Fast vs Slow: A Stump the Roaster Recap

Illustration by Stephanie Mulvihill

Last Wednesday, Erin Meister, author of New York City: A Caffeinated History, moderated a panel of 6 coffee roasters in the New York City scene.  The event was sponsored by Cafe Imports and Birch Coffee at their roastery in Long Island City.

After a certain amount of free food and beer, the vibe was a family reunion of those in the coffee biz who were catching up, swapping stories and remembering why they spend most of their time roasting coffee as recluses.

While the panel was interesting overall–reviewing how people got into the coffee biz, and the technical specs of what they roast on in their own roasteries–there was one question that seemed worthy of  more consideration here.

The Question:

Erin asked, What makes New York coffee, New York Coffee?

The panelist included:

César Vega, Café Integral
Cheryl Kingan, Cafe Grumpy–who we reviewed here
Darleen Scherer, Supercrown Coffee Roasters
Donald N. Schoenholt, Gillies Coffee Company
Jayson Rha, Birch Coffee
Jonathan Withers, Toby’s Estate Brooklyn

The Common Answer:

The key concept that came up among all of the panelists was: SPEED.  New York City coffee is about fast.

The Problem:

If New York City coffee is all about speed, how can lovers of complex and interesting coffees–which often take longer to brew, longer to savor and enjoy– find their match in this city of the caffeine-IV drip?  Certainly there are folks who are meeting in shops and lingering over their pour-overs, aspirating their brews, discussing the flavor notes… but these are not the FAST coffee consumers that dominate the market.

Should shops be offering a coffee that caters to “fast”– a little more developed in the roast, a little bit friendlier to cream and sugar–alongside a slower option?  Perhaps we are already doing that by offering coffees batch-brewed and others available as a pour-over…

An Idea:

If I opened up a shop tomorrow in the speedy streets of our fair city, I’d offer a fast and slow coffee option each day and call it just that.  The slow option would come with tasting notes, origin descriptions, served via pour-over.  The fast, slightly cheaper option would be a bit darker, quick-ready for the to-go-cup masses of Gotham.  This way our city-dwellers could choose the faster option without offending the slow-coffee lovers of our universe.

We are not the West Coast.  So why do we keep trying to be?

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