The $13 cup of joe reviewed
Donna Beth Joy Shapiro tried out Spro's $13 cup of java. Her take in this guest review. Thanks, DBJS! LV
Full disclosure: I don't drink coffee. Not much anyway. Life is stimulating enough.
But I thought a $13 cup of coffee could not be ignored. I asked Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, a former cafe owner who knows coffee better than I, to have a cup with me. DBJS, who sometimes freelances for The Sun, volunteered to do a guest review, so I took her up on it.
So it's her review, but I was along for the ride. As were my kids, who probably splashed $4 out of DBJS's cup by jiggling that jiggly table. Don't worry. That'll come straight out of their 529 funds, reducing them by half.
If you really want my two cents, here it is. As a non-coffee drinker, not to mention non-synesthete, I can report that the coffee tasted like coffee. No rusting girders on my part. Nor did I pick up on condescension on the part of Spro's barista. I thought he was perfectly pleasant. There were some awkward moments, however, stemming from the fact that Spro believes cream and sugar dispensing should be left to the pros, and DBJS believes, as I suspect many customers do, that they're up to the task.
Now, finally, here's DBJS's review. LV
My calculator shows Spro's $13 tab for a 12 ounce cup of Aida's Grand Reserve coffee isn't unreasonable considering the beans cost four times as much as regular joe. Still, it's not a casual cup of coffee, so I was delighted to be someone's guest.
Spro is so serious about coffee that I was confused to learn, in answer to my query, that the beans for the $13 cup were roasted at the end of January and then frozen - though, I was assured, in a special manner (cryogenically?). But coffee is at its best for about three days after roasting and never after being frozen.
With milk, sugar, etc., conspicuously absent, I asked of their availability and was greeted by a few seconds of silence, then "I'm sure we can work something out" from the male barista.
We placed our order for two cups of the Aida's Grand Reserve, requesting their choice of the most appropriate of their seven brewing methods; one regular $2.50 cup of coffee for my friend's husband; and pastries for their two tots, which were delivered quickly.
Though Spro was empty but for us, things took a pause at that point, so I will, too, to say that I owned a cafe for 13 years and have definite ideas about how to serve customers and make them feel welcome. Also, as a cheesemaker, I approached this tasting with the benefit of much sensory evaluation training; coincidentally, my sensory mentor, a professor of food science, was formerly a professional coffee taster. While I am not, I have been a serious coffee maven for more than 30 years and am confident in my tasting abilities. It's important to note, however, that there's nothing right or wrong about likes or dislikes.
After a bit, the husband was served and when our coffees didn't arrive, we asked him to go ahead before his got cold. More than 10 minutes later, coffee was placed in front of me, but not my companion. I requested sweetner; its method of delivery was a heaping demitasse spoonful (enough for several mugs) of unidentified white stuff carried the length of the cafe with the barista's free hand cupped underneath. I declined to accept it as he offered to dump it into my cup. My coffee cooled considerably as we waited and waited for my friend to be served, during which time the unsteady table caused jolts of at least a dollar's worth of java from my cup.
Feeling incredibly rude, but not wanting to miss at least the lukewarm taste of this coffee, I took a sip and experienced a lot of cherry, some lemon, and a little chocolate. As a synesthete (Google it), I always look forward to tasting new things, and in that way this coffee did not disappoint, as the numbers 5 and 9 and the image of a horizontal rusting steel girder rushed about my head with each ever-more citrusy and chilly sip.But mostly what I experienced was coffee that tasted annoyingly of cherry.
Verdict: I'm glad the $13 didn't come from my pocket, and for reasons more than just the coffee. My friend's coffee finally arrived (she tasted what I tasted - minus the numbers, colours, and shapes) and next we overheard the male barista's f-word-laden conversation from his perch at the counter.
Even without children present, that's not acceptable. Not using a tray to serve customers is unprofessional. Making customers ask for cream, sugar, etc. in a coffee shop and then dispensing it (oh, excuse me - dosing it) with attitude or condensation is not acceptable. Not serving coffee to all members of a party at the same time, and worse, serving it at 10-15 minute intervals - not acceptable. And wobbly tables in a coffee shop?
I am thrilled to support locally-owned coffee bars and cafes. Baltimore City desperately needs more of them. I give Spro credit for offering this $13 coffee experience, though for that price, the beans' roasting date and storage method should be disclosed up front. But unless Spro's service becomes customer-friendly and more professional, all the intriguing brewing methods in the world (which it seems they have) probably won't make this a go-to place for regular folks and coffee geeks alike.