February 20, 2003

The Fifth Food Group

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that any college student must be in search of two things: the first, a degree and the second, a good cup of coffee. We at daze are a bit more ambitious, and while we can’t help you with the degree, we can find you a great cup of coffee.

In which parameters are set

In our opinion, the best coffee is to be found at any of the Gimme Coffee stores. But to know the location is not enough. What we must now consider is the nature of the coffee: what separates a good cup from a bad one? How do you get delicious brown liquid from small green beans? What is it with coffee as a social activity anyway? On our quest for the coffee grail, we encountered some helpful guides who answered these questions. Below is their wisdom.

In which the complexity of the question is apparent

Kevin Cuddeback, the owner of Gimme Coffee, is a man with many worries. He is confident of his company’s ability to brew superior coffee — the problem is getting the right beans. “We control everything after the green stage (as raw beans are called), but before we get there, there are all kinds of factors. The beans could have been exposed to any kind of taint,” says Cuddeback. Just transporting the beans from New York City (where most of their brokers are located) to Ithaca is a major undertaking. After placing an order with a broker, Gimme first calls the traffic coordinator to alert them. The broker has the traffic coordinator take the order, which usually consists of a dozen bags of different beans, each weighing 130-150 pounds, to a warehouse. The trucking company then picks the order up from the warehouse and takes it to Ithaca.

It is an expensive process, and could be disastrous if the beans are tainted. Cuddeback guards against this by calling his brokers in advance of an order and checking their inventory. When he sees something he likes, he asks for half pound samples, which are then roasted and taste tested in the back workshop of Gimme’s State Street store. The selection process, according to Cuddeback, is simple: “we basically pick what blows our mind. To keep things consistent, we compare the sample to a comparable coffee we have in store; a Columbian to a Columbian, for instance.” Once the order has been decided upon and delivered, the roasting and brewing begins. At this point, making coffee becomes “more a science than an art. What produces good coffee is strict adherence to best practices.” The effects of doing so, Cuddeback hopes, are far reaching. “We hope to operate in the advancement of espresso as a social movement. The espresso machine is the most perfect means of extracting coffee, since it puts the grounds in contact with water for the least amount of time. If we can get our consumer and wholesale accounts to adhere to our standards and practices, we’ll get a whole bunch of people aware of what good coffee tastes like. Coffee is more than a beverage, it’s part of people’s daily routine. There’s a sense of community which grows out of caf