A couple of weeks ago, Mark Prince posted this rumor on Twitter. Ever since, I’ve been eagerly looking about for signs of this Intelligentsia purchuse to the point of actually considering absurd hypotheses. The sight of a Southwest airlines seatback card even made me wonder. Might I find Intelligentsia coffee next time on one of my least favorite but most frequently flown airlines? Of course not, but, I can dream, can’t I?
In fact, I might not have perseverated on these two coffee secrets if I hadn’t encountered a third. I was on my way to Albuquerque, heading back from Gallup. What I really wanted to do was head straight for The Grove, but I felt obliged to follow up on a lead. I had heard a while back from someone in Albuquerque previously that the The Gold Street Caffe made fabulous lattes. While I wasn’t going to order a latte, I figured I would try the espresso they made it with.
It turns out the the Gold Street Caffe leads a parallel existence to the The Coffee House, where I had visited just in Gallup. Both lie one block off Old Route 66, but while The Coffee House is a coffee outpost, the Gold Street Caffe is a bustling downtown Albuquerque breakfast and lunch spot. While the Coffee House occupies a worn down space, the Gold Street Caffe is completely remodled in a vaguely Venetian/Southwestern/Hotel aesthtic – tile floors and black, metal framed and wicker chairs with flowery printed booths. I suppose this look may be appealing to some folks. I don’t happen to be one of them.
With regard to the espresso, Gold Street Caffe struck me as a restaurant that gets by with less than average coffee (the food looked like it might have been good but I didn’t try it). The espresso I ordered was long, had virtually no crema and was astringent. It seemed like the type of dark roasted espresso from which a decent shot is possible, but this certainly wasn’t it. It wasn’t ground to order although otherwise the barista seemed to more or less have down the shot-pulling routine, at least to the extent I could see what he was doing over the top their 3 group Espressa espresso machine. I never did try the brewed coffee – which was brewed commercially into an airpot – mostly because of the transaction that followed my espresso.
I asked the barista what roaster provided them with their coffee. I could see the 5 lb bag on the lower shelf, but the label was turned away from me. He and another waitress told me that it was a roaster out of Oregon, but couldn’t say which one. I pressed a little more and they clarified that they weren’t allowed to tell me. It was a “company secret” and the owner didn’t want them saying.
Now I’ve long complained about cafes not giving credit where credit is due when it comes to promoting the roaster they use. It’s bad enough when the roasters name isn’t prominently displayed somewhere and even worse when coffee is bagged and labeled such that the roaster gets no credit. My beef is that while barista skills certainly matter, with the exception of the best cafes, barista skills vary the most from visit to visit. It’s a variable you can’t control as a patron. If you visit a cafe with a good roaster, you’ve got the coffee variable under control. Furthermore, good roasters demand more from their clients when it comes to coffee preparation. As a customer, what roaster a cafe uses often determines whether it’s worth a visit.
So while a lack of roaster information is not uncommon, keeping roaster information secret pretty much leaves me befuddled. Is the cafe owner worried about driving away business? Is there something illegal or illicit going on? Does the owner think that secrecy will create a kind of cache with the clientele (as though secret sauce somehow makes the Big Mac more sexy)? Could this simply be a mixup on the part of the staff? Since I didn’t have the answers, I decided instead on comfort and headed out to get that shot of Black Cat.