The problem with Bru is as simple as its chichi, postmodern name. The coffee shop on 141 Orange St., formerly Koffee on Orange (before that, Moka), is another fledgling split-away from the now almost defunct New Haven coffee empire spelling its shops’ names with that annoyingly egregious “K.” Not to be one-upped by its predecessor, Bru is obviously also given to stupid orthographic conceits. (If the hyperconscious brevity of the name fails to bother you in its own right, a macron hanging over the “u” in brazen indication that it is indeed a long vowel — just in case you were unsure of pronunciation — flat-out insults your intelligence.) All of this is nothing short of ridiculous in Bru’s case because the coffee there was seriously underbrewed.
Or at least the decaf ($1.89 for a medium) was. Its tepidity and flavorlessness indicated that it was either not fresh or never hot to begin with. I’m inclined to think it was both. The regular fared a little better, particularly when I went back a second time, with a stronger, if more burnt, flavor. Either way, even if it is fairly traded and organic, the coffee was just not that good.
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The same was true for specialty drinks. The Nutella latte, while an interesting-sounding concept, was less than the sum of its parts. There was no actual Nutella in it, a fact that the barista admitted sheepishly when I asked him if what he was adding was simply hazelnut and chocolate syrup. At a steep $4.14 for a medium, this was not worth the money (or the calories).
The oversized banana-oat muffin ($2.39) was above average, while the cranberry-bran, despite its appropriate flavor, had the consistency of leftover gruel. Fortunately, the raspberry chocolate bar ($1.89) was buttery and delicious.
Bru also offers hot chocolate ($3.49) and an exotic array of imported, mostly organic teas ($2.09), including white, green, black, rooibos and herbal varieties. The friendly staff is knowledgeable about the teas and happy to make suggestions.
The atmosphere is minimalist in the most literal sense of the term, and where effort is made, banal. Cabinetry above the espresso machines is as yet unfilled and some of the walls are entirely bare. The main sitting room is comfortable and, thanks to large-pane windows, bright, but tacky and unexciting. Pastel-colored tissue paper globes have been strung hastily from the ceiling.
The noise level is quiet — too quiet for a first date — perhaps because relaxed yuppie music (think Lauryn Hill and Joni Mitchell) reaches the main room muffled from the shop’s only speakers up front. Or maybe because the shop is free from overanxious, chattering undergraduates (indeed, the clientele consists almost entirely of seeming-grad students). Most likely, however, it is because of the lack of customers in general: The second time I was there I was the only one in the entire main room. Sit back, relax and be prepared for awkward silence and perfunctory staring off into space.
To be fair, Bru just opened this past December. But there is no excuse for mediocre coffee at a coffee shop, especially if your name directly refers to the process of making it. In a city abounding with independently-owned coffeehouses, Bru needs to spend more time steeping its purpose — and its drink.
Bru is open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and is closed Sunday.