Saturday, September 3, 2011

Coffee Buddha (West View)

When Mike Witherel said he was "trying to sell atmosphere" with his new coffee joint, he wasn't joking around.

Many people don't know this about me, but I consider myself a Buddhist.  So when I found out about the impending opening of a coffee shop named Coffee Buddha, I was naturally intrigued.  I closely followed the news of Coffee Buddha's progress on Twitter and Facebook, and when it finally opened the week after 4th of July, I promptly added it to my to-do list.

Somehow, it took me nearly two months before I finally made my first trip there, though it has quickly become my office away from my office.  And it's not just because of the Buddha theme (or the free wifi).  Sure, there are statues and wall paintings of Buddha.  There is even a Buddha bust inside the fish aquarium in the the front room.  But there is so much more than that that I like about Coffee Buddha.  Let me count the ways...

First, the beverages.  Another thing that many people find surprising about me is that I don't typically drink coffee, espresso, or espresso drinks (e.g., lattes).  Long story boiled down to a nutshell, I simply don't like the bitter taste.  (Same reason I don't drink beer.)  My only source of caffeine comes from a morning cup of tea, and after 2 pm or so, any further caffeine intake would keep me up at night.  My first visit to Coffee Buddha occurred after 2 pm on a Wednesday afternoon so I played it safe and got a caffeine-free Tangerine Ginger herbal tea, which was delicious.  But I was intrigued by the Four Noble Truths - four lattes known as Dalai Latte, Peanut Buddha Latte, Enlighten-Mint, and Mexi-Mocha - and vowed to come back in the morning someday to try them, especially after owner Mike so nicely offered me samples of the delicious homemade Vietnamese Spice and Peanut Curry Caramel that are mixed into the Dalai Latte and the Peanut Buddha Latte, respectively. As I mentioned earlier, I don't normally drink lattes, but I'm a woman of my word and have since returned to try both the Dalai Latte and the Peanut Buddha Latte.  Of the two, I personally prefer the Peanut Buddha, because I absolutely love the peanut + curry + caramel combo, but I found the Dalai Latte interesting and tasty as well, with the tangy Vietnamese spice that's just a little bit spicy.  I plan to complete all Four Noble Truths soon.  I want to achieve nirvana.

Dalai Latte at Coffee Buddha
Dalai Latte

Tangerine Ginger Tea at Coffee Buddha
Tangerine Ginger Tea

Of course, being a coffee shop, Coffee Buddha sells a variety of coffee.  Owner Mike is very passionate about his Trifecta single-serving coffee machine.  I don't know enough about coffee brewing to comment, but I did try a coffee sample which I had black - shocking, I know; R. couldn't believe it when I told him! - and I can see why coffee drinkers would like it.  I might even go for a full cup someday.  But, baby steps...

The second reason I like Coffee Buddha is the munchies.  Coffee Buddha serves a limited selection of salads and wraps from Pure Cafe and pastries from Lincoln Bakery.  I was initially a little concerned about the freshness of the wraps - after all, you have no idea how long they've been sitting in the refrigerated display case, but my Thai Chicken Wrap, with free range chicken, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, and spicy peanut sauce was pretty fresh and the flavor combo did not disappoint.  I had been to Pure Cafe before and had the Veggie Lovers Wrap there, and both times I've found the wraps to be simple and healthy.  Just what you'd expect from a neighborhood cafe housed inside a gym.

Pure Cafe's Thai Chicken Wrap at Coffee Buddha
Thai Chicken Wrap from Pure Cafe

Lincoln Bakery, on the other hand, I had never been before, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Coconut Cream PiePumpkin Muffin, and the Walnut Square I've partaken in at Coffee Buddha.  Owner Mike spoke of bringing in a microwave to warm up some of the baked goods, which I think would be a great idea.  The cold muffin was a little odd, even if tasty.

Lincoln Bakery's Coconut Cream Pie at Coffee Buddha
Coconut Cream Pie from Lincoln Bakery

Lincoln Bakery's Pumpkin Muffin at Coffee Buddha
Pumpkin Muffin from Lincoln Bakery

Lincoln Bakery's Walnut Square at Coffee Buddha
Walnut Square from Lincoln Bakery

The third reason I like Coffee Buddha: good service.  Owner Mike and the rest of the staff are always friendly, not just to people but to dogs as well - as evidenced by the pooch-friendly front porch and the gourmet dog treats available for sale.  Not that I've ever felt unwelcomed at any coffee shop, but when I walk into Coffee Buddha, I feel like I'm visiting a friend's house and not a business, which leads me to the fourth reason why I like - no, LOVE - Coffee Buddha:


Coffee Buddha
Coffee Buddha's exterior

Coffee Buddha is essentially an old house converted into a coffee shop, and thus feels very cozy.  The inside is full of brightly colored walls which is totally my style - you're talking about someone who painted her kitchen red and her powder room orange after all.  Coffee Buddha's decor is exactly how I would decorate my coffee shop if I owned one.  Despite the intense colors, it is also a place that feels relaxing - probably because it has the layout of a house.  The second floor has rooms slated for different purposes - a couple of rooms with sofas and armchairs, one with a table in the middle suitable for doing work, and one featuring a foosball table in the middle.  There's even a meditation room and talks of using it for massages.  Most of the rooms also feature large flat-screen TVs.  There's not a single inch of this place that's not been carefully designed and decorated.

Coffee Buddha
The front room you see as soon as you walk into Coffee Buddha

Coffee Buddha
The counter
(LOVE the red walls!)

Coffee Buddha
One of the rooms upstairs

Coffee Buddha
Another room upstairs, with posters from Venice

Coffee Buddha
Yet another room upstairs

Coffee Buddha
Connected to the other "green room" is a room featuring a foosball table

Coffee Buddha
The Meditation Room

Coffee Buddha
Even the bathroom decor is well thought-out

In addition to the warm interior design, owner Mike clearly has a good, quirky sense of humor that I appreciate.  Almost everywhere you go inside and outside the shop, you'll find something goofy that'll make you laugh:

Coffee Buddha
Sign by the window inside the front entrance

Coffee Buddha
Parking sign. I guess I'd better become a coffee drinker.

The only minor inconvenience for me is that if I'm trying to get work done at Coffee Buddha, I do try to go when I know there would likely not be many people around.  Unlike your typical coffee shop, there is only a handful of tables at Coffee Buddha where you can really lay out your stuff (as I do when I work) and be productive.  Also, even though you are separated by walls, conversations from one room do carry to other rooms in the "house."  When I'm trying to concentrate, I don't need to be eavesdropping on a lively conversation between two clearly very bright high school students about the universities they're looking into, which incidentally included my own alma mater IN CANADA - ha! (Boy these kids think global - good for them!)  But really, I didn't need to hear all that.  It wasn't a problem my iPod and some jazz clarinet music couldn't fix, but it is something I have to consider depending on what I'm trying to accomplish when I pay Coffee Buddha a visit. Coffee Buddha was clearly designed with the goal to make it a place to hang out rather than to do serious work, and I think that is totally fine.  It just means it may not always be a good time for me to be there.

Overall, I do love Coffee Buddha.  I am definitely sold on the atmosphere.  And then some.

Restaurant info:
Coffee Buddha
964 Perry Highway, Pittsburgh, PA 15237
Bonus: Free wifi
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