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The Hudson Valley is home to the Culinary Institute of America, as well as award winning restaurants, numerous renown vineyards & beverage producers, and just about every type of farm one could imagine. It seems that the message is clear, the area is a gastronomic haven. So why is it so hard to get a good cup of coffee?
There are plenty of great roasters in the Hudson Valley, including Irving Farm Coffee Roasters in Dutchess County and Coffee Labs Roasters in Westchester. But it seems most cafes in the area are subject to America’s obsession with pumpkin lattes and flavored coffee smoothies. Where are the purists?
Both Irving Farm and Coffee Labs started with flavored coffees, but have since weaned themselves (and their customers) off the sugar to highlight the amazing coffee they are sourcing and craft-roasting in small batches.
Irving Farm takes great care in the sourcing of their coffees by creating direct trade relationships, traveling to origin and influencing how their coffees are cultivated at the source. This really creates the connection from farm to cup. Everything is still produced manually at Irving Farm. Each roast is watched over by Roast Master Clyde Miller using time, smell, sound and sight as his guides. Hand bagged, their coffee is shipped out to some of the best restaurants in Manhattan.
Coffee Lab has been producing great coffee in Tarrytown for ten years now and has only been gaining in strength and quality. Walking into their roasting-cafe, you get the immediate feeling of community, as the room is filled with regulars and travelers alike. A communal table is occupied with a group of Buddhist monks and the baristas continuously put out great drinks on their Strada espresso machine. I will attest that the espresso blend is solid, and more impressive was that their single origin espresso, Ethiopian (which is traditionally a very acidic coffee which can taste very sour as espresso) turned out to be sweet and fruity. To actually taste blueberry from an espresso is very unusual and pleasant.
All the while Head Roaster Kurt Balogh is manning the roaster, talking to customers and occasionally tidying up. Kurt took the time to tell me about some of the great coffees they’ve been bringing in, including some Cup of Excellence finalists and a direct trade coffee from Honduras that has actually doubled production because of Coffee Labs continued support.
Kurt also shared with me that making the decision to stop serving flavored coffee was a hard transition at first for their customers, but through constant encouragement and communication they have shared the benefits and natural flavors that their coffees have to offer.
Irving Farm has recently taken back ownership of their Millerton coffee house and Millerton has taken back Irving Farm! They dropped the flavored coffee from the menu, upped the staff training and added pour over coffees.
I understand that businesses must offer what the customer wants, so, it does not surprise me that flavored coffees out weigh and over shadow good brew coffee on most cafe menus. I’m more surprised that the good people of the Highlands, the Palisades and the mighty Shawangunks have not gotten past their Dunkin Donuts hazelnut, light and sweet. Eaters of the Hudson Valley are embracing farm-to-table dining and enjoying the straight flavors of fresh garden vegetables, grass-fed beef and raw milk cheese; they taste the subtle nuance of the Baco Noir grapes and light tartness of a crisp Seyval Blanc wine, yet they continue to drench fresh roasted coffee in caramel, mocha and cinnamon?
The palate of the customer has forced the local roasters to keep Dolche de Leche on the menu. Successful roasters like Catskill Mountain Coffee Roasters, Bear Mountain Coffee Roasters, Monkey Joe and Nobel Coffee Roasters all carry flavored blends, in addition to their signature roasts.
Coffee Lab and Irving Farm are Specialty coffee success stories and triumphs for the Hudson Valley coffee scene. It will be exciting to see how they grow and impact the region.
It is my hope that through education and encouragement (as in the Coffee Lab situation) more patrons will be brave enough to take their coffee black and test the limits of their own tongues.
As the palates of the customer become more sophisticated, more chefs and restaurant owners will take notice and eventually place value on a quality coffee, which means one day, we can take good coffee for granted. Until then, it’s Millerton and Tarrytown residents that get to be spoiled.