Please Don’t Call It a Cup of Joe

photo.JPGTodd Olmstead Some of the selection at Van Daag.

For many coffee drinkers, the morning brew is a ritual, an essential start to the day whether consumed at home, work, or somewhere in between. But for coffee geeks, the experience is so much more than adding fuel. It’s a precise, scientific process in which beans cultivated with care on small farms in far away countries are ground specifically for that single, perfect cup. Many are coming to drink coffee with the same attention as fine wine.

Joining the movement is Van Daag, with a new coffee menu featuring beans from two renowned Scandinavian micro-roasters.

“Van Daag wanted a coffee program that would be something different, something that New York hadn’t seen yet,” David Latourell of Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea told me. He helped assemble Coffee Collective of Copenhagen and Tim Wendelboe of Oslo along with Ecco Caffe, a small California roastery that Intelligentsia owns.

One patron described the former World Barista Champion as “godlike,” but Mr. Wendelboe, who is tall and has boyish features, doesn’t carry himself like a star. This event felt more like a gathering of old friends – though they were also happy to dispense their considerable coffee wisdom to anyone eager to slurp the brown nectar.

Casper Engel, one of the four founders of Coffee Collective, told me that the Scandinavian roasters prefer their coffee even lighter than American specialists like Stumptown and Counter Culture. Indeed, the cups I tasted from across the Atlantic were exploding with brightness and acidity. In one standout of the day, Coffee Collective’s Kenya Gichathaini from the Nyeri region, you could almost taste the greenness of the bean. It had a juicy, sweet flavor, like a hoppy ale without the bitterness.

My own journey toward coffee connoisseurship began in Iowa City, working in cafes before I opened my own bar serving Stumptown. Getting into graduate school in New York meant leaving that behind, though I embraced the city’s rich coffee culture upon arrival. It wasn’t always that way.

photo.JPGTodd Olmstead The menu’s unveiling last week.

Brooklyn resident Ken Munno described New York City up until recently as a coffee desert — “everything was a Stumptown,” he said. Mr. Wendelboe even recalled a time before Stumptown came to New York. He’s been visiting frequently since 2002.

“Back in those days there was literally no coffee scene here at all. In the last two or three years it’s had a boom in really high quality coffee places. It’s great to see that New York is finally catching up to the rest of the world in terms of coffee quality.”

Van Daag General Manager Brendan Spiro compared curating the coffee list to building a beer or wine list.

“I wanted to have and own a flavor profile for Van Daag, and that was the genesis of the whole idea.”

He sat with me and reflected on the day’s success after the event wound down — but only in the figurative sense. By this point I had tasted 6 different kinds of coffee and could barely put pen to paper. “Seldom do you get to meet the brewmaster, the winemaker, or in this case the coffee roaster. To be able to bring that to the community alone is a boon. To also strike a deal with these gents and to be able to serve their coffee in New York is incredible.”