Now Brewing: A Celebration of Specialty Coffee
Every day is National Coffee Day for Andy Giambarba, an ardent booster of South Florida’s culinary scene (follow @andymiami), who's currently spearheading Now Brewing, a free series of meetups showcasing the burgeoning specialty coffee culture scene. It’s hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm for local restaurants, chefs, food and drink – and especially coffee.
WHY COFFEE? Everything about specialty coffee resonates with me: the ethos, the community, the artistry and the finished product. You’re talking about a cup of coffee that took years to get to your cup. From the farm where the beans were grown all the way to your cup, it’s a tapestry that’s woven of all these different people who care – pouring themselves into the farming, harvesting, processing, roasting and preparation of this delicious, nuanced drink. When you dive deep into specialty coffee you can’t help but care more about the countries of origin and their people, the fair trade practices of buyers and importers, the power of the growers’ collectives, all the way along the chain to the artistry of the roasters and baristas. And they’re all working with a product that can be destroyed at any point along the chain by outside forces or simple carelessness.
Secondly, it’s just delicious. This is coffee that needs no cream or sugar, that has so much depth and changes flavor profiles as it cools. The comparison to wine or great tea is accurate. When I had my first cup of a single-origin coffee from Ethiopia at Panther in Wynwood a few years ago, it was a revelatory experience. The more I learned, the more I wanted to share it with others who felt the same, or maybe hadn’t been exposed to it yet.
We’re living an incredible moment in South Florida right now. People are interested in farmers and their crops, lots of new chefs and wonderful new restaurants are popping up and there’s a great (and growing) specialty coffee scene. Think back 10 years ago and that didn’t exist. As trite as this may sound, I honestly feel that those of us who remember how barren it was have almost a karmic duty to support the businesses that are providing these great experiences for us all. It’s tough as hell to run a successful small business – in particular a restaurant or cafe. I felt like I needed to do more than simply be a patron, I needed to be an active supporter.
WHY SOUTH FLORIDA: Joel and Leticia Pollock at Panther Coffee, as well as Chris Johnson at Eternity Coffee Roasters, have contributed mightily to what we’re all enjoying now. Many of the current cafes are staffed by baristas that learned an invaluable amount about the industry from Joel and Leticia and left Panther to spread their wings in their own endeavors. It takes a special human to inspire and train wave after wave of coffee professionals, knowing that many will not stay at their shop long-term. But in doing so, they’ve contributed to the growth of an industry in South Florida and beyond in a way no one else has.
New cafes have been opened that have serious coffee and tea programs (Threefold, Café Curuba, The Grind Project, Macondo, All Day, Vice City Bean and others like Brew Urban and Warsaw in Fort Lauderdale). New roasters have appeared in South Florida, not just in Miami, but also in Broward and Palm Beach (Per’La, Relentless Roasters, Argyle, Switchbox, Wells, Oceana and more). The biggest national names in specialty coffee are setting up in South Florida (Counter Culture and La Colombe have concrete plans while rumors abound regarding Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia). In addition to this, many restaurants and cafes have responded to specialty coffee the same way they did to craft beer – they realize that patrons want a stellar cup of coffee or tea at the end of a meal and it is part of the entire dining experience that can’t be overlooked
WHY MEET-UPS: The more I posted about specialty coffee, the more people asked if there was any kind of club in Miami where they could come together to taste different coffees and work on developing their palates. There wasn’t. So I spoke with Ryan Hall (who was at Panther at the time) and Nick Sharp (who owns Threefold Café) and we decided to start a monthly meet-up. It was very important to me that it was simply a celebration of specialty coffee, not linked to any one roaster, nor espousing any one theory of what someone thinks is the “best.” I brought in coffees from roasters all over the world so that people could try them and hopefully have that same experience. As someone who doesn’t work in the industry, it’s easy for me to be the cheerleader for all of the great roasters and shops that have grown up in South Florida.
The great thing about the monthly meetups is that they work for anyone with an interest in tasting new coffees. In the last seven months we have had some very interesting experiences. The guys from Per’La Specialty Roasters, UM grads and college buddies, hosted one and showed us all the difference that mere seconds make on the roasting process – demonstrating the flavor differences on beans that 10 extra seconds of roasting produces. Another meetup was hosted at All Day, a sensational new café downtown where owner and barista champion Camila Ramos provided everyone with worksheets to help them grade coffees in an exercise known as a “blind cupping” – we had no idea what the origin was nor who the roaster was until everyone had a chance to sample and grade the 10 different coffees. At another meetup, Debbie Rabinovici of Café Curuba in the Gables, the “Cheers” of coffee shops, focused on a brewing method called the Clever dripper so that folks could learn how to brew specialty coffee in their home in an accessible way.
All of the meetups are free, they’re informal and we give away the bags of coffee at the end – so some people go home with a bag of coffee from a roaster they just learned about. The whole point is to celebrate this wonderful product and help people learn more about enjoying it.
SIGN UP: Free meetups are scheduled for the third Sunday of the month. Find out details here. Giambarba says they’re also working on a latte art competition and industry holiday party.