A Hill of Beans

Recently, we’ve gotten a lot of feedback, both privately and on the site about the state of the local coffee scene. I am always happy to get this kind of information, since it never hurts to have new places to try. But, one aspect of these messages has been puzzling. Over and over again, the advocate of the new place will say “you have to go to Café XYZ, they use these special Moon Beans from the Outer Rings of Venus, which Rule.”

With all due respect, this is nonsense. I’ll only say this once, because I’ve said it before in an article from couple of years go. Assuming a certain level of quality in handling and roasting, your enjoyment of the cappuccino that you have in your hand is determined by two things:

First, how good is the person making the coffee.

I’ve been going to my favorite coffee joint almost every weekend for more than 10 years. Over this time, I assume that the quality of their beans has stayed mostly the same. I have not noticed much variability in the coffee that I get at home when I buy these beans, for example. But, I have noticed that until this winter, there had been a drop in the quality of my weekend shot over the last three or four years. I never pondered why this should be. The answer was obvious.

Three or four years ago, all of the weekend staff slowly left for one reason or another. As each one disappeared, my chances of a good cappuccino diminished. If you observed the lines in the place during this period, you’d notice people jostling to try and make sure Elio or Dom made the coffee, because they know what they are doing and the new people did not. This, my friends, is much more important than which beans are going through the burr grinder. Always fight to get Elio.

The good news is that since then, La Prima has slowly hired new staff and this staff has slowly gotten better and better at pulling a proper shot of coffee. The result? In the last six months, I have not gotten a bad weekend cappuccino. I expect the situation to be stable until the current crew moves on.

Second, how fresh are the beans.

La Prima roasts its beans basically across the street from the caf�. In various communications, I have been told to obtain coffee from places that get their “fairer than fair trade” beans from various locales, all of which are further than 500 feet from the caf�. All things being equal, I claim that La Prima’s beans are at least a day fresher, and therefore better. If you don’t think a day in the truck makes a difference in how the coffee comes out, then I’m not really going to listen to you about where to go for coffee anyway.

So, the upshot is, if you are happy with your coffee, more power to you. I am happy with mine too, and I don’t really see any reason to go chasing after a different shot, made by people I don’t know using beans that came from some company way outside the city.

Besides, I’m pretty sure they’ll just make the damn coffee too hot.