La Colombe, Dilworth Plaza

The La Colombe logo with Penn Square in the backgroundLa Colombe is, according to my host, Greg of Coffee Guru App fame, something of a Philadelphia legend and it’s not hard to see why. Although it has branches around the country, including New York City, its home is in Philly. As well this chain of coffee shops, La Colombe roasts all its own beans in the Fishdown district of Philadelphia, not far from the centre, where it has a new flagship cafe.

At Greg’s recommendation, I visited the Dilworth Plaza branch, right by City Hall, smack bang in the centre of Philadelphia. La Colombe offers espresso, the obligatory bulk-brew, iced coffee and, for filter coffee, it uses the famous steampunk machines. Something that sets La Colombe apart from the crowd is an insistence on only serving one size of drink (8 oz). No buckets of milk here!

Interestingly, there’s no menu, which, according to Katrina, my barista, forces customers to engage with the staff. And vice-versa. Certainly in the case of my visit it worked really well!  There’s also no Wifi, another move designed to promote conversation and interaction. As much as I like my free Wifi, I can only applaud the sentiments behind this decision.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

La Colombe is in a corner plot in Dilworth Plaza, a soaring glass edifice directly opposite Philadelphia’s City Hall, which reflects beautifully in the store’s glass frontage. Stepping inside, you enter a similarly soaring space, enhanced by the generous windows on two sides. It’s probably about as tall as it is deep and not much wider. The marble-topped counter is directly ahead of you, a smooth concave crescent, curving towards you on the left and right. The main seating is to your left and right, leaving the space between door and counter completely free, an excellent set-up.

The tables, stools and benches are all of polished wood and come in varying shapes and sizes. The floor is also wooden, while the two walls are orange, yellow and cream (a combination which works surprisingly well). There is also a large mural on the right-hand side of the back wall. The ceiling, high above you, with its exposed air-conditioning vents and power conduits, is painted black. The atmosphere is completed by relaxing, ambient music.

You can sit at either of two clusters of tables at opposite sides of the store. Comfortable polished benches with large tables line the walls/windows, while smaller tables with stools are also dotted around. Finally, you can sit on one of three stools at the right-hand end of the counter by the water fountain and watch the baristas at work without getting in the way (you can guess where I sat!).

The counter itself is an expansive affair, uncluttered and topped in a gorgeous marble, its curves adding a certain style. The left-hand end holds retail bags of coffee and the cake selection. This is followed by the two steampunk machines, while the espresso machine is behind the counter, business-end facing the customers.

Not knowing what was on the menu, I ordered an espresso and was given the choice of Nizza (house blend) or the Fishtown blend, which is 70% Guatemalan/30% Ethiopian (there’s also decaf on a third grinder). This led to my first discussion with Katrina the barista, who informed me that the Fishtown was the brighter/fruiter of the two. Naturally, I went with the Nizza and was rewarded with an excellent espresso. It came in a shot glass and was just how I like it; smooth, lots of body and a hint of bitterness.

As an alternative to espresso, La Colombe also has two Steampunk machines, multi-purpose, all-singing, all-dancing programmable brewing machines which the manager Ben showed me around (see the gallery for further information). La Colombe uses them for its single-origin beans. The main offering is a Panamanian bean, with weekly rotating guests. Ben gave me a taste of the Papua New Guinea which was due on the next week. It was interesting, not too fruity, but with nice highlights.

For the record I came back on Monday for my last coffee of this leg of the trip before leaving for New York. This involved a 20-minute detour, but was well worth it. I felt I should try the Fishtown, which was nowhere near as unpleasant as I’d expected. In fact, I actually quite liked it, although it was still a little too fruity for my palette, but it didn’t have the sharp notes I’d feared and which make my face pull funny shapes.

1414 S PENN SQUARE • PHILADELPHIA • PA 19102 • USA +1 215 977 7770
Monday 07:00 – 19:00 Seating Tables with stools/benches
Tuesday 07:00 – 19:00 Food Cakes and pastries
Wednesday 07:00 – 19:00 Service Counter
Thursday 07:00 – 19:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Friday 08:00 – 19:00 Wifi No
Saturday 08:00 – 19:00 Power Limited
Sunday 08:00 – 19:00 Mobile N/A
Chain Yes Visits 8th March 2014

Liked this? Then take a look at the Coffee Spot Guide to Philadelphia for more great coffee Spots.

You can also see what I made of all the other branches of La Colombe that I’ve visited.

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