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July 14, 2006

They burn the beans

Filed under: Breakfast,Coffee,Japanese Food,Mexican Food,Mr. Henry — Mr. Henry @ 11:37 am

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

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.


  1. Finally, someone who shares my opinion of Starbucks. My husband and I are on a quest to find the perfect coffee. We may be trying Jalima in the near future.

    Comment by dr. nic — July 14, 2006 @ 12:37 pm

  2. Mr. Henry is on a breakfast roll, to be sure. RE: Starbucks…I live in Portland, Oregon, where there is a coffeehouse, kiosk, vendor on virtually every corner. They ALL overroast the beans. When I lived in Norfolk, Virginia, I bought my beans at a lovely little mom & pop business, (open since the early 1900’s) who roasted their beans to perfection. Gerry, the patriarch of the business made signs all over the place using red nail polish as his medium. Oh how I miss those crazy Greeks!

    Comment by ronikins — July 15, 2006 @ 8:08 am

  3. Mr. Henry, venture downtown…to Porto Rico coffee, on Bleecker Street. Try Alex’s blend, which is both tasty and so politically correct, the birds protected by the shady trees under which the beans are grown send fan letters.

    Or..dast you travel across the river, to my tiny town of Hoboken? There, you may frequent a micro-roasteria, Legal Beans, where the roasting is on site…and sans burning? Probably not. Be not afraid of the state of New Jersey. We had the first gay governor (albeit briefly).

    Comment by Martha — July 26, 2006 @ 2:17 pm

  4. Mr Henry, we are very glad you liked our coffee.We take pride in the quality and flavor of our coffee and are thrilled to hear that you enjoyed it so much. Thank you for your wonderful comments and we hope to hear from you soon! Greetings from Mexico, The blu-eyed Mexican Boy.

    Comment by The Mexican Boy — August 11, 2006 @ 2:28 pm

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