Our first annual awards, presenting a baker’s dozen of provocateurs, trendsetters, and rabble-rousers.
This is our first foray into direct purchasing in Peru so we made sure we had a look at day-lot (single days of harvest) samples from both the northern and southern producing regions of the country. The Jaen samples from an area along the border of Ecuador were sweetest and had the most complex acidity. The samples from Cusco showed great promise with honey and ripe, stone fruit flavor.
We spent the bulk of the week trekking through the canopy covered, Andean slopes of the La Convencion district of Cusco holding our strategic meetings with coffee farmers from the Nuevo Paraiso, Delcias and Canelon regions.
It would be an understatement to say that plenty of work remains to be done to meet Stumptown’s expectations. The Peruvian coffee industry is and has been mired in corruption. No technical assistance has ever been given to these coffee farmers who live completely isolated from the outside world.
A Seductive Cup
The barista who took my order at Stumptown Coffee Roasters possessed the bone structure of a male model. He was tall and focused and had a tattoo of a schooner on his forearm.
He called me “sir.”
It was a level of ceremony — or even civility — you don’t usually encounter when jockeying for an espresso in New York.
And you don’t usually come across an espresso ($2.50) this exceptional anywhere in the world.
Stumptown, which opened in the Ace Hotel earlier this month, puts a polish on the fanaticism of what’s known as coffee’s “Third Wave.” It’s a movement of purists (no flavorings, please) and obsessives (bags of micro-lot beans are labeled with the latitude, longitude and elevation where grown).
Arguably, this is New York’s first farm-to-cup cafe. Stumptown was started in Portland, Ore., by Duane Sorenson, a legend in coffee circles. The company is known for an intensity that’s part punk, part religion.
But the coffee bar in the Ace Hotel is more about seduction.
It starts with the room. The airy storefront overlooking West 29th Street was designed by Roman and Williams, the firm behind the hotel’s interiors. It’s spare but lush: the floor is travertine, the walnut bar is trimmed in brass. The light fixture, a graceful line of running arcs, is hand-blown milk glass.
Then there’s the natty staff. Dressed in muted shades of gray and blue, they’re professional (the men wear ties), and achingly cool (they look like they skateboard to work).
Most of all there’s the coffee.
The plush and nutty house espresso, Hair Bender, was bright enough to balance the steamed milk in a cappuccino ($3.30) — which, incidentally, is just 10 cents more than what is served at the Starbucks around the corner.
A glass of cold-drip iced coffee (from $2.75) from Carmen Estate in Panama was crisp and clean, like blackberries steeped in water. Different varieties of hot coffee (from $2) are brewed in press pots throughout the day.
Even the mocha (from $3.70) was rich and memorable; it’s made with syrup created by Mast Brothers Chocolate.
Serious coffee has already conquered the West Coast. When delivered with this much style, it could win over New York, too.
Uganda is home to the Robusta coffee species. Large trade houses have jockeyed for position in that industry for over a century now, flooding the international market with a washed version of the inferior, less valuable species. By the wayside have gone the small percentage of coffee farmers who continue growing their Scott Labs Arabica varietals.
Stumptown is out to change that for a group of producers in the Mbale and Bududa districts of Eastern Uganda. We spent all of last week camping out on their turf, training farmers to proper processing practices and trying to instill the virtues that will allow them an opportunity to earn more income. Enjoy the photos………