Saturday, November 13, 2010

Stumptown USA

Because of our stay at the Ace Hotel in Portland and New York I had a very good look at Stumptown Coffee Roasters these days.

You can see this as a review of this coffee company, but for me it's more like a market search and comments on how they work. This is all purely personal and discussable of course.

I first heard about this company 5 years ago. They had the most spectacular adds in the Barista Magazine.
One day Kees Van Der Westen came back after installing a big 5 group machine for them in Seattle, he brought along a couple bags of ST beans. The Ethiopia Idido Misty Valley was probably the biggest eye, and taste bud opener I ever had in my professional coffee life.

So I kept following the company and posted some articles about them.
After a small encounter of their pop up bar in Amsterdam I finally went over the ocean to visit them.

One of their bars is at the Ace Hotel in Portland and right at the reception of the hotel. It was a great experience to enter a hotel lobby with a strong coffee aroma.
At first the Barista's give me a cold impression but once you start speaking with them they were very friendly and gave a good service. Of course this is America and bringing over a drink to the table is a part of the job they don't like. In a service minded country like this, with staff costs so low it's a shame they don't give a bit more service. I remember a remark from Tim Wendelboe, when he visited espresso bars in New York that he was impressed and jealous by the service and time the people here invest in their client.
I don't say they don't deliver a great job, but for me a top service is knowing the client by name and serving his/her drink at the table. But that seems to be unseen in the States.

The Hairbender espresso was good as always. The cappuccino's looked good and the milk quality was top level.
The one Chemex I had from the brew bar could have been better though. Ethiopia Mordecofe. Great bean, but average in the Chemex.
This brings us at the first big problem I have with Stumptown and US roasters in general ; they don't roast 'filter'. All their beans are roasted for espresso, even the Kenyans. I don't get this. They do agree there's more taste in a 'filter roast' and they invest an insane amount in beans sourcing and equipment and research to kill a big part of the taste later on the process. ????

The cupping we did at the Belmont enterprise was very good. Matt did an incredible job explaining the cupping process and the coffee were - although roasted for espresso - very, very good.
Kenya Gachami Peaberry : a Grand Cru. Big black berry, well balanced and sweet.
Decaf Colombia La Piramide : Best decaf ever!! Very sweet and clean.
Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Tumticha : Very complex with all Yirchacheffe components in plural.
Colombia El Jordan : Only coffee with 2 stars at the table. Still good though.
Indonesia Sulawesi Toarco : Very fruity, clean and light for a Sulawesi. Stellar job!

In New York the bar at 29th and Broadway is a big hit. It's so busy you don't even want to do the queing. But I did, and was always rewarded with good quality coffee.
Here a couple remarks about Stumptown New York :

- One day the had the Hairbender on press : wrong idea. I can understand a lot of clients like this kind of blend/roastf for press, but I totally don't.
- I also think the Hairbender is not best blend for all the milk drinks. For me it's missing a bit of acidity and brightness.
- They have a Chemex bar, but nobody orders one. A pity on one hand, but a luck thing on the other hand, cause it's a lot of work and we already had to wait 10 to 15 minutes.
- Don't see a difference between a cappuccino and a small latte.
- The technique behind the machine with pouring the shots in small espresso cups before transferring them into the to-go cups looks very stylish. A good idea.
- Interaction between Barista's and clients is almost non-existing. Boring! Every bar of shop you enter in the States they give you a warm personal welcome and try to give you the time of your life. Why can't they do this in a 'third wave' espressobar?
- The french press of the day is the best drink in town valuewise, both in Portland and New York. In Portland they had a board with the name of it and the possibility of doing it yourself. Fantastic idea. Nothing like that in the big apple ; a missed chance. Even Starbucks announces the name of the coffee/blend they brew.
- The looks of the staff is nice.
- The Mistral espresso machines the right choice of equipment.
- The pastry is very good.
- The interior design one of a kind.
- I regret I hardly see people drinking espresso at Stumptown. Isn't this the core of it all?
- The Robur grinders give a good stable grind quality, but are very slow compared to the Anfim Super Caimano with dosers. With this last one you can dose your ground more precisely so you can tamp on them immediately. Big time win!!
- And the best for the last : why are the Barista's so slow? I'm sure my men/women are twice as fast prepping all these drinks. And yes, at the same quality level. I don't understand they want to make every drink seperately. 9 out of 10 'coffees' are milk drinks and served very flat, so I don't think it's a shame to steam up some milk for 2 cappuccino's at once... Like at a championships. A faster service, higher client satisfaction and bigger income would be the result for sure.

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