What’s the secret to a perfect cup of coffee? The caffeinated concoction is a morning staple, especially in New York, where Manhattanites drink it by the gallon to fuel their fast-paced lifestyle. We spoke with the team at Stumptown Coffee, the Portland, Oregon-based roaster that supplies The Knickerbocker Hotel, to get the details.
Here are Stumptown’s tricks to enjoying coffee.
Keep the coffee fresh.
“Think of coffee as a fruit,” say Stumptown Coffee’s Katie Bernstein and Emily Rosenberg. “It’s an agricultural product. It’s seasonal. A lot of people think of it like a pantry staple—like flour, or sugar—but it’s the seed of a fruit. Once it’s ground, it starts oxidizing and starts losing its flavor.” Home brewers should only buy as much as they need, and grind it just before drinking.
Get the right “flavor” (not “taste”)
Flavor, not simply taste, is how we experience coffee. Taste just involves the tastebuds, but flavor includes the 1,000-plus possible aromas for coffee. Like wine, coffee can have aromatic notes of lavender, stone fruit or chocolate because of the bean’s original chemical makeup. And roasting the coffee brings new smells, too. “Just like how toasted bread has a much more pungent flavor than untoasted bread, roasted coffee has aromas that weren’t there before,” says Rosenberg.
There are some easy ways to know which flavor you’ll get from which coffees. While all coffee varieties trace their genetic origins to Ethiopia, different soils, altitudes, and processing techniques lead to significant flavor variations. Stumptown Coffee’s Tasting Guide (see below) demonstrates how Latin American coffees generally taste fruitier, African coffees tarter and more floral, and Indonesian coffees more herbal. Blends add up to something else, often sweeter and nuttier.
Time your coffee right.
For the ideal (highly caffeinated) day, start with a “robust type of coffee,” says Emily Rosenberg. “An African brew is more delicate,” she adds, recommending it for later in the day, while a more chocolatey and rich blend is better for dessert.
Only add milk to blends.
Most African coffees don’t take to milk as well as the heartier blends. “You’re not going to put a heavy sauce on a super delicate vegetable,” says Rosenberg. “Your goal is to not cover up the flavor.”
Don’t take coffee too seriously.
At the end of the day, it’s just what you enjoy drinking. If you like your Ethiopian coffee with milk, go for it. If you enjoy a chocolatey blend at breakfast, you’re not wrong. “We’re not dogmatic about it,” Rosenberg and Bernstein say, laughing. “It’s always a matter of personal preference.”