By: Jason Perlow
While there seems to be a Starbucks mermaid or a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner, specialty espresso drinks are now all the rage in South Florida, with independent coffee shops opening up in every town demonstrating their commitment to the art of the barista and coffee roasting.
Coral Springs is no exception, and we now have two such places to call our own – with two very different concepts and target customers.
Lady and the Mug
This may be the most serious coffee shop in Broward County, let alone Coral Springs. Prior to opening the store just over a year ago, owner, Aimee Tarte, attended a professional barista school in Portland, Oregon and pulls shots just like the pros in the Pacific Northwest.
This may be her first business, but at the level of excellence this shop is operating at, you’d think she had been at this for years. The store is a member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America which has very strict standards regarding roasting, shot measurement and shot timing. And it shows.
The coffee is sourced from Per’La in Miami which is a boutique roaster to the top restaurants in the city. The machine in use is a La Marzocco Linea PB, which is top of the line for commercial Italian espresso systems.
The shop also offers drip, nitro cold brew, “keto” and pour over coffee, and it was the first shop in town to do so.
Coffee is medium roasted for the store to Aimee’s specifications and the flavors are perfectly in balance between acidic/fruity and earthy. There are no oily, incinerated black beans here like you will find at large chains like Starbucks.
The basic $5 latte – which is always my drink of choice when evaluating a new coffee place – is perfectly executed and the milk art is spectacular, often decorated with a ring of little hearts.
It’s a traditional 12 oz size served in a wide ceramic latte mug, which keeps it nice and hot. You can absolutely get it with any choice of milk you want (including non-dairy options) and add-on flavorings, but to fully appreciate the technical prowess of how they make it here, you really need to order like I do with whole milk and no extra sweetener.
The whole milk when steamed has a natural sweetness and the extra fat content carries the rich coffee flavors.
Despite the super-meticulous steps Aimee and her staff have taken to offer the best coffee drinking experience, it’s not all about the serious in the technical execution. The shop has a whimsical, backyard patio-like aesthetic, clearly tailored to the ladies who lunch and telecommute crowd.
Which should not stop macho highly caffeinated guys like myself from getting their triple espresso and quad shots here. Or for real men to get their quiche – which I often do. All the bakery products made in small batches by a local pastry chef for the store, are truly excellent and feature a flaky French pastry crust made with real butter.
You’d be remiss if you didn’t at least share a few bites of Quiche Lorraine with an appreciative friend.
The store, which has a beer and wine license, also offers Happier Hour Mondays-Fridays, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with $3 beer, wine, sake, and sangria. On Saturday and Sunday, they have bottomless mimosas for $15.
The accommodations can be tight quarters sometimes because the shop can get extremely busy, given that it has garnered such a successful following and has a prominent location in a busy professional/retail complex in downtown University Drive. It has also been involved quite a bit in community activism and employs local students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
While the store does get crowded during peak hours, the service is always prompt, extremely friendly and orderly. While you can get your coffee to go this is clearly a place to sit down and enjoy and relax, which is what I encourage you to do.
If it’s nice out, I suggest taking a seat in front of the store where you can enjoy your coffee al fresco. If you are lucky enough to score a seat at one of the benches or one of the comfy chairs you’re in for a cushy treat. This is the kind of coffee shop where you want to wind down, read a book, and converse with old friends and to make new ones.
He-Brews Specialty Coffee
It’s difficult to call He-Brews just a coffee place. If you do, you basically miss out on the entire premise of what the owner wants to do with this business – which will resonate with those who can identify with the mission, and will not resonate with others.
Let’s start with the location. It’s one of the shops on the periphery of the Coral Square Mall which are primarily vacant retail and professional offices.
I think prominent signage may help, but in Coral Springs, location is everything.
In terms of aesthetics, it has a Seattle or San Francisco coffee-house, industrial kind of vibe. It’s an open space, with seating for about 45 people. It’s a bigger shop than Lady and the Mug.
The seats are all of the cushion-less metal stool type. The bench seating has no cushions either, so parking your rear here for more than fifteen minutes, let alone an entire rainy afternoon to read your book could be a challenge.
Then there is the name. Oy, the name.
With a name like “He-Brews” I had thought it was a funny take on being Orthodox Jewish or Israeli, perhaps even a business owned by a member of the local Chabad congregation.
As it turns out, they aren’t members of the tribe. It is, in fact, a reference to the fundamentalist Christian owner’s favorite book in the Bible — Hebrews.
As per the prominent signage on the front, with verbiage confirming it from the Old Testament, it closes on Sunday in observance of the Christian Sabbath, like Chick-Fil-A does.
Per the shop’s website, the mission of the store is to “Create unity within church organizations and to present the Gospel message in motion to the community.”
Christian rock music is played prominently in the background, and the store invites Christian bands to play live music during the evenings and weekends. So if this is the kind of vibe you are seeking, as a casual alternative to church-going and to get a spiritual experience with your caffeine, this could be a good venue for you.
The signature drink of the store is a horchata, which is usually a chilled Mexican and Central American non-dairy drink made with jicaro seeds ground with rice and spices such as cocoa, cinnamon, sesame, nutmeg, tiger nuts and vanilla.
He-Brews’ version has cold brew coffee added. It’s very sweet and the coffee is not particularly noticeable – kids and those with a very sweet tooth looking for a coffee alternative might enjoy it more than a coffee purist such as myself.
Let’s get to the actual coffee. No expense was spared on the equipment, they are using a dual E61 group Rocket which is certainly a high-performance Seattle-style espresso machine.
The coffee, however, I am conflicted about. While not a blonde, it’s very light on the medium side of the roast which brings out the acid, or the brightness. Most American-style espresso blends are roasted medium or dark, which brings out the earthier flavors in coffee. With coffee roasting, it’s all about balance.
The blend (which the shop has roasted for it custom offsite) apparently has Ethiopian in it. It’s not a coffee varietal you see commonly used in espresso, it tends to be in pour-over coffee with a darker roast profile due to its very acidic brightness.
He-Brews serves shots in miniature glass mason jars which look adorable but do not retain heat very well so the shot goes cold quickly. So sip it up quick.
The latte is six ounces for $5.50. Given that Lady and the Mug is serving 12 oz lattes just down the street for less, this seems quite excessive even before you even get into add-on flavorings. This is a basic benchmark espresso drink that every specialty shop needs to get right and price accordingly.
I’m big on independent coffee shops and I prefer to go to them rather than the big chains. Coral Springs needs more businesses like these. But whose bean reigns supreme? Our winner is Lady and the Mug – for practicing the art at a very high (perfectionist) level with its welcoming and quirky atmosphere.
Lady and the Mug
Located at 3111 N University Dr Suite 111, Coral Springs, FL 33065. 954-323-0110
Monday through Friday 7:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Saturday 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Sunday 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
He-Brews Specialty Coffee
Located at 921 N University Dr Coral Springs, FL 33071. 954-507-1228
Monday through Saturday 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Sunday – Closed
Jason Perlow is a long-time foodie who spent 20 years in the New York City and New Jersey metro areas reviewing restaurants for The New York Times and his personal food blog, Off The Broiler, which he started in 2006 and ran for ten years. He is also the founder of eGullet, a popular food discussion site and not-for-profit organization that was formed in 2001, which was featured on Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” cable television program.
As a technologist by profession, he writes the Tech Broiler blog for CBS’s ZDNet web site. He has been a Coral Springs resident since moving to South Florida in 2012.
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