Last year, on a day much like today, the snow sifted to the ground like powdered sugar, the thin jacket, in hindsight, too thin, and the canned brisk air just unlatched and untucked from a night’s confinement, I stumbled, on my way to class, grumbling across the disrespected and disgruntled land bridge known as the “College Ghetto” when I noticed heat and noise emitting from the cellar of the defunct mid-town Telephone Company.
With my shoes soaked, my socks spongy, and my class, not important anymore, I stepped cautiously up the iced-over stoop, through a glass door and back down some steps into what could be easily described as a dungeon. But it was warmer and softer, and full of characters like myself discouraged by winter’s struggles, nay, Albany’s winter struggle. As merely a face in the crowd, I couldn’t help but smile at the newly grounded microcosmic organization founder mere blocks from my doorstep: The Hudson River Coffee House.
UPDATE 11/25/14: This post is out of date. Read this for the most current info.
The headline isn\’t entirely true. You might have had a cup of coffee at my house.
Everyone who knows me, knows the (insane) extent that I go through to have good coffee. There\’s really no secret to having good coffee either. The beans need to be good. The roast needs to compliment the beans. They need to be used within days of being roasted. The grind needs to be appropriate for how you\’re brewing it. All the aforementioned steps, when stated out loud are painfully obvious; yet it\’s completely baffling that Albany has such a developed collection of incompetence disguised as coffee shops.
To me, the most painful thing is that every shop has all of the necessary fixtures and equipment to do it correctly. They simply lack the knowledge to do it any way other than what they\’re used to. Blue Bottle Coffee in Williamsburg prepares every cup of coffee one at a time and they\’re unfailingly busy from the minute they open, to the minute they close. Yes, this takes extra time, but if cars were cars, everyone would drive a Hyundai. For those who need their coffee right away they will go to Stewart\’s and add 8oz of french vanilla CoffeeMate to make it drinkable, but that\’s what they\’re proud to be voting for with their dollar.
The next most disappointing thing is that most of these shops roast their own beans, improperly using machines which cost would pay off my student loans in full. If you can\’t do it right yourself, get a wholesale account with Gimme!, Grumpy, Stumptown, or Blue Bottle and swallow your pride. You\’ll make more money and have more people in your shop than you\’ve ever had because people will travel, wait and pay for known quality. (The cost of coffee from any of these places is the same as you\’re used to, and often the beans are the same or about a dollar more than Starbucks.)
Most often at fault, are low quality beans, which are roasted to oblivion to mask their low quality. Real roasters don\’t even use \”light\” or \”dark\” to describe their roasts. Brace yourself for the knowledge bomb:
In its most simplistic definition, roasting is the process by which the coffee seed is made edible for consumption. The roasting process is the means to the end, and in the end there should be no premeditated dark or light roasts, but only these 3 possibilities:
The coffee is too underdeveloped, flavors taste vegetal
The coffee is properly developed, flavors are revealed and highlighted
The coffee is degraded, nuances masked by improper and over roasting
Of course, all of this has little meaning without the context of the quality of the green coffee (coffee seed) itself. If the quality of the green coffee is poor, then all that \’proper development\’ will do is highlight the intrinsic negative characteristics of the coffee (defects and the off tastes of cellulose). If the green coffee is of high quality and has complexity, uniqueness, balance and sweetness, then it is the roaster\’s job to develop, reveal and highlight these characteristics.
With out nerding out too much, I make all my own coffee one cup at a time. I own a commercial grade burr grinder (the things that spin with blades are not grinders by definition) and a scale which I use to weigh out each cup\’s worth of beans. Rinse the filter, add beans, water and wait. Repeatable perfection. It\’s not hard, and costs about 40¢ per cup when all said and done.
As far as the new Lark coffee shop and the one on Hudson & Quail, I have low expectations. Call me a curmudgeon, but all I see is business majors looking to establish an appreciating asset and flip it. Oh well, I\’ll just go downstairs and make myself better coffee anyway.