Coffee Chronicles: Variety Increases Variety of Single Origin Espressos

"All that range we've begun to embrace in single origin brewed coffee is available in the concentrated, mercurial world of espresso as well."


[Photos: Liz Clayton]

Hipster haven Variety may not be on your morning commute, but you're only an L train away from the city's most innovative espresso. While most of the city's most discriminating cafes have already done away with "house blends" for filter-brewed coffees, Variety is the first we've heard of to switch to single origin coffee for espresso preparation as well—their two state-of-the-art grinders feature a seasonal rotation of single origin Stumptown-roasted espressos now, and you'll find nary a bent hair in sight.

The philosophies behind blended espresso—that is, coffee roasted for espresso preparation made up of more than one variety of bean—aim for a flavor profile that will taste (more or less) consistent over time, perhaps even in and out of seasons. Barista to barista, cafe to cafe, drinker to drinker, people will know more or less what they're expecting to taste, and the blend formulation is continually calibrated to hit somewhere in this target of approachability and ease of preparation for the barista.

Single origin coffees, on the other hand, aren't blended or "formulated" to taste like anything other than themselves—bright citrusy coffees are just that, earthy savory coffees, fruity funky coffees—all that range we've begun to embrace in single origin brewed coffee is available in the concentrated, mercurial world of espresso as well. It just might take a little more finesse to make it shine.

"It makes it more of an art when you're pulling a single origin coffee—you're not looking to hit any specific flavor profile like you are with a blend," said Gavin Compton, owner of Variety, which has two locations in Williamsburg/Greenpoint, and also runs the coffee program at sister restaurant Miller's Tavern.

The move is more about showcasing than showing off, however: offering coffees whose origins are distinct and traceable, whose farms have a story and whose flavors have an identity, is a tremendously effective way to connect people with the coffee. "They become more in the experience and they're now ordering espresso by the farm name, and by the country and by the origin," said Compton.

"We want to put the focus back from the farms and pull people's minds away from 'French Roast' coffee and put them back on the farms that are producing these different lots," continued Compton, who said serving blended espresso alongside their rotation of single origin brewed coffees had started to seem, well, nearly hypocritical.

"We would toot our own horns about our drip coffee, but at the same time we would serve these espresso blends that a lot of the time we wouldn't even know what was in the blend."

Stephen Rogers, Variety's new Director of Coffee, loves the expression of single origin beans background and flavor through preparation as espresso.

"To be able to see the green coffee buying process through an espresso extraction is the point of everything," said Rogers, who added, "I don't feel that it's an insult to Stumptown at all in abandoning the Hairbender blend, because we're going to put the focus on their direct trade relationships with farms."

And beyond heightening the drinker's education about the specific coffee they're drinking, they now have more opportunity to explore it. Stumptown's Ethiopia Mordecofe, for example, has been available as French Press, cold brewed coffee, and espresso all at the same time.

"For me, it's trying to change the way people view Variety," said Rogers. "It's going from what people don't care about to being able to go to Variety and know that you're going to get a good cup of coffee—and wonder what it will be!"