2011 – Top 10 coffee shops

Without diplomacy or agenda, based on taste & consistency, these are the best places I’ve had coffee in 2011.

  1. Ninth Street Espresso Chelsea Market – New York
  2. Customs Brew Bar – Wellington
  3. Blue Bottle Ferry – San Francisco
  4. Stumptown Ace Hotel – New York
  5. Blue Bottle Mint – San Francisco
  6. Public Domain – Portland
  7. RBC NYC – New York
  8. People’s Garage – Wellington
  9. Stumptown Roasters – Portland
  10. Fuel Espresso Willis – Wellington

Coffee travel kit

Prior to going to Las Vegas for a conference I organized myself a coffee travel kit including the only TSA-approved travel grinder – a thing of brushed steel and ceramic beauty (the Porlex mini hand grinder purchased from Blue Bottle)! I’ve got to know a seasoned traveling saleswoman who told me that I’d never be able to find coffee in Las Vegas and that when she drove to conferences there from her home in Orange County, she took her own coffee maker!

What a life saver. I used it there quite a bit after developing skills for finding a cup of hot water somewhere, also not easy to find in Las Vegas!

Coffee addict's travelling kit

For your reference:

At a terrible bar or casino coffee shop you can tell a story about an icky tummy, or put on a flu-liked blocked nose in desperate need of a sachet flu drink, and get a takeaway cup of boiling water; with a confident walk and clipboard or leather-bound work pad with your phone to your ear because you’re too busy to stop and talk, you can mingle in the crowd at a conference or trade show (there’s always one happening somewhere in a hotel in Las Vegas) and get a cup of boiling water out of one of their urns; in the hotel you can order a breakfast and specify a pot of boiling water – this is all possible but the trick is to remember you need 2 cups, one full, one empty, might mean stashing a cup from an earlier score!

Sleeter Conference Las Vegas

Different to Wellington cafes

When I was packing to come home from our trip to San Francisco and Portland, I realised most of my coats and scarves smelt like coffee … lovely … and better than the turmeric smell I used to come home with when I was a fresh young PA working at Davis Trading in Petone – direct importer of food ingredients … every spice and flavour you could think of plus some other strange things I’d certainly never heard of until I spent 18 months there (rollmops, prawn crackers (yes I was surrounded by foreign food!)).

Anyway, reflecting on the cafes I’d been to in San Francisco and Portland – a general comment about baristas – they’re all about the same age, perhaps around 30 and seem really committed to coffee as a profession.  Didn’t get the impression or see anyone following a recipe, taking shortcuts (with the extraction or reusing milk (in fact most times jugs washed out between customers)), or looking like they’d been rostered on and were waiting for the end of their shift. We’re getting quite a few places of this quality around Wellington now, but we still have our fair share of cafes slamming out the coffees to go with muffins or toasted paninis. Perhaps being about the craft and appreciation of coffee rather than primarily about food or getting through a morning tea rush is what makes the time taken to do it properly possible. And the customers there like me were waiting for a perfect coffee not a flat white that tastes different every time you visit.

As for the customers – there are always half a dozen people in a cafe whether together or on laptops; no-one wears a suit and those in meetings have a yellow work pad; all the cool dudes have little beards; the cafe smells of coffee, not whatever last thing was cooked on the sandwich press and is now lingering in the air. And this is definitely what I wish for in Wellington – no-one stays just 15 minutes or as long as it takes to drink coffee – they stay, they use their computer, they use the cafe’s free fast wi-fi, a group swells and trickles out as acquaintances come and go, whether it be bike couriers, students, other guys from the office; no-one clears the cups noisily (in fact you put your own cup on the bench when you’re done). Hanging out is serious business. I’m going to try more of this in Wellington – will be interesting to see how long I feel comfortable staying for.

Stumptown - Division

NZ Barista Championships 2011

We’ve spent a couple of really interesting weekends around coffee experts recently – the local and then national barista competition to see who was crowned best coffee maker in the country. The winner represents New Zealand at the World Barista Championships in Bogata in June.

The competition is very precise – just 15 minutes to make each of the 4 judges an espresso, a cappuccino and a signature drink (must involve coffee, no alcohol and showcase coffee in some way). Points are awarded for flavour, technique, coffee knowledge and experience. The contestants wear a microphone and have to talk through what they’re doing and are under close scrutiny from the judges – watching everything – how much coffee they spill from the grinder, how much milk is left over, and how tidy their work station is.

We knew one of the competitors quite well, Massimo from Fuel, plus recognised a lot of the other baristas from around town competing in the Wellington champs a couple of weekends ago.

It was a really fascinating experience and with the cameras everywhere and big screens showing close-up shots of extractions and milk pouring it was just like the world champ videos I’ve seen online. I think at the Wellington heats we were the only coffee drinkers/customers there – most seemed to be other baristas and people from the coffee trade – felt quite special! Unfortunately now The Mister thinks he knows everything about how milk should be poured to form symmetry on top of the espresso so I’ve been getting ‘advice’ every morning for the last couple of weeks on how I could improve my milk – what!?

A couple of pics from the Wellington champs (at the Supreme roastery):

Nick from Memphis Belle who won the Wellington competition

Barista champs Wellington

Aidan from People’s Coffee being watched by the technical judges

Barista champs Wellington

Arui from Christchurch showing the tasting judges the coconut she was going to heat up to enhance this flavour in her coffee

Barista champs Christchurch heats

And some from the NZ champs yesterday (at the Mojo roastery):

Aymon’s every move being recorded

NZ Barista Champs in Wellington

Massimo constructing his signature drink

NZ Barista Champs in Wellington

And the winner Winner Hideyuki from Christchurch being mobbed by the paparazzi for an interview!

NZ Barista Champs in Wellington

Heaps more photos here on Flickr.

San Francisco trip

Next week we’re heading up to San Francisco and Portland for a couple of weeks so The Mister can attend a conference – we’ll be on the look out for good coffee in San Francisco and definitely expect to find some in Portland – often dubbed Coffee City – sounds too good to be true!

Have started a list:

Lots of Fuel

There’s a sign up at Fuel today – 15 years they’ve been making coffee! And I’ve been drinking it from one or other of their cafes, holes-in-the wall or carts for 13 of those years. I reckon on average I’ve had a Fuel cup in my hand every day for the last 13 years. So great they’re still around – a real Wellington institution.

15 years of coffee

Lots of Fuel

Photos of New York coffee houses

Saw this great little photo series on the New York Times website today. And it was especially exciting to see that we’d been to almost all of the places – brought back lots of memories.

Screen shot 2011-01-18 at 3.24.42 PM

Baristas in trilby hats

You may recall that a lot of my coffee reviews from New York drew the conclusion that if a guy in a trilby hat is making the coffee, then it’s going to be good – like the guy we spotted when we went into RBC on Worth St.

However, thanks to this article in the New York Times it seems that baristas are required to wear a hair restraint. So if we judge a barista purely by the fact that they wear a hat we may be disappointed although thankfully all our hat-wearing baristas were pretty good!

Supreme Woodward art installation

Remember a while back when Supreme opened their revamped Woodward Street store I went down and took a bunch of photos and commented on the little ‘exhibition’ space in the brick wall? Well the minute I saw that space I knew what I wanted to take to put there one day – and that day came last week when our Supreme Friend tweeted that he was looking for something new to put in the space.

I rushed down there with the treasure that I knew I wanted to display – just on loan – my New York prism!

Supreme WW art installation

Supreme WW art installation

Oh how easily the little Vespa model was cast aside so I could ‘install’ my treasure. We discussed all sorts of lighting and signage options but for now, one of my orange cards serves as the art credit. Feel very famous!

Supreme WW art installation

Trying different beans

We’ve got a bit out of sync with the coffee beans lately – all because we were out of town one Saturday and unable to get them from Customs Brew Bar and then a long weekend full of baking meant we drank more coffee at home than normal. So The Mister had to go down to Customs on Tuesday morning to see what they had … we knew Ralph’s Brazilian wouldn’t be an option as they’re the quickest to sell out at the weekend. However, he recommended Guatemalan Palhu Estate. After the last time I tried beans on our Supreme Friend’s recommendation and I reported back to them that the coffee tasted like a banana skin in the compost, I thought I better pay closer attention this time. I even sipped the espresso just after it came out of the machine before turning it into a latte. So from espresso to last drop of latte, as the coffee cooled, here’s my range of flavours:

  • molasses
  • that savoury flavoured edge that a caramel toffee often has
  • Marmite
  • flax
  • cup of tea (eeeuuw gross, I hate tea, so it was a rather unpleasant ending)

How did I do?