From the latest issue of “Garden and Gun” magazine, an interview with Todd Carmichael that will make you reach for your root vegetables and arm your rifle:
“To develop coffee blends, you taste the food—the traditional smokiness, the woodiness, the minerality of things from the earth—and go from there,” Carmichael explains. “In Portland, they’re drinking fruity and floral coffees. That’s no kind of coffee for the South.”
Or, to put it in its intended ethnographic parlance, “Batdorf & Bronson, Counter Culture Coffee, and all you accounts down South servin’ Stumptown and Intelli? Y’all can kiss my grits.”
Those flavor notes are part of La Colombe’s “Louisiane” blend, which “Garden and Gun” bills as “a custom blend dedicated to the South”. Dark roast smokiness might be just fine for the cafe sua da you enjoy at your favorite pho joint off Buford Highway, but in Atlanta’s cafes – among the finest in America – to say nothing of Atlanta’s dining rooms – really, some of the finest in America – there exists no old timey cotton tariff on the coffee drinking palate. This is true not only in Atlanta, but in other cities and suburbs across the American South, and increasingly in the city of New Orleans itself (for whom the “Louisiane” blend is named). Fine New Orleanian cafes like Velvet and Cafe Treme would not be caught dead at Sunday supper serving coffee that tastes of woodsy minerals.
Mr. Carmichael has isolated one of specialty coffee’s most fascinating and fast-growing markets and deemed them disinterested in “fruity and floral” coffees, as a matter of cultural proclivity. This isn’t just merely offensive; his statement seeks to throw a wrench into the otherwise healthy rise of great coffee in the South. This is like telling your average Atlantan that “y’all ain’t interested in eatin’ nothin’ but cornbread and bbq,” to which he or she would point to the aforementioned Buford Highway and its bounty of banh mi, dim sum, and Baja fish tacos as a forceful counterpoint, to say nothing of dinner at Empire State South or drinks and snacks at Holeman and Finch. Which is a way of saying: Southern specialty coffee drinkers have quite capable palates, thank you kindly.
Add to that the fact that Mr. Carmichael is a Northerner, based in Philadelphia, who roasts his coffee to taste specifications rooted in early-1990s Seattle, and the whole thing starts to snowball down towards the ridiculous. “Garden and Gun” trots out La Colombe’s presence on the menus of Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud, and given G&G’s editorial mandate – “A Southern lifestyle magazine that’s all about the magic of the new South” – the choice is somewhat baffling, as Ripert and Boulud are perhaps the two least Southern men in history.
Mr. Carmichael should be lauded by the industry for his capitalist-humanitarian efforts in Haiti, and we’ve done so on this website. We’re committed to offering both praise and critique of Mr. Carmichael’s oft-controversial media presence in a professional, gentlemanly fashion – a tone we have not always lived up to in the past. But this latest tactic from La Colombe – “coffee fer the South, dag nabbit” – is about as authentic and worthy as a creeping web of kudzu.