For an updated Medici review, see my 6/6/2011 post here.
Visited a couple of relatively new espresso places in Austin over the last few weeks. These places are sprouting like weeds - Little City and Ruta Maya blazed a path, JP's brought in the big guns, and now there's a slew of new shops - Epoch, Clementine, Medici, Erie Bean - making Austin distinctly Portlandish in it's coffee options. It's sort of the same way we were Palo Altoish in our dot com boom (and crash).
Caffe Medici is in Clarksville, West Lynn and 12th St, just a mile or so from downtown. It's a beautiful little shop, all rich woods and high ceilings. The building itself is an old Clarksville house complete with big paned windows and an open space that still suggests the individual rooms that were there before. The owner of the place is from JP's (the original Pacific Northwest level coffee spot in Austin), and they bring their coffee up from Cuvee Coffee in Houston. To top it off, they have what may be the prettiest espresso machine I've ever seen - a gorgeous cherry red La Marzocco FB70 with matching Swift grinder. A thing of beauty. So all of this matters not at all, or not much, if not for the coffee, and the coffee is really good. Cuvee makes a nice blend - it's bright with a sharp little winey bite at the front and really long finish. It's not exactly easy to drink - the sharpness is the opposite of the over-roasted mellow flavor that is the sort of running standard in corporate coffee - but I think it's extraordinarily good. Even better, the coffee blends effortlessly well with milk, which every barista there can actually steam. This is not a little thing - even good places fall down flat on this. But Medici just nails it. Latte Art. Good stuff.
Irie Bean is sort of the other side of the spectrum from Medici. The espresso is still obsessively good, but these guys are low budget and have an almost Flight Path Cafe level funk. It's in the little green shopping center on South Lamar, in the spot where Indie Pop used to be. Claim to fame: they also serve beer, and they've got a gorgeous back patio that includes, among other things, a bench made out of grass, and the back of a cement mixer truck turned into a playhouse. Like I said, funky. Irie Bean uses Texas Coffee Traders coffee, which is a much more conventional dark roast than Cuvee. It makes for a rich shot, though they tend to run a little long if you don't ask for them to keep to a short pull. Everything about Irie lacks precision but it has a lot of heart.
So there's two. Fancy and Dumpy. High budget and low brow. Both startlingly, surprisingly good, both raising the bar for what is rapidly becoming a really good coffee town.