The Daily Meal, one of the internet’s fastest growing food websites, just released one of the more thorough lists of great coffee shops that can be found across the US. While there are a few notables I would add, there are far fewer surprises then other lists I’ve seen. After first giving readers an update on the progression of coffee culture over the years—with the oft-used wave metaphor—they break down their method of selection:
We scoured for the best independent coffee shops and chains that have changed the way we drink coffee. Our criteria? The best quality in coffee and food, atmosphere, customer service, and the “unique” factor. (Case in point: a DeLorean car in the back of one shop.)
Then a panel of coffee aficionados and industry surveyors, including the current US Barista Champion Katie Caguilo, weighed in with their own nominations and suggestions of both national craft coffee “chains” (i.e. Stumptown & Intelligentsia) as well as domestic shops. A selection of nearly 150 shops across the United States were then narrowed down to 33 winners with the highest ranking.
The Daily Meal’s list the of Top 10 US Coffee Shops
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.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending a weekend in Amsterdam, a place I hadn’t been to in years and whose small but vibrant specialty coffee scene has grown significantly in recent years. While the number of quality shops are growing, it’s still possible to visit most, if not all, of them during a short visit and still have time for some of the city’s other cultural and recreational treasures.
The evening I arrived I headed directly to a gathering of local baristas for a Friday Bean Battle, which is basically a TNT (Thursday Night Latte Art Throwdown) that takes place on the first Friday of every month. The event was being held at Espresso Fabriek, one of the staples of the specialty coffee foundation in Amsterdam. There is no money or points involved in the battle, just a cool little trophy that’s displayed at the shop of the winning barista until the next competition. It was a fun introduction to some of the people I’d be visiting around the city over the coming days.
As one of the first small specialty coffee roasters in Amsterdam, Espresso Fabriek has helped build a foundation for what is now a growing market for lovely coffee bars and cafés across town. They currently have two locations, the first can be found at Westergasfabriek, a former gasworks factory that is now a renovated hot spot for creative and cultural entrepreneurs near Westerpark. The second location is a bit further east of the city in a residential area, which I didn’t visit on this trip (IJburglaan 1489).
Espresso Fabriek can be found behind the main buildings inside a smaller one that once housed gas meters for the nearby factory. It is now an airy two floor loft, with a coffee bar on the ground level and a Giesen roaster with extra seating up above. There’s a 3-group Kees van der Westen lever machine as well as slow bar with V60s and AeroPress filter coffee available. Be sure to try a slice of the Apple cake.
Screaming Beans is another company that has been a staple of the Amsterdam community who serves coffee roasted by Bocca. In the last year they’ve refreshed their original location with a recent remodel and opened a second location that doubles as a well stocked wine bar and restaurant—complete with tasting menu. The wine bar takes the format of a typical coffee shop and throws it out the window. It offers an experience of fine dining and elegance that won’t have customers questioning the cost of a Chemex. Stationed in front of the glowing wine cellar are dueling Kees van der Westen lever machines, an Über boiler and a myriad of different brew methods to choose from.
The original location, which just re-opened last month in a popular shopping district, has a more traditional café menu, with weekend brunch and pastries along with a fully equipped coffee bar up front, which is also outfitted with a Kees van der Westen lever machine. The space is long and narrow with a bright white wall that reflects light into a nook that’s adorned floor to ceiling with lovely reclaimed wood. What impressed me most about both of the Screaming Beans locations is their dedication to table side coffee brewing, which really elevated the experience to new levels.
Coffee Bru is located south east of the city and is a bit out of the way for most travelers. However, if you have the time it’s a journey that will take you to parts of Amsterdam you would otherwise probably never visit. This café has only been open for about a year and a half, but it has the feeling of a neighborhood institution. It’s less modern than the other shops around town and much more bohemian. There’s a corner full of toys for the kids, a living plant wall in the back room and a menu offering vegan friendly fare.
The coffee bar is built on a brightly tiled island that feels like you’re in someone’s kitchen. The baristas serve coffee roasted by Bocca on V60s and espresso was pulled on a La Marzocco. I had my best cup of filter coffee here, but the least welcoming service.
KOKO Coffee & Design was a favorite of mine on this trip. The shop has only been open for 6 months, but it already seems to have a stream of regulars taking advantage of the inspiring surroundings and great coffee. The atmosphere, the location, the concept and the coffee where all fantastic and the service by the lovely owners Karlijn and Caroline was warm and welcoming. KOKO is located right in the heart of Amsterdam, with a front door that sits just across the canal from the Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum. Its presence is unsuspecting and greatly appreciated in this part of town.
The space is part coffee bar that uses beans roasted by Caffenation in Antwerp, Belgium and part design boutique that sells clothing and other accessories from exclusive designers that can’t be found elsewhere in The Netherlands. There is a variety of vintage furniture for lounging and well-lit tables for working or sitting with groups. All of which share the space harmoniously with racks of designer clothing and rotating art exhibits on the walls. I could have spent all day sitting here reading through old magazine and sipping a cappuccino, which was the best I had on my trip.
Headfirst Coffee is the newest coffee shop in Amsterdam and will soon be the newest specialty roaster as well. When I visited, they had only been open for a month and were using coffee roasted on a friend’s machine while waiting for their new Giesen roaster to arrive. The owners of Headfirst, share the space with another business called Harvest & Co that sells vintage furniture, home accessories and other lifestyle goods that transform the space into one you’d find on the pages of Kinfolk as well as Barista Magazine.
The space here is warm and inviting and the bar is simple and understated with little to distract from the shiny new La Marzocco Strada, which takes center stage. The filter coffee was brewed with an AeroPress while I was there and the single origin espresso was singing with brightness and balance. The owners will soon be roasting themselves in the back half of the shop which will introduce more customers to the process behind their cup and adding even more to the quickly growing coffee scene in Amsterdam.
There’s so much activity in Amsterdam and the coffee shops have all taken their own unique approaches to the service they provide and the atmosphere they’ve created. If new shops continue to open up at the same rate as they have in the past year, Amsterdam will soon find itself as one of the leading specialty coffee hubs in Europe.
Gerry Leary, who is seeing impaired, was led by his curious passion and love for good food to start his own coffee company when he as introduced to coffee roasting on a visit to San Francisco in the early 90′s. After learning the audible cues of coffee roasting, Gerry began searching for a job with several companies, but was unable to find anyone who would hire him, unconvinced that he could roast by smell and sound alone. So Gerry opened his own roastery and later bought a struggling coffee shop to learn more about his coffee and his customers.
The film was created by Ira Chute for Whole Food’s online magazine Dark Rye and offers an inspiring look at how far motivation can take a person, no matter what obstacles they may face. Beautifully filmed and heartwarming. Grab a fresh cup and enjoy.
The season for this year’s coffee events has only just begun, but it’s never too soon to begin planning a trip to one of the last (and one of my favorites)—the Nordic Barista Cup. This intimate gathering of coffee professionals includes lectures, socializing, cupping and both the Nordic barista team competitions and Nordic Roaster Cup.
Space is limited to only 200 participants to foster an environment of inclusiveness and community. The event, which took place in Copenhagen the last two years, is moving to Oslo this fall where it will be hosted at Mathallen, the city’s new culinary epicenter. Mathallen is home to the new Solberg & Hansen concept store and is just a short walk away from Tim Wendelboe’s coffee bar (incase you needed any more incentive).
This year’s focus country is Brazil. Ticket are on sale now and take note that the prices will increase on July 1st. Stay tuned for a full list of speakers.
If you’re a fan of the French press, but not the fine particles that cloud your brew, the Espro Press is about to change your morning cup for the better. The Espro is a press pot that uses a dual micro-filter that’s 9 to 12 times finer than the mesh on a standard press. I first encountered the Espro Press at the Houston Specialty Coffee Event nearly 2 years ago, where I enjoyed a cup of Yirgacheffe from 49th Parallel. I was quite surprised by its cleanliness and depth of flavor, but believed I had “matured” beyond such methods.
It wasn’t until a visit to Coffee Collective in Copenhagen last year that I was encouraged to give it another look. When I saw the Espro being used on bar at Coffee Collective and after thoroughly enjoying a cup of Esmeralda Gesha from it, I realized the press pot had been reborn—renewing my enthusiasm for a faithful old brew method.
A year ago, Espro launched a Kickstarter to fund the production of a large 30oz Espro Press—raising over $80,000—to complement its original 8oz version. This week, the Vancouver, Canada-based company is back on the crowd-funding site for help producing a new 18oz size press, which not only offers a more practical size, but will also include a few design refinements over its small and large counterparts.
The French press is one of the most common ways for people to brew their coffee at home. It was the method I first used to brew at home and it’s even the most popular way to brew among Verve Coffee employees. At one point in time, it was a preferred method of brewing coffee in some of the great specialty coffee shops before the pour over craze converted many of us to the pleasure of sweetness and clarity that paper filters provide.
While the full immersion brew method and simplicity of the French press are great, its muddiness and grit can mask and distort some of the more nuanced flavors in coffee, which is why you may have noticed them disappearing from some of your favorite cafés. But their ease of use and the ability to brew large quantities for guests is nearly unrivaled by most home brewing methods. Espro takes advantage of those positive aspects and has done a great job addressing the negatives with their redesigned filter.
The Espro filter system is comprised of two (BPA-free) plastic frames that are wrapped with a micro-mesh and nest comfortably into each other, creating twice the filtering of a standard press. The filter then screws onto a plunging rod like other press pots so it can be unscrewed and cleaned once you’re finished. The pot itself is polished, double-wall stainless steel, which keeps things warmer longer, although I highly suggest decanting the coffee immediately after brewing to prevent over extraction (bitterness).
The filter system is a remarkable improvement over the standard French press and it’s surprising that it took so long for someone to accomplish something that seems a bit obvious. There is however one issue I have with the large size press that Espro sent me for testing—which the company says they addressed in the design of the new medium size Espro—and that’s the retention of coffee below the filter cup. Since the current filter system fits so well into the pot, and there are no holes in the bottom of it, the Espro traps a substantial amount of coffee at the bottom that ultimately goes to waste.
When brewing 750g of water in the Espro, I decanted 554g of coffee. After “rocking” the pot back and forth, the total increased to 568g of coffee. With the Bodum press however, I brewed 750g of water and was able to decant 674g of coffee—giving me another half cup of coffee. You can squeeze a bit more coffee from the Espro by slightly raising the filter or continuing to rock it back and forth, but this also risks increasing the amount of sediment that passes through, which defeats the entire purpose of the product.
Below I’ve run an experiment to illustrate the difference between the sediment in the Espro compared with a standard Bodum French press.
I brewed coffee with each press using the same parameters and technique: 45 grams of coffee to 750 grams of water (coarse grind, 8-A on a Baratza Vario-W), a 2 minute steep followed by a stir, followed by 2 more minutes of steeping and a controlled 30 second press. The coffee was immediately decanted to prevent further extraction. I then poured the decanted coffee through a rinsed V60 paper to capture the sediment and give a visual approximation of the differences.
Overall, the coffee brewed in the Espro had more sweetness, more clarity and more acidity than in the standard French press. The resulting cup was not entirely sediment free, but it was reduced to a small bit of mud from fines rather than a gritty mouthfeel throughout. Depending on variations in your method (i.e. the cupping method of skimming before pressing) it’s possible to further reduce the sediment.
My goal with this test was to replicate a more standard use of the press pot than to examine the most effective sediment reduction methods. I found the amount of sediment from the Espro to be similar to what you can achieve with the Able Kone, but with the approachability that a press pot offers to beginners who are looking for a less intimidating way to start brewing much better coffee at home.
The Madrid-based coffee bar, Toma Café partnered up with Visual Shakers, a local film studio to develop this short and hypnotic look at the Chemex brew method. The process is beautifully filmed, edited and will easily inspire you to brew another cup. Enjoy.
Once you’ve learned how to appreciate and enjoy black coffee, what should you do with all the unnecessary coffee accessories, like wooden stir sticks? You could follow the lead of Jonathan Brilliant and make beautiful art with them.
Jonathan has developed a method of weaving together coffee stirrers (preferably the 7 inch round-tip ones from Starbucks) that use their own tensile strength to create large, organic sculptures with no adhesives or binders.
The installation shown here was created in Sumter, South Carolina in 2007. It took 14 days to weave together the 60,000 stirrers that flow through a rotunda and wrap around a glowing chandelier. They stirrers held together for an incredible 6 months before they began to separate and fall apart—at which time they were donated to local schools.
Moka pot. Microwave. Espresso pods. Three things I would never recommend for improving your coffee experience. However, two German brothers decided to combine all three and team up with San Francisco-based Lunar design to create the Piamo—an inverted, microwavable moka pot. Sigh. At least it’s not disposable.
It’s lovely, it’s iconic, it fits in the palm of your hand. But that’s about the only thing going for it. If you’re into espresso pods and nuking your water, this might just be your thing, otherwise ignore all the design and tech blogs this will be most likely be posted on in the coming weeks (guilty). But whether or not it makes good coffee, it will look just as nice on the shelf next to the other moka pot I own and never use.
In the latest celebrity specialty coffee sighting, singer/songwriter/actor and kleptomaniac Landon Pigg is seen falling in love over Stumptown Coffee in Brooklyn.
The video for his single “Coffee Shop” was filmed in the Greenpoint café, Brooklyn Label, where the star can freeze time long enough to steal apples, scarves, balloons, and even a bicycle (the worst kind of thief) to woo his equally melodramatic love interest.
If you have an affinity for roller derby or Ellen Page (guilty) you may recognize Pigg from the 2009 film “Whip It” where his role as a guitar playing heart throb first began on the big screen. Directed by Lenny Bass who’s no stranger to videos in coffee shops.