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Cool Beans

Whose house blend is best? Our blind tasting had eye-opening results.

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Mug for the Camera: Three of the seven blends we tested kept us sipping  

Oren’s Daily Roast
985 Lexington Avenue, at 71st Street (212-717-3907); Grand Central Terminal (212-338-0014); and seven other Manhattan locations
Blend: Oren’s Special ($9.75 per pound).
Pros: Quite well liked: sweet, not harsh, with mild acidity and malty overtones. Nice caramel aftertaste.
Cons: “Not very complex,” said one taster, though others
disagreed. Fairly light roast—not for those who prefer dark, bittersweet coffees.
Rating: Four stars

71 Irving Coffee & Tea Bar
71 Irving Place (212-995-5252)
Blend: House ($10.50 per pound).
Pros: Irving Farm claims extraordinary provenance, but this didn’t measure up. “Bitterness up front, then it trails away,” said one taster.
Cons: “Stale,” lacking brightness. Had that sawdusty quality that comes with age. A disappointment.
Rating: One star

Fairway
2127 Broadway, at 74th Street (212-595-1888); and 2328 Twelfth Avenue, at 133rd Street (212-234-3883)
Blend: Fairway ($3.99 per pound).
Pros: “Excellent Monday-morning coffee,” said the panel. Tart, bright, and acidic (a plus, in coffeespeak).
Cons: Not much depth—flavor doesn’t really linger on the tongue in that perfect-espresso way.
Rating: Four stars

Starbucks
Call 800-STARBUC for locations, or see starbucks.com.
Blend: House ($9.95 per pound).
Pros: Better than expected. The very dark roast provides caramelly sweetness but “no broad spectrum of flavor.” (Though one drinker said, “I’m a sucker for this dark stuff.”)
Cons: More aroma than taste—“it’s all given up to the smell.”
Rating: Three stars

McNulty’s Tea & Coffee
109 Christopher Street (212-242-5351)
Blend: McNulty’s ($9.40 per pound).
Pros: The oldest roaster in New York, McNulty’s has a reputation, but this blend was sour, with a little burned flavor at the end.
Cons: At once harsh and thin; some flavor up front, but no finish. Said one taster, “I’d drink this just to stay awake”—not for the taste.
Rating: Two stars

Porto Rico Importing Co.
201 Bleecker Street (212-477-5421 or 800-453-5908), and two other downtown locations
Blend: House ($5.99 per pound).
Pros: The all-around winner. Winey, with flavor notes on all parts of the palate. “One to sit and sip,” said one taster, who did just that.
Cons: Aftertaste is a little sour.
Rating: Five stars

Zabar’s
2245 Broadway, at 80th Street (212-787-2000)
Blend: Zabar’s Special ($5.98 per pound).
Pros: Nice strong aroma.
Cons: At the Zabar’s café, the coffee’s quite good. So how come this tasted like nothing? “Coffee-cart coffee,” one of our panelists grumbled. Another was more dismissive: “Color and water, nothing more.”
Rating: Two stars

Bodum
413–415 West 14th Street (212-367-9125)
Blend: Bodum’s Best ($9.95 per pound).
Pros: The blackest of the bunch—might be okay for French-roast drinkers, or heavily milked-up.
Cons: Bordering on burned, with the complexity cooked away. “Like charcoal briquettes,” said one taster. ÂďAnd it won’t leave my mouth.”
Rating: Two stars

Insider Advice
Corby Kummer, author of the Joy of Coffee (Houghton Mifflin; $16), offers the following java data.

1. Use it fast. Coffee beans are the seeds of a fruit, and, like any produce, they spoil. Buy only as much as you can drink in a week or so.

2. If you can’t use it quickly, wrap your beans in plastic and pop them in the freezer. Make sure the bag is sealed—coffee absorbs odors (which is why you shouldn’t keep it in the refrigerator).

3. Get a good grinder—ideally a mill, with burr blades rather than the kind with a little propellerlike chopper—and grind just before you brew.

4. Keep it clean, whichever brewing method you use. Scrub out your pot often, use fresh, cold water, and rinse extra-carefully. Coffee oils turn rancid quickly.


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