>Continuing my self-imposed obligation to at least try the macchiato at the chains, in my ongoing search for decent coffee in this city, at some point I had to end up at the ubiquitous Così. I can recall a number of years ago, being in Philadelphia for a weekend with friends, and stopping at the fist Così I had ever seen. At the time, part of it was called “X’s and O’s”, and part of it was called “Così”, though I am not exactly sure why. I think it was a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde situation, where one part of the establishment did one thing, and another part did something else, or perhaps it was what the daytime restaurant turned into at nightfall. Either way, the logo for the “x and o’s” was written somewhat confusingly, and so at first I insisted on calling the place “Chandos”, after a pub I had frequented in London.
Whatever its previous names, the Cosi currently located in that cake sliver of a building where 19th Street and Connecticut Avenue come together at Dupont South, is a convenient meeting place or stopping point before heading off on the Red Line into the far-flung corners of the metropolis. Thus it was on Sunday morning, before going to visit a priest friend up in suburbia, that I decided to try out the macchiato at Così to see what personality it would assume. Yet again, the chains are incapable of doing it right, making me wonder what Joe Public who has never been to Europe thinks that people who are actually IN Europe are drinking – for it is certainly not this.
As in the case of my recent review of Starbucks, the regular macchiato is not on the menu at Così. However, the barista very graciously, and despite it being somewhat early on a Sunday morning, offered to make one for me. As he did so I could see that the foam was completely wrong, and looked something rather more like runny crème fraiche. It came, as these things tend to do, in the oversized wax paper cup with a lid, rather than a china or a paper demitasse.
Two brown sugars were added to the beverage, which had splattered and spotted the inside of the cup, causing the wax to melt. They sank quickly beneath the thick duvet of white, meringue-like substance. As it turned out, two sugars were all that was necessary, for the coffee tasted like…nothing. At first I thought, “Am I dead? Did my taste buds expire in the middle of the night?” I took a little taste of leftover sugar from the packet to be certain I was not ill but no, I could taste the raw sugar perfectly fine.
Whatever the beverage was, for again it was definitely not a macchiato (let alone a cortado) it had no flavor at all. The milk-based substance acted as a kind of flavor sponge, preventing the coffee underneath it from tasting like anything. When I finally got through the foam and into the coffee, it was so anemic as to resemble something that aspired to be coffee but hadn’t quite made it, which seemed such a poor way for perfectly good coffee beans to have gone. The finish, if one can call it that, had a little bit of coffee flavor, but again the amount of foam-substitute was so overwhelming that it was a bit hard to tell as it approached the nose and before passing the lips.
In summary, the service was pleasant, and the coffee not bitter. The problem was, and this is rather a large one, it didn’t really taste like coffee, except perhaps in the final gulp. In fact, the experience was not unlike that of the Starbucks I had reviewed previously, albeit with no funny aftertaste.
Clearly there is something in the mindset of corporate America that tells them that this is what people want. Yet equally clearly, they are doling out false goods to their consumers in a sort of new twist on the old mutton dressed as lamb scheme. This is not the first nor the last time that the American consumer will be taken for such a ride, but at least in this case it was a pleasantly handled and polite one, which saves it from a lowly one star rating.
** out of 5