Tacoma Coffee – The Mandolin Cafe

The first entry into my quest to find good coffee here in Tacoma, WA, and generally anywhere else I go. I’ll keep a running page of all the shops I go to here with links back to these stories.

First up is The Mandolin Cafe, located on 12th Ave. just up the street from Union here in Tacoma.

It’s a good atmospheric place, lot’s of tables, plenty of room to spread out if you are studying or working. A nice fireplace with a few comfy couches around it. Even a conference room type setting that can be reserved for meetings and the like. Art for sale surrounds you on the walls, available for purchase. All in all a good place for atmosphere. In fact that’s what initially drew me in.

The coffee is roasted in-house by the owner, AJ Anderson, under the label Vahalla Coffee. Seems a good guy, always in the store when I’ve dropped by, working on roasting and picking up small things around the store like owners tend to do.

Let’s get down to the coffee though. The store’s baristas make up the coffee on a 3 group La San Marco machine. I’ve never been a fan of the machine, working on one at The Kickstand Cafe, but it does have the ability to make decent coffee. Does it here? Short answer: no.

The americanos I’ve recieved have tended to be either overextracted, or way under. Shot times are kept short it seems usually, and they seem to miss out on pulling just the right shot. I’d like to play around and really taste what their espresso roast is like. With their light colored and thin crema, it just leaves me wanting in their preperation. The barista’s have been trained, but seemingly only a bit.

As for their milk based drinks, my wife gives their foam two thumbs down. We’ve given it a few go’s, as we plan to do for others, just to see if it was a particular barista. Nope. Foam tends to be bubbly and thin, and not much up there when a drink is poured. I will say though from the few sips I have had though, the espresso is strong, and is not overpowered by the milk.

It all comes down to this: I continue to go there because of the large table seating area in which I can spread out whatever I am working on at the moment, certianly not for their coffee. I’ve even started to not get coffee and get tea (of which they have a very nice selection, and with the ability to get pot’s of it as well, so more bonus points). In the end, it’s a place to study, work, and bring a larger group of friends or family to because of the room. Stay for the space, and enjoy your coffee, but I know there has to be something better out here in Tacoma. I just have to find it!

4 thoughts on “Tacoma Coffee – The Mandolin Cafe”

  1. BA–I am starving out here in the midwest for anything even remotely similar to the Mandolin Cafe–despite the quality of the coffee. I sure miss Zoka, Ladro, Splendido, Lighthouse, etc…

    An interesting thing at our local Costco–they roast beans in house. There is literally a commercial sized coffee roaster inside the warehouse. The beans are not bad–they roast a handful of varietals and a few blends. So far my favorite preparation is the Costa Rican beans and a french roast. JB and I bought a Capresso coffee machine that I have fine tuned to make really good drip coffee (the Capresso brews a full pot in under 8 mins at the optimum temp.)

    I had the best Americano here since I left the PacNW last week. Peets coffee opened up a shop in some upscale neighborhood. I stopped in, ordered a three-shot americano in a 12 oz cup–It was great, not Splendido, but the best I’ve had in a long while.

    I sure miss you.


  2. son:
    you have a great style that is very entertaining to read…you ought to send some of your coffee mystery shopper to the TNT….keep it up

  3. Brianderson the coffee coniseur….wish I would have heard about your blog earlier I love it. I just have to post a correction to TFW’s comment aka T “W” Warton my former housemate. I gotta get your email from Brian. Glad to hear that Costco is roasting beans. When you talked about your favorite dont you mean Costco-Rican. I cant believe you didnt think of that one…or maybe you did and had the better judgement not to write it.

  4. Hi,
    My name is Jill, I just moved here from Chicago, in hot pursuit of something more entertaining to do with my life. Decided to open my own coffee house, the location is probably familiar to you. 744 S Commerce St, American Gothic Coffee, bottom floor of Sanford and Sons antique mall. I am in the process of settling the messy business details, but am seeking any and all information I can find regarding the coffee house scene in Tacoma, and also information regarding AJ Anderson and his coffee roasting and distribution. I, being obviously new to Tacoma, am looking for as much support and meaningful networking as possible. Any and all information you can provide me, will be wonderfully appreciated. My email as stated is americangothiccoffee@yahoo.com.

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