With my Bedouin-like lifestyle, this means I visit a lot of coffeehouses, which also means I sample a lot of coffee drinks. I have, therefore, garnered a few favorite caffeine dens on my travels: Macy's in Flagstaff, Tomboy Coffee Roasters in Telluride, Panikin in San Diego, Tartine in San Francisco (OK, it's actually a bakery, but it still makes the list).
My criteria, besides wellmade drinks from quality beans, include exceptionally tasty, housemade baked goods, a cozy, welcoming atmosphere and comfortable seating, lots of light, free Wi-Fi, and a funky, personal vibe that defines the attitude of the place: good music, creative decor, dogs-welcome policy, works displayed by local artisans.
The top spot on my list, however, goes to Java on Fourth in Ketchum, Idaho. Located a few miles from Sun Valley in the bucolic Wood River Valley, the little town Hemingway's former stomping ground and mountain scenery are hard to beat. On a recent visit, I stopped by Java one morning to check my e-mail. Although it was only 7:30 a line was already snaking its way along the pastry case, which gave me ample time to peruse the buttery, seasonal scones and muffins studded with nuts and fruit. It also gave me time to notice that almost every single person in front of me was ordering in what appeared to be a local's lingo: "One bowl, whip," "Three bowls, one no whip," "Bowl to go." I hate looking like a tourist, so when I arrived at the front of the line, I affected what I hoped was the look of a local. "Uh, bowl for here, and, uh, one Sunrise muffin. Um, what's a bowl?"
It turned out that a "bowl" is the "Bowl of Soul" (yes, it's actually a trademarked term). It's owner Todd Rippo's genius creation of a handcrafted ceramic bowl filled with Java's house blend espresso and coffee (90 percent organic fair trade, Peruvian, African, and Jamaican beans from micro-roaster Cafe Moto in Rippo's hometown of San Diego, and roasted to a depth that Rippo calls "a tribute to the original Peet's, in Berkeley), Mexican hot chocolate, and a landslide of freshly made, unsweetened cream whipped to the consistency of near-butter, garnished with a fragrant dusting of cinnamon.
If it sounds simple, or not even especially original, you're correct. It's the melding of ingredients, however; the way the spark of cinnamon dances against the tongue when offset by the bitter undertones of espresso and chocolate, the way the buttery cloud of whipped cream slowly melts into the steaming liquid, and the way all these textures and flavors combine and nudge gently against your lips as you heft the bowl with both hands to take a drink. Nirvana in a bowl.
Rippo owns two other Javas in Boise with his wife, Lisa. The first opened in 1991.
"This place is magical," he says. "There's such an array of activities to do here, and with Java, I wanted to create a home away from home. We get everyone in here: grandparents, tourists, construction workers, celebrities. Celebrities wait in line, too."
The first thing that struck me about Java was how easy it would be to just sink into one of the tacky-but-cool patchwork leather easy chairs and wile away the day. Located in a tiny, converted house with ochre and saffron walls, the decor consists of flea market odds and ends, with loads of family photos of the Rippos and friends, including shots of Todd with Keith Richards, who has a drink named after him (a lethal four-shot espresso mocha).
Rippo's sister, Annie, creates the baked goods, which are stellar the aforementioned Sunrise muffin is loaded with millet, sunflower seeds, shreds of carrot, and lightly brushed with a glaze, and tastes too moist and decadent to seem healthy.
Annie has also created a house granola, and a full menu of creative egg dishes and sandwiches is also available. In keeping with Java's slogan, "Wake up and Live," several of the menu options are protein intensive, appealing to the region's uber-active populace.
Now that Ketchum has a couple of ubiquitous chain coffeehouses, I asked Rippo how the competition was affecting business.
"The closer corporate comes to us, the more crowded we get," he admits. Which kind of sums up what's so charming about the Wood River Valley as a whole.
-Java on Fourth, 191 Fourth St., Ketchum (208) 726-2882.
Laurel Miller is a freelance writer, cooking teacher and owner of The Sustainable Kitchen. Contact her at http://www.sustainablekitchen.com.