Charleston Coffee Drinkers Not as Generous as Reported

shakeratoIf you’re patting yourself on the back in response to a study showing South Carolinians are the nation’s most generous coffeehouse tippers, you can put your hand down now. this week released an analysis of tipping data provided by payment service Square; according to the numbers, the national average tip on food and drink is 16.5 percent. But baristas do better as a rule, receiving an average gratuity of 18 percent. In South Carolina, the figure is a whopping 23 percent (although only 45 percent of customers paying via Square leave a tip.)

By comparison, the average tip in Hawaii — the state with the stingiest coffee drinkers — is 15 percent. Continue reading

Amelia Claire’s Selling Tea Sugars

teasugarWhen Amy Bearden came across molded sugar cubes from Japan in a mail-order catalog, she immediately thought, “I don’t know why I can’t do them myself.”

Bearden, the owner of Amelia Claire’s bakery in West Ashley, is now selling the “tea sugars” for $5 a dozen. Although she’s keeping a stock of sugar cubes in her shop, Bearden is also willing to customize the cubes’ shapes and shades for special occasions.

“They’re really pretty,” says Bearden, who’s thus far sculpted the cubes into flowers and leaves. Continue reading

New Coffee Shop Coming to Citadel Mall

citmallHere’s one possible upside to the rapid emptying out of Citadel Mall: There’s now more room for first-time food entrepreneurs.

Jeanine Hounam of West Ashley is next month opening a coffee counter alongside Bath & Body Works. Neen’s Beans will feature espresso drinks and locally-sourced baked goods.

The tenant count at the 33-year old Citadel Mall has dropped from a peak of 135 retailers to fewer than half that number. Its previous owners last year lost the property in a foreclosure auction.

Dead malls appeal to restaurateurs who can’t afford to open elsewhere. When Town Center Mall in Fort Worth flagged, owners transformed it into La Gran Plaza de Fort Worth: Food vendors there include the decidedly unchained El Chito, El Torito Pupuseria and Elotes, Etc. And outside of Vancouver, B.C., Crystal Mall in Burnaby has evolved from a traditional shopping mall to an Asian-style food hall, serving up the area’s best Hainanese chicken rice and soup dumplings.

The Music Farm’s Bar Now Serving Non-Alcoholic Gelato and Coffee

The mercury supposed to soar into the 70s this weekend, which should help create a warm welcome for The Music Farm’s new gelato program.

Starting this week, the live music venue is serving three flavors of Paolo’s gelato for $3 a scoop. Although the menu will change every few weeks, the varieties currently on offer are riso, mocha and limoncello.

The Music Farm is also now serving espresso, priced at $2 for a single shot; $3 for a double shot and $4 for an affogato, or Italian ice cream float. Continue reading

In Time for Cyber Monday, King Bean Roasters Puts Its Joe Online


Leigh Webber Photography

A 20-year old coffee company with Seattle roots sounds like just the kind of company which would have jumped online back when most computer users had AOL e-mail addresses.  But King Bean Coffee Roasters, which supplies coffee to many of Charleston’s top restaurants, didn’t offer online ordering until today.

“When talking recently with a prominent West Coast roaster, she couldn’t believe that we had never before sold our coffee online,” says Katie Weinberger, whose husband, Kurt, founded the company after finishing up a Navy stint in the Pacific Northwest. “We joked that we built our business backwards by today’s standards.”

King Bean three years ago launched a limited local retail line, available in Whole Foods’ South Carolina stores and smaller gourmet shops. The company recently acquired a Petroncini roaster which Weinberger says provides the flexibility and consistency needed for increased production. Continue reading

Nephew of Taiwanese Bubble Tea Maker Brings Boba to Charleston



Tapioca fans may be impatiently awaiting the opening of Terry Hung’s downtown bubble tea shop, but Hung’s relatives are even more anxious for Tapio to start serving soon.

“Our whole family, they’re pretty superstitious, and they’d like to make sure we open before the New Year,” Hung says.

Hung wouldn’t reveal the exact date which his relatives have selected as the most auspicious day for Tapio to open its doors, but says “we’re pushing as fast as we can.”

Although Hung and his brother were raised in Atlantic City, N.J., Hung’s extended family is still in Taiwan, where his aunt runs a bubble, or boba, tea shop. Bubble tea — a late-1980s Taiwanese invention which may have evolved from a teahouse staffer spontaneously pouring rice pudding into her iced tea — is a highly competitive business in Taiwan, but Hung says his aunt’s edge is correctly-cooked tapioca balls. Continue reading

Charleston Starbucks Inch Closer to La Boulange Pastry Rollout

Classic CroissantStarbucks isn’t saying when its new pastry line will reach Charleston, but local staffers suspect the switchover’s imminent: According to a barista at the chain’s International Boulevard location, the store last week received new warming equipment.

The coffee giant in April rolled out La Boulange products at its stores in San Francisco, which birthed the bakery responsible for the upgraded cookies, cakes and croissants. The pastries are now available in Seattle, Portland, Phoenix, Chicago and New York, with Boston’s stores set to start carrying the sweets and savories this month.

Starbucks last year bought La Boulange for $100 million with the intention of elevating the quality of its baked goods. “Starbucks has 40 million customers per week in America,” La Boulange’s owner Pascal Rigo this spring told the San Francisco Chronicle. “How do you scale that? How do you bring great product to that many people?” Continue reading

Boba Tea Spotted in Summerville



My recent post about the difficulties of finding bubble tea in downtown Charleston drew plenty of sympathetic e-mails from fellow boba tea drinkers. But my latest correspondent had a lead on where to find a quality version of the souped-up beverage: “Summerville, of all places,” she writes.

According to Phillis Mair, Single Smile Cafe is serving bubble tea with all the fixings: “They have popping beads, jelly and traditional chewy tapioca,” she reports.

Mair and her husband started searching for bubble tea after first trying the drink in Atlanta, and the Singe Smile version so satisfies their cravings that they’ll now plan day trips around a boba run.

Since the Single Smile tip’s just a few hours old, I haven’t yet had the chance to make good on it. But I’d love to know if other boba fans are equally smitten with what’s served at Single Smile. In the meantime, I was thrilled this weekend to discover that McCrady’s makes a cocktail with St. Germain boba: The gin drink‘s a tad pricier than the average tea shop slurp, but it’s marvelous.

Black Tap Coffee Gets Hot New Equipment For Brewing


Roland Tanglao

As Black Tap Coffee acknowledged in a recent tweet, yesterday’s debut of a new coffee dripper is likely to leave non-obsessives cold.

But for folks with strong opinions about how to construct the perfect cup of pour over coffee, the shop’s switch to Kalita Wave – a piece of equipment pioneered in Japan – is cause for celebration. Already popular in hardcore coffee circles, the Wave’s reputation skyrocketed in April after Erin McCarthy used the gadget to win the 2013 US Barista Championship.

Black Tap’s Ross Jett says the victory helped secure the Wave a spot behind his café’s counter.

“With the recent success of the Kalita Wave at the world Brewer’s Cup, we decided to get one to try it out,” Jett e-mails. “Also, one of our baristas runs a pop-up bar at The Elliotborough Mini Bar and has been using them there.”

Pour-over coffee works exactly like it sounds: Water is poured over freshly-ground beans in a cone. Its acolytes say pour-over, or hand-brewed, coffee is cleaner, fresher and more aromatic than the joe produced by a French press, espresso maker or automatic drip unit, like the one you might keep in your kitchen. Pour-over tends to get plenty of attention in summertime, because it’s the recommended method for making iced coffee. But Black Tap Coffee, like many serious coffeehouses around the world, is exclusively pour-over year-round.

The simplicity of the process, though, means it’s nearly impossible to conceal problems created by faulty equipment.

“For the first couple weeks we opened, we used the Hario V60s,” Jett recalls. “I could expound on the many reasons why, but the V60s are terrible brewers.”

After junking the V60s, Black Tap used Bonmac two-hole ceramic drippers, which Jett credits with making “a great cup.” The Kalita Wave, though, has drawn near-universal praise for its flat-bottomed design, which is supposed to create a more complex coffee.

“The consistency and fool-proof nature swayed us to make a permanent switch here at Black Tap,” Jett explains.