Bean Counter

Coffee gets the local, artisanal treatment.

We’re in a golden age of specialty brews, when creating espresso crema is an art form—literally, as photogenic cups get close-ups in magazines and blogs devoted to the bean. Celeb baristas vie in hard-fought competitions to pull the perfect espresso. The good news is that, despite the continued economic crisis, people are still buying pricey coffee drinks.


According to the National Coffee Association’s “National Coffee Drinking Trends 2011,” 40 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds said they drink coffee daily; a big jump up from 31 percent in the 2010 study. A full 54 percent of the next age tier—25 to 39—reported drinking coffee daily; versus 44 percent last year. And they are imbibing the good stuff: 37 percent of total coffee consumed was gourmet-quality.

The bad news is that bean prices have climbed to record highs (see chart). Wholesale green beans are well over $2 a pound, and judging from increased demand and poor harvest reports, relief isn’t coming.

Drinking locally

“Our whole concept is regional cuisine, sourcing food and drink locally,” says John Hogan, owner of Level Small Plates Lounge in Annapolis, Maryland. Naturally, for the restaurant’s coffee, he chose a local company, Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company.

“Coffee service in a restaurant is often overlooked,” notes the restaurateur. “Not only is coffee an opportunity to build sales, but it’s the guest’s final and lasting impression of the meal. It should be a great cup.”

The restaurant offers only French-press service made to order. “I believe it is the best way to brew coffee,” says Hogan. A single press is $3, a double is $5 and a large press pot is $10. The coffee’s source, like most food and drink items, is noted on Level’s menu.

The coffee also shows up in a signature cocktail called the “Naptown.” Coffee is pressed fresh to order, then mixed with Jim Beam Black Cherry bourbon and Castries Peanut Rum Crème Liqueur, then topped with whipped cream ($9). A classic Irish Coffee also employs the French-pressed brew. In the kitchen, ground coffee is sometimes used in barbecue rubs or as a garnish.

Hogan took his restaurant’s staff on a field trip to Chesapeake Bay’s roasting facility. It features green technology with nearly 80 percent reduced emissions compared to traditional drum roasters and purchases wind energy subsidies to power the plant.  “As a restaurant, we support that kind of sustainability,” says Hogan. The staff also had the opportunity to cup all the coffees and learn more about the blends they serve at Level.