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Espresso Jocks

January 20, 2014

There are two serious places for espresso in Princeton and a third one is opening up soon. Some people wonder if there is room in the marketplace for another competitor. However, I say that if this small town can support three four-season ice cream parlors, it can certainly sustain a third independent coffee place.

Although most people in Princeton are only aware of Small World Coffee. It’s been around the longer and pushes an impressive volume every day. Fewer residents know about Rojo’s Roastery just around the corner.

Shot for shot, Rojo’s is superior, and I love that they offer single origin espresso. Last time I was in the shop, they had a choice of two. But it’s smaller. Each drink takes longer. And unlike Starbucks, they won’t give you exactly what you want (if what you want is ridiculous).

The craft of turning well roasted beans into an amazing shot of espresso is a daunting one, and it’s one for which I have tremendous respect. So even though I risk sounding like a shill for a few Capital Region organizations, I’m compelled to share the following news.

Congratulations to Luen Proft of the Lucas Confectionery for winning the 2014 Barista Albany championship.

Last year the Confectionery fielded Vic Christopher who is passionate about coffee, but I do believe that in order to win one of these things you have to pull espresso shots every day. The smallest details matter. A lot.

That year David Schulman of the Hudson River Coffee House took home the win. I was a bit surprised because he kind of came out of nowhere. What I learned after talking with him is that anyone with a passion for coffee can start making it well if they dedicate themselves to the craft.

It’s just another reason that I’m excited by the formation of the Capital Region Coffee Collective. Luen, incidentally, happens to be one of the groups members.

If you are one of the few who follow their Twitter feed, you would have gotten a play by play of the Barista Albany event, and seen how close Luen came to not delivering his final drinks within the time limit of the competition. Apparently, it was a real nail biter.

You can also see CRCC member Ron Greico’s signature coffee drink that looks pretty special too.

But it’s not all sunshine and light. This year there were only four registrants for Barista Albany: Lucas Confectionery, Tierra Coffee, Hudson River Coffee House, and Happy Cappuccino. Last year the Daily Grind, Apostrophe Cafe at Proctors, Flavour To Go and J. Watt’s Barista House all signed up too. 2014 saw the field cut in half.

Caffe Vero was a no show both years as was Uncommon Grounds. There are some good things happening at UG with their roasting, but maybe they aren’t ready to send someone to compete on pulling espresso. And where is a barista from Healthy Living Marketplace in Wilton? Maybe they aren’t invited because it’s not Albany. But Stagecoach Coffee has plenty of fans and they are right downtown. Professor Java is technically in Colonie, but dammit they are still in Albany county.

Here’s the thing. Not all of these places are competing at the same level. But that’s the point of the competition. It would really be nice to see some of the other independent coffee shops raise the level of their game. This was the hope in 2013, especially after David’s win.

It’s fine if local coffee shops don’t want to play these reindeer games. That said, standards are on the rise, and it’s dangerous to try and hide one’s head in the sand. Because in a small town like Albany, I’m not sure how many independent coffee shops can survive.

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