Postcard: Paso Robles, California

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Paso Robles, California

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Postcard: Bush Vines of Adelaida Cellars in Paso Robles, California

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Bush Vines of Adelaida Cellars in Paso Robles, California

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Postcard: RdV Vineyards in Delaplane, Virginia

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RdV Vineyards, Delaplane, Virginia

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What Happened on My Visit to Turkish Wine Country?

Sneak Peek: My piece on the clash between Turkey’s blossoming wine culture and the current government’s politics, debuts in Melbourne-based drinks journal Alquimie in one week. If you’re not a subscriber, order a copy of the fifth edition here. In addition to my article, the issue covers tequila’s smoky, rustic cousin mezcal, Rhone Valley Syrah, and a range of fun apéritifs. Gorgeous photography and fine writing guaranteed.

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Image by Lauren Mowery of Vinkara Winery near Ankara, Turkey

 

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Corsican Wine Takes Manhattan. Get Tix and Go!

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Image by Lauren Mowery of a photo taken by Aaron Zebrook the wine director at NYC’s Beatrice Inn

Last night, I attended “Being,” a collaborative wine and art exhibition in a brightly lit, white-walled gallery in Nolita, NYC thrown by Wines of Corsica. The event sought to transport wine enthusiasts to the French isle near Italy, a rugged, windswept place still raw and untouched in its beauty, but refined in its wines. Twelve producers brought their current lineup; guests noshed on cheese from Artisanal and perused photos of Corsica by Aaron Zebrook, the wine director at NYC’s Beatrice Inn, and art by Gabriela Bravo Clavello, a Mexican painter and industrial designer.

From what I tasted and the gorgeous photos I’ve seen (included the ones on display last night), Corsica is the most beautiful spot I’ve never visited, and I need to rectify that immediately. For now, we can at least drink the flavors of the island because 8 of the 12 producers at the show are in the NYC market. Several wineries noted in their tasting manual profiles that they are looking for representation. So, for any importers interested in Corsica, there are three more events slated for today through Saturday. For consumers, you can buy $30 tix here for the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday shows.

I didn’t make it through all of the wines, but I found six of the seven I spent time with, impressive. The typical varieties of Corsica are the white grape Vermentinu, and reds Sciaccarellu (pronounced check-ar-ello), and Niellucciu (pronounced nell-oo-cho). The range of expressions squeezed out of Vermentinu was surprising. Textures changed depending on the location of the vineyard, and the winemaking styles, and even fruit profiles differed enough to make every Vermentinu a new discovery. Apple, pear, citrus, lemon-curd, herbs, white flowers, a stony mineral character, hay, and occasionally, an oily note, could be detected.

The medium-bodied reds were often a blend of the two grapes: one for color and fruit, the other for tannin, and showed dark red/black fruits, pepper spice, licorice, savory herbal notes, occasionally a meaty/ferrous quality, and varying degrees of acid structure, depending on the side of the island the grapes were grown.

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All images by Lauren Mowery

The surprise hits of the night were the rosés. Maybe I just long for this ghastly East Coast winter to choke and die, but sipping the refreshing, pale pink lovelies put visions of seafood on a warm, breezy beach in my head. The wines hit the perfect balance of delicate red fruits, orange citrus notes, and litheness and minerality on the palate, without  a single touch of sourness, bitterness, or sharpness of acid on the finish.  None. Corsican rosé should be stocked in your fridge all summer.

Overall, the producers I particularly liked were Domaine d’Alzipratu (no importer), Clos Teddi (The Vine Collective), Orenga de Gaffory (VOS Selections), and Yves Leccia (Kermit Lynch). The last producer, Yves Leccia, makes a stunning and unique white wine from the grape Biancu Gentile. Originally thought to be extinct, there now are only five producers in the world commercially making this wine. Flavor profile: Ginger spice, almond, ripe pear, lemon, and white flowers on the rich, aromatic nose, leading to a broad, waxy-textured palate almost reminiscent of a white Rhone grape. Really cool, really rare. Go find it.

Yves Leccia/Domaine d’e Croce, 2013 Biancu Gentile Blanc, I.G.P. Ile de Beaute (the French government, sticklers that they are, wouldn’t officially recognize the grape in the region’s appellations, hence the IGP.)

I posted a brief synopsis of the event on Unscrewed two days ago:

Wines of Corsica Presents “Being” at Openhouse Mulberry Gallery (201 Mulberry Street), April 9 through 11
Transport yourself out of Manhattan and onto the rustic and beautiful Mediterranean island of Corsica with “Being,” a one-of-a-kind, artistic event series dedicated to the dreamy French isle’s finest export — wine. Attendees will sample an array of local vins while viewing depictions of daily life through the eyes of two artists.

For three days — Thursday, April 9, and Friday, April 10, from 6 to 9 p.m., and Saturday, April 11, from 7 to 11 p.m. — nine Corsican producers will be on hand to discuss their wines, walk patrons through the process of winemaking, and describe the various grapes commonly grown on the island.

The visual component to the tasting was conceived by Aaron Zebrook, a photographer and the wine director at NYC’s Beatrice Inn, and Gabriela Bravo Clavello, a Mexican painter and industrial designer. Both artists spent ten days on the island during the harvest season in order to capture the essence of Corsica, from the wine culture and the natural surroundings to the people who call it home. Bravo Clavello creatively incorporates organic elements into her paintings by using Corsican soil, vines, and rocks. Zebrook will present his inspiring photographs.

Tickets for “Being” are $30 and include the wine tasting, cheeses by Artisanal, and the art show.

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If You Live in NYC, Here are April’s Best Wine Tastings

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Spring makes her stunning debut not with the blustery, wet weather forecasted for this week, but with a knockout lineup of wine tastings from three stellar regions: Willamette, Oregon; Corsica, France; and Portugal. Rather wine than sun, right? Here’s where to taste this month.

Wines of Corsica Presents “Being” at Openhouse Mulberry Gallery (201 Mulberry Street), April 9 through 11
Transport yourself out of Manhattan and on to the rustic and beautiful Mediterranean island of Corsica with “Being,” a one-of-a-kind, artistic event series dedicated to the dreamy French Isle’s finest export — wine. Attendees will sample an array of local vins while viewing depictions of daily life through the eyes of two artists.

For three days — Thursday, April 9, and Friday, April 10, from 6 to 9 p.m., and Saturday, April 11, from 7 to 11 p.m., nine Corsican producers will be on hand to discuss their wines, walk patrons through the process of winemaking, and describe the various grapes commonly grown on the island.

The visual component to the tasting was conceived by Aaron Zebrook, a photographer and the wine director at NYC’s Beatrice Inn, and Gabriela Bravo Clavello, a Mexican painter and industrial designer. Both artists spent ten days on the island during the harvest season in order to capture the essence of Corsica, from the wine culture and the natural surroundings to the people who call it home. Bravo Clavello creatively incorporates organic elements into her paintings by using Corsican soil, vines, and rocks. Zebrook will present his inspiring photographs.

Tickets for “Being” are $30 and include the wine tasting, cheeses by Artisanal, and the art show.

Oregon “Pinot in the City” at City Winery (155 Varick Street, 212-608-0555), April 14
2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Willamette Valley’s first pinot noir plantings. Pioneering winemakers, compelled by a vision to create an American “Burgundy,” riskily staked their hopes on a finicky grape in a wet and cool-weather-plagued valley. But the gamble paid off, propelling Oregon into the global spotlight for its delicate, nuanced, often achingly honest Pinots, and the region never lost its soul to corporate, moneyed interests in the process. Many farms and wineries are still small, family-owned operations.

Fifty of Willamette’s top wineries will showcase their favorite selections, including the Valley’s signature pinot noir and pinot gris, along with chardonnay and riesling. Familiar names include Penner-Ash, Erath, Ponzi, Drouhin, Adelsheim, and Domaine Serene. Hors d’oeuvres from City Winery will top off the evening.

Purchase tickets in advance for $75.

Wines of Portugal Progressive Tasting at Lobster Place (75 Ninth Avenue), April 16
Spend a joyous evening drinking Portuguese wine while noshing on small bites at Chelsea Market’s Lobster Place to offset the depression-inducing deluge of April showers slated for the month.

Organizers of this maiden event hope to introduce patrons to the incredible range of Portugal’s wine and regions, from the dry reds of Bairrada, to the crisp whites of Vinho Verde, to the elegant expressions of the Dão, and the rich and concentrated wines from Alentejo and the Douro. Guests will progress from station to station sampling regional offerings paired purposefully with appetizers from Lobster Place and Dickson’s Farmstand Meats.

The event takes place on April 16 from 7 to 9 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $60.

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Here’s Why You Should Care the Lowest pH Riesling in the World Comes From Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

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All Images by Lauren Mowery

If you missed my Village Voice column, here’s a second look…

Acid: wine needs it for balance. It makes your mouth salivate, cuts through fat and cream, keeps wines fresh, especially sweet ones, and helps them age gracefully in the bottle. But too much of it, and the drinking experience mimics sucking a tart, mouth-puckering lemon. Too little of it, and the wine tastes flabby, or flat, or even syrupy like bad, store-bought Margarita mix.

Bright, zesty wines have long been considered the provenance of the Old World. Self-proclaimed “acid freaks” who love the crackling, electric tension (myself included, to the detriment of my teeth), track regions where high-acid levels occur naturally. Chablis, Austria, Germany, and Northern Italy, for example, reliably produce laser-sharp, racy whites. But pH levels taken from a global pool of rieslings uncovered an interesting phenomenon: the semi-desert grape-growing region of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada — the New World — delivered some of the lowest numbers ever recorded.

Acid, naturally occurring in grapes, diminishes as they ripen, especially in warm climates. The general backlash against the over-ripening of fruit, and trend towards picking earlier to create wines with “balance” (simplified: less ripeness in grapes means lower sugar levels and higher acid, which makes lower alcohol and higher acid wines) is in full-throttle, but not all growers have the luxury of retaining acid levels naturally after fermentation. Wines from hot zones like South Australia and Central California often require an addition of tartaric acid (which comes as a big bag of white powder, and gets measured and dumped in like sugar in a cake recipe).

Let’s geek out for a moment on pH. This scale from zero to fourteen measures acidity versus alkalinity. A pH of seven is neutral. The higher the number, the more alkaline or basic the substance, like root vegetables. The lower the number, the more acidic the substance is, like apples. Most white wines fall between three to four pH; reds lean a bit higher, depending on the variety.

Riesling specialist Stuart Pigott ran a story on the variety’s range of pH levels in the December 2013 issue of Wine & Spirits. The lowest pH wine he’d ever encountered in the world was “the off-dry 2012 Platinum from Cedar Creek in the Okanagan, with an astonishing pH 2.73.” He noted that “the only wines that sometimes match that figure are chardonnay base wines for Champagne, deliberately picked early to get that acid.”

You might be wondering why anyone would want to drink a wine with such a low pH if high acid levels equate to a jarring tartness. Well, sometimes you wouldn’t. Just as acid can be added to wine, it can also be removed. But the key here is balance; Okanagan rieslings have equilibrium because their fruit expressions soften sharp edges, as do the occasional, small amounts of sugar left in some wines. (Think about lemonade: the synergy of sugar and lemon juice is greater than the sum of its parts.)

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While this isn’t exactly fresh news to the industry, the revelation lacked relevance to the average New York consumer because British Columbia’s wines weren’t available in our market. Until now.

Recently launched on the Wines of B.C. website, an e-commerce platform makes available select bottles from a small portfolio of boutique producers, directly to New York consumers. The selection won’t overwhelm you into indecision, but there’s enough to whet your palate. Plus, shipping costs are relatively nominal (although the wines are rather expensive).

Located a four hour drive east of Vancouver in south central British Columbia, the Okanagan Valley has around 130 producers spread across sub-regions like Kelowna, Naramata, Oliver/Osoyoos, Summerland, and the neighboring Similkameen Valley.
The Okanagan is considered the northernmost fine wine producing region in the world. (Although climate change is pushing the latitudinal reach of vitis vinifera further into Northern Europe).

The lake- and wilderness-dense countryside encompasses a stunning 125-mile swath of patchwork vineyards running south to the border with Washington State. The semi-arid desert climate provides hot, dry summers and long sunlight hours for the ripening of grapes, with cool nights helping to retain fresh acidity.

Not sold on Wines of B.C., but available in the New York market, are the rieslings of Tantalus. Winemaker David Paterson and vineyard manager Warwick Shaw are experts at transforming the grape into a transparent, piercing expression of their vineyard sites. Tense, almost quivering, lemon-lime notes snap like pop rocks above a chalky, mineral complexion.

Riesling isn’t the only grape to enjoy the favor of the climate and soils. Vivid pinot noir, chiseled syrah, savory cab franc and attractive Bordeaux blends, show promise in the red category. Available on the B.C. site, Meyer Family specializes in pinot, and Black Hills Estate and Painted Rock produce some of the region’s most serious red blends. Until more producers penetrate the competitive NYC market, however, my best advice for exploring Okanagan Valley wines: go there, and bring along a big suitcase.

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Sleep Here: Le Quartier Francais, Franschhoek, South Africa

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All images by Lauren Mowery

Le Quartier Francais

If a hotel can embody the spirit of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel Secret Garden, Le Quartier Francais comes close.  On Franschhoek’s main street, an unassuming front entrance adjacent to the outdoor patio of the property’s cocktail and wine bar belies the escapist fantasy waiting inside. Guests and visitors must funnel through common spaces, past très chic French décor punctuated by African accents, and whimsical rabbits perched on pedestals in anthropomorphic poses, to reach the rose- and jasmine-scented courtyard oasis. Echoing the sentiments of the book, time spent shuttered away within Le Quartier’s serene confines, provides a tonic for the neuroses and afflictions of day-to-day life.

The family-owned, boutique property offers more than just the curative aromatics of a lush garden in summer bloom. A range of “Le Quartier” rooms to various sized “Auberge” and “Four Quarter” suites, suit a spectrum of budgets and spatial needs. All rooms are immaculately dressed in sensuous textiles and warm, playful colors with bright accents (my color shock came in vibrant pink), feature touches like fireplaces and towel warming bars, and boast details such as wood-beamed ceilings to contribute old-world charm. Serving as the focal point of the courtyard, guests can relax poolside with views of the steadfast, cloud-capped Franshhoek Mountains, promising themselves to step foot off the property for a stroll through town. At some point. Or  maybe visit a vineyard (I recommend Chamonix followed by lunch at Solms-Delta). At some point.

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Sparring rabbits and blooming gardens

 

LQF serves a thorough, fresh breakfast in the brightly-hued garden room which feels evocative of vacationing on a French island, St. “Somewhere” in the Caribbean (Saint-Barthélemy?). A buffet featuring enormous, flaky croissants, a selection of seasonal fruits and juices, three types of homemade granola, plus a hot breakfast menu, come with the room rate. The most acclaimed restaurant in town, The Tasting Room by chef Margot Janse, calls LQF home. (Note: the restaurant closes on Sundays. Such was my luck during my recent visit.)

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Breakfast spread with the city’s best croissant

 

Highlights: A book, a mountain view, a cocktail, all by the pool in the afternoon. Croissants at breakfast: they must be the best in the village.

Location

Tucked off the main avenue of the romantic, French-flavored village of Franshhoek in South African wine country, 45-minutes out of Cape Town.

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Room #11

 

Amenities

  • Full breakfast
  • Gym (nearby)
  • Wi-fi
  • Heated towel racks
  • Nespresso coffee and tea service in rooms
  • Pool
  • Restaurant and bar
  • Spa
  • Library
  • Secure parking
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Bar and Lounge

 

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Idaho Riesling in a can launched

Lauren Mowery:

The Idaho wine industry makes headlines with #Riesling in a can.

Originally posted on barrelsecrets:

Following on from the success of Oregon Pinot Noir in a can, an Idaho winery has launched a Riesling in a can aimed at beer fans on the move.

As reported by the Idaho Statesman, the wine is the brainchild of Jed Glavin of Split Rail Winery in Garden City and will be released under the Strange Folk brand.

Marketed in 37.5cl aluminium cans that will retail for US$6, the Riesling grapes that go into La Boheme White were sourced from Sawtooth Vineyards in Nampa.

The same wine, which is said to boast notes of “fresh peach, honeysuckle and ginger” is also sold by the keg, with the winery offering growler fills.

The pale blue cans, sourced from the UK, feature a sketch of a woman in a red beret. The fact that the wine is made from Riesling isn’t mentioned on the can.

“We aren’t advertising it as…

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The Sad State of Restaurant Coffee

Because of the deep parallels between wine and coffee, I am using my blog to highlight articles I’ve written on caffeinated drinks.

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 All images by Lauren Mowery

 

Last fall, I drifted through the meticulously revamped Union Station in Denver toward my first cup (actually, three) of coffee for the day. Mercantile Dining & Provision, the largest and most dynamic restaurant in the active train depot, rather unusually, offers a coffee flight on its morning menu. Astride a wooden stool at the bar, pure mile-high sunlight flooding the counter, I accepted a platter of three different brews from beans roasted locally by Commonwealth and hand-poured on a timer, for comparison. Akin to a wine tasting flight, the best way to understand nuance in what we drink (in my opinion), Mercantile seeks to introduce coffee drinkers to the same experience. After tasting the differences between the three coffees — a natural processed Panamanian (orange, sage), washed processed Panamanian (honey, cherry), and Guatemalan (pizza herbs, cinnamon) — I wondered why the hell I had to come all the way to Denver, better known for its microbreweries and orange jerseys, to experience something my home turf should’ve conceived of long ago.

It hardly needs pointing out that New York boasts a vibrant dining culture and robust coffee scene; why, then, do restaurants continue to serve customers crappy coffee? Even if the low end of the spectrum (diners and Irish pubs) might be forgiven, one stratum of the market should be ashamed of itself: For example, approximately one third of Michelin-starred restaurants serve their customers Nespresso coffee pods. These restaurants will source only the finest, most rarefied ingredients (such as seasonal, foraged Candy caps from Northern California), bake olives into dainty bread loaves, squirt squid ink into hand-cranked pasta, meticulously orchestrate plating so that every aspect of the dining experience is on point with their projected ethos, and then serve you the equivalent of a seat on the subway while charging for a cabin on the Orient Express.

Restaurateurs cite a litany of reasons for serving automated coffee; “it saves space, training time, and money” form the predictable triad of excuses. While some argue push-button coffee isn’t evil per se, I have to question if such lukewarm advocates for said machines have ever enjoyed the deep, searing experience of an expertly pulled shot. If they’ve only ever tasted what passes for “espresso” in America, there’s a good chance they have not.

With growing consternation and a list of questions, I sought input from people pushing for a sea change, like coffee industry maven Jesse Kahn. It turns out that serving excellent coffee is not that hard, nor that far off into the future.

Kahn is head of Northeast regional sales for Counter Culture. As one of the East Coast’s best specialty coffee roasters and wholesalers, their business is wholly interested in developing the trend of marrying great food with great coffee.

New York restaurateurs have traditionally noted a slew of obstacles to improved coffee programs: training, space, low margins, and lack of appreciation and/or demand. Kahn discounts several of these. “Training,” he remarks, “is not an obstacle that’s specific to coffee…it’s challenging across the board. To be a quality establishment in the first place, a restaurant will already have an integrated training program. This is about deciding to dedicate training time to coffee.”

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 Ellen Seidenstein Brewing with a Nel at Eleven Madison Park

 

Most specialty coffee roasters like Counter Culture, Stumptown, and Intelligentsia provide training programs, but Taylor Mork, co-founder and president of Brooklyn-based green coffee wholesale company Crop to Cup, still finds flaws in the implementation. “Currently, when restaurants have coffee training, the coffee roaster comes in and does a dog-and-pony show for at least a dozen staff (as many as the manager can rustle up before their evening meeting/staff meal)…all in 45 minutes.” He argues that’s too little time to teach milk texture, shot pulling, and drink recipes, and that managers should nominate fewer staff for the job, and train them legitimately. “Trying to train the entire wait/bar staff is the most common [method] for restaurants, but it is useless,” he says.

To Mork’s point, Kahn observes that coffee is often mistaken as a front-of-house product like alcohol, and is prepared by front-of-house staff, despite the fact that “no one is producing alcohol to order in a restaurant, just pouring a pre-made product into a glass.” Rather, he equates making coffee to preparing food: “I don’t know how well the food would be received at a restaurant if every time an order was placed, a back server had to jump on the hot line…coffee is mistaken as a ‘difficult’ product to serve well, when in fact it’s no more challenging than the food that’s going out of the kitchen.”

As far as equipment and its maintenance, the costs are high for restaurateurs who feel compelled to offer espresso-based drinks. That decision forces investment in an extremely expensive machine (all espresso machines are pricey; La Marzocco weighs in near the top) needing regular tending and operator expertise, or a default to an automated system like Nespresso at a fraction of the cost. As a biased coffee lover, Kahn believes the quandary shouldn’t excuse bad coffee. “There has to be value for the restaurant. If you’re not selling enough coffee (or selling it at an appropriate price) to justify the cost of equipment and maintenance, or if you can’t balance the cost laterally across the rest of your offerings, you shouldn’t be serving coffee. Serving lower-quality coffee is not a great solution.”

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 Brewing with a Siphon at Eleven Madison Park

 

Kahn does see a speck of light at the end of the subway tunnel, however. Two forces, upgrades in alcoholic beverages and New York’s thriving coffee scene, continue to drive coffee program improvements. For example, as restaurants swap mass-market beers like Heineken and Amstel for craft options, inevitably, the same mindset applies to the pre-ground bags of generic coffee they’d heretofore been ordering in bulk. And “the existence of phenomenal coffee venues in their neighborhoods,” Kahn conjectures, “serving freshly roasted, seasonally relevant, deliberately prepared coffee” will also challenge them to evolve.

Maialino, the Roman-inspired Danny Meyer establishment in the Gramercy Park Hotel and Counter Culture client, is commonly acknowledged as one of the first NYC restaurants to make coffee a front-and-center focus. Other venues have followed, though the list grows slowly, considering there are approximately 16,000 full-service dining operations in the NYC area. The Spotted Pig (espresso and French press), Franny’s (espresso), Marta (espresso and filter), the Queens Kickshaw (espresso, filter coffee, pour-over, kegged cold brew), and Fort Defiance (espresso and pour-over), are just a few of Counter Culture’s other progressive clients.

Perhaps epitomizing the apogee of luxury coffee service, Eleven Madison Park utilizes Intelligentsia single-origin coffees in several theatrical, tableside preparations. Ellen Seidenstein, a former barista (and formerly of Maialino), is now an EMP captain and manager of the coffee program. Seidenstein has the uncommon, coveted luxury of freedom of ambition without the constraint of demonstrating an ROI. Her coffee selections change by the season (most recently featuring Zambia, Ethiopia, and Mexico); the team boasts full-time baristas; hand-poured options include Chemex, siphon, and the elusive Nel; coffee is brewed through a flan(nel) filter into a glass decanter. This last method is seen in restaurants as rarely as a snow leopard in the Himalayas.

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 The Nel

 

The transporting coffee fantasyland cultivated at EMP isn’t a practical model for most restaurateurs or diners to aspire to (although Nespresso-serving Michelin-starred restos should be taking notes). Spending hundreds of dollars shouldn’t be a prerequisite to drinking good coffee at a fine meal’s end. In fact, compared to other luxury foods (truffles, urchin, caviar), enjoying a cup of something distinct, special, even rare, doesn’t cost that much. Restaurants should seize on the opportunity to market a good coffee program as a point of differentiation from the rest of the competition. As Sarah Miller from Birch Coffee points out, “serving a customer bad coffee is like putting a wrapped Twinkie on a plate for dessert. You just would not do that.”

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