Last year at the end of his talk for the Nordic Barista Cup, René Redzepi, chef and co-owner of the two-Michelin star restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, made a pledge to the 200 coffee professionals in attendance:
next year, I can guarantee you 110% that we will have the best coffee of any restaurant in the world.
Just seven months later, Noma announced a newly revamped coffee service developed with the help of Tim Wendelboe and his Oslo-based coffee roastery. Noma has been named the World’s Best Restaurant for the past 3 years and Tim Wendelboe, who won the World Barista Championship in 2004 and has won the Nordic Roaster Championship on several occasions, makes their partnership one of culinary renown.
When making a reservation four months in advance, paying $400 a person and sitting through a four hour dining experience, you might think it’s expected to receive exceptional coffee at the end of the meal. However, there’s been a lot of discussion (here, here and here) after a recent article by Grub Street revealed that 30% of Michelin star restaurants use the same Nespresso capsules many people have in their home or office.
Noma, however, was never among the ranks of Nespresso using restaurants. For the past nine years they had been using a French press to brew coffee roasted by Estate (co-owned by Claus Meyer who also co-owns Noma), so coffee already received a high level of regard by comparison. After years without evolving the coffee alongside everything else on the menu, it was time to offer a coffee service that, according to Noma sommelier Mads Kleppe, would be “both delicious and interesting … and play with the light, fresh and acidic flavors that you find familiar throughout a noma experience.”
Noma is not the first and surely won’t be the last restaurant to begin taking coffee more seriously. They just happen to be one of the most visible examples of a small but growing number of restaurants that have dedicated the time, money and effort into providing coffee that truly reflects all the other details considered in the creation of an exceptional dining experience. Eleven Madison Park in New York has been serving tableside Chemexes of Intelligentsia coffee for several years, Coffee Collective provides coffee and training to the Michelin starred restaurants Geranium, Kadeau, Kiin Kiin and Relæ in Denmark, while Sweden’s Koppi is working with Copenhagen’s newly opened Bror, run by Samuel Nutter and Victor Wagman—two former sous chefs from Noma.
Just a few days following the official announcement of the new coffee service, I travelled to Copenhagen to take part in the complete Noma experience—three and a half months after making a reservation. Noma offers two services, one that begins at noon and a second identical one later in the evening. We choose the early service to enjoy our food in the light of day and still have the evening to enjoy Copenhagen.
As our party walked in we were greeted warmly by a team of hosts, had our coats removed and were led to our table and tucked into our chairs. We toasted the beginning of our journey with a glass of Champagne and were informed that our appetizers would begin coming out at a brisk pace. What followed next was a remarkably choreographed dance of new dishes, descriptive monologues and bite-size explosions of flavor.
During the next 40 minutes, we would try ten different plates that included fried reindeer moss, smoked pickled quails eggs, sorrel with fermented crickets and Æbleskiver (a pancake-esque ball of dough) with a smoked muikki fish poking through both sides. Every dish was unexpected and challenged the palate in new ways. Each new dish, though unique, complemented the flavors that preceded them.
Following the appetizers were a series of main courses. Each new course was punctuated by fresh baked bread with whipped butter while the sommelier introduced a new wine. The twenty course meal was complimented with nine wines—all but one were white.
For the next two and a half hours, new culinary experiences would arrive, each one just as considered as the last. From the onion and fermented pear soup to the pike perch with verbana and dill, the flavors were delicate and balanced with sparks of incredible flavor—exactly what you’d hope for in a delicious and exciting cup of coffee.
As the final dish from the main course was brought out by the chef, he explained the lengths to which they went preparing the Danish beef rib—aged 3 weeks and cooked for 3 days—adorned with lingon berries. I began to think how unimaginable it would be, after eating that rib, for a restaurant of this caliber to spend less than 3 minutes preparing an excellent cup of coffee to compliment the rest of the menu.
After the wine had all been reduced to empty bottles and the desserts were just a sweet memory on our tongues, we were led from our table in the dining room to the newly remodeled lounge next door. Four hours had passed since first sitting at our table and it was now time to counteract the nap encouraging wine with the results of Noma’s newly implemented coffee service, prepared by the head sommelier Mads Kleppe.
When developing the new coffee service, Noma settled on using the 03 size V60 to brew large enough quantities of coffee to serve parties of various sizes. Kleppe explained his intention of changing coffees seasonally and being dedicated to brewing coffee that pair well with the menu. The first coffee selected and currently being used at Noma is Tim Wendelboe’s Kenya, from the Kapsokisio coop located near Mt. Elgon.
As Kleppe brewed the coffee in front of us, his iPhone keeping time and an extractMoJo nearby, he spoke comfortably and openly about the new coffee, training with Wendelboe and the staff’s excitement for the new service. When the coffee finished it was stirred and decanted into a collection of blown-glassware, custom designed in just a few days by the Danish artist Nina Nørgaard in collaboration with Noma. We were then seated in the lounge with our coffee, a selection of flavored aquavits and a few last snacks—including a chocolate dipped potato chip and a smoked bone marrow infused caramel.
The coffee glowed deep red in the afternoon sun and smelled of berries with the same hue. It was balanced with a buttery body and a sweetness and acidity that was accentuated by the smoked caramel served beside it. Sitting in the warmth of the lounge, and running my fingers over the smooth lines of the thick glass in my hand, I couldn’t imagine a better way to end such an incredible meal. I can’t say whether it’s the best restaurant coffee in the world, but I can say it’s the best I’ve experienced so far.
Before leaving, we were given a tour of the kitchen areas and taken up to the private dining room where all the chefs eat and new dishes are explored. We happened to meet with Redzepi himself who briefly discussed the new coffee service and its success so far. He mentioned that one of the biggest surprises during the whole process was discovering just how complex and particular the infrastructure for coffee can be, including the cost and effort of installing the restaurants second dedicated water system and having a full-time staff member devoted to just preparing coffee.
Now that the world’s best restaurant has taken the effort to highlight coffee with a passion that’s on par with the rest of their food, will more restaurants follow suit? Should they? While some may argue that coffee isn’t needed after a meal, let alone anything more than mediocre swill from a capsule, others realize that post-dinner coffee is a ritual for many and at the highest levels of culinary craftsmanship, God is in the details.
Verve Coffee – Ethiopia Worka, Dry-Process
12oz Whole Bean – $14.50
Santa Cruz, California
I’ve known about Verve for a while, but I hadn’t actually tried their coffee until recently. I had been completely enamored with their packaging, so I’m not sure what took so long for me to order some. Recently, I met Josh Kaplan, director of wholesale for Verve, while I was in Houston and had planned a visit to Sweetleaf the following week in NYC—who brews Verve. So everything fell in place for me to finally experience their coffee.
After a great experience at Sweetleaf, where Rich served up my first cup of Verve, he sent me on my way with a bag of Ethiopian Worka. However, I wasn’t able to brew it until meeting up with Mike White a few days later. By then, the beans were slightly passed peak freshness—and though it was good, I felt like I missed out on what it really had to offer. After getting home, I ordered a bag of their Ethiopian Lomi Peaberry—and after a series of shipping mishaps—really enjoyed this sweet and effervescent coffee.
But after all the shipping issues, which weren’t the fault of Verve, they made up for it anyway by sending me a fresh bag of Ethiopian Worka and my very own OG mug. I now had a second chance to taste this coffee in its prime and it didn’t disappoint.
Aroma: After opening the bag, I was blown away with dueling characteristics of Booberry and Count Chocula cereals. Dry and malty, but incredibly sweet with vanilla undertones. Once brewed, the cold cereal aroma became a warm buttered blueberry waffle. L’eggo my Eggo, this cup was all mine.
Taste: When the coffee fills your mouth, you discover dabs of sweet maple syrup that have burrowed into the bluberry waffle’s grid-like caverns. The syrupy body coats your mouth like a spoon of Mrs. Buttersworth’s, followed by a finish that is clean and bright—like a final swig of orange garnished spring water as you leave the table after Sunday morning brunch. Heavy and sweet, but well balanced.
This coffee is really exceptional, one of my favorites in recent months. I have no idea why it took so long to try Verve, but I’m glad that I have and I’m looking forward to more of their coffee in the future. Everyone I’ve spoken with at the company has been really awesome and I’ve found out first hand, just how much they value customer service.
It’s also very clear—once you’ve held a bag of their coffee in your hand—how great of an understanding and appreciation they have for design. There are few, if any, coffee bags that could rival the intricacy and production value of theirs. It feels nice in your hand and looks great on your counter. The best part is, the complexity and quality of the package reflects that of the product inside.
Order some Verve Ethiopia Worka
Design by Chen Design Associates
PT’s Coffee – Kenya Thiriku (Top Auction Lot)
12oz Whole Bean – $20.25
In January, I had the pleasure of trying PT’s Coffee for the first time. I ordered a bag of their Panama Elida Estate from GoCoffeeGo, and was completely blown away by it—which you can read about here. After such a great first impression, I looked forward to the next offering I would have the pleasure of trying from this midwest-based roaster.
When I finally stopped traveling long enough for the guy’s at PT’s to send me something new to try, this Kenya Thiriku was their homepage headliner. A few weeks ago, I excitedly received a bag of the Kenya along with some of their Burundi Kayanza Gatare (Lot 3). While the Burundi was a really nice coffee, with notes of smooth white chocolate mixed with a citrusy sweetness, the Thiriku was my favorite of the two.
Aroma: The aroma flowing from the Chemex as I buried my nose in it was refreshing and alarmingly sweet like cherry Jolly Rancher candy with a citrus twist. As the cherry vapor left the carafe, it evolved into a tart and accurately noted ruby red grapefruit.
Taste: This coffee celebrated its introduction to my mouth with very bright and sweet grapefruit characteristics. The body held up surprisingly well for a Chemex-made coffee and met my palette with a smooth honey mouthfeel. As the citrus mellowed, it shifted into a sweet caramel and salted nut finish that lingered pleasantly on the tongue.
Once again PT’s delivered an exceptional coffee that I woke each morning eager to brew. Unfortunately, the Kenya Thiriku is no longer available and the Burundi Kayanza Gatare has taken it’s place on the homepage. Sorry for the delayed review, which means the missed opportunity to try it yourself, but I doubt you’d be disappointed with another offering from PT’s. I’ve got my eye on their Costa Rica Finca Cerra Paldo as well as the Panama Carmen Estate—or just ask them for their recommendation on twitter.
PT’s Coffee – Panama Elida Estate Natural
1lb Whole Bean – $17.84
I had a lot of fantastic coffee last year—from some of the best roasters in the world—and this coffee ranks high among them.
Since returning from a trip to Scandinavia last fall, where I first tasted the coveted Hacienda la Esmeralda as well as a cup of the winning coffee from this year’s Nordic Roasting Champion—I had been continually underwhelmed by much of the coffee I’ve had since. The coffee hasn’t been bad by any means, however it dulled in comparison. I was beginning to think I had raised the bar so high, it would be hard to recapture that feeling of awe from an incredible cup of coffee.
However, this selection put things back into perspective. From the moment I opened the bag of PT’s Panama Elida Estate, I felt like a kid in a candy shoppe.
Aroma: The aroma was so sweet and potent, it quickly overtook my studio. Lemon wafers, syrup smothered waffles, and sugar cane filled the air, while the essence of macadamia and hazelnut took my mind someplace exotic. While my first pot was brewing, I took a moment to bask in the the sweet haze when the combined fragrances struck me as one—Crunch Berries. This coffee smelled like a box of my favorite childhood cereal, it was splendid.
Taste: While enjoying my first sip, I looked out at the morning sun reflecting on the melting snow, and smiled. This coffee tastes as brilliant as it smells. A deliciously sweet and juicy mouthfeel is highlighted with a pleasant lemon zest, while hints of pineapple, chocolate and hazelnut fade into a smooth, woody finish.
Sip after sip, this coffee is fantastic. I definitely look forward to my next shipment from Kansas. Hat’s off to the guys at PT’s.
**The above review was also recently chosen as a Member Pick of the Week at GoCoffeeGo. While PT’s is now sold out of their Elida Estate for the year you can check out more of their offerings and order them at GoCoffeeGo.
After Storyville’s essential hardware is in place, then comes the Storyville software—two bags of coffee packed as delicately as a cashmere sweater. The same design detail found in the hardware packaging is present throughout the coffee as well.
The clear plastic, resealable bags are printed in metallic ink with a knockout of their logo, allowing a preview of the product inside. The typography is nicely considered and the roast date is printed right on the front of the bag—just as large as Storyville’s name—making it easy to find and stressing its importance.
Nestled underneath the coffee was a nicely wrapped DVD with the videos from the website teaching you how to brew the perfect press pot as well as the short film about “Big Coffee” and the burnt bean cover-up.
The coffee itself wasn’t as exciting for me as everything else. Not that it was bad, I know a number of people who this would make a great gift for, but I’m not usually in the market for a comforting, earthy morning blend.
The aroma is nice, full of chocolate and spice. There’s also a bit of cinnamon, a hint of clove and honey sweetened nuts that make their way out of the cup. The coffee is full bodied with a bit of a dry mouthfeel. Spiced walnuts are the most prominent flavor, while some lemon zest add a bit of brightness to the cup. As it cools, the coffee smoothes out and ends with a red wine finish.
The last thing I want to share about Storyville, which could be another post in itself, is their Storyville Live initiative. Chad Turnbull, Co-President of Storyville, calls themselves a “for profit, for good” company. What this means is that their success is not determined by profit alone, but also by how they can contribute back to society. I am a big proponent of this type of business. When I’m not writing about coffee or doing design work for clients, I’m actually a bit of a social entrepreneur myself.
Storyville Live is an intimate concert in the home of a generous host, completely organized by the company with the help of a guest list. During an event, fresh coffee is served up to fuel the live music and conversation that ensue, which allows Storyville to personally introduce new customers to their product. This intimate setting also gives them an opportunity to share their passion for another cause—to see an end to human trafficking and slavery. While this seems like a heavy topic, what better place to discuss an important global issue than over coffee with friends? What’s better, is all of the proceeds made from coffee and hardware sales go directly to the International Justice Mission, who are fighting to end such oppression.
There are many coffee companies who use their sales to promote the well being of people in coffee growing regions (which is fantastic, we should all be doing that), but I find Storyville’s unique approach to raise money for an unrelated issue, a very sincere effort to improve the world we live in. Storyville’s heart is clearly visible in everything they do. From the studio they roast their coffee in, to the way it’s presented when you receive it in your home, it’s obvious that Storyville cares deeply about what they do, which is not only great business, but a great way to live.
One Village Coffee
I first discovered One Village Coffee in late June and posted about their fantastic new packaging, but I hadn’t be able to try their coffee because of my travel schedule. The guys from One Village finally caught up with me and sent a spread of their coffees to sample.
One Village Coffee (OVC) is a Certified B Corporation, which means they’ve been certified to not only consider monetary stakeholders, but also societal stakeholders (eg. communities, environment, and employees). This is a fairly new distinction, but an honorable step to take for any business. The coffee is sourced through direct relationships with farmers and OVC is actively involved with community projects at origin in Nigeria and Honduras. Great company, great design, now let’s get to the coffee!
Organic Ethiopia Yirgacheffe
Aroma: Very herbal while presenting itself with a brisk and cool aura, a burst of sweet mint with chocolate undertones and a hint of cinnamon toast create an invigorating first impression.
Taste: The cup is mellow and full with very little brightness. The herbal minty aromas have transformed into into an earthy basil. Smooth, but with a dry mouthfeel more reminiscent of Indonesians that hint of leather and tobacco. The finish lands with a peppery kick that lingers on the tongue as a surprising, but pleasant conclusion.
Overall, this Ethiopian really shined. Although it’s different than others I’ve had in the past, I enjoyed the unique characteristics of it. I may be a purist, but when I was introduced to single origin coffee, my love for coffee truly began. I appreciate and enjoy the integrity of a bean’s natural flavor more than the attempts to craft a specific taste. It’s like playing with nature. Blends are the GMOs of the coffee world.
Medium Dark Roast
Aroma: Caramel and deceptively sweet hints of vanilla bean roll out of the cup through a forest of old growth wood ravaged by a california wild fire.
Taste: The sweet but tart characteristics of Lemonhead candies are sadly muted by the smokey taste of an old campfire blanket. The carbon fog lifts towards the finish, ending on a brighter note, reminding you of what could have been.
While I wouldn’t buy the Artist Blend myself, I’m aware that some people really enjoy the smokiness of darker coffees. But the slight glimmering beans and the hollow use of “Bold” as a descriptor on the bag, evokes Starbucks Pike Place. I can tell there are some underlying flavors that would really shine in a lighter roast.
Aroma: Sweet and seductive, full of brown sugar scents and notes of mixed nuts. All of the goodies you’d put in a bowl of oatmeal, compacted into a 2oz shot.
Taste: Very smooth with a subtle and approachable brightness. The essence of almond and chocolate are most prominent with a touch of apricot. A well-rounded espresso for beginners with a finish that lingers comfortably after the goods are gone.
I’ve been drinking a lot of single origin shots recently, which tend to be very bright and acidic. I enjoy it, but it’s definitely too intense for many people, especially those drinking shots for their first time. OVC’s Nordico Espresso is really smooth and balanced, a nice way to introduce someone to espresso without completely shocking their senses.
Check out more at One Village Coffee
I’ve recently been having conversations with friends about the ecological impact of drinking coffee. No matter how you brew your fair trade, organic, shade grown coffee—unless you live at origin—your coffee is still being shipped halfway across the globe. The environmental impact of that journey can’t be offset by simply using a filterless, non-electric brewer (eg. French press or Presso). While they are responsible options to minimizing our impact, it’s still a losing battle.
For those who love the Earth as much as their coffee—meet Tiny Footprint Coffee, the world’s first carbon-negative coffee roaster. In business for less than a year, this Minneapolis based roaster offers light, medium, and dark roast blends, as well as decaf and espresso. They also offer a selection of single origin beans for purists like myself. TFC sources organic, shade grown beans from a variety of countries around the world and roasts them in small batches on a vintage Probat.
What makes TFC so unique is their efforts to offset the carbon impact of their coffee. They’ve done the math and figured out that 4lbs of CO2 are emitted during the harvest, shipping, roasting and delivering of a single pound of coffee. So for every pound sold, TFC plants enough trees in the Mindo Cloudforest of Ecuador to suck up 54lb of CO2. This endeavor makes each pound of coffee’s footprint, net negative 50lbs. Aside from absorbing CO2, TFC’s reforestation efforts also provide jobs to local farmers, improves local infrastructure, rebuilds water tables, reinforces soil conservation techniques, and provides habitat for rare and endangered bird species in the cloudforest. So not only is this a great solution to the eco impact of coffee, it also tastes pretty damn good.
Tiny Footprint Coffee: Organic Light Roast
Aroma: While the beans were darker than what I normally consider a light roast, I wasn’t disappointed. The scent of the grind was pleasant with a sweet earthy smell. Once brewed the aroma transformed into a rich cocoa with hints of caramel and vanilla.
Taste: The first sip was very smooth with enough brightness to part the lips for more. After passing the initial spark of that first sip, the doors opened wide to a very unique mix of citrus, oak and pine, with a touch of clove. If there ever were a coffee that captured an early morning in the Minnesota (or Maine) woods, this would be the closest I’ve ever tried. The medium body brew brightened as it cooled and finished with a mellow taste of almonds.
A good friend of mine recently met Tim Duren at the farmer’s market in Tuscaloosa, AL. Tim’s normal fare are Snapdragons (the flowers) but he recently began roasting coffee to sell at the farmer’s market. This is great news for anyone in West Alabama, because it’s a coffee desert otherwise, with the closest quality roaster 70 miles away in Birmingham. So my friend kindly sent two roasts my way to try out, and to sum things up, Tim has a bright future ahead of him. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this new roaster, but Tim’s El Salvador is one of the best cups I’ve had since being in NYC this spring.
Tim’s Custom Roasted Coffee: Organic El Salvador
Aroma: The ground beans were rich as Fort Knox with a sweet scent of chocolate and a handful of nuts. Once brewed the aromas became more complex and very sweet. Caramel and hints of vanilla were very present and the dry nutty scent was blended into the creamy aroma of peanut butter without the jelly.
Taste: My initial sip was met with a lively brightness, like a spoonful of grapefruit on a quite Saturday morning. The shine of the first sip smoothed into a nutty aftertaste that evolved more and more into dry cocoa as it cooled. A very pleasant and smooth, full body swells from the cup, filling my mouth as a warm marshmallow would after roasting lightly on a camp fire.
I’m generally not a fan of Colombian coffees, and while this was more enjoyable than most, it was still kind of boring.
Tim’s Custom Roasted Coffee: Colombian Valencia
Aroma: The dry grounds were surprisingly floral with hints of fruit and nuts. After being brewed the aroma was surprisingly dull without providing much of anything aside from a slight hint of orange peel. The cup became very flat and unexciting to me.
Taste: Though the aroma offered no enticement, my first sip was pleasantly accented with a citrus zest followed by slightly salted walnuts washed down with a nice slightly sweet finish. As the cup cooled the brightness was more pronounced and the flavors became much more complex with chocolate and a dry wine finish that rounded out this medium body brew.
Great Lakes Coffee: Fair Trade Organic Brazil
Whole Bean – $12.98/lb
Bloomfield Hills, MI
Bean: These tiny beans give off a powerful scent as strong as the summer air. Cherries, butterflies, and swing sets in the park fill my head as soon as I opened the bag. A consistent but alternating hue to the beans creates a nice colorful depth, but leaves me with questions of this single origin roast quality.
Aroma: I close my eyes and find myself strolling through urban gardens of Rio de Janeiro. A bright explosion of floral consumes my senses, drawing my attention from the littered streets and the shaking tangas of Mardi Gras, to a place full of exotic flowers I’ve never known. A smoothness without any distinguishable peaks vying for attention dance from my cup. The arrangement works in harmony to produce a beautiful and enjoyable experience, much as a well designed bouquet would be seen as a whole and not a sum of its parts.
Taste: A medium to darker body—like those sun-kissed by the excess exposure Brazilian swim suits provide—carries itself in a surprisingly mellow fashion across the tongue. There’s a slight acidic sting that hits the back of your throat like the chill of a cold winter day, but this adds excitement to a mild mannered entrance. After the spark of this celebration ignites, it rolls into an incredibly rich and full bodied finish that leaves you feeling like you’ve just found the baby in the King Cake.
Dear Red Diamond,
This was meant to be a review, but I found your coffee unreviewable. I chose to reframe my efforts as an open letter to your company instead, which claims to be one of the three oldest coffee companies in the US. If this is true, I must know, how can you be so terrible at what you do?
Maybe you’ve grown content over all these years and swept aside all concerns of quality and reputation. Maybe you built your company on unbreakable contracts with diners, drive-ins and dives that continue to generate revenue, despite the poor quality of your product. Or maybe in light of the current economic conditions, you’ve cut back on expenses by collecting your beans from the remnants strewn among the putrid floors of international shipping warehouses. I could speculate all day.
The size and shape of your 100% Arabica beans can’t even maintain the illusion of consistency and their leather brown skins are speckled with leprosy. I should have known that paying the price of a medium coffee for an entire 12oz bag of beans would yield mediocre results; but I never imagined coffee could leave the same taste in my mouth as the morning after vomit from a night of heavy drinking.
I will however give you credit for infusing your roast with an aroma that could convince a child they had a mug of Swiss Miss hot cocoa in front of them. The sweet smell of caramel coated s’mores is endearing—enticing even—but as soon as said child takes his first unsuspecting gulp of nostalgic winter comfort, he’d be kicked in the mouth with a carbon footprint flavored beverage unworthy of the shadiest gas stations.
While you offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee of your product, for $2.99, it’s not worth the check you’d print my refund on. The only thing that would satisfy me is never having to taste your coffee again. I also exhort you to remove the distinction of “the south’s finest” from your bags; this title belongs to one of the other fine Birmingham based coffee roasters.
Thank you for ensuring that I truly appreciate every cup of coffee I have after yours.