The Coffee Club
Your morning brew may say more about you than you think. Here's how to order.
There's a certain cache that comes with knowing one's way around a wine list — and the same now goes for the (most-likely chalkboard) coffee menu. With its complexity of flavors, vast range of growing and brewing practices, and rise of the status-symbol café, the coffee connoisseur suddenly finds himself of the same station as sommelier. We're even beginning to see the proliferation of "cupping," coffee's version of wine tasting, which is the formal process that farmers and roasters use to check the quality of the beans and product, into the mainstream. For better or for worse, placing your order at these newly crowned hot spots now comes with a side of judgement, so we sifted through New York City's best breweries and consulted the most refined palettes to guide us toward proper taste:
Blue Bottle Coffee
The six-seat speakeasy-style tasting bar located above its walk-in café on Berry Street in Brooklyn holds cuppings every Thursday at noon. A small snack menu (which changes monthly) accompanies the single source coffees, which are prepared using a 19th century method connoisseurs call "slow and seductive."
The Order: The Hacienda La Esmerelda Geisha from Panama. The varietal was only rediscovered a few years ago when the farmer was able to isolate one of his favorite notes from a tasting and found the specific bean growing in a corner of his farm. It delivers a high floral note with a sparkling citrus acidity that makes for a refreshing cup.
Joe the Art of Coffee
The family-owned mini-empire with eight locations offers a $5 cupping class as well as other "prep" courses like two-day barista workshops. A key learning from co-owner Gabrielle Rubinstein: Coffee has more possible notes than wine. To find them all, let the cup cool. The flavors change as the temperature does.
The Order: The Colombia Finca La Vega coffee has brightness that is reminiscent of nectarine with a brown sugar sweetness and juicy and syrupy body that concludes in a clean, crisp finish. You can order a cup for the Chemex or take home the beans. Just make sure your water isn't too hot when you brew it.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters
This Portland import roasts its coffee locally in Red Hook. It's most popular outpost, which is almost never without a line, is a standing-room only café inside Manhattan's ACE Hotel. Most imbibe in the hotel's lobby, which looks like a cross between a taxidermist showroom and a Victorian hooker’s boudoir.
The Order: El Salvador Kilimanjaro. Grown by a fifth generation farmer on the slopes of a volcano in El Salvador, when brewed, these beans give off the aroma of peach and eucalyptus and the flavor notes include chocolate and passion fruit enveloped in a creamy texture.
Despite the name, all four locations run by the Brooklyn roaster have a friendly, cozy vibe. But, the coffee is serious. Café Grumpy was actually one of the first places in the city to brew coffee by the cup to order, so treat it right. Co-owner Caroline Bell's advice: Skip the milk and sugar if you really want to taste the bean and try a light to medium roast to get the full spectrum of flavor.
The Order: The Las Flores from Honduras comes from small family farms, which the roasters visited five times in the last three years, and has fruity notes of peach, apricot and cantaloupe.