“Fifty people in a room in the Capital Region, drinking coffee—black coffee,” Ron Grieco laughs, “for someone who works in a coffee shop that’s unheard of.”
Grieco is the manager of both Albany Tierra Coffee Roaster locations and is also a part of the Capital Region Coffee Collective, a group started by area coffee professionals, whose goal is to encourage the growth of a specialty coffee culture. The collective wants to help the public join the good coffee movement, while it’s still, well, brewing.
A few Saturdays ago (Nov. 2), the collective opened up one of their events to the public and, to their surprise, a lot of people showed up. The crowd fluctuated throughout the day, but Grieco estimates that at least 50 people moved throughout the doors of the Lucas Confectionery (12 2nd St., Troy), where the event took place.
“It seems unheard of,” he says. “All of us were thrilled. It was beyond what we had dared to hope for our first public event. Clearly there are people interested in a specialty coffee culture.”
Just days before the public happening, the group met at the same location to experience a cupping, or tasting. At the cupping, participants grasped small ceramic cups in both hands and brought them to their faces. Hands touched each other and then formed a seal against their skin, the cup hidden from view. Inside each cup were the grounds from coffee beans that were processed in one of two different ways and covered with hot water. What one saw from the outside, as each person breathed deep of the contents in the small dish, is what looked like someone in worship.
This is a worship—a worship of good coffee, and an exercise designed to experience how different processing techniques of coffee beans from the same roaster and region affect the taste. The collective uses phrases like “break the crust” and terms like “wet aroma” and “dry fragrance.” And they slurp their tastings so the liquid coats the insides of their mouths properly. The slurp is a surprisingly complicated thing to master, but once one figures it out, it becomes a personal signature.
Often the first step towards understanding why good coffee is good is just wanting a better brew. People may simply wonder, says Matthew Loiacono (the roaster at the Uncommon Grounds in Saratoga): “Why is my coffee not tasting great and how can I make my roast better?”
Simon Ouderkirk moved to the Capital Region about a year ago from Providence, R.I., where he says there was a thriving “coffee scene.” “It’s just a seed that’s getting ready to sprout,” he says. “The coffee scene is a step behind the food scene. The coffee scene is in a lot of ways, anytime you have an excited group of people working on something that’s exciting, and it spreads to customers and clients. The value equation becomes different for that establishment—you appeal to certain group but you really delight them.”
“We’re scientists,” someone at the cupping exclaimed with a laugh after the beans were ground and the water was poured into each cup. At every event, the group trades knowledge and vocabulary with each other, and through some are more practiced, this is a shared experience.
At the public event, they were able to use those skills and techniques to illustrate another aspect of their scientific approach. “Saturday’s [public] event featured one coffee roasted three different ways: light, medium, and dark,” says Grieco. The group wowed their new students with the chemex coffeemaker, a brewing device that is a part of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art. The feedback was positive, Grieco says.
“It’s really wild how the consciousness had spread,” says Grieco. “I’m really really grateful that people care. It makes us feel like our job is not going unnoticed.”
For more information on public events check out the Capital Region Coffee Collective’s Facebook page.