At Local Roots NYC, we are, of course, advocates of consuming sustainable, locally grown produce. In NYC, we are fortunate to have farms in the area supplying us with products from apples to milk to honey all year long.
Coffee, however, requires a tropical environment to thrive – something our region clearly doesn’t offer. What’s a local food advocate to do?
Even though we have to source our beans from another country, we can still support coffee on a local scale. Buying our beans from small, local roasters means we can get the freshest and most ethical and sustainable coffee available, and, while we might not be able to meet our farmer, we can meet our roaster!
To get a better understanding, three Local Roots staff members took a trip to Counter Culture Coffee’s training center in Soho for their weekly Tasting at Ten cupping with their team of educators and roasters. Professional coffee growers, roasters, and baristas participate in regular cuppings for quality control and to make decisions about what to take to market. For coffee lovers like us, attending cuppings can help us navigate the often overwhelming coffee selection we might face when trying to select beans to take home.
Like wine, coffee’s taste can vary widely depending on where in the world it’s from, the elevation at which it grows, how it was processed, and how it was finally roasted. And, just like a wine tasting, a coffee cupping will use all your senses. At Counter Culture, we sampled three different coffees from the same region taking notes on their scent, taste, and mouthfeel. We learned that some coffee can feel more like skim milk in our mouths, while other coffee can feel more like whole. Notes on scent are taken when sniffing the freshly ground beans, right after brewing and “breaking the crust” over the top of the cup, and while taking a spoonful to taste. We compared each cup’s taste to other familiar flavors. Coffee can carry fruity notes like plum or cherry, might have a bright lemon or orange flavor, and can even taste savory like sage or leafy greens.
Each cup was delicious and beautifully brewed, but we learned what we each like best. Personally, I now know to seek out a coffee with notes of stone fruits to get the taste I prefer. My co-worker Aly, who prefers more deep and savory notes, now knows to avoid buying beans that were grown at higher elevations, which taste fruity and acidic.
Once you’ve found a coffee you like, selecting a brewing method is up next.
While most of us have probably used a standard coffee machine before, knowing what you like and selecting a few tools will take your home coffee game up a notch.
A small hand grinder is the easiest way to control what your end cup of coffee will taste like. Grinding too fine and brewing too long can make coffee taste bitter, while a large grind and too short a brew time can make coffee taste sour without any of its other flavor notes. Hand grinders enable you to adjust the grind size depending on your brewing method and how you personally like your coffee.
Once you’ve got your hand grinder, three excellent options for home brewing are the french press, the dripper, and the Chemex. What method you choose will depend on whether you prefer a richer, deeper flavor or something more tea-like and delicate. How much time you want to spend on your coffee is also a factor.
- The French Press produces a flavorful coffee with a distinctly rich mouthfeel and body. Because it uses a mesh strainer with large holes, more small particles of coffee get into your cup giving it fullness and richness. A downside is potential for too many of those particles to settle at the bottom so watch that final sip!
- The Chemex uses heavy paper filters that trap just about everything. A Chemex-brewed cup is much lighter than a French Press’ and can be lacking in some flavor because the coffee’s oils remained trapped, but the method also makes it difficult to overdo and reduces the chances you’ll brew a bitter cup.
- A dripper produces a cup similar to a Chemex-brewed one, but uses thinner papers allowing more of the coffee’s oils, and therefore, flavors, to get through. A dripper is also an excellent option to get pour over flavor on the go!
For both the Chemex and the dripper, a kettle with a slim pour spout will help you control your pour speed and eventually, your final product.