In 2012, City contributor James Leach wrote about three new coffee shops in Rochester that were roasting, brewing, and selling their coffee all in house, a relatively new concept: Joe Bean Coffee Roasters, Canaltown Coffee Roasters, and Java's at the Market. Fast forward to 2015 and I had the chance to interview the owners of three more small-batch coffee roasters that have opened since then: Press, Pour, and Fuego.
I am not a coffee purist. I like my coffee with cream and sugar, or if I'm feeling saucy, I'll go for a vanilla latte. Prior to visiting these coffee shops, I didn't know a lot about where coffee comes from, the different ways to prepare it, and what I should taste when I take that first sip. The phrases "single origin" and "pour-over method" were not in my lexicon. As a coffee consumer, I learned that the choices go way beyond "regular or decaf."
Damian Serafine opened Press Coffee Bar (480 East Main Street) last year. He got his start helping his cousin, Joe Palozzi (Java's at the Market), open Java Joe's on Gibbs Street in 1992. Palozzi taught Serafine how to roast, and after spending 20 years in the coffee business in Arizona, Serafine moved back to Rochester and opened Press. Serafine roasts about 20 to 25 pounds of coffee a day, taking him about 10 minutes per pound, and if you arrive early enough, you might be able to watch him while he does it: The roaster sits against the wall in a room right off the entrance.
Press mostly offers blends, which Serafine researches online to find new and exciting ones to offer. "I'm always roasting for espresso," he says. "It was the way I was brought up. Each coffee has an incredible characteristic and when you add them together, to me it rounds out perfectly and you get a beautiful, smooth, gorgeous espresso."
Serafine poured me a cup of the house blend, which was a Costa Rican-Brazilian brew. "It's going to be bitey, and it's going to be earthy," Serafine explained. "The Costa Rican is not going to give you chocolate like a Guatemalan will give you, but it will give you more dirt. It's real earthy. The Brazilian gives it a soft finish."
I drank it black and definitely got the bite — but the dirt? I wasn't so sure. How do you develop a palate for dirt?
The menu at Press includes coffee drinks, as well as bagels, pastries, and sandwiches. Its proximity to the Eastman School of Music guarantees that Press has music a few nights a week.
"I just want people to come in and enjoy themselves," Serafine says. "I'm old school. I come from an Italian background where you sit down, drink espresso, and don't worry about the other stuff — just pour a really good espresso."
To say that the guys who run Pour Coffee Parlor (23 Somerton Street, off Park Avenue), which opened in 2014, are passionate about coffee would be the understatement of the year. Listening to them talk about everything from the farmer to the bean to the brewing process is almost like listening to someone talk about a religious experience. Director of Coffee (DOC) John Cannon talks about finding his true calling: "It's a super inspiring thing. I can go to work and see this super exotic thing [the coffee bean] that's gone through so many different hands to get to me, the barista, and it made me feel like I'm the only one that could screw this up."
Owner John Ebel got into the coffee culture once he saw a Siphon coffeemaker being used for the first time. "It looked like a science experiment," he says, "and when I tasted it, I thought, 'This is not coffee, this is awesome." So he bought one himself and started experimenting.
Pour primarily uses a Chemex coffeemaker, which uses a pour-over method to brew the coffee. The filters on the Chemex are about 30 to 40 percent thicker than a standard coffee filter. The thicker filter catches more oils and solids and allows for a "cleaner" cup of coffee. The whole process takes about three to four minutes. "This coffee is bit heavier bodied than what we normally have at the bar," Ebel says when handing me a sample. "There are a lot of sweet flavors like lemon and grapefruit, lots of citrus hidden beneath a creamy body."
It really was a "cleaner" cup than what I typically taste from brewed coffee — light and citrusy. Ebel also says that he doesn't like coffee right when it's poured, that as it cools more flavors are released.
Ebel and Cannon know that not everyone has the time to wait for the pour-over, so they do make some ahead of time and have it ready to grab and go. They encourage people who want to know more about coffee to come in.
"We built our bar around doing this, talking to people and having that human interaction," Ebel says. They also offer a nitro cold brew pulled from a tap. The coffee is pre-brewed in five-gallon batches and put on nitro gas, like Guinness. Seasonal lattes, like the current lavender-cardamom latte, are available; they offer a maple latte in the fall. Sandwiches and salads are on the menu as well as a few craft beers on tap.
After talking to Tony Colon from Fuego Coffee Roasters (167 Liberty Pole Way), I felt I needed to go home and do some serious soul searching. "I work seven days a week and I don't feel like I work a day — so if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life," Colon says. Colon and his wife, Renee, opened Fuego in 2013 and they roast onsite; Renee is the master roaster and you'll find her back there four to five times a week roasting beans.
Most of the coffees they get are farm direct, which means they have a direct relationship with the coffee farmer and pay them a better wage than they would get going through a broker. Their single-origin coffees come from Ethiopia, Burundi, Indonesia, and South America.
Colon used an AeroPress to brew my Ethiopian coffee. The AeroPress method is a full immersion process that is powered by a vacuum and pressure; the coffee will have more of a body than if he used a Chemex, which he also has available. "Right off you should get some citrus, almost like a lemon," Colon says. "Then it goes into a candied flavor, almost like a candied apricot, and as it cools you'll get a nice, chocolaty, sweet body."
I asked Colon what his thoughts were on cream and sugar: Are they evil? Am I a horrible person for wanting it? His answer: "I don't judge people who put cream and sugar in their coffee. It's all about the experience, the education. And who am I to say how you drink your coffee?"
Fuego has a menu of espresso drinks available, using only single-origin espressos that change daily. All of its coffees are brewed by hand using either the AeroPress, Chemex, or Clever coffee makers. Baked goods are available from Flour City Bread Company.