Roaster's café versus their clients' cafés

Talk about your favorite cafes, local barista events, or plan your own get-together.

Which is better: Roaster's cafe or their best client's cafe?

Roaster's cafe is better
25
81%
Client's cafe is better
2
6%
They're about the same
4
13%
 
Total votes: 31

zin1953

#1: Post by zin1953 »

Most of the cafés/coffeehouses (in the US and Canada, at least) seem to fall into one of three categories:
  1. Large chain locations that roast their own coffee at one or more central facilities. Think Starbuck's, Peet's, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Tully's, etc.
  2. Small independent cafés -- a single location or relatively small handful of shops -- that roast their own coffee and focus on high-end quality. Think Espresso Vivace, Ritual, Intelligentsia, Artigiano, Stumptown, etc.
  3. Independent, individual locations -- again, a single location or relatively small number -- that use someone else's coffee(s). Think of all the places that use coffee from Peerless, or (e.g.) Ninth St. Espresso which proudly proclaims on their website "Ninth Street Espresso serves coffee exclusively from Stumptown Roasters."
(I know the examples shown are biased to the West Coast but -- hey, it's where I live!)

So my question is this: has anyone been to a "Category Three" location and enjoyed an espresso/cappuccino/latte that was as good or better than the espresso/cappuccino/latte that they enjoyed at the roaster's cafe itself? For example, is the espresso at the place that uses Blue Bottle or Stumptown or Intelligentsia as good as the drinks one gets at Blue Bottle or Stumptown or Intelligentsia?

This was prompted by a thread on Café Grumpy in New York, a place I have never been to. (Neither have I been to Ninth St. -- I am not picking on them, just using them as an example.) The reason I am asking is that -- on the rare occasions when I drop into a particular local café that uses Flying Goat's "Espresso Ticino," it is never as good as when I am in Healdsburg and at Flying Goat itself! And that has made me think of the freshness of the coffee . . .

I honestly don't expect the coffee beans at a place like Starbuck's, etc. to necessarily be fresh (remember the month-old "scooped on" dating?), but certainly the beans at Vivace, Verve, and Counter Culture are. But what about the places that do not roast their own beans?

Just wondering on a not-so-sunny Sunday . . . (in fact, it's pouring!)

Cheers,
Jason
A morning without coffee is sleep. -- Anon.

Beezer

#2: Post by Beezer »

Is it raining in Berkeley? Funny, here in Fresno it's nice and sunny, though it's supposed to rain later.

Anyway, I would think that cafes using someone else's beans might have some problems with freshness, but I suspect most reputable roasters would make every effort to send their beans as fast as possible to the cafes using their beans. Otherwise, their reputation might suffer if the cafe is advertising the roaster's beans and the results are mediocre due to lack of freshness.

I would think the bigger problem would be a lack of proper technique and training by the cafe itself. Stumptown might send the beans within a day or two of roasting, but they can't control how the cafe prepares the espresso. The best beans in the world won't make up for poor preparation technique.
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pdx

#3: Post by pdx »

In Portland Stumptown's shops are consistently good, but there are a couple of Stumptown accounts (Albina Press, Coffeehouse Northwest, sometimes Fresh Pot) that are consistently better.
Ben King.

User avatar
Marshall

#4: Post by Marshall »

Two thoughts:

1. Some of the most admired roasters have no retail outlets of their own, including one that you mentioned (Counter Culture). One of the most debated topics in the industry is whether or not it is necessary for an artisan roaster to have a retail shop in order to succeed in this business.

2. Freshness, at least as some aficionados define it, is highly over-rated. Many fine coffees do not peak for a week or so. I am presently drinking (and enjoying immensely) a Coffee Klatch blend they call "World's Best" that was roasted 13 days ago and probably did not peak until Day 9 or 10. So, distance from roaster to retailer (at least within the U.S.) may only be relevant insofar as it affects shipping costs.
Marshall
Los Angeles

zin1953 (original poster)

#5: Post by zin1953 (original poster) »

pdx wrote:In Portland Stumptown's shops are consistently good, but there are a couple of Stumptown accounts (Albina Press, Coffeehouse Northwest, sometimes Fresh Pot) that are consistently better.
Very interesting. Thanks.
Marshall wrote:2. Freshness, at least as some aficionados define it, is highly over-rated. Many fine coffees do not peak for a week or so. I am presently drinking (and enjoying immensely) a Coffee Klatch blend they call "World's Best" that was roasted 13 days ago and probably did not peak until Day 9 or 10. So, distance from roaster to retailer (at least within the U.S.) may only be relevant insofar as it affects shipping costs.
I grant you that, Marshall, but -- as you know - the majority of cafés (that also sell at retail) store their beans in bins, in large glass jars, in large (like maybe 10-pound?), opened-and-closed mylar bags . . .

Yes, even UPS/FedEx Ground will get something coast-to-coast in a week. It's what happens next that concerns me. :wink:

Cheers,
Jason
A morning without coffee is sleep. -- Anon.

User avatar
shadowfax

#6: Post by shadowfax »

Marshall wrote:Some of the most admired roasters have no retail outlets of their own, including one that you mentioned (Counter Culture). One of the most debated topics in the industry is whether or not it is necessary for an artisan roaster to have a retail shop in order to succeed in this business.
This is my experience. Both of the major roasters here in Houston, Cuvée Coffee and Hopson Coffee, lack a café sort of storefront, and only roast for online orders and commercial (shop) orders. Now, Cuvée has a cupping/espresso lab, and Clancy Rose (SCRBC Champ this year) pulls a shot that's pretty much to die for there (for free, at that...). Out of this world cappuccinos, too. In my visits to their primary client, Caffé Medici, in Austin, I rarely get anything that really comes close to what he makes. It's really amazing, to me, the difference that there is between a top-tier barista and a good one.

My experience (which is super-limited) is that trying to meaningfully compare roasters and their clients is an impossible task. Assuming that the roaster and client café each have high-quality setups (and the good ones do), the 'thing' that makes the difference is the barista. Here in Texas, even the best shops have 2 classes of baristas: the ones for whom it's just a job, and the ones for whom it's also a passion. I imagine that at the very best shops on the west coast, you can find shops that have only the latter type of barista, but here we're not so lucky, and that factor (who the barista is) determines whether I go into a shop and get a cup that I can drink pleasantly and a cup that is so delightful that I have to have another.
Nicholas Lundgaard

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Marshall

#7: Post by Marshall »

zin1953 wrote:I grant you that, Marshall, but -- as you know - the majority of cafés (that also sell at retail) store their beans in bins, in large glass jars, in large (like maybe 10-pound?), opened-and-closed mylar bags . . .
It doesn't matter, Jason, for the bags behind the counter that they brew from. A newly-opened bag will normally be consumed within 24 hours, if not a single hour.
Marshall
Los Angeles

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Cathi

#8: Post by Cathi »

I think that the combo of the coffee itself and the skills of the barista have as much to do with it as anything. I was recently in a shop that had better than passing equipment and good (supposedly) fresh beans, and was very disappointed with the results. It was so bad that I dumped it - a first for me. An earlier visit at the same place (a day or so before) and the result was entirely different.

So, is it the Person Behind the Counter? In this case, I think the answer is yes.
Cathi
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zin1953 (original poster)

#9: Post by zin1953 (original poster) »

Marshall wrote:It doesn't matter, Jason, for the bags behind the counter that they brew from. A newly-opened bag will normally be consumed within 24 hours, if not a single hour.
In a busy café, yes.

What concerns me -- at for example, the "un-named café" -- is that on those rare occasions that I run out of coffee and pick up some Flying Goat, a) they take it from a large plastic bin (think Tupperware® that might slide under your bed) that's half-filled . . . and you never see them refill either the hopper of the Mazzer or the bin . . .

Cheers,
Jason
A morning without coffee is sleep. -- Anon.

zin1953 (original poster)

#10: Post by zin1953 (original poster) »

Cathi wrote:So, is it the Person Behind the Counter? In this case, I think the answer is yes.
Absolutely, Cathi! The proverbial "Four M's" include the barista, and it's all too easy to pull a bad shot. The surprisingly good espresso and cappuccino drinks I have last year in New Orleans were, on this year's visit to the same café, shockingly mediocre. (Different barista!) And sadly, no other café even approached that standard! (Bleh!)

This is one reason why (IMHO) Starbucks went to superautomatic machines -- to try to "eliminate" the barista, not as a cost-saving measure per se, but to eliminate a variable that would affect quality: the machine is the same shot after shot, and you don't have to train employees over and over (as they come and go) how to pull a shot; much easier to train them how to push a button! :twisted:

But I digress . . .

It's oddly reassuring to hear about Portland, because I can't think off the top of my head where shots at a "client's café" were the equal of the café that was run by the roaster itself. So there is hope after all . . .

Cheers,
Jason
A morning without coffee is sleep. -- Anon.