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Mar 29, 2011 08:53 AM

Austin Coffee--some thoughts

For the nearly 30 years I've lived here I've seen many coffee purveyors/roasters come and go but there's some things that remain the same. Anderson & Co. remains the king of the hill, though there are some places that come close to being as good. Ruta Maya in particular comes to mind--I especially give them props for dark roasting their Central American coffees.
One other thing that hasn't changed is that there always seems to be at least one local company that not only roasts beans but offers a maintenance deal to coffee shops and restaurants that buy their beans. Ten years ago I noticed that Texas Coffee Traders was pervasive in the scene. Now, it seems to be Cuvee. I am rather surprised by the situation, in part because the coffees themselves don't stand up quality wise. Especially galling is when coffee shops use a light roast (typically a Viennese type roast) for espresso. I like a bit of experimentation. I like that many micro-breweries do things like make a dark lager, for example. But I've never once tasted a light roast coffee that works for espresso. Maybe that's just because that's what Italians (who invented the process) use? Every coffee shop I've been to in Europe used a dark roast for their espresso--same goes for Turkish coffee (another fine grind).
The problem is clearly one with the coffee shops (or restaurants) themselves. Cuvee produces some very excellent dark roasted coffees which I've had, same territory as Anderson's and Ruta Maya--it makes me serious wonder why coffee shops go with the light roast. My guess is it probably has something to do with the wholesale price? Though, when I worked in a coffee shop ten years ago that at the time bought their beans from Texas Coffee Traders, I found out that TCT's wholesale price was only slightly higher (something on the order of 5 cents/lb.) than Anderson's. Talk about penny wise pound foolish.

Texas Coffee Traders
1400 E 4th St, Austin, TX 78702

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  1. Taliesin15,

    I respectfully disagree with your statement " I am rather surprised by the situation, in part because the coffees themselves don't stand up quality wise."

    I've been a relatively loyal Texas Coffee Traders customer for years, until Cuvee moved (literally) into the scene. In my opinion, Cuvee is at the top of the heap of local roasters, an opinion that seems to be supported by the fact that the most respected shops in town including Once Over, Houndstooth, and Medici are all serving Cuvee. You can find Cuvee Mezaanotte at Thunderbird Coffee (nee Cafe Clemintine). This is the darkest roast from Cuvee, according to their website. Medici and Once Over use custom Cuvee blends.

    For whatever reason, Coffee Trader has either slipped behind or Cuvee has pulled ahead. I'm a little annoyed that Cuvee sells their beans to consumers in a 12oz package for the same price as a pound elsewhere. But I like it enough that Cuvee is part of my regular rotation along with my Coffee Trader faithful.

    I don't like really dark roasts for my espresso, and that's drinking it straight or macchiato. Whether that's traditional or not, just happens to be my preference after a lot of experimentation. For me Anderson's dark roast is over-roasted.

    It also matters which machine I'm using. The Rancillo is very good with the lighter roasts, but the office machine improves with a darker roast.

    In fact I'm drinking a Cuvee Mezzanotte roast right now. Ahhh.....

    Texas Coffee Traders
    1400 E 4th St, Austin, TX 78702

    Thunderbird Coffee
    1401 W Koenig Ln, Austin, TX 78756

    2 Replies
    1. re: tummoi

      that's just it--the places you mention (Medici, Houndstooth, Once Over) I was eager to check out and very dissappointed with--mainly due to the quality of the coffee--Once Over has nice ambience with their deck and is close to where I live--one Medici is conveniently close to UT--but why bother buying Espresso there when I can get the real thing at Russell's (Anderson's Coffee) or Ruta Maya?

      1. re: taliesin15

        I concur. Houndstooth was...well, like drinking Folgers. Medici was better, but, again, not as good as I was led to believe. Luckily, I make fantastic coffee and espresso and don't have to go out for my caffeine. And I like a good dark roast for my espresso. I think local coffeehouses shoot for the anti-Starbucks crowd and people drink it because they assume that since it isn't Starbucks then it's what good coffee tastes like.