.

True to its calling, Caffeination's ambience is warm and inviting with ample room for laptop users (WiFi is free) and people watchers alike. The baristas are friendly and patient as you browse the impressive list of offerings, and the prices are definitely reasonable, especially in comparison to nearby coffee spots around Rittenhouse square. With its great location, expansive menu, comfortable vibe and imaginative twist on the coffee shop concept, Caffeination should be your destination the next time your numb fingers or slackened brain cells call for stimulation.

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