Years ago, coffee was coffee. There were a few basic options: decaf or regular, hot or iced. But the actof drinking java, let alone the incredible process behind making it,changed drastically forTarrytowncustomerswhen Coffee Labs Roasters opened in 2002. Labs ownerMike Love travels the world to bring home the highest quality, most flavorfulbeans. He estimates that he visits eight to 10countries per year in his quest.
Arriving at the Main Street storefrontafter-hours was a treat. The doors were locked, and instead of dozens of customers feverishly working on their laptops, the tables were pulled together and covered withperfect rows of fruits, berries, chocolates, and nuts, all of which would play a roll in our impending coffee-cuppingsession.
For the uninitiated, coffeecupping is atasting technique to helpevaluate aroma and flavor profile. Similar to a wine or beer tasting, Love and his employees take the endeavorvery seriously. Several employees, some new and some old, were on hand to help guide me through my firstexperience.
Cupping session ingredients included berries and other fruits, nuts, and various types of chocolate.
With guidance from barista/trainer Carolyn Hood, we firstsampled the nuts, ranging fromcreamy cashews to walnuts’dry, lingering taste. Then came the chocolates and their sweet rainbow of flavors. White chocolate provided a burst of sweetness, while the semi sweet, dark, and baker’s varieties gave offmore robust, richer notes. A similar spectrumof fruits and berries followed, with 21 flavors taken in all told.
An hour in, and there wasstill no coffee served. I was beginning to wonder if we were in the right spot.It was at that moment that head barista Jefferson Lundeen-Goldschlag cued the staff. The chocolates, fruits, berries, and nuts were removed, and two coffee cups were placed down. We smelled the dry coffee and noticed it wasstrong,pungent, and hard to define.Lundeen-Goldschlag then delicately added hot water, and we continued towait, occasionally extending our necks for a whiff.Finally, we were handed spoons and instructed to slurp the coffee like alast drop of soup. We reached in and did as instructed.
My first reaction was, “Well, this tastes like delicious coffee,”but there had to be more to it than that.It was then that Jefferson asked us to reference ournotes fromthe first portion of the night,take another slurp and re-read what we’d jotted down. It became abundantly clear that the coffee, which hailed from Rwanda, featured notes of the cashews, blackberry, dark chocolate, and grapefruit, i.e. all the things we’dsampled earlier.
This is all par for the course at Coffee Labs, as each barista has to attend at least one cupping per month, and looking around, it didn’t seem like anyone was upset about being at work at 9 pm on a Monday night. As barista Andrew Campbell explained,it’spart of the culture, and they all embraceit.
Peering across the table, I asked Nick Green, the newest member of the Coffee Labs team, what he thought of his first cupping experience. His reply summed up the night:“It’s hard to get away from, ‘This is a blueberry.’ When you do, you realize how important this is.” For guys like Lundeen-Goldschlag and Love, these flavors are second nature. For Green, there’s still plenty to learn.
Fortunately, apositive attitude and eagerness to learn are what Coffee Labs looks for when training employees. It’s often months before the new hire is ready to pull espresso shots. And when the rest of the staff thinks they’re ready, Mike Love has the final say, at which point,“We throw them back there on a busy Saturday and see how they do.” Suffice to say, I’ll never approach my morning cup (no matter what day it is)the same way again.