Photo: sean dreilinger, Flickr
Some boutique coffee shops are banking on the idea that more is more, with cafe owners adopting almost a curator's eye toward the caffeinated offerings. But is this a passing fad or the next wave in coffee connoisseurship?
Read on after the jump to hear what some coffee people think.
"We're a bit obsessive about our coffee, so we're always keen to try everything that the top companies are buying and roasting," says Rachel Haughey, owner of Darien, Conn.'s espresso NEAT, a thoughtfully curated, quality-focused cafe that highlights coffees from several different roasters on a brew-by-the-cup menu. "By working with multiple roasters, we're able to provide a much wider selection, displaying not only different origins but also different roasting styles."
Customers at NEAT can choose from a menu of up to four different drip coffees -- each brewed to order -- and are often helped through the (sometimes seemingly impossible) decision by one of the cafe's passionate baristas. "We're constantly sampling coffees to find the ones that we'd be most excited to drink and serve," Haughey says.
Humberto Ricardo, owner of one of Manhattan's up-and-coming high-quality coffee shops, Third Rail, is also trying to suss out the idea of featuring more than one company's coffee in a way that works for the shop, which primarily uses Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea alongside "guest" coffees. At Third Rail, patrons have an option for both their drip coffee and their espresso -- though they might not realize how much thought goes into the beans that ultimately go into their cup.
"We're still feeling our way through a lot of this, but we're more or less keeping Stumptown's Hair Bender on as an espresso-in-residence," Ricardo says, crediting the New York Times' Oliver Strand for the coinage. "We're defaulting to [Intelligentsia's] Black Cat for milk-based drinks and [Stumptown's] Hair Bender for straight shots and Americanos. We'll use whatever coffee someone wants to make any drink, and sometimes the barista will make a judgment call based on what he or she feels is tasting best at the moment.... [But] it's part of our philosophy not to impose our philosophies."
With quality as a focus, cafe directors who don't feel tied to one supplier or the other are free to explore many of the best options available. Haughey says, "We're brewing each cup to order, doing our best to do justice to the beans, and our customers enjoy being able to choose from our rotating selection. I believe that we will certainly see more multi-roaster shops going forward." And we already do: Portland, Ore.'s Barista, and both Manhattan's Cafe Grumpy and Kaffe 1668 brew beans from near and far.
What do you think: Would you rather pick your own joe from a menu, or do you think that high-quality cafes should simplify, simplify, simplify? Let us know in the comments.
Erin Meister trains baristas for North Carolina-based Counter Culture Coffee and sporadically maintains the blog Meet the Press Pot from her home in New York City. This is part of a series for the caffeine-addicted.