Photo: James Fairbrass preparing coffee at the brew bar in Stumptown Coffee Roasters’ new coffee shop.
Want Coffee Brewed Your Way? Be Specific
When Starbucks installed its first espresso bar in downtown Seattle, in 1984, it effectively reordered the hierarchy of coffee in this country: brewed coffee might be nice, but nothing beats the theater of a latte.
Today, many coffee nerds feel differently. Espressos are tasty, and a cappuccino is a pleasurable indulgence, but the real magic is found in a cup of black coffee prepared to order with beans from the latest harvest: the new crop of Central American coffees that is arriving now, and East African coffees that will be here come summer. When members of this generation of fanatics step up to a brew bar, it’s not to look for something familiar and comforting; it’s to try something new.
Two coffee bars opening in Manhattan reflect this ascendant interest in brewed coffee. This week Stumptown Coffee Roasters reveals its most ambitious project to date. The company spent nearly $1 million to transform a neglected Greenwich Village storefront (it was once the Eighth Street Bookshop, a literary hangout that closed in 1979) into a coffee shop with unusually sumptuous details: coffered ceiling, walnut bar, custom wallpaper screened by hand in Portland, Ore. The shop includes a separate brew bar, where you may order any coffee in the catalog prepared on your choice of gadget, including AeroPress, Bee House, Chemex, French press, siphon and V60.
The brew bar is as much a workshop as it is a place to get a coffee and buy some gear. There will be demonstrations, free cuppings and an easy flow of jargon-laced conversation. If you want to learn how grind size affects extraction, here’s your chance.
Next week, Intelligentsia Coffee will open a coffee bar off the mosaic-tiled lobby of the High Line Hotel in Chelsea, a former seminary that dates to 1895. In addition to offering a daily coffee on a pour-over bar equipped with Wave drippers from the Japanese manufacturer Kalita (the current darling of high-end coffee), the baristas will select a second coffee that they think “pops,” said Stephen Morrissey, the director of communications for Intelligentsia. Then they will choose a preparation that suits those beans.
“When the morning shift comes in at 5:30 a.m., they’ll cup the coffees,” said Mr. Morrissey, who won the prestigious World Barista Championship when he was working for Square Mile Coffee Roasters in London. “Then they’ll pick how to make it. It’s not that one brewer is better than another brewer. It’s that they might decide, ‘I’m loving the toffee notes in this, I bet it’ll be awesome in a Cafe Solo,’ ” he said, referring to a kind of brewer.
Not all brew methods are created equal. Some use thick paper filters that create a cleaner cup, others perforated metal filters that let through the oils and fine sediment that create a richer texture. A dripper might be shaped like a cone (the V60) or a wedge (the Bee House) or a cup (the Wave). The details can make a difference. Even if there’s no one right way to prepare coffee, different methods lead to distinctive flavors.
“Sometimes you want a heftier cup,” Mr. Morrissey said. “Other times you may want to celebrate other characteristics of the coffee, the more floral notes, the delicate acidity.”
This is the first New York outpost for Intelligentsia, which was founded in Chicago in 1995 and evolved from a neighborhood shop into one of the industry’s most influential coffee companies. It’s the second New York shop for Stumptown, which is based in Portland, Ore. In 2009, Stumptown opened a coffee bar at the Ace Hotel in Midtown that has about 1,250 customers a day.
The two companies are tiny when compared with the industry’s heaviest hitters: this will be Intelligentsia’s ninth location, Stumptown’s eighth. But both are pioneers of direct trade, and were among the first to travel to the countries where coffee is produced to shorten the feedback loop between the farmer and the roaster. Both maintain a network of expert buyers who procure some of the finest coffees in the world.
Even if they are fierce rivals (for all they have in common, there’s little collaboration between the two), each fixates on what is unique about the coffees it goes through so much trouble to source.
And while both are shining a spotlight on brewed coffee, neither is abandoning espresso — they are equipped with tricked-out machines. You can try out a brewed coffee you wouldn’t normally order, and have your latte, too.
Intelligentsia Coffee, the High Line Hotel, 180 10th Avenue (West 20th Street); (212) 933-9796; intelligentsiacoffee.com.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters, 30 West Eighth Street (Macdougal Street); (646) 590-2376; stumptowncoffee.com.