As the first real snowfall of the season blankets Chicago, it’s a great morning to drink a cup of coffee, watch the flurries coat the trees, and reminisce about another cup of coffee. Over Thanksgiving, we were in New Jersey and went into New York City for the day. Our friends took us to Stumptown Coffee Roasters, which had recently received raves in the New York Times, because as our friend put it, “New York has everything but a decent cup of coffee.” So, we decided to test it out. Stumptown Coffee originated in my hometown of Portland, Oregon (I tried it out there years ago) and has a café in New York’s Ace Hotel, a trendy spot with a Portland vibe—full of dark oak beams, casual throw rugs (and animal pelts), and hipster baristas. We switched it up and I ordered a latte while my husband Michael tried a cappuccino. I have to say, the latte was better. The espresso was good, although not as rich and full as in Italy, but the milk was creamy. They definitely weren’t using 1%! Unfortunately, Michael’s cappuccino tasted burnt. After all that effort, too.
We watched the extremely meticulous barista measure out each spoonful of espresso from the grinder, tamp it down oh-so-carefully, and wipe off any excess grounds. He would then twirl the filter upside down to make sure the grounds were packed in tight enough, before attaching it to the espresso maker. He had the fierce concentration of a lab technician. After he brewed the coffee, another barista steamed and poured the milk (in Italy, only one person handles this task), swirling a leafy design on top of the thick foam. It was nice to see someone take such care in making a cup of coffee, but it was certainly a different experience from Italy. Italians take their coffee making just as seriously, but their meticulousness looks effortless. In one fluid motion, a good Italian barista would empty a used filter, measure out a new portion of coffee, tamp it down, attach the filter to the machine and brew it. Perhaps it’s because many baristas make their job a lifelong occupation in Italy whereas in America, being a barista is often a job to pay the bills while waiting for something better to come along. Either way, you still can’t beat a cappuccino—or a latte—in Italy. But, Stumptown Coffee treated coffee making as an art form, and I appreciated the effort!