Review: Voluto Coffee

I don’t even think I can call this a review, because I ordered a single cup of drip coffee, but I at least have something to say about Voluto Coffee, so I will. Pittsburgh has a growing coffee scene. The likes of La Prima, Aldo and, more recently, 21st Street Coffee have really been driving Pittsburgh onto the map of great coffee. Having been an early customer of 21st Street (then, Cafe Intermezzo), I think I know something about coffee. That having been said, I can’t really feel what Voluto Coffee is aiming for.

Photo Credit: Voluto Coffee

Photo Credit: Voluto Coffee

Voluto Coffee
5467 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15206

The restaurants and shops on Penn Ave had a bit of an event on Friday night, and some friends invited me to head out with them to try Voluto Coffee. One of my friends (Corey) had been following Voluto’s blog since before they even opened, and had been interested in giving them a try. Corey tried some of their french press coffee, which was good. I ordered some basic drip coffee: also good. I can’t say I’m able to say more than “good,” and I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t try harder to make me appreciate it a little bit more.

Who is the target audience? Voluto mimics the quiet coffee shop situation offered up by 61C (though I don’t know about their Wi-Fi situation). They mimics the quality coffee offered up by 21st Street and Aldo. They have the live music offered up by…well, Starbucks. So what is it that is going to drive their business? Who are they targeting? Are they looking for the coffee enthusiasts willing to pay top dollar for a premium roast? Are they looking for the busy student who is looking for a quite place to write a paper? Are they looking for people who want a venue for Brad Yoder? Then what?

Good coffee without noteworthy service. I had a single cup of coffee, and I don’t feel well positioned to comment on it’s quality. That  having been said, I think coffee quality is at most half as significant as the atmosphere. In my mind, the defining quality that drives people to any of the other coffee shops I’ve mentioned so far is the atmosphere. I go to 21st Street for technical coffee insights from Luke and Alexis. I go to 61c for laid back barista’s and a distraction-free place to read with hassle-free Wi-Fi. Voluto may have something go for them, but what are they aiming to present?

All that having been said, I’d like to go their again and give them another shot. I want local places like Voluto to succeed, and I am especially fond of coffee shops. Who knows: maybe I just went at a bad time or caught them on an odd night. I certainly hope a return visit proves that to be the case.

Voluto Coffee on Urbanspoon


5 Responses to “Review: Voluto Coffee”

  1. FoodBurgh » Blog Archive » My Overreaction to Voluto Says:
    March 10th, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    […] going back and reviewing how I reported on Voluto, I feel like I was a little harsh. Just to give some perspective, I did submit them to Urbanspoon […]

  2. Stephen J Says:
    May 4th, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Not being one of the Coffee Shop Scene, I am more a Dunkin Donuts Coffee guy, I have to say I really enjoyed stopping off at Voluto for a 16oz Latte. The service was fantastic and everyone there was so helpful with my very limited coffee tastes. I happened to be there on a night they had some live music and the atmosphere was great. Not too crowded and not too loud, great sweets to go with my Latte too! I didn’t get the poser feel from these folks, just good hard working people who love coffee and want to give a little more to the community im means of a pleasant escape.

  3. hotsauce Says:
    October 19th, 2009 at 10:47 am

    I don’t understand your complaint. You sound a little like a confused Starbucks exec. Do they have to fall into one of your tired categories?

    Try putting your Mkt 101 mindset aside and go there for the art. Order an espresso, and try talking to the barista. Ask her/him what you’re tasting, and what they like.

    Barista Mag calls them one of the best new coffeehouses in the country. They bring a new, international level of espresso to Pittsburgh. Perhaps that’s why you’re confused.

  4. mike Says:
    October 22nd, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    You’re probably right, hotsauce. There are a few aspects of my visit that suggest it wasn’t very representative. It was also a while ago, so I can barely remember the context.

    Keep in mind the following…
    1) I went there with marketing geeks
    2) I went there late at night and only briefly stopped up front

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of coffee shops. One of my favorite weekend activities is walking from my place over to the 61C Cafe. I’ve actually been meaning to head back to Voluto around that time to get some perspective, but there’s almost never a situation when the timing works out for me.

    …if only I lived a little closer (and we didn’t have such fantastic coffee options near my house).

  5. Skink Says:
    December 4th, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Hey Mike,
    Just found your blog through a review on Urbanspoon. Interesting takes on some stuff. But not so miuch on coffee.
    First off, a constructive criticism – when you review something and do your darnedest to give your reasons why you like/don’t like something, don’t backtrack when the business owner gives you grief. Makes you look like you don’t know what you’re doing or worse, that you don’t have conviction in your reviews. That’s not good for any reviewer of any topic.
    Second, regarding coffee and the “what’s Voluto after”. If you go to 61C, Voluto (or 21st Street for that matter) likely isn’t after you UNLESS you want to move up the taste chain (because 61C’s coffee is pretty mediocre).
    Think of it like someone who’s primary experience with beer has been Iron City. You get them to try a Penn Pilsner. They like it. Then a Penn IPA. They kind of like that too. Then you shoot up to Victory Hop Devil or Dogfish Head 90. Now they’re either blown away or they just don’t get it.
    So if you’re not blown away at Voluto, odds are you fall into category two of the above analogy.
    As far as service goes, Voluto is the only place in Pittsburgh I’m aware of where, when you order a cappuccino or straight espresso, it’s served to you on a tray with a small glass of water – the way it usually is in Italy. Tazza d’Oro has a table with serve yourself water. Aldo gives you a glass of water but no tray, so you’ve got both hands occupied. No idea if 21st Street does water at all unless you request it. And IMO, Voluto’s espresso – Epic – is consistently the best there is in town at the moment. It’s definitely the most complex. Probably the most expensive to buy as it comes from Vancouver, BC.
    So who are they after? My guess is a cut of the tiny percentage of Pittsburgh that appreciates what they’re offering. Hopefully they don’t suffer the same fate as Roberto (of Regina Margherita/Roberto’s fame) who had such extraordinary pizza that he was doomed to fail as not enough people appreciated it. That’s why he’s now making pizza in Manhattan.

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