Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Snobbery Revealed! Two Weeks in the Life of a Coffee Snob

I am often accused of being a coffee snob. Doesn't really bother me. 'Cause it's kind of true.

But snobbery is all relative, isn't it? I mean, it's not like I only like one particular type of coffee. It's just that I only like quality coffee. And as I've said before, especially here in NYC there are tons of great coffee to choose from.

To prove that I'm not too much of a snob (but definitely a stickler for quality) below is the list of the coffees I've had over the last two weeks. I've posted them in my personal order of preference but all of these are excellent cups from talented roasters. Check them out yourself and maybe you can become a coffee snob, too.

Valle del Santuario (San Ignacio, Peru) roasted by Counter Culture. By far, my favorite over the last couple of weeks. I stumbled across this one by pure accident at Everyman Espresso. A pleasant, well-rounded, sweet cup with hints of vanilla.

Finca El Colmenar (Guatamala Amatitlan) roasted by Oren's Daily Roast. I've been enjoying this one for the few days at work in a nice little french press I got for myself at the office. A nice fruity cup. Yum!

Ethiopia Sidamo #3 also roasted by Oren's. (As I stated in an earlier post, I also have some green beans of this which I haven't tried roasting yet. I'm hoping I can do these beans justice when I do.) Hints of berries here -- just what I like in an Ethiopian. Also check out my earlier post on Oren's if you're not familiar with them.

Panama Hartmann Honey roasted by Gimme! Coffee. I first had these beans at Cafe Grumpy (don't remember the roaster). Nice body to this coffee and syrupy taste. The great guys over at Gimme! keep blogging and tweeting about it so I picked up a bag again this week at Cafe Royal. Glad I did.

El Salvador Pulp Natural Finca Mauritania roasted by Coffee Llama (that would be me). I picked up these beans from Sweet Marias and made a decent city roast for Easter dinner. A nice mellow, sweet cup. Decent, even in the horrible drip coffee maker we used. I'm looking forward to another roast that I can brew properly and hoard for myself.

I also roasted a few batches of a Brazil Moreninha Formosa Raisin Coffee MicroLot. The first batch wasn't too impressive. Some hints of caramel but not much else. I made a second roast a little darker and it made a much more impressive cup. A lot more fruit came out under the caramel. But it was a bit darker than I usually like my beans. I have enough beans to roast one more batch. I'm going to try to get somewhere between the two previous roasts.

Anjilanaka, Organic Bolivia roasted by Intelligentsia. I used to get this coffee at a now defunct cafe on Bleeker Street. Smooth, fruity and chocolatey. Luckily it's now available at Ost Cafe. And now that Ninth Street Espresso carries Intelligentsia I'm pretty sure they carry it now, too. In truth, I probably like this coffee better than my own roasts, but I couldn't resist the tempation to list myself above Intelligentsia. :-)

All in all, I think this is a pretty good selection for two weeks of coffee drinking. Can't wait to see what I can get my hands on in the coming weeks!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Learning from Craft Beer at the Coffee & Tea Festival NYC

A lot of great things have been happening in coffee in New York City these days. Unfortunately, the 4th Annual Coffee & Tea Festival NYC was not one of them.

I try not to post negative comments on this blog. It's too easy to be negative in a blog. Instead, I prefer to focus on coffee experiences and stories that excite and inspire me. But the festival I attended today was just too disappointing for me to ignore.

I tried my best to behave myself but a few negative comments did slip out and my friends who joined me at the festival were probably getting annoyed by my sour looks and almost instant dismissal of many of the products that were available to sample.

I was first skeptical of the event when I realized it was being held on the same weekend as the annual SCAA exposition in Atlanta, where many of the movers and shakers of the specialty coffee industry are spending their week. But I was still willing to give the festival the benefit of the doubt and see what I could discover.

My next disappointment was walking into the Manhattan Pavilion. It was nearly empty after the event had already been open for two hours. A lack of participants would have been bad enough but the amount of empty space within the pavilion was the worst part. I have paid much less to attend events in the same space where I have had the pleasure of exploring products from 3o to 40 times the number of vendors that I found today. (The annual Bust Craftacular and the Chocolateshow are just two such events.)

After a quick tour around the floor, my disappointment continued as I realized I could think of at least 7 destinations within walking distance of the show where I would have a better coffee or tea experience than I would have at the festival. While this was my first NYC Coffee & Tea Festival, I have been to a number of such festivals before. I expect there to be a number of vendors offering products that don't interest me -- bottled beverages and powdered mixes are the common offerings I tend to avoid. But I realize these are part of the industry and there are attendees and businesses who are interested in such products.

However, when it comes to pure coffee, I do have some high quality standards. I don't expect everyone to follow them, but when someone tries to sell me their coffee based on the benefits of its origin but only offers that coffee to me in a Viennese roast, which has burned away all the characteristics of origin, how can I possibly get excited? When another vendor across the room was pouring yet another dark roasted coffee out of a glass carafe kept on a warmer under a cheap drip coffee maker, I didn't even bother with a sample.

The find of the day was the booth for NY Craft Beer Week. They had a number of coffee-themed beers on display and were pouring samples, including Brooklyn Brewery's Intensified Coffee Stout. Not only was this a great beer (made with Stumptown Coffee) but the guys serving it at the festival took the extra time and effort to pay attention to how it was served. They didn't just have a keg sitting up on the table. They tapped their keg into a cooler full of ice. The beer pulled up through a metal coil embedded in the ice, which cooled the beer to a perfect serving temperature. I found it ironic that the beer guys were some of the only ones at the entire festival who understood the importance of these details when serving their products to new patrons.

Two other beverages of note at the festival included Zen Green Tea Liqueur (very smooth and light) and Gillies Coffee (which was brewed with a French Press and served for the coffee cupping demonstration).

For any New Yorker looking for new experiences in tea or coffee, you are probably better off checking out the coffee and tea isles at WholeFoods for free. Or for less than the price of entry to the festival, you can sign up for a cupping class at the Intelligentsia New York Training Lab.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fresh from Oren's Daily Roast

Not too many years ago, while I was already living in the West Village in New York, I thought my only options for coffee were Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and the coffee cart that parks on the corner of 14th and 7th every morning.

Then I found Oren's Daily Roast. The first shop I visited is down on Waverly Place near Washington Square Park. They keep their glass jars of fresh roasted beans in a glass display case at the back of the store. Being there for the first time and watching my beans scooped out of those jars, I knew I'd discovered something special. This was a totally different experience than grabbing a shiny pre-sealed bag off the shelf. These seemed like fine specimens kept in precious small quantities only for the discerning coffee fanatic.

At the time, I knew very little about coffee (other than how much I liked it) so I was convinced I only liked dark roasts. I asked for the best dark roast they had and got their Beowulf Blend. It's really their espresso blend, but I brought it with me to my in-laws for the holidays and proudly poured the fresh grounds into their drip coffee maker and shared a pot with the family.

I think that may have been the day I first grew hair on my chest, but I was hooked. This coffee was certainly a whole new world for me. I didn't know of any other shops at the time that claimed to have roasted their coffee within the last 24 hours. Since then, I've discovered more great coffee in the city and of course there has been a slew of newcomers but Oren's is still one of the best.

I stopped by today for a couple new samples.
I've added the links for each because they all include a description of the coffee and a story of origin. (And if you're a reader of this blog, you know how much I appreciate the stories that come with every cup of coffee.) I also have some green beans of the Ethiopia Sadamo which I'll roast later this week.

I'll post again once I've brewed and roasted and tasted. In the meantime, I'm just going to continue dipping my nose into the bags that they came in. That's the smell of real fresh coffee my friends.

Thanks Oren's. Keep up the good work.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Coming Up: New York Coffee & Tea Festival

While I'm not making it to the SCAA exposition this year, I am looking forward to the upcoming New York Coffee & Tea Festival.

I'll be attending on Saturday, April 18th and plan on tweeting my experiences at the event. So keep an eye on my Twitter feed that afternoon if you're interested.

If you are in the NYC area and would like to attend, you can order tickets in advance on the festival web site. But don't be like me. Use the discount code featured on the Imbibe Magazine web site to get your tickets for half off!