preliminaries: day one

i can’t see space mountain from my hotel room, but i still know it’s weird here the moment i wake up. the sidewalks of anaheim (not that most people use them) have become even more surreal, mixing mylar mickeys with coffee growers and random overheard conversations about fair trade. we are in weirdworld extreme here, and i cruise katella and wish i had stayed at the alpine inn, with its stucco snow. scaa hasn’t started yet today, but the competition has. i amble through a maze of palm trees to start the day watching devin pedde (intelligentsia) compete.

devin’s got the judges picking golden coins, choosing their own adventures again: they opt for sweetness, and he sweetens ’em up. first set of sig drink shots don’t go all the way into the glass, luckily he’s got extra vessels handy, everyone makes it out of here alive.

one of today’s competitors is MIA, and i take the break time to check out the symposium brew bar (bee house? syphon? v60 anyone?) and the press gift loft (cinnamints? batdorf and bronson ball cap? innovative to-go cup lids?) before running back to catch laila ghambari (BARISTA). she is using BARISTA beer coasters as part of her table setting, i guess she knows which side her beer is buttered on.

note: the hilton adjacent to the convention center has a yogurt restaurant called “liquid assets”.

note no. 2: tomorrow our convention is being joined by a comic con called WIZARD WORLD. this is gonna beat last year’s scrapbookers, for sure.

colin whitcomb (alterra) performs his hand-clapping, hip-swaying routine to the tune of mariah carey and prince once again. “it’s not easy to do anything with so much gusto as the brothers at herbazu,” says colin. well, except maybe this routine.

ian shaughnessey (olympia coffee roasters) uses purple corn. purple corn! he found out a lot about this fruit on wikipedia. sig drink tastes awesome in fact. and then ryan willbur (intelligentsia) makes friggin’ meringue on stage.

nicole mournian (intelligentsia) instructs us to “visualize a sexy librarian at the card catalog,” and i am still trying this when she explain her cappuccino has a tea-like body (!). her delivery is smooth and elegant in a confident, fine dining style (amazingly confident for someone who only found out they were competing four days ago), and then she goes over time and disqualifies herself while preparing a signature drink of a piece of bread with butter, and a macchiato. whoa!

can’t wait for day number two (with wizards). back to the hotel now for some air conditioning.

waking up to daylight savings time in another city is a challenge. i spend about 15 minutes sunday morning reloading, reloading, rechecking various internet websites that claim to know the accurate time in milwaukee or chicago. i am paranoid that i have woken up late, so rather than hustling, i just do this over and over again to reassure myself i haven’t. i haven’t. time to get to d-world. the lake is bright blue today as the sun is finally, for the first time since i got to milwaukee, coming out.

finalist no.1: ryan knapp (madcap)
ryan takes the stage more cool and collected than before. smooth smoothman pours a v60 of his burundi coffee, pulls his espresso shots, and has his way with the mooville milk. his cappuccinos look great — they’re moving their hips like “yeah”. maple creme anglaise/berry signature drinks are presented and it’s all like no big thing, ryan’s just making some coffee, telling you about it, making it look easy and awesome.

finalist no.2 charles babinski (intelligentsia)
charles is gonna lay it down to you here, judges. in fact, he’s gonna lay down a little himself: c-babs opens his routine by actually leaning onto the judges’ table and resting for awhile. he’s got some 411 to drop on these guys: winter sucks.

but you know what doesn’t suck? the arrival of fresh crop central american coffees, which herald the thawing of chicago ground and the livening of palates, and to charles, this time of year (come early in 2010) is a “calendar moment”. he has me and the judges convinced we’ve got to start having more moments like that ourselves. charles prepares his el salvadoran finca matalapita with lots of dancing interspersed, and makes promises of sweet lime, juicy green grape, and cranberry tartness. his coffee’s “counterpoint” tilts on an axis of kraftwerk and black tea, a v60 of los guyabos brewed for full calendar integration. dude is done at like 13:00 and has time to clean the hell out of the drip tray and still tell the judges they are both spectacular and awesome. love this guy.

finalist no.3: colin whitcomb (alterra)
brush in his back pocket, colin is READY TO GO and he is EXCITED TO BE HERE and we are excited to watch. his costa rican herbazu coffee is a combination of caturra and villa sarchi beans, pulp natural processed. the dry aroma, says c-dubs, is “like that first day of spring when you smell the pollen in the wind”, although i assume with less sneezing. he explains the herbazu business method, and assures the judges that although it “might seem like a carnegian scheme to get others to invest in their coffee”, it’s actually a fabulous model. this is probably the first time i’ve ever heard anyone say “carnegian scheme” in a barista competition, and it makes up for colin’s failed promise to compete with a bust of shakespeare on top of the espresso machine.

finalist no.4: trevor corlett (madcap)
trevor is the only finalist using a blended espresso today, a honduran and a guatemalan blend if you remember all the way back to friday. trevor’s pace seems slow (or is it just his mellllllow patter?) but the coffee’s flowing well, four gorgeous tulip cappuccinos among them, and the signature drinks of fig reduction in sugar-rimmed (no one’s mentioned rimming this year yet, have they?) glasses come out just right. i’m not sure what kind of crack trevor is smoking time-awareness-wise, as much like his prior competition round, dude spaces out after 15:00 and is still rattling off flavor descriptors until he finally notices the clock. no matter, at six seconds over he can still call time gracefully.

finalist no.5: michael phillips (intelligentsia)
“i have to go fast”, he says, and not just in speech but deed: there is a lot to do here, and going over time is a luxury even Mr. USA himself can’t rely on. mike’s intent here is to demonstrate the increased connection between baristas, roasters and farmers as coffee evolves, and i start to wonder what the weight of the first-person story has within competition — both mike and lucey are able to tell us about personally visiting the farm that produced their coffee, and how that relates to their decisions in how to present on the competition stage. mike pulls his hopper-swap off without batting an eyelash, to relieved audience applause (even more than you get when you don’t explode a cocktail shaker onto the head judge).

beautiful cappuccinos are served to the judges ladies first, which i expect from corlett but not phillips…okay maybe i expect it from phillips too…and then mike confesses that he “doesn’t really get to experience full naturals” day to day at work in his cafe, and excitedly shares the range of processing methods in his routine. mike then literally manages to pull time completely out of his ass and finishes his elaborate routine a minute ahead, clocking in at 1:30 faster than yesterday. what?

the sky has turned very purple and the lake very blue as we ready ourselves for the last competitor and regional title-holder, scott lucey.

finalist no. 6: scott lucey (alterra)
backstage an hour or so ago i heard scott and jenny G talking about “ouchless” bandages. it’s some kind of bad tiding, as during prep time scott’s hand slips while tamping and makes a hell of a knuckle gash, make it two hells of two knuckle gashes, wasting both blood and valuable preparation seconds. his routine — criticized by some the day before as being too similar to last year’s — starts breathlessly and at a higher pitch, but suddenly it transforms into that kind of easy fluid fun that people love watching him for. (i’m going to go on a limb and say this happened right around the time that ray of sunbeam started falling across his decorative texas red grapefruit segment just so.)

lucey introduces again the nelson melo colombian. “our customers here go NUTS for this coffee. it’s a WASHED coffee!” and explains that though he used the same last year, the coffee itself has seen a year of improvement (and the inclusion of another varietal). the aromatics are “vivacious with energy!” and so is the routine, as scott gets more and more comfortable, letting his friends in the audience know the shots are pouring good. he’s much more relaxed than yesterday, describing the coffee’s sweetness as fig, date, cola, with an aftertaste so pleasant it’ll stay with you right down I-43 on the way home. the melo farm itself, which he has visited as recently as this winter? well it’s the most “organic” place you ever saw. you stick a machete in the ground and ALL YOU GET IS WORMS. sign me up?

and then the unreal happens, and after 12 minutes and 20-some seconds of sparkle, i mean, how do you even write this in words, you just gotta see it, like in your worst dream of stage fright, everything is going great, and let’s say in your dream you’re making coffee and the coffee tastes great and you’re funny and you’re in your hometown where everybody loves you and you’re making a drink of your own invention that you totally believe in and you’re wearing purple gingham for god’s sake and the light on the lake is just so and everything is falling amazingly into place and then YOUR LAST FOUR SHOTS OF ESPRESSO TAKE FLIGHT, tilting, tipping, falling onto th prep table and the ground, teetering one and then all four, not into the base of an esuardo liquido but the base of your violet-colored vans. oh, fuck.

but ya know what a pro does? they blink for a moment, look at the ground, wipe up what they can, and pull more shots. “a mistake has occurred”, he says as he dusts his heart off and puts it back inside his chest cavity. “i make a lot of mistakes at the cafe i work in, and as a trainer, i love mistakes. the secret i tell people is to keep rolling with it.” he rolls right through the final spanish-language liquid swords, finishing 41 seconds over time with an individual thank-you to each judge. oh, fuck. but what a graceful recovery: there’s nothing quite like it, and when i comisserate with one of lucey’s bosses outside moments later we can’t believe it happened, can’t believe the recovery was so graceful and contextualized into his role as a coffee teacher and ambassador so well. as lincoln puts it, “talk about servant leadership.” yeah.

and then, after more lake air, and more pacing, and some nibbles of cookies in the back room, it’s time all too soon for the final results. again, it’s a difficult thing to have six-way loyalties (but so much better that way), hard to watch friends against friends, and harder still to know one person will probably leave disappointed today, with bandaged knuckles and flying espresso flashbacks. but c’est la guerre: the winners are announced and they are all such good ones. in third place: charles babinski, a calendar moment for him for sure. in second, mitten rep trevor corlett — guess you had time to burn after all, buddy! — and in first place, mike phillips, not that there was any wagering taking place, but if those drinks tasted half as good as the presentation looked, you might’ve put your money down double.

see you in anaheim, friends?

glrbc day two: where are my goddamn horse bananas?

by saturday morning the fog has melted back into rain, not so much ideal for a leisurely stroll down the lakefront. i grab some breakfast with doug p. and we head to discovery world, pretty crowded today.

internet presence chris demarse from alliance world coffees in muncie, in begins his performance by positioning coffee as a metaphor for marriage. the complementary relationships of coffees within a blend bringing out the best in each other, the deep romantic and consensual love between beans, etc. maybe i’m reading too much into that… chris used two ethiopian coffees, a washed and a natural, and for his signature drink prepared espressos with earl grey cream, star thistle honey, and blackberry juice.

segways occasionally ferry people past on the competition floor. this seems to be a GLRBC milwaukee theme. i never see them anywhere else. also: one of the sweetest things you will see at a barista competition is friends getting more nervous for their friends’ competition routines than their own. it’s an easy way to displace your own anxiety, i guess, but watching the connection between people who train together is really something… as is, you know… the barista-roaster relationship…

moving two stations over, the discovery world is really quite crowded now for scott lucey of milwaukee‘s own alterra, who is definitely creating both a fashion splash and a fire hazard in his marcus boni tribute gingham shirt and salmon-toned linen tie. whereas scott’s competifriend phillips seems to strive to make his competition routines harder and harder, lucey strives to take something he’s been successful with before and push it to an even higher level, knocking nelson melo’s beautiful colombian coffees out of the park once and for all. this year his roastery has access to more strains than in the past, and the melo is a 50/50 caturra and bourbon mix, promising strawberry, sour cherry, grape, cola, fig and date, with a pleasing acidity and sweet white wine finish. BEHOLD! Your Espresso! announces sL to the judges, though he seems otherwise a little more…restrained…than usual. scott builds his presentation around the idea of “servant leadership”: the humble guidance of organizations or interests by taking care of the needs of those around them and below them on the chain. representing and celebrating coffees and advocating for fairer, improved processes all along the lines of production, from the farm to the cafe floor, is — beyond the prestige of double-fisting those GLRBC trophies — theoretically why we are all really here.

scott finishes his routine with a 2010 version of a drink you may have seen before…liquid swords is reborn as esuardos liquidos, slightly reproportioned and almost sealed with coffee blossom honey…but not before time runs out and scott has to skip the honey. “sorry for being a tease”, he says.

speaking of really something, it looks like current US barista champion mike phillips from intelligentsia coffee and tea has travelled heavy today. mike’s setup includes two grinders…and a third hopper. this guy’s got some kind of cojones, and it turns out they’re made of costa rican coffee…one cojone caturra and one cojone catuai. this coffee arrived oh so recently in chicago — just two months off of the patio — making it ridiculously current, seasonal, a la mode etc. he displays green coffee on the judges’ table with complementary ingredients; green grape for the washed, medjool dates for the honey processed, and rhubarb and ginger (currently cooking up an aromatic hurricane on the side burner) for the full natural.

but why three hoppers? well, because mikey’s really high-maintenance: he’s going to prepare the same coffee but showcase it across three different processing methods. there’s a washed version, a honey processed, and a (hi haters!) full natural. the judges get to taste them all, the final array comprising the signature drink looking like a crazy game of mancala, tiny glasses everywhere, rhubarb and ginger reduction, jesus it’s hard to keep track of complicated routines while taking pictures, sorry. the ambitious routine is impressive to watch…all 15:29 of it. he’ll have to cut that down before everyone in the audience has a heart attack, but where on earth can something like that be trimmed?

several other very nice people compete, including laura feldman from madcap (“the verve of the midwest”) and nathan hoida, the last alterra competitor. nathan is a new competitor this year and is preparing a washed guatemalan bourbon which threatens black cherry, dark chocolate notes. his signatre drink…good grief…is the “cherry seinfeld”, which nathan refers to as if it were a person…an actual comedian made of black cherry infused coconut milk might be pretty tasty, though. nathan tops it with a little bit of fleur de sel, and threatens his panel of judges witha “total tongue takeover”. i’m not quite sure what’s gotten into him, but i find out later he had borrowed colin whitcomb’s belt…that may explain it. and talk about a secret weapon!

finalists are announced as night falls on, and bizarrely inside, discovery world. in no particular order are scott lucey, colin whitcomb, mike phillips, charles babinski, trevor corlett and ryan knapp. the heavy hitters of the great lakes for sure (sans deferio and some up and comers) but what a crazy thing to see such a balanced (sans gender balance I mean) list. the friends and practice partners. the previous competition winners and their proteges. the two huge midwestern coffee giants and the humble small-town business that uses milk from a place called “mooville”. hell yeah. i hate being torn between loyalties like this, but saturday is gonna be one hell of a thing to watch.

welcome to beautiful milwaukee, wisconsin, where the unique weather axis of melting snow and brewery fumes have sunk a gauzy layer of fog over the city for many days now. those wily souls who navigate via instrument flight rules were able to find their way to lake michigan on friday for the 2010 great lakes regional barista competition at discovery world, hosted graciously by alterra coffee roasters. (thanks to alterra as well for kindly helping this renegade blogger get back home to central time.) also, say what you will about barista competitions, but this one has a sausage sponsor. god bless milwaukee.

the location is both stunning and complicated, as we are located not only on the beautiful lakefront, but we are also…in a hallway. this presents interesting challenges for people who simply want to attend exhibits at the science museum, but perhaps all of them will become coffee connoisseurs by the time they leave, if only by having something spilled on them.

anyway, let’s get on with it.

chris deferio, the coffee institute, muncie, in
chris deferio is no newcomer to either barista competitions, latte art pouroffs, or woodburning supply stores, and it’s in short order that his competition area begins to smell like campfire. deferio promises a “wild sweetness” from his coffee, and starts prepping an orange zest/sourghum syrup infusion for his signature drink…but the pan has been left on the burner longer than he meant it to, and we start the routine with a fragrant cloud of sourghum smoke.

everyone is still getting used to the setting: families keep confusedly walking through the growing crowd of spectators, strollers bumping over cables and cords, and the audio is, let’s just say, adjusting. station 1 is very near the washrooms, which means the XLERATOR hand dryer adds a little ambient noise to the setting…but smoke and xleration don’t slow down deferio. using an ethiopian sidama from the aromia cooperative, his signature drink is named “sweet aromia”, and he finishes today’s first routine with a caramelized sourghum molasses/orange zest, deglazed with orange juice, infused with cream and smoke, and mixed with his shots.

lindsay myers from muggswigz in canton, oh appears to have sawed the front off of her grinder. weird inappropriate sexual jokes ensue in the background.

jesse crouse, intelligentsia coffee and tea, chicago, il
IMAGINE, a competition routine that starts with “imagine:!” and you wouldn’t be dreaming if you were watching jesse crouse. jC paints a careful picture of his colombia cauca coffee’s farm in inza, pulls six shots of espresso (that’s an extra one for each himself and the head judge, to those keeping score at home) and backs his routine up against yo la tengo’s version of the deceptively cheery “stockholm syndrome”.

jesse explains the history and concept of bitters, the nature of the POISON IDEA, and explains that he’s invented his own (non-alcoholic) version of bitters for his signature drink, which involves cane sugar, blood orange and the sassafrassy flavored gentian root. limes are zested, and jesse finishes early enough to clean the hell out of his station.

(i take a little break to wander the discovery world gift shop for a moment…i may have to pick up a deck of Great Lakes Shipping Vessel trading cards later on. i also take a peek into the great lakes diorama, which i highly recommend, along with the dymaxion map and beaver skull.)

oh, check it out, it’s colin whitcomb from alterra coffee, milwaukee, wisconsin, our first local competitor today and perhaps the most enthusiastic of the weekend. colin is not being ironic when he throws up his arms triumphantly at the start of his routine: HE IS STOKED TO BE HERE!!!! and so are we.

colin is using a costa rican herbazu coffee and is also the only competitor to don the official 2010 GLRBC orange terrycloth wristband. the fog rolls in across lake michigan to envelop discovery world as colin blends black tea, orange blossom honey, peach puree, cream, and mariah carey.

last year’s 2nd place GLRBC winner trevor corlett from grand rapids, mitten‘s madcap cofee is up soon after, serving a honduras/guatemala blend again in terrifing aural proximity to the hand drier. in fact, the hand drier wins as trevor’s music bails completely, shaking him up a bit but not enough to deter the serving of lovely coffees. the signature drink involves a fig reduction and a v60 drip brew of the guatemalan with clove (?) and heavy creme infused with michigan cherry concentrate. no mention is made of horse bananas.

(hm, last time the GLRBC was held in milwaukee, team intelligentsia came in costume. did they forget to make custom slankets this year? imagine the freedom to stay cozy and pour with your buono kettle all at the same time. think about it, guys.)

charles babinski is the second of three competitors this weekend from intelligentsia coffee in chicago, il and chicago is a cold, cold place. the kind of place where when winter ends, the dawn of fresh crop central american coffees warms your heart like a custom slanket. charles’ el salvadoran fincamatalaPIta is presented in various forms that evoke its limeyness. speaking of limes, it’s apparently also “graham cracker” flavored cappuccino season at the GLRBC this year, and charles’ capps are no exception. as a counterpoint! to his coffee’s flavors, he brews a v60 of colombia los guyabos, serves that, then mixes a lime custard with taiwanese hong yue tea and espresso. tea is honored. doug palas is thanked. coffee is celebrated.

local coffeeist and photog cody kinart of alterra coffee here in milw., wisc. uses fire to caramelize strawberries to complement the guatemalan flor de rosario coffee he’s using, his routine moving slowly while alterran comrades literally bite their nails. cody’s coffee is farmed by a former german juice factory engineer named horst spitzke. at this point in the day, many of us in the audience are low-energy after the competitor who used 15 straight minutes of sitar music…

ryan knapp of g-rap‘s madcap is friday’s penultimate competitor, using a coffee from masha, burundi. i wish i remembered anything about his routine, but i have a feeling i’ll get to see it several more times this spring…

after day one closes, there is an attempt at friday fish fry action, but the crowds are too madding for me and mine. various milwaukee night spots are toured up until the point a white rap show breaks out and i amble home through the fog. dozens more compete tomorrow, the head-to-head lucey/phillips showdown included. i fall asleep clutching a sparkling cat toy. more tomorrow. more tomorrow.

twitchy does nyc: a handy map

February 17th, 2010

View twitchy does nyc in a larger map

in advance of the hundreds of thousands of coffee nerds about to embark on the nearby shores of new jersey for coffeefest, and because it is time, i thought i would offer my short tour guide to those who may wish to drink a cup of coffee in the city of new york. (the folks at tamp tamp update another, huge map of their own which is also worth checking out.) so without further ado….

manhattan: west village/greenwich village

third rail
[third rail coffee]

third rail coffee (240 sullivan street at west 3rd)
[A/B/C/D/E/F/V to west 4th Street, 1 to christopher street]
not far from joe is one of manhattan’s smallest cafes, third rail, which opened late summer 2009. third rail may still be the only place to order a chemex in the five boroughs, and features a roster of roasters that currently includes both stumptown and intelligentsia. would you like black cat or hairbender in that macchiato? make mine catblender!

joe (141 waverly place at gay street)
[A/B/C/D/E/F/V to west 4th Street, 1 to christopher street]
joe (also known as “joe — the art of coffee”, oh how i love that awkward pause) is one of manhattan’s biggest little players, with five (five!) cafes throughout the borough, from grand central station to the upper west side. this shop, the original joe location, is a perfect glimpse of west village coziness, recently improved by interior renovation (look! you can walk through the cafe without sitting in someone’s latte!) and a 2009 roaster change to west coast roaster ecco caffè.

see also:
roasting plant (75 greenwich ave at seventh avenue south)
i’m not sure how the coffee tastes at this uber-modern, pneumatic-tube-driven, roast-to-order (!) rube goldberg device of a cafe. but since you’re in the neighborhood, why not stop in and admire the milk taps?

manhattan: east village

[ninth street espresso]
[ninth street espresso]

ninth street espresso (700 east ninth street at avenue C)
[L to 1st avenue]
the original ninth street espresso sits on one of alphabet city’s most beautiful corners. order a drink and enjoy it on the bench outside, admiring the abundance of willow trees. it’s almost like you aren’t in a gross city…

ost (twelfth street and avenue A)
[L to 1st avenue]
ost feels like a post-war european neighborhood cafe, or at least it’s what i imagine that might feel like if its shabby charms weren’t inundated by macbooks. come in for a cup of intelligentsia-roasted coffees or a glass of red wine…or both?

abraço (86 east 7th street between first and second avenues)
[L to 1st avenue, 6 to astor place]
one of the tiniest coffee shops you’ll ever see, the warm orange-neon glow here beacons you to a tasty counter culture-roasted cup and the most delicious cookie in all of new york city, the house-baked olive shortbread cookie…those are NOT chocolate chips.

see also:
ninth street espresso (341 east 10th street at avenue B)
able to handle another coffee? ninth street’s newest location is a stone’s throw from their first one, right on the edge of tompkins square park. bring your dog for a run while you’re at it.

manhattan: chelsea

cafe grumpy
[cafe grumpy]

cafe grumpy (224 west 20th street between 7th and 8th avenues)
[A/C/E/1/2/3/L to 14th street, C/E/1to 23rd street]
it can get really busy in here, which is one reason you’re not welcome to open your laptop inside cafe grumpy. you are, however, welcome to rotating selections of coffee from various roasters, including cafe grumpy themselves, who just began roasting their own in september. alongside espresso, try the clover menu — including sampler flights! — for drip.

ninth street espresso chelsea market (9th avenue between 15th and 16th streets)
[A/C/E/L to 14th street]
while restoring yourself at the bakeries, the ronnybrook dairy bar, and jacques torres chocolate, pop into the chelsea market for another coffee at the west side ninth street location. it’s a different world over here, that’s for sure…

manhattan: soho/nolita

gimme! coffee (228 mott street between prince and spring)
[F to broadway-lafayette, 6 to spring street]
upstate roasters gimme! maintain two new york city outposts, and this standing-room-only spot is the perfect place to stop if you’re anywhere south of houston (perhaps while you’re getting an italian sub or a banh mi down the street?). enjoy their own leftist espresso blend, or a by-the-cup coffee served in an abid clever dripper.

manhattan: flatiron

[stumptown coffee roasters]

stumptown coffee roasters (18 west 29th street between fifth and broadway, in the ace hotel)
[N/R/W/6 to 28th street, B/D/F/V/Q to 34 street-herald square]
the arrival of stumptown on NYC shores was the most talked about thing since sliced bread, and may stay that way (…at least until blue bottle opens here.) visit the unlikely flatiron neighborhood (perhaps you’re already at the empire state building?) for this gorgeous cafe featuring some of the best quality coffee roasted in the city, via the stumptown roast post in red hook, brooklyn. french press and espresso are available here, and you can drink them at the standing bar or in the intensely hip-chic lobby of the adjoining ace hotel. don’t miss out on the baked goods; they’re among the best cafe treats in the city. i heart the beet muffin and the pretzelbrot stick with butter.

extra credit : joe upper west side (while you’re in mid-central park…), rbc (new york city’s only slayer machine), kaffe 1668 (perhaps after you’re done with century 21’s bargains and a trip to gawk at the world trade center site?)

and now, swim across the river….

brooklyn: williamsburg/greenpoint

[gimme! coffee]

cafe grumpy greenpoint (193 meserole ave at diamond)
[G to greenpoint ave or nassau ave]
brooklyn cafes have an entirely different feel than their manhattan counterparts, even within the same company. cafe grumpy’s greenpoint store was the first of their three, and, despite often seeming like a study hall, has the comfiest vibe. this is where you come for cappuccinos and craft fairs, clover coffee and watching attractive young people use facebook, etc. sit at one of the common tables, or at the bar overlooking the grumpy roastery. if you’re lucky, there are hard boiled eggs today.

gimme! coffee (228 lorimer street between grand and powers)
[G/L to lorimer street-metropolitan ave, J to lorimer]
though it took me awhile to get past the complete williamsburg hipster ethos of the original nyc gimme! shop, it turns out everyone fits in, at least everyone who simply wants a tasty cup of coffee. the bar seats here are the most community-feeling, regulars-filled spots i know in brooklyn. espresso, clever dripper coffee, and sweetheart staff.

see also: el beit (bedford ave between north 8th and north 9th, serving vancouver’s 49th parallel coffee) and variety coffee (graham avenue between skillman and conselyea, another iconically hip outpost that was the first (?) cafe in brooklyn to serve stumptown.)

brooklyn: park slope

[southside coffee]

southside coffee (652 6th avenue at 19th street)
[M/R to prospect ave, F/G to 4th ave-9th street]
how much to love southside coffee? so much. i’ve said it before on these pages, but the shop basically looks like three dudes just bought some leather sofas and read some spongepaint tips and decided to take a break from reading sandman comics and make really fantastic espresso instead. it sounds out of your way, but they do a great great job. serving intelligentsia coffee, the boys will make you a “gordito” and urge you across the street to lot 2 for dinner. take their advice…

see also: cafe grumpy (383 7th avenue between 11th and 12th, the smallest and cutest of the grumpies), cafe pedlar (court street at warren, a stumptown partnership with frankie’s 457 restaurant serving stump coffee and frankie’s baking).

new york is a city of many, many coffee shops, several good, some great. there are doubtless ones i’ve forgotten, or who have grown better or worse since this list was imagined. explore and judge for yourself…after all, the actual destination is only half the fun, especially in a city as great as this one.

edible, drinkable toronto

November 15th, 2009


For those of you who feel behind on contemporary Canadian psycho-social gastronomic culture, I’m pleased to announce the release of The Edible City, a new book on Toronto’s food landscape. Along with essays by many esteemed Torontonians, the book also includes a piece I wrote on the development of Toronto’s coffee culture, from Mercury Espresso Bar to Tim Horton’s, and if you like, you can order it here.

It seems pointless to coffee-blog anymore now that there’s a sprudge out there, but hey. I went to Iceland!!!!!

Now that I’ve had a week or two to towel off, I still miss the Nordic Barista Cup and everything and everyone that came with it. Iceland itself was as unreal a land as I’d hoped: outer space terrain, stylish, geeky-chic, sweet and weird people left and right, hot water coming out of the ground, a thriving culture of swimmers and knitters, and the best hot dogs I’ve ever had. Oh, and the horses are shorter. And it is constantly raining, but only a little bit, so persistent that you stop noticing and you look up the road a piece and think “gee, it’s raining up there and not here!” and then you realize it’s been raining on you, too, and you should really put away your camera.

The Nordic Barista Cup was long-mumbled-at-me by some of my friends to be the “premier” coffee event of the year, and while I think that suggests more glitter and red carpetry than it contained (other, ahem, than Tim Varney’s Elton John impression), those people may have been right. What makes the Nordic Cup special is that it’s contained in such a strange little vacuum, so intimate and involved, a true gathering of people being inspiring and nerdy and curious all sort of trapped together in magical circumstances that have as much to do with why we’re in coffee as they have to do with anything else at all.

And though it’s true that I would have liked the experience to be more coffee-focused for those of us that were attending rather than competing or judging, that those elements were supplanted by things like synchronized swimming and high-speed Aeropress competitions, by impromptu dance-offs and arts and crafts fairs….I mean. Yeah. This is for sure a better way to stimulate and entertain a community than serving cappuccinos in a black shirt against a black curtain to four people who are pouting. Right?!

But beyond the amazing and innumerable moments of fun and hilarity (I’m talking to you, back of the bus), the biggest coffee treat of my trip to Iceland was what I got to take away. This trip — and I owe my thanks, which should not be appearing as late as the fourth paragraph, to Espresso Parts NW for sending me over there to keep an eye on things — was my first real look at the way coffee happens outside of this continent, and to get to visit cafes (from the more mainstream to Sonja and Imma’s adorable kaffesmidja, the latter quietly unmarked but always full of people) and bring home coffees from these crazy Scandanavians was a fantastic adventure itself. (They roast a little lighter over there than in the States? I’ll say!!)

But back to the Nordic Cup, there’s really nothing to prepare you for the joy of watching countries celebrate their national pride by wearing outlandish costumes, holding cupping challenges and auctioning each other off as dates. That this was all done in-between scuttling across the Icelandic countryside in buses, and hosted by a pompadoured Mexican man who would do things like introduce Cup of Excellence’s Susie Spindler as “XXX rated” was really only gravy. Fishy, malty-sweet Icelandic gravy…

The teams themselves were incredible, each judged as much on skill within competition (I do believe it was Sweden who built the best grinder and roaster out of spare parts…) as what was repeatedly dubbed the mysterious “X” factor. (“Like when you are in love,” explained our adroit emcee Jose.) For me — though the technical prowess of Norway and the flair and teamwork of Iceland and the steadfastness of Finland and the longing gazes of Sweden were clear — there was never any doubt which team would win an “X” factor contest. Denmark, Denmark, Denmark, I knew from the beginning there was no way to top the spirit of a team with straw hats and bathing pantaloons and such killer dance moves. You guys are special, truly. Also, Morten, thanks for giving us that entire pizza in the middle of the city square at 3:00am.

And like any good adventure, the only way to wean yourself away from it is with another, so I did what anyone would do and flew straight from Reykjavik to Seattle, saw a concert three hours after getting off the plane, toured the Pacific Northwest, and high-tailed it back to CoffeeFest. Spending the weekend seeing friends and family, and adopted family, stateside (while overseeing people try to identify the aroma of “basmati rice” vs. “clove-like” vs. “cooked beef”) was exactly what I needed. Watching awesome friends new and old brutalize the Northwest Regional Barista Competition was righteous as well! Too many good people across both magical trips to count here, so let’s cut to the chase…you’re all so lovely, but is it okay if this time around I miss Klaus and Varney the most? (Mp…I guess you can come too.)


nordic barista cup 2009

September 17th, 2009

hot dogs

Oh hello. I’m in Iceland attending the Nordic Barista Cup on behalf of Espresso Parts! I’ll be writing more here eventually, but meanwhile please look for updates here on the Espresso Parts blog.

(Edit: Klaus Thomsen is also blogging here!)


there are a lot of things I look for in a coffeebar’s seating arrangements and a table in the dead center of the cafe is rarely one of them, but check this out: petit café myriade has busted my formula. nowhere near an electrical source or any of the comforts of walls, corners or counters, this fantastic seat at the border of the indoor-outdoor worlds is fucking perfect. sure, you’d rather sit on the swanky new terrasse on a montreal summer’s day, but wouldn’t you like to talk to your friends making coffee, too? well, you can have it all at this table that’s inside while also en plein air. comfy patrons are afforded a panoramic view of rue mackay as well as the entire cafe…well, except whoever sits at the table immediately to your back, which admittedly is creepy. you’re also right by the pastry case (delicious!) and the neglected syphon bar, and convivially centralized for that community/coffeehouse experience you keep forgetting about while staring at your laptop. uh…

cities with months of subzero temperatures appreciate their outdoor patios more than anywhere else (ever been to buffalo in july? it’s friggin wild!) and the specialness of myriade’s bestseat is no exception. grab this one while it’s hot — when the doors to the outside are closed, this seat becomes a “just perfectly acceptable” seat in the blink of an eye!

nyc coffee aurally ingested

June 29th, 2009

edible manhattan

If you like that sort of thing, tune into the Brian Lehrer show on on local NPR affiliate WNYC on Tuesday, June 30 at 10:40 EST to hear me talk about the state of the NYC coffee scene, related loosely to what’s covered in this recent article. Hopefully the questions will be really easy, like “Aren’t blended frappuccinos DELICIOUS??”

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