We pit eight local (or, in the case of It’s A Grind, locally owned franchise) coffee houses head to head, comparing their Iced Coffees in an often heated competition (see what I did there?). While taste is a matter of, well, you know, in the end we came out with a couple of clear winners whose balanced and round flavors appealed to everyone, several very close contenders whose strong personalities divided the group into love or hate, and a room full of hummingbird-people starting 50 different projects a minute.
I know what you’re thinking, “Where the hell is Coffee Ranch?” It’s right across from In Motion, where that weird Christian place, Higher Grounds used to be. This was the clear favorite in every round, landing in everybody’s top two no matter what direction their taste preferences leaned. It was generally described as well rounded, nutty, with hints of caramel and dark chocolate.
It’s A Grind
If the name seems oddly familiar, you may recognize It’s A Grind as the only coffee they drank on Showtime’s Weeds. For people who prefer a very mild coffee that drinks easily, speaks softly, and has subtle notes of nuts and chocolate, this was a very pleasant and inoffensive choice—though some found it too much so. This locally owned franchise is located way the hell out on Eaton and Esplanade, but they’ll reward your journey with a GINORMOUS 36oz of smooth iced coffee for less than three dollars.
People generally liked its sweet smell and fruity, extra-dark chocolate taste, although some people just prefer a deeper, more roasty coffee. Some tasters described notes of caramel or citrus, while others cited nuts and tart berries. Overall it was a refreshing and very summery brew, and would be a great choice for people with a sweet tooth. Located Downtown on 7th and Broadway.
If you like a dark French roast, this is the one. People who liked it described it as earthy, roasty, and bold without being too bitter, although for some it was just a little too French-roasty for a cold drink. At first sip you’ll get a quick sour punch, followed by the melting bitterness typical of the French. Has Beans has been roasting here in town since 1976, and have locations on Humboldt Ave and Downtown on 5th and Main.
This coffee scored surprisingly high for a coffee brewed hot and then chilled, which is a testament to the difference the quality of beans and the care in preparation can make. Unfortunately you can’t avoid that slightly stale aftertaste that comes from the hot brewing method. Overall it was a smooth and pleasant coffee, described as nutty and somewhat caramelly. Please start cold brewing, Mondos! Located on Nord Ave across from Safeway.
This was possibly our most polarizing coffee, splitting our tasters into staunchly opposite camps. The flavor is extremely bold, distinctly smoky and rather tart. For the people who liked it, those characteristics were the stuff dreams were made of, and for the detractors those same elements left them suspicious and put off. Basically if you like a strong personality and a uniquely smoky taste, this is your coffee. Located Downtown on 2nd street.
Much like Naked Lounge, Empire’s brew was a bit of a punch to the mouth. For some, the extremely tart and bright flavor was very enjoyable, and for others it was too much. One taster described it as being like surprise butt sex: a shock at first, but then you get into it. All in all, it was agreed that this would be a great sometimes-coffee in a smaller dose, and seemed to be of a higher concentration, packing plenty of caffeine per ounce. Located in the train car at the depot on 5th and Orange.
The unfortunate aspects of the hot brewing method came through all too strongly in this one. The high points included a lemony tartness and bright flavor (though many said too bright), but then the stale aftertaste came in—described by one of our panelists as a blend of pool water and the ash hit of a pipe. Cal Java does have convenience on its side, boasting locations on East Ave, Esplanade, Notre Dame Blvd, inside the Butte College Chico Center, on the Butte College Main Campus, and on 8th/9th street, but they should seriously consider switching to cold brew.