Finding himself at Zabar’s late in the afternoon, his arms already laden with foodstuffs, with no time or energy left to forage further afield, Mr. Henry to his horror realized he was out of coffee. Since Mrs. Henry never touches the stuff and consequently has no appreciation of what a conundrum he was in, a cell-phone call for wifely assistance was not in order.
In his urban peregrinations, Mr. Henry regularly attempts to locate an Oren’s Daily Roast which, he maintains, has the best beans in town for an infusion method (french press) cup of coffee. Failing that, he buys wherever he finds something that looks reasonably roasted.
However, he never ever buys coffee at Zabar’s. You see – and it pains him to criticize a store so conveniently located and offering such good breads, cheeses, and smoked fish – Zabar’s burns the beans. They over-roast them until the coffee, no matter which variety, uniformly lacks the subtler aromas, becoming bitter ash. In this regard, Zabar’s resembles Starbucks and a host of other celebrated purveyors of coffee.
But then Starbucks is essentially a franchise for steamed milk. The coffee is secondary. If proof were needed for this, when coffee prices suddenly doubled some years ago, Starbuck’s did not raise their prices one whit. The cost of the coffee in a single espresso is eleven cents – and that is the cost after the roaster has imposed a quintuple mark-up.
Truth be told, Zabar’s has always been an establishment more concerned with price than with quality. This not meant to be a derogatory statement. They understand their market. As many failed restauranteurs have learned, Upper West Siders won’t pay.
At that very moment beside the coffee bags appeared a willowy blue-eyed Mexican boy straight out of “Y Tu Mama Tambien” who offered me a free sample of Jalima brand coffee from Mexico.
In a whisper I complained to him that I never buy coffee here because it is over-roasted. He nodded in conspiratorial assent and suggested I try Jalima H & A Gourmet bean grown in Veracruz. Medium ground and vacuum packed, the Gourmet is a marvelously rich brew with hints of citrus and chocolate, delicate and refined, perfect for the french press.