Coffee Chronicles: Introducing Ecco Caffe at Joe

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[Photographs: Allison Hemler]

I like to think of coffee roasters as chefs, who may use the same foods as others, but use their unique talents to make a beautiful signature final product. If you've tasted any of the "Big Three" roasters, Stumptown, Intelligentsia, and Counter Culture, you'll know what I mean. Different roasting levels will bring out different characteristics of the region's (and farm's) beans. These independent roasters bring out the best characteristics of the beans, whether they're single origin or a blend. The add-on to this trend lately is advertising seasonal coffee crops, indicating an always-changing roster of coffee based on what's fresh and what's in season.

This is one trend I can get behind—who doesn't want the freshest coffee out there? Joe, sans "The Art Of Coffee," a cult coffee bar with five locations in NYC (and a previous employer of mine), recently decided to change the coffee they've been using for the past six years, to a roaster based on seasonality. They landed on Ecco Caffe, a small-batch roaster based out of Sonoma County, California, and recently bought by Intelligentsia. If you've been paying attention to the coffee scene, Ecco has shown up in other coffee bars around the city, so you might actually find the coffees familiar.

Prices for drinks have not changed, but taste has. Gone are the days of defining coffee by "light" or "dark" roast. Previous supplier Barrington Coffee's Vienna Roast is now replaced by Ecco's Seasonal House as the everyday drip coffee offering, accompanied by a single-origin for the morning rush. The featured coffee the first week was from El Salvador, a complex and bright brew with no business of needing milk or sugar.

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The bread and butter of any artisan coffee shop is its espresso quality, and baristas here have had some technique adjustments to make with Ecco's espresso blend, currently from Brazil and Guatemala. The volume per double shot is about two ounces, and the shots are blonder and slightly thinner than they used to be. This will be a change for Joe's straight-up espresso drinkers, who will now be served an almost full demitasse of liquid. Intelligentsia folk visited all the Joe locations to give everyone a crash course in the new offerings, so rest assured—all the baristas know what's up and know what a good shot should look and taste like.

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And in addition to the new drip coffee and espresso, there's also a new brewing method available: Chemex. Home aficionados will be familiar with the fancy glass hourglass-shaped pitcher with a special paper filter.

Chemex requires attention and an eye for details from the maker; the drinker only needs five minutes and the desire to have one of the cleanest-finishing cups of coffee you can get in Manhattan. Other stores like Everyman Espresso and Third Rail Coffee also offer Chemex, so the concept might not be entirely new to New Yorkers. However, it'll be a new experience for Joe's new Ecco devotees.

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Chemex, a-brewin'

Other change—they've switched the soy to Pacific, a much better quality soymilk for steaming, and the mochas and hot chocolates will now be made with a single-origin Ghana cocoa from Omanhene. I tasted a soy hot chocolate on Saturday morning, and I'm happy to report the subtleness of both flavors were a welcome relief from the previous Ghirardelli-based drinks.

While it might be pretty ballsy to switch coffee roasters, Joe is not the only shop in New York to have done so (Ninth Street Espresso has most recently from Stumptown to Intelligentsia, and Cafe Grumpy is always changing). It'll take some getting used to for the customers who aren't so receptive to change, but I don't think they'll lose a ton of customers, and might even gain a few curious ones. I can assure a few months of drinking coffees and sipping espressos at any of the Joe locations will enhance your coffee palate. If we're paving the way for NYC as the new coffee mecca, then we need to be willing to rethink what "good coffee" actually means and give Ecco a shot.

Locations (all in Manhattan):
  • 141 Waverly Place (b/n Sixth Avenue and Gay Street; map)
  • 9 East 13th Street (at Fifth Avenue; map)
  • 405 West 23rd Street (at Ninth Avenue; map)
  • 44 Grand Central Terminal (in the Greybar Passage; map)
  • 514 Columbus Avenue (b/n West 84th and 85th Streets; map)

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