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Happy about Grumpy

Cafe Grumpy

Name: Cafe Grumpy
Location: 224 West 20th Street, Manhattan, NY

Roasters: Multiple/Rotating including Novo (espresso) and Grumpy
Rating: 4

My botched attempt to cup coffee with the New York Coffee Society put me in a deep-seated funk so I took the opportunity the next day to seek out my coffee namesake, Café Grumpy. Of course Grumpy (the Chelsea location) is anything but. They have two clover machines, a rotating coffee menu from some of the country’s best roasters, lots of natural light and a pleasant and cozy interior – just the thing to lift one’s mood.

I got there early and found the place as delightful as I had hoped. I ordered a macchiato made with their heartbreaker espresso, a blend that originates, ironically, at Novo Coffee, where I had been just days before. The heartbreaker is a blend of Colombian Alandra and Ethiopian Beloya and Gololcha coffees and it’s certainly unique. It has a lot of chocolate and fruit notes and while smooth, it’s not delicate. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d almost describe it as somewhat dense or even a little bit chewy.

And then there was the coffee cupping. You see, Café Grumpy has a somewhat novel business model. They aren’t contractually tied to a particular roaster which means they can change their menu at will. Each month they hold a public cupping to test potential selections for the next month’s menu and each month they offer about 4-6 different coffees and two different espressos. The heartbreaker espresso is the only fixed item on the menu at the moment.

This constant flux is a bit of a double-edged sword. Since Grumpy doesn’t roast its own coffee and doesn’t always offer the same coffee (with the exception of the heartbreaker) it’s a bit hard to count on them for a consistent coffee. It also probably costs the customer a bit more per cup since there are no contractual discounts. At the same time, there’s always something new to try. Personally, I like this approach. If I really like a coffee, I can always go back to the roaster and get more. And while the customer from time to time may end up with coffee not to his or her liking, Café Grumpy’s high standards in coffee trafficking make it highly unlikely that a customer would ever end up with a bad cup.

On the cupping docket that day, were four coffees: two beans from Novo – the Gololcha and the Amaro Gayo – and two from Intelligentsia – the Tres Santos Colombian (La Dorada?) micro-lot and the Flor Azul Nicaraguan. Without going into too many details about each one I will say the following: 1) all of them were amazing although the pronounced blueberry of the Amaro Gayo and the nut and chocolate of the Tres Santos were truly fantastic; 2) this cupping was really fun and a great opportunity to taste quality coffees side by side; and 3) Grumpy deserves some real credit for opening this to the public as a way of educating and including consumers in the process of their coffee selection.

Of course, that fact that I like Café Grumpy is no surprise. Going in, I knew that Grumpy would have to be pretty far off the mark to deserve anything less than top rating from me. The more I think about it though, the more I come to appreciate Grumpy’s unique approach to specialty coffee. There are so many independent cafes that don’t roast their own coffee, yet serve the same really bad coffee consistently for years. By comparison, Grumpy is positively delightful.

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