Behind the Bar at America's Best Coffee Shop
An inside look at Philadelphia's Ultimo Coffee, with Aaron Ultimo
There was fierce competition for the top spot on our list of America's best coffee shops. After all, how to pick from the hundreds, if not thousands, of third-wave coffee shops that are redefining how we enjoy a cup of joe? But at our top choice, Ultimo Coffee Bar, it's pretty clear that it's not all about the accolades — it's just about really, really good coffee.
On a sunny Saturday, people filed in and out of the Ultimo Coffee Bar patiently waiting for a Counter Culture brew. Aaron Ultimo, the owner of the two locations (we visited the Newbold location), and another barista set up pour-over brews four at a time, executing a perfect two-minute pour-over from rinsing the filter to the coffee "bloom" and letting the drip coffee settle into white mugs. One barista, who Ultimo called the "master of macchiato," perfected the marked espresso drink in teeny 2-ounce cups. Guests lounged outside with an iced Bolivian brew, or sat inside with a book or iPad. Customers also perused the line of fridges holding many different craft brews (Ultimo is also home to a craft beer shop, BREW). Ultimo explained to customers about the new Bolivian coffee they've been serving from Counter Culture, and shared how they make their iced coffee. (Ultimo told us that they brew their coffee at twice the strength, four parts coffee to one part water, and then pour it into a carafe filed with ice. That way, the coffee stays fresh, and settles with the ice.)
And it's that dedication to perfection that makes the customers keep rolling in. With cuppings every Friday and a comfortable vibe to work and relax in, the line of customers was a steady stream. (Hey, even the pups outside were happy.) That didn't stop Aaron Ultimo and the three baristas behind the bar from joking with customers ("we love us some LL Cool J"), explaining the new roast on the board (from Heart Roasters in Portland, Ore.; Ultimo Coffee Bar has a guest roast each month), and sharing their tips and tricks of the pour-over. "We want to keep our door open to everyone," Ultimo says. "Whether you know your coffee or not, we just want to give everyone a good experience." The experience is just a bonus point on top of well-made coffee.
Click ahead to check out the scene at Ultimo Coffee Bar: it may be time to plan a trip to Philly.
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