It was a busy summer and autumn, both personally and professionally, so I suspended my coffee blogging -- but not my coffee drinking. The best bean by far was the (expensive) Honduras Cup of Excellence Lot #4 from Fernández Farm in El Cielito, Santa Bárbara, Honduras, as roasted by Cafe Grumpy. (It's still available: I picked up some today.) The tasting notes: "Red currant aroma. Floral brightness. Sweet notes of aged bourbon & molasses." The Cup of Excellence rewards barista skill, of course, but you have to start with a good bean, and this far exceeded my expectations. I was parceling out beans like bits of gold on mornings with important business. I also returned to a couple of standbys -- Grumpy's Heartbreaker espresso, always right on the money, and the house espresso at Joe the Art of Coffee. In my office, I used the Aeropress to make cups of another Honduran bean, Finca La Tina from Joe, with good results.

I have noticed a few new coffee shops opening their doors around Manhattan, so I hope to try a few new places. Alas, B. Koffie, home of the French press in a cup, closed its doors a while back, so Hell's Kitchen again lacks a boutique coffee experience. (The beans came from La Columbe.)

One July weekend, I had the opportunity to combine two of my favorite activities -- riding my bike through Manhattan and visiting new coffee shops. My family was traveling elsewhere, and New York had not yet fallen into the drippy hot torpor that has marked recent days. I rode down the west side a bit, diverted to to the Hudson River trail, then passed through TriBeCa, Chinatown, SoHo and my old East Village stomping grounds before chugging up the East Side -- a loop of sorts.

I made a pass by La Colombe Torrefaction, but I had already tried beans from there via B. Koffie, so I decided to check out Kaffe 1668, one of the shops highlighted in The Times a couple of months ago. Coffee Guatemala Antigua Los Volcanes

Purchased July 3 at Kaffe 1668, 275 Greenwich St., TriBeCa.

Roasted on June 27 by Plowshares Coffee Roasters of Hillburn, N.Y.

Description Creamy body; delicate, clean acidity; milk chocolate and orange citrus; smooth, sweet, dry finish.

In the cup I picked out this particular coffee because I had not tried anything from this roaster before. In the shop, I had a coffee brewed expertly by the cup in a Clover press. That was a Panama variety from Denver-based Novo. Full bodied, and smooth, with a milk chocolate flavor, this coffee was delicious, as anything brewed in an $11,000 machine should be. I drank it hot, because that's how I like coffee, though it would have been a good day for cold brew, which was also available.

The shop, located across from a Whole Foods, adds some style and ambiance to an otherwise mall-like block of sterility downtown. The front opens out on the street, and there are interesting light fixtures and a communal wood table, where I sat. I was able to lock my bike within view on a low fence around a tree, and there was more ample bike parking across the street near the Whole Foods.

There's free WiFi with your purchase, which I used to browse the shop's Web site, with its entertaining cartoons. As best I can tell, Kaffe 1668 doesn't have its own roaster, but features beans from Intelligentsia and other high-end roasters like Novo.

I left with a bag of this Guatemalan strapped to my bike. The bag itself is an impressive bit of green-ish technology, made from paper with a ziplock that can be resealed.

Plowshares, which has an excellent Web site, gives this description: "Los Volcanes coffee is grown in the valley's rich volcanic soils that were formed by the three volcanoes (Agua, Acatenango, Fuego)... Most of the coffee here is cultivated at 1,500 - 1,700 meters above sea level which helps gives this coffee a pronounced acidity that is clean but not overpowering." The Antigua valley is a prime coffee growing region about 40 kilometers from the city of that name in Guatemala, according to Plowshares. The beans with this name come from 34 growers who banded together in a cooperative in 2000.

I have been drinking a regular cup or two brewed at home every morning for the last couple of weeks. I don't have any complaint about it, but it hasn't been bowling me over. It does pass my no-milk test, which means it is not overly acidic to my taste. The citrus didn't overwhelm me, which is sometimes a complaint I have with the single-origin coffees promoted by many coffee aficionados. It is remarkably light-bodied and smooth, which is good on these sweltering days, though I tend to prefer a fuller flavor and more than a trace of chocolate.

Still, it was well worth the ride.

Since I am still dabbling with social media, I also documented this trip on Foursquare and Posterous. And now I am promoting this Wordpress blog post on Facebook and Twitter. On some level, I suppose this is a longer, multi-platform version of the classic Twitter update, "I am eating a sandwich."

(Yes, I am drinking a cup of coffee.)

When you step into McNulty's Tea & Coffee in the West Village, you feel as though you are stepping into another era of coffee, when specialty shops like this were the main purveyors of gourmet beans from around the world. In that respect, it reminds me of Empire Coffee or Porto Rico Importing Co. These business date to a time before the Web and radical transparency about everything from the type of bean to the name of the farmer to the altitude to the date and location of the roasting. The newest culinary coffee shops have fed the obsessiveness of many coffee fans, the type of people who want to know the precise temperature and pressure used to brew a cup of espresso.

I try not to be that guy, but it's getting harder.

Coffee Organic Peruvian French Roast

Purchased June 19 at McNulty's Tea & Coffee, 109 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village

In the cup Despite its prominence in Zagat ratings and elsewhere, I was not familiar with this shop when I stumbled upon it quite by chance a couple of weeks ago, on my way with my family to hear a friend read his flash fiction at the Path Cafe (also a neat little place; Christopher Street has a lot of them). I ordered a half pound of chocolate-covered peanuts -- delicious -- and a half-pound of this coffee.

McNulty's -- a retailer, not really a place to drink coffee -- seems to have steadfastly resisted the modern trend of sharing every little secret with its customers. The Web site makes much of its history (founded in 1895), the old time feel of the shop, the exotic mystery of imported products: "Immediately upon entering the shop, one’s senses are delighted by the many aromas of coffees and teas from around the world. Sacks of coffee and chests of tea with obscure markings from far away lands are visible everywhere. Even the bins, chests, and scales, with which these products are stored and handled, date back to the previous century."

The service was polite, if a bit distracted, and my impression was that more effort was devoted to displays of tea than coffee. My beans (and the chocolate-covered nuts) were weighed in the old-fashioned scale.

I inquired about the roaster and was told with a shrug that the shop used an unnamed roaster in Long Island City, Queens. Presumably the beans had been roasted recently.

Many coffee sellers now offer tasting notes as florid and adjective-rich as wine descriptions, but there was none of that at McNulty's. The country of origin was listed, and in some cases beans were described as organic or free trade. No details were offered about the specific growers. I didn't realize how hooked I have become on knowing this information, even though I am not an expert who can make useful judgments based on it.

This is in some respects just a difference in marketing. A place like McNulty's relies on the mystery and mystique of foreign lands. A roaster like Intelligentsia and shops Stumptown andCafe Grumpy appeal to a different type of consumer.

This type of customer is obsessed -- perhaps too much so -- with authenticity. For these consumers, coffee is no longer an exotic product arriving by ship from third-world places with unusual names. Knowing the details of origin improves the taste. Coffee is also a product with a politics, a mix of foreign policy, economics and environmentalism. Knowing something about how it arrived in the cup is important to some people.

So how was the Organic Peruvian French Roast? It was merely O.K. Maybe I picked the wrong bean. I've been drinking this as a regular Americano for the most part. Light in the mouth, maybe a bit of a citrus kick at the end, some bitterness, a trace of nuts -- hard to say for sure, I'm not a coffee taster. It was not captivating, but not overpowering, either. Just coffee. I guess I'm looking for something more interesting these days. Data.

Inside Third Rail Coffee at 240 Sullivan St. in Greenwich Village. This is a quickie coffee post, dashed off while watching the U.S.-England World Cup match and discussing the propriety of promiscuously using "tweet" in news articles. First, a word about B. Koffie's Yirgacheffe and Kenya French Mission offerings. Kudos to La Columbe, the roaster. I sampled the latter and refilled my Mason jar with the former on a May 29 visit. Both were tasty and in line with the descriptions on the boards.

Read my earlier post about this Hell's Kitchen shop, a relative newcomer to the neighborhood.

On June 6, I found myself near Washington Square Park for the Wrs. orld Science Fair and in need of coffee. It was a short walk to Third Rail Coffee, which offers beans from Intelligentsia, one of my favorite roasters.

A friend encouraged me to try the "cold brew," a form of iced coffee (Stumptown offers it too, but I haven't tried it). To brew coffee this way, you soak the beans overnight in room-temperature water. Some say cold brew -- also known as "cold press" coffee -- is less acidic and easier on the stomach, while others seem to think it offers a bigger caffeine punch.

I drink hot coffee year-round, but I'm not above switching to iced coffee at this time of year. I'll probably have to try cold brew again. It was delicious, but this one experience was not enough for me to conclude anything.

Third Rail is a cute shop, comfortable, humming with traffic (see the photo at the top of the post). This was my first visit, and I expect I'll be back.

The coffee scene is taking off in New York. (I am slowly making my way down the list of top coffee shops in that TImes article; see my post on Birch Coffee.) It's going to be a great summer.

It was painful to pass so close to Stumptown at the Ace Hotel without stopping, but I was glad I did, finding myself off the lobby of another boutique hotel, the Gershwin, in a different temple to caffeine -- Birch Coffee. I had been wanting to visit after noticing it on The Times's list of the best of the new coffee cafes. It was love at first visit. The decor gave me a warm feeling right away. True, you're not going to find a half-dozen varieties of obscure single origin coffees from as many countries, as you would a couple of blocks away, but there are chairs and stools, something Stumptown eschews. And food. And wine. And beer. And a lending library upstairs. Coffee Birch Blend

Purchased June 4 at Birch Coffee, 7 E. 27th St. (between Fifth and Madison Avenues), Flatiron District

Roasted Within the week by Coffee Labs Roasters of Tarrytown, N.Y.

Description "A well-balanced cup with pleasant smokey walnut undertones, and milk chocolate dipped cherries accompanied by a refined finish." A blend of Nicaraguan, Guatemalan and Indian monsooned Malabar coffees.

In the Cup Birch offered just three coffees -- the signature blend described above, "Emma's espresso" and a decaf. A simple user experience with limited choices, as if Steve Jobs had designed it.

I started with a shot of the espresso, which was served in the thick, muddy style that has become fashionable.

It was a perfectly fine, with a nutty flavor, and the advertised bittersweet chocolate, with more emphasis on the bitter than the sweet. Then I had a cup of the Birch Blend (no milk), which was a revelation.

Perhaps I had been primed at that point by the cozy atmosphere, but it was a sublime cup of coffee. It certainly delivered a smokey something, in a smooth and light package with chocolate behind it, no bitterness, and a gentle finish. I was ready to buy a T-shirt and move into the library.

As at most high-end coffee shops in New York that take service seriously, the baristas here are fast, friendly and polite, and the owner himself happened to wait on me when I asked to buy beans, telling me the details about the blend and roast. (No special treatment: On trips like this, I never identify myself as anything more than just a customer who likes coffee, which is what I am.)

Before this, I had not focused my attention on "Monsooned Malabar" coffee, one type of bean in the blend.

The name refers to a practice on the West Coast Malabar section of India, where beans are exposed to monsoon winds repeatedly during the curing process. The humidity helps to create a distinctive flavor, including a hint of chocolate, according to various sources.

These coffees are said to be more potent and pungent, sharper, than other Indian coffees, which tend to be mellow. But in this case, thanks perhaps to the Latin American beans, there's no trace of overpowering flavors in the Birch Blend.

The result is something special.

A day later, I am at home, polishing off this blog post and an Americano made from the blend, wishing Birch Coffee happened to be closer to my usual daily travels and thinking of reasons to head back to the neighborhood. (Well, it is a couple of doors down from the Museum of Sex.)

A good coffee shop is all about atmosphere. And the atmosphere is one reason that I've tried to like the Joe Art of Coffee chain. They really make an effort.

Paintings and other one-of-a-kind art on the wall. Barista classes. Cute little signs describing bits of coffee lore. Cupping notes on the bags. The last time I sampled some beans here, very early in my coffee quest, I was disappointed. Lately Joe has been popping up on best-of lists, so it was long past time to give Joe another chance, and now I'm glad I did.

One important change: Joe has switched to a new roasting partner, Ecco Caffe in California, since my visit last year. A good roast makes all the difference. The retooling landed the shop on this best-of-New-York coffee list by The Times. Coffees Brazil Serra do Bone, Brazil Fazenda Sertãozinho and Seasonal House Blend

Roasted Late April by Ecco Caffe

Purchased May 3 at Joe the Art of Coffee, 405 West 23rd St.

In the cup Ah, Brazil. When it comes to old school coffee, I've come to think there's nothing like beans from Brazil. Cue the Sinatra. "They put coffee in the coffee in Brazil."

On the morning I visited, the featured coffee was from Brazil, the Serra de Bone.

The tasting note said: "Malted chocolate and praline with a balanced acidity and a creamy, caramel finish to yield an approachable cup." It was so delicious and amazing that it didn't even bother me that one guy was sprawled with stuff across all three chairs in the window of the shop.

I decided to go heavy on the Brazilian flavors with the two bags of beans that I bought.

The seasonal house blend (Mogiana from Brazil, Tingo Maria from Peru) lived up to its tasting notes: "Cocoa-nosed sweetness with lovely tones of brown sugar and a lingering honey finish for an elegant and approachable cup."

That's a description right up my alley, and this didn't disappoint me. For the past couple of weeks, I made this at home as both espresso and Americanos.

At the office, using my Aeropress, I have been enjoying the Fazenda Sertãozinho.

The bag described it as "drenched in rich, dark chocolate. Tons of sugarcane, caramel, Satsuma tangerine, honey, vanilla and malted milk imbue this with an elegant and approachable sweetness." I didn't pick up much tangerine, but this is accurate.

Another nice thing about my Joe experience: The bags are generous with 12 ounces of beans, and not overpriced -- generally $11 to $13 per bag.

Maybe I got lucky. Maybe the tasting notes were spot-on (despite the overuse of "approachable.") Maybe I should thank Ecco Caffe or the nation of Brazil.

But it is rather rare for me to buy three coffees in one place and like them all.

Of the three, I like the Fazenda Sertãozinho best, and wish I had some at home right now. Alas, the bag is sitting in a cupboard in the office.

It's still syncing. While I prepare myself for the inevitable post-purchase depression and "why can't I do that, Mr. Jobs" revelations, here are some unboxing pictures and a video from my Posterous page.

At some point I'll list the pros and cons. But I'm done with the posting and tweeting today. I doubt there's much new that I could say about it.

Technology isn't my beat, so I'll leave the iPad news and reviews to my colleagues at Bits. (Here's an earlier post about how I made the purchase decision.)

For me, the iPad is first and foremost a book and media reader. My Kindle died a while back. I expect to make heavy use of not only the native iBooks reader but the Kindle for iPad reader [iTunes download], and a variety of customized apps from newspapers, magazines and comic companies, including this new app from The New York Times [free iTunes download].

I also expect this device to be good for casual gaming and for watching movies and TV, as well as casual Web surfing. It doesn't seem like a work device to me. It's more of a toy.

And if you wonder why I need a book reader, just look at this picture below. I have six more like that in our tiny Manhattan apartment. I do not want to be a latter-day Collyer brother.

That was the first real winter we've had in New York City in a while, but I'm still glad to put the days of snow and winter jackets behind us. I've been engaged in a bit of apartment-organizing, having finally bit the bullet and paid for some storage space. There is some stuff we didn't want underfoot but I couldn't bring myself to throw it out. Some old computer equipment, some books, the comic collection from my misspent youth in the 1970s, my complete collection of Spy, furniture that we might put in a big summer house if we ever buy a big summer house. I fueled the weekslong effort with cups and shots of this coffee from Stumptown. Coffee Burundi Bwayi

Roasted Feb. 18 by Stumptown Coffee.

Purchased: Feb. 24 at Stumptown in the Ace Hotel at 18 West 29th Street and Broadway, Manhattan.

Description "Violet and raisin aromatics open the flavor gates to perfectly clean notes of plum, black cherry and orange zest that are complimented by a syrupy body."

In the Cup I wanted to like this coffee more, because beans from Burundi in East Africa are apparently a rarity.

This direct-trade coffee from the Kayanza province did not really work for me as an espresso, perhaps because the fruit notes were simply too intense when it was prepared that way. I'm not a big fan of bright and shiny fruit flavors in coffee.

This was much better as Americano, smooth and pleasant, easy to drink without milk.

Stumptown says: "Bwayi is one of the pearls in our East African Direct Trade program. We’ve been working closely with this group of farmers over the past three years. In addition to improved cherry selection and a return to double fermentation, a la the Kenyan style, we’ve now installed a pre-drying stage to the Bwayi process. This addition has given the coffee’s mouth feel pronounced depth. Our quality control team cupped through each day of the harvest to construct this lot of coffee."

The Drinks With Nathan blog has some more interesting detail about the coffee growing scene in Burundi. A poor economy has made the country late to the specialty coffee game, but the farmers have benefited from a Stumptown-supported program that supplies bikes to them and growers in neighboring Rwanda. Thumpology also points to some resources about Burundi coffees.

Posted
AuthorPatrick LaForge

Here's a great New York Times article last week by Oliver Strand about the growth of the culinary coffee scene in New York City. Check out the map of New York coffee bars that "not only produce extraordinary coffee at the highest standards, but also do so with consistency, day after day."

Several of my favorites are listed -- Cafe Grumpy, Stumptown, Ninth Street Espresso, Joe...

Enjoy. Yes, I work at the paper, but I had nothing to do with it. I was pleasantly surprised to see it. Maybe I'll expand my espresso quest this spring and bike to them all, starting with the ones in Manhattan.

Before I get to the latest installment of my endless coffee quest, I must mourn the end of my brief reign as a Twitter list maven. At the start of this week, I made the mistake of using the latest crashy build of Firefox while playing around on the Tlists site with my lists.

Because of a glitch, several of my lists, including the Linkers list, which had 1,940 followers and was among the top Twitter lists, briefly became "private" and shed all followers in the blink of an eye.

Alas, after some consultation, there seems to be nothing Tlists or Twitter can do. (But I am grateful that the Tlists folks are trying to help with a prominent placement of my list on their home page). So if you enjoyed that list, or if you would like to have 100 top linkers and retweeters (as selected by me) comb the Web looking for interesting stuff for you, then please follow it on Twitter. Given all that is going on in the world, this is not particularly important.

Only about 70 people have bothered to re-follow the list as of today, which makes me question the whole Twitter list concept anyway.

It was obviously not an essential part of the experience for those 1,940 people who signed up when Twitter lists were the hot, new thing. And that sounds about right. Some news organizations are using the lists for useful crowd-sourcing efforts around news events like earthquakes, but for most people a list is a personal matter. Still, I put a lot of work into that one over a period of months, and people say they like it. Others are more upset about this than I am. I credit my equanimity to years of sitting meditation and the soothing effects of high-quality coffee. Which reminds me...

Coffee Kenya Gatomboya

Roasted Feb. 21 by Stumptown Coffee.

Purchased: Feb. 24 at Stumptown in the Ace Hotel at 18 West 29th Street and Broadway, Manhattan.

Description "This classic Kenya profile moves seamlessly from a creamy apricot aroma to rhubarb pie, black cherry, fruit punch and a clean chocolate finish."

In the Cup Yes, it's back to Stumptown, where the prices are high, there are no chairs, business is cash-only and the coffee is delicious. I walked through a brisk snowy Manhattan landscape to get there, picking up this coffee and another that I'll write about later.

The Thumpology blog reports that the Gatomboya cooperative is made up of 700 small coffee growers at high altitudes in Kenya. You can read all the coffee-porn details at the link.

I don't know that I caught much in the way of apricot, rhubarb or cherry and fruit tastes in the many cups of this that I have consumed black in the last couple of weeks. But it is creamy, with a sweet finish, and this coffee goes down easy, letting you forget troubles, for a little while.

I'm sure that the people who worked hard to pick, wash, dry, roast and ship these beans have more serious things to worry about than the destruction of a Twitter list. And that reminds me, why the hell haven't I created a coffee list? I should get on that.

Posted
AuthorPatrick LaForge

A sign of a good coffee, I think, is that you can drink a full cup readily without any added dairy, soy or other coolants and flavorings. Most of the time I drink espresso, which generally works as a concentrated shot to the stomach and central nervous system, but on a crazy snowy day -- we've had a lot of them in New York lately -- I like to linger over over a regular mug made with the refurbished Jura, which is still going strong nearly two years later. Coffee Coopac Cooperative, Gisenyi Region, Rwanda

Roasted: Feb. 3 by Café Grumpy in Brooklyn.

Purchased Feb. 7 at Grumpy's Chelsea location, 224 W. 20th St., between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Description The bag says: "Floral aroma leads to notes of pineapple, vanilla, and red currants. Sweet key-lime brightness to the finish."

In the Cup I picked this up on Super Bowl Sunday after spending some time soaking and sweating out toxins at Spa Castle in Queens (great place for grownups and kids). I would normally have been put off by the complicated description, but I had tried a few cups of this in the shop. The fact that I'm running out of it after just a week speaks to its appeal.

"This coffee is grown on the volcanic mountain slopes in the Western Province of Rwanda and comes to us from the Coopac Cooperative. Washed Bourbon varietal," the Grumpy site says (this is one of the small chain's own roasts). There's more detail at the cooperative's Web site.

The crema on top is particularly foamy, and whatever there might be of pineapple, currants and key lime is subtle. Sure, you can smell that if you stick your nose in the mug, but on the tongue you don't pick up much in the way of fruitiness. Even the hint of vanilla did not seem particularly pronounced. This was a rich, delicious, substantial cup from start to finish. It still appears to be on the menu at Grumpy, so if you're wondering what to try, go for it -- and leave out the milk.

I've been neglecting the blog for quite a while. It's so much easier to Twitter, or post Facebook updates, or check in with Foursquare, that it's hard to work up the head of steam it takes to write about coffees that have only mildly impressed me, or books that I haven't managed to finish, or what have you. It's the doldrums of winter, the eve of February, the shortest month on paper and the longest in the northeastern mind. So here we find ourselves, whoever you are, whoever I am, in the iPad interregnum, the post State of the Union, the short bleak days of winter, run out of words and thoughts. I've tried a few of the winter selections at Café Grumpy -- the El Salvadoran, the Rwandan, and of course the only espresso standby Heartbreaker -- and they were all good, but I can't really recall with any clarity their individual qualities. Let's pronounce them good and move on. But with the start of my kid's second semester drawing me back down into the Chelsea neighborhood more regularly, I picked up this Grumpy roast with the Tolkienesque name, and it's getting me through the dark days.

Coffee: Fazenda Sertaozinho, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Roasted: Jan. 17 by Café Grumpy in Brooklyn.

Purchased Jan. 21 at Grumpy's Chelsea location, 224 W. 20th St., between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Description: "Dark sweet plum aromatics open into a full-bodied cup. Notes of earthy toasted almond and sugar cane. Pleasant brightness in the finish."

In the Cup: I have to confess something first. I've been drinking less espresso and coffee in general lately, opting for green tea, after reading something or other extolling not only its health benefits but its supposed tendency to deliver a lower, steadier dose of caffeine with fewer peaks and valleys. Ye gads, the coffee blogger has become a tea drinker! But it actually makes me appreciate the coffee more.

Green tea is always the same (in my opinion), and it's an acquired taste, not nearly as pleasant as regular black tea or the various herbal types. But high-end culinary coffees seem to have endless variety. While I lean toward the sweet and nutty varieties, and much prefer a sugary finish, I've come to appreciate what coffee tasters call brightness -- so long as it's not too bright. This coffee had just about the right amount. And I must say, as a bit of a traditionalist, I've never been disappointed by any bean from Brazil. Is this coffee amazing? Did it knock my socks off? I may have grown a little jaded in my coffee quest, so I'd have to say no. But it's certainly delicious, and delivers what the bag says it will.

Also, kudos to Grumpy for including a link to information about the farm, something more coffee Web sites should do. Located in a mountainous region, it has 160 employees and produces on average 720,000 kilograms of beans per year. There's a whole lot of coffee in Brazil.

Grumpy is an old standby by now for me, and of course it's great the little chain is now roasting its own beans, but I'll probably be venturing out again to Stumptown and other venues once the weather gets warmer, and I feel like getting on the bike again. If anyone has any suggestions, fire away.

Posted
AuthorPatrick LaForge

Time for some more plugs. My wife, Jane Rosenberg LaForge, will be joining New York University professors and students at the Liberal Studies Program's Fall Faculty/Student Reading from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, at the Telephone Bar and Grill, 149 Second Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets) in the East Village. Also, Jane's "After Voices" poetry chapbook -- published last month by Burning River of Cleveland -- is now available at the McNally Jackson Book Store in SoHo, one of the few remaining interesting indie bookstores left in Manhattan.

IMG_0204Interesting things seem to be happening at one of my favorite New York coffee haunts, Café Grumpy. For one thing, the shop's official blog is looking flashier and busier. And Grumpy -- which turned me on to many of the best roasters in the country (Intelligentsia, Verve, Barismo, and Ritual) -- is now roasting selected coffees of its own at its Brooklyn location. I missed the Kenyan roast, but there still seemed to be an ample supply of this Finca Chichupac selection from Guatemala as well as a Finca Carmen from Panama El Salvador at the locally owned chain's Chelsea shop.

I'm happy to see all the local culinary coffee purveyors step up their games lately. Perhaps the arrival of Stumptown has something to do with that. Now if only a few more of them creep uptown into the 30s, 40s and 50s, a section of Manhattan that remains a Starbucks-dominated wasteland. Name: Finca Chichupac

Origin: Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala

Roasted Nov. 3 by Café Grumpy in Brooklyn.

Purchased Nov. 9 at Grumpy's Chelsea location at 224 W. 20th St., between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Description "Candy apple aroma leads to a full-bodied cup. Granny smith apple brightness rounded out by caramelized brown sugar sweetness."

In the cup It stands to reason that a shop that has proven to be such a good judge of others' coffees would roast a fine one of its own. My only gripe is the lack of other documentation on the Grumpy site, apart from the short and sweet, "Autumn we love you." Indeed. But through the power of the Internet, I did find this brief interview on YouTube with Julián Alquejay of Finca Chichupac at last year's Cup of Excellence. The plantation is owned by 13 families in a region with a horrific history of government-directed mass murder and genocide of the Mayan population in the 1980s. Here is an article on the continuing legacy of that time and the civil war that ended in 1996.

Right now Grumpy is offering two of its own roasts, this Guatemalan and a second from Finca Carmen in Panama (presumably from the same farm as this Stumptown selection). I decided to go with Guatemala, and I'm glad I did.

I definitely caught the candy apple aroma, especially when drinking this as a regular coffee. It also makes a great espresso, and I thought I detected a bit of nut, not mentioned in the official tasting description above. The sweet finish definitely takes the edge off the fruity brightness. It's a great cup of joe.

That does not leave me any less conflicted, sampling these nuanced flavors, made from beans grown in an impoverished nation near former killing fields, as I sit in my comfortable apartment in the middle of the richest city in North America, far from the .bullets and butchers of men. Such thoughts certainly puts one's own petty troubles in perspective, at least.

IMG_0184I haven't had much time to find new coffees lately. It has been a rather busy few weeks, with a trip to Cleveland related to "After Voices," my wife's new poetry chapbook from Burning River, a local press. We've also had illness in her family, grim news in the journalism world, birthday gatherings and more happenings than I can count. On the Cleveland trip, we hit the highlights, with readings and a visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We also stopped in at the local indie coffee chain, Phoenix Coffee, which also roasts its own beans. I'm kicking myself for not picking some up on the way out of town. Luckily, I still had this (shrinking) bag of beans from Stumptown.

Name Panama Carmen Estate

Origin 1700-1850 meters above sea level at the estate, caturra and typica varieties

Roasted: Sept. 24 by Stumptown Coffee.

Purchased: Sept. 28 at Stumptown in the Ace Hotel at 18 West 29th Street and Broadway, Manhattan.

Description "Extremely floral in the fragrance, sweet milk chocolate, notes of meyer lemon, mandarin orange and blackberry."

In the Cup Again with the meyer lemon, which is apparently a favorite descriptive term of Stumptown's tasters. For a couple of weeks, this bean has been my steeze. Whatever that means. Here are more details from Stumptown:

Carlos Aguilera’s Carmen Estate is a perennial top 5 finisher at the Best of Panama cupping event held each year to showcase the absolute finest coffees from around the country. His focus on perfect cherry selection, cleanliness in his mill and even drying sets his coffee at the top of the pack. This year’s lot comes from isolated areas of Carmen Estate that range between 1700 and 1850 meters above sea level. It is a 50/50 split of Caturra and Typica varietals which combine to form a sweet and complex varietal blend.

I've mainly had it as an espresso. I've seen a reference online to this coffee as "crisp and clean, like blackberries steeped in water." It was the favorite of my much more sophisticated fellow coffee-blogger at Man Seeking Coffee. (His description: "light, floral, chocolate, lime.") As anyone who bothers to read my coffee ramblings knows, it's the notes of chocolate, the nuts, the richness, that draw me in, and while I'm not a big fan of overpowering floral and fruit notes, I like them just fine when they are well-balanced. That is the case with this coffee.

Day after day, I have been downing shots of this without complaint. A sweet cup. It is light, goes down easy, dances on the tongue. Am I in love? Ah, not entirely, but it's good coffee, and I'd try it again. This is the fourth Stumptown coffee I've sampled since the shop opened in Midtown -- Montes de Oro, Blue Batak and Finca el Injerto were the others. So now I'm definitely a believer in the church of Stumptown. If I had a choice I'd still take the Montes de Oro, but this is a close second.

By the way, I heartily recommend this GQ article on the best coffees in the country, which features some familiar names for anyone who has been following my quest here: not only Stumptown, but Ninth Street Espresso, Ritual Roasters and Intelligentsia, among others. It is easy to imagine a coffee quest across America.

IMG_0185Updated, Nov. 15. Time for a plug. I'm pleased to announce that "After Voices," a poetry chapbook by my wife, Jane Rosenberg LaForge, was released last week by Burning River of Cleveland. Jane has been laboring over these poems for a couple of years. Some people have asked, what is a chapbook? One definition: a short booklet containing poems, ballads or stories. Jane's chapbook includes 12 poems and an essay arranged around the theme of her father's deafness. (He is already disputing some of the facts. Fun times!) Jane plans to read some of the poems at a New York University faculty-student reading in the East Village in December.

A hard copy of the chapbook can be ordered online for $6 a copy from Burning River. A PDF version can be downloaded for free (it includes a bonus poem not in the print edition). It will eventually be available as a digital book in epub format from Project Gutenberg. You can also buy a copy at Visible Voice Books in Cleveland, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in SoHo, and the McNally-Jackson Bookstore, also in SoHo. I'll update this post if it becomes available anywhere else. Jane's working on that. Poets have to be their own distributors sometimes. It's a tough field, without a sustainable business model.

On the weekend of Oct. 17, the chapbook was released in conjunction with readings at the Morgan Conservatory of Papermaking and Visible Voice. Jane read several of the poems, including my favorites, "Lemons" and "Highway 5 Stockyard," as well as some of her unpublished poetry.

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Some poems in the chapbook were previously published in some form or another in La Petite Zine, Burnside Review, Bateau, Makeout Creek, Ottawa Arts Review and Noun Versus Verb. She has also had work published by the Tipton Poetry Journal and Adirondack Review.

IMG_0132I've enjoyed a number of Guatemalan coffees -- the Finca La Folie from Ritual Roasters, Itzamna from Intelligentsia, the Nimac Kapeh and the Soma blend from Barismo -- so I picked up these beans on another side trip to Stumptown's Manhattan location at the Ace Hotel in the 20s. As always, the service was fast and pleasant, and I received a complimentary coffee because I was buying beans. (I was also playing around with Foursquare and its iPhone app, and discovered that there's a fierce battle to become "mayor" of this location.) Name Finca El Injerto

Origin: Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Roasted: Sept. 24 by Stumptown Coffee.

Purchased: Sept. 28 at Stumptown in the Ace Hotel at 18 West 29th Street and Broadway, Manhattan.

Description From the label: "A jasmine fragrance is met with flavors of Dutch chocolate, roast almonds, meyer lemon, plum and a chamomile tea finish."

In the cup Finca El Injerto has fierce partisans in the coffee world. I had received at least one heads up on Twitter to be on the lookout for it. The official blog Thumpology says this is the first farm that had a Direct Trade relationship with Stumptown. A Bourbon variety, this coffee is grown in a region of Guatemala just south of the Mexican border by Arturo Aguirre and his son. Here is an gorgeous video showing how the Aguirres grow their coffee (I love Stumptown geeks). This bean -- billed as the most popular coffee roasted and sold by Stumptown year after year -- is not to be confused with the Cup of Excellence winner Pacamera from the same farm, which I'm now interested in trying.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been drinking this as both regular coffee and espresso. It's pretty good. There was a slight bitterness, a flavor I couldn't place, that was off-putting at first, but quickly forgotten. Did I pick up a fragrance of jasmine mutating into chocolate and almonds and finishing with a tea-like grace? Oh, I don't know. I still find these descriptions rather precious and embarrassing. I guess I should get over that. I do like it, and there is a hint of nuts and chocolate, though not nearly as sweet as I tend to prefer. I have no idea what a meyer lemon and plum might taste like, and there's definitely a tea-like something in there, which reminded me ofNimac Kapeh (the tea flavor was much stronger in that coffee).

I've had coffees I enjoyed more (I think I liked Stumptown's Montes de Oro more, for example), from other regions, from Intelligentsia and other roasters, but this is definitely far superior to most of the swill out there. I wish there were more locations, since this one is a little off my regular path. I'l definitely drop by Stumptown again -- and I look forward to writing about the other coffee I picked up -- but I'll never be its Foursquare mayor, alas.