As 2015 comes to a close and 2016 announces her majestic promise, we look back at some of our favorites pieces of writing we've published over the last 365 days. Our global team of staff writers, contributors, and creatives have helped make Sprudge into a daily home for coffee journalism. Here's twelve stories from our team we were proud to publish in 2015.
We're huge fans of this profile on Sump Coffee, an auteur cafe and roastery in South St. Louis, owned and operated by Scott Carey. These kinds of stories show us the individuals whose drive and dedication help push specialty coffee forward, and Evan Jones' reporting here is wonderfully evocative, with photos and words that show us why this place—and the man behind it—are really something special.
It’s a busy Saturday morning at Sump Coffee in South St. Louis City. A line forms behind a single paper menu that masquerades as a subway map. A brief synopsis is provided, and the customer places an order. No payment is collected. Instead, a single page of paper tracks the order. A Hario v60 pour-over bar with front row seating for three occupies the main room’s far side adjacent to a wall adorned with the company’s notorious bearded skull and crossed portafilter and coffee leaf logo.
Past two Steampunk Brewers and three Kyoto cold coffee drippers, a first-edition Slayer Espresso machine greets guests as it is worked in tandem. As one barista steadily pulls an espresso shot and pours everything into the awaiting vessel, the other churns a pitcher of milk into a maelstrom. Before finishing the espresso with velvety steamed milk, the cup is eyed up like a PGA golfer putting for the green jacket on the 18th hole of Augusta National. The drinkable masterpiece is framed on a saucer and raced to the patient consumer. The process quickly starts again; six more cups await their turn.
Amidst all of this, owner Scott Carey is diligently attending to Sump’s latest roast. He’s equipped with a stopwatch and pen. Every 30 to 60 seconds, he marks and tracks pre-established parameters to ensure a consistent roast every time.
It's been our pleasure to publish content all year long from Hengtee Lim, an enormously talented reporter living and working in Tokyo. Lim's English-language documentation of the Tokyo coffee scene has made for some of our favorite content in 2015, including this look behind the curtain of Rene Redzepi & Mads Kleppe's Noma pop-up at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. And for fans of Hengtee Lim's work, we highly recommend checking out his personal site, The HT Report, which features more food and beverage writing from around Tokyo.
Noma has, since inception, been about understanding, exploring, and sharing tastes through quality ingredients, careful preparation, and creative presentation. It’s this very concept that makes the Tokyo pop-up such an exciting venture for the team—it’s a chance to share their world-renowned creativity with a whole host of new, refreshing ingredients.
And coffee lovers can rest assured, when they sit down and stare out at the vast cityscape of Tokyo, that it’s not just the food and wine that makes the Noma experience interesting―they also serve a very fine cup of coffee.
There's arguably no market in the world where having a beat reporter on the ground is more important than San Francisco and the wider Bay Area. Openings happen here at a nigh-constant rate, and the bloggy Millennial culture driving the city means we have to act quick on coverage, hopefully without sacrificing that “coffee journalism that doesn't suck” mantra. We think this is an example of that! Noah Sanders rules the Bay Area beat and got himself in at the new Equator on opening day, scoring interviews with principals and taking some of the first published photos of the cafe's interior.
And Freudiger wants Equator to be the coffee shop that treats them along the way, where everyone feels comfortable stopping in to place an order. To buoy this idea, Equator is happily serving a variety of specialty drinks, including a house soda bar, as well as an almost entirely gluten-free food program featuring arepas and fried chicken wraps. Also on the menu is a classic shakerato: a shot of espresso, some cream, a little brown sugar and ice, shaken till frothy. It’s like ‘drinking ice cream,’ Freudiger says. “We want to offer a menu that appeals to fans of Starbucks and Peet’s,” she tells me, but with “high quality and organic” ingredients.
Zac Cadwalader is a really talented beat reporter and capable of exemplary straightforward journalism, but dude knows how to stretch his legs when authorized, and this piece is one of the funniest—and most poignant—pieces we published all year on Sprudge. This is one man's “very real and none too pleasant existential crisis” on the topic of coffee t-shirts overtaking his collection of music t-shirts, featuring a controversial exemption to our “No Incubus” policy.
Don’t get me wrong, being a coffee guy is pretty great, and my version of being a coffee guy gets to include travel and writing, which is stellar. But I’d wager most people want to have a more active role in constructing their own persons, to Make Yourself, as Incubus once pleaded, and I am no different. And while you can’t change who you are, you can buy a ton of new shirts with ambiguous subject matter to gerrymander the results in your favor. And so we petulantly beat on, borne ceaselessly into our past selves with these coffee-music mashup shirts, ready to ameliorate any existential flare ups.
Kate Beard's some of the most pure, raw talent on our staff writer squad, capable of producing both original photography and journalism that goes toe to toe with the stuff you see published in much larger, well-funded publications. We like this particular feature for its seemingly effortless documentation of one of coffee's biggest trends in 2015: an ongoing slow burn with the world of fine dining. In this case it's a brunch from Noble Espresso and Michelin-starred chef Christoffer Hruskova, beautifully photographed and detailed by Beard. The photography is gorgeous and the language is evocative—it makes you want to go to there.
Our longest tenured staff writer, Eileen P. Kenny's responsible for some of the most varied and diverse content of any contributor on Sprudge. From cafe profiles to event write-ups, personality driven pieces and interviews, we've sent EPK out on nearly every kind of assignment you can think of, but it's pieces like this one on Sun Moth Canteen that really play to her strengths. The food, wine, and coffee scene in Australia is just so impossibly hip—Sun Moth are an example of this—and Eileen Kenny's reporting from there shows that off to an international audience. We're one of the only American publications that regularly publishes on this kind of culture in Australia, and Eileen Kenny's helmed that voice beautifully for us since 2012.
Wandering around Melbourne City Center, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by choice. Every street and corner has something new to look at, with many laneways filled to the brim with restaurants and cafes. Sometimes though, it’s the little hidden spots that are the most rewarding—like Sun Moth Canteen & Bar tucked away down the middle of Niagara Lane, identifiable from a distance by only an unassuming pot plant.
Upon entering Sun Moth, it’s immediately clear that making the curious venture down Niagara Lane is worth it. Surprisingly spacious and open, Sun Moth is an all-day canteen and bar that encompasses delicious and healthy food, quality coffee, and a carefully selected array of wine, beer, and spirits.
Stories like this one remind us why we buy work from talented reporters in the first place. Karina Hof, our staff writer based in Amsterdam, noticed this quirk of a local trend developing around her city, and went out and reported it into a charming bit of beat journalism. Het koekje bij de koffie is a delicious part of Dutch cultural heritage, one that's slowly finding a new home in the city's remarkable specialty coffee scene. These are exactly the kind of stories we want to publish on Sprudge, documenting the intersection of coffee and culture as it happens around the world. This is culture writing with coffee as a through line. What a pleasure!
But there is one custom for which I have noticed the frugality ethos does not seem to apply: het koekje bij de koffie. That is, the complimentary small cookie or bit of cake served alongside, most commonly, coffee. In fact, sit down in any beverage-vending business in any town in the Netherlands, order coffee, tea or cocoa, and see how it is the rule, not the exception, to find a one- to two-bite sweet perched on your saucer. Frequently, it will be of the mass-produced polypropylene wrapper-encased speculoos variety. But sometimes it will be extraordinary.
Ah yes, August. A time of internet doldrums, of Build-Outs and dog days. While you were sweating through your chimp shift or counting the ticks off your Mac clock, Anna Brones was out brewing coffee in the Arctic Circle, on the Klungsdeen trail in northern Sweden.
We'll share with you that several readers nominated Anna Brones for the “Best Coffee Writing” Sprudgie Award for her features on post-tragedy Paris, a sickening plural that includes attacks in January and November of this year. Her essays following the Charlie Hedbo and 10/13/2015 attacks are some of the most heart-wrenching (and important) content we've ever published. But we want this post to be about celebrating work from the last year, so let's join her instead a thousand kilometers north of Stockholm, hiking and camping and brewing coffee in some of Europe's most remote conditions. This story is Anna Brones at her most Anna Bronesiest—fusing the wild outdoors with the comforts of home, and making adventure delicious.
It was day four of the 12-day backpacking trip. The night’s campsite had been the most exquisite: atop a ridge overlooking an entire valley. In the morning, I saw an Arctic fox cruising through, maybe on his way to scout out his first meal of the day. The first few hours would be all uphill, we would be hiking up to the highest point on Kungsleden, Tjäktapasset. Our guidebook said that the north side of the pass almost always had a little bit of snow, but this guidebook hadn’t been written for this specific year. There wasn’t just “some” snow; the entire approach to the pass was covered in snow. But here’s the thing about snow: in the heart of winter, when the air is constantly cold, walking on a snowpack can be quite easy. A snowpack in summer that has started to melt a little? A much more difficult endeavor, one that involves breaking through the snow every few meters or so. If luck isn’t with you, you might break through and hit your knee or shin on a rock. Or you might break through and find your leg right in the middle of a stream flowing beneath the snow. All of the above took place, and by the time we reached the pass, we were soaked all the way to the socks, despite waterproof mountaineering boots.
“We have to have a fika break,” said Luc.
It was a big pleasure for us to get to work with Sara Billups this year, with coverage of the ever-evolving Seattle coffee scene rooted in the present with an eye on the city's history. This was a tough pick, actually—Billups' profile on Espresso Vivace founder David Schomer is super worth revisiting, but ultimately it's this piece on the coffee program at Canlis we wanted to highlight. Canlis are quite simply serving up some of the best restaurant coffee in the world, going toe to toe with iconic services as places like Noma and Eleven Madison Park. Billups' reporting takes us there, and shows us why these kinds of story matter.
So what’s it like being a barista on staff in a restaurant like Canlis? Natalie Stevens estimates that 40 percent of her time is spent preparing coffee, with the rest spent “doing whatever needs to be done” in the restaurant, including delivering food and clearing plates. “I enjoy being in the middle of the action and hustle and bustle while functioning as a singular entity,” she says. “I get to play games of efficiency and time management with myself.”
That balance might shift on a busy weekend night, when she fills up to 20 coffee orders simultaneously. “A giving mentality must be had as a barista here, and personally, I welcome it,” Stevens says, later describing her floating role as a sort of “lone wolf.” This is how you help justify having a barista on staff, and the costs that incurs—the barista must be versatile.
It's no easy thing, to capture the spirit of a small business in words and photos on the internet, but that's exactly what San Francisco Sprudge contributor Michael Light does here in this profile on Wrecking Ball Coffee. Light, who is a current intern at Lucky Peach and former intern at McSweeney's, has a bright future ahead of him in journalism, and we're excited to be publishing his work here on Sprudge.
Wrecking Ball emblemizes a shop driven by its neighborhood and the pursuit of delivering it quality coffee. And yet, when it comes to trends, owners Nicholas Cho and Trish Rothgeb aren’t interested. This is perhaps what separates great coffee shops from good, this clear understanding of what’s actually important rather than simply what other people say is. So while the self-described fuddy-duddies will put out an iced cappuccino and sixteen-ounce cups and ice-brewed coffee, they don’t do public cuppings (“all kinds of shit shows”) and won’t serve you cold brew.
“Cold brew is a Second Wave wolf in Third Wave sheep’s clothing,” Cho said.
“It’s objectively a poor way to make coffee,” Rothgeb echoed. And nitro cold brew? Like French Roast, “it’s another thing we’re going to have to answer for in the future.”
Our New York City desk is helmed by Liz Clayton, an author and coffee journalist who also serves as this website's associate editor. We sent Clayton from Brooklyn to Buffalo to document the early days of Tipico Coffee, an exciting new cafe and neighborhood hub from longtime specialty coffee pro Jesse Crouse, who has worked previously with brands like Verve, Intelligentsia, and Gimme! Coffee. Her reporting from Buffalo captures a slice of life in around this exciting new cafe, and is full of the wit and warmth that's defined Liz Clayton's work for Sprudge since 2012.
Relying on Buffalo-based suppliers whenever possible and working closely with his West Side neighborhood is paying off so far. I notice as we walk around the neighborhood together that Crouse says hello to everyone he passes on the street—and like they’re old neighbors already, they greet him back. On this particular morning, the shop only four days old, a community has already begun to gather around the shop, meeting for work, crochet dates, or just a slice of avocado toast in the sun-flooded light of Tipico’s gargantuan windows. In the summer these same windows can accordion open, letting in the city’s ever-precious season of temperate air.
“So far it’s been amazing,” Crouse tells me. “People have ordered pour-overs by the gallons.” For a city like Buffalo, enjoying a cultural resurgence and attracting new businesses like Tipico, he’s already begun to achieve his primary goal. “I don’t want people to be confused about what coffee CAN be.”
We are understandably quite excited to be buying work from Daniel Scheffler, a journalist whose work has appeared in T Magazine, Travel And Leisure, Monocle, Playboy, New York Magazine, The New York Times, and Butt, to name just a few. Scheffler's globe trotting takes him to fascinating coffee bars around the world, like this one in the Mongolian capital city of Ulaanbataar.
It’s a cozy space, with big windows looking out at the glass-and-steel newness of the city, filled up with youngsters, expats, students, young professionals, specialty-coffee lovers, television stars, the local version of hipsters, and just flat-out curious people from the neighborhood, all dropping by to meet, learn, and experience a taste of coffee culture. “Coffee education with a new awareness is a priority for us,” owner and barista Erik Wahlen tells me. “We can see the growth and adaptation of global creativity in Mongolian culture—and we’re right in the middle of all of that.”