With the opening of our Downtown store at 7th Avenue and 16th Street comes the fourth outpost of our iconic Madison Avenue restaurant, Freds. Executive Chef Mark Strausman’s signature power lunch fare gets a downtown finesse for its new home in Chelsea, with stylish specialties like avocado toast topped with sunflower shoots and pico de gallo and vegan pasta with roasted cauliflower, broccoli, and Romanesco—and an exclusive collaboration with La Colombe coffee.
The specialty coffee roaster, known for ethical, long-term trade practices, brings not only their much-obsessed-over draft latte—a creamy mix of cold-pressed espresso and foamed milk served straight from a tap—and their rich cold brew coffee, Pure Black, but also an exclusive coffee blend just for Freds. Featuring Brazilian, Mexican, and Colombian beans, the XO Freds x La Colombe blend is an all-encompassing complement to the menu’s range of culinary characteristics.
“For Freds, we wanted something relatively straightforward,” says Nicolas O’Connell, the vice president of sales and wholesale at La Colombe. “A coffee that would match the menu and satisfy everyone, but also have something extra. It has a base of bolder flavors, such as dark chocolate, and we added some fruitiness. Fruitiness is in fashion, but you have to be careful because it can be a turn-off. Many independent cafes do those fruit bomb blends, but that is not what we’re intending to do with Freds. We wanted universality, but with a special twist. So having to balance the flavors is important.”
It takes a certain amount of stylistic discernment to develop a harmonious coffee blend. “It’s important to look at it from one end of the spectrum to the other,” says O’Connell, “pulling from all of what you like to create something very harmonious.”
O’Connell likens the process of building a coffee blend to telling a story. The main characters present themselves upfront, and then the whole plot takes you on twists and turns. “When you start, you want the coffee’s core to be obvious,” he says. “But, you don’t want to reveal everything right away. You want to build up to it. The Freds blend starts off relatively bold. Then you move to almost bitter, but it stops and turns into something really velvety and relatively mellow with notes of fruit and flowers at the end.”
In order to get that perfect Freds cup, Nicolas hosted three coffee cupping sessions with the Barneys team. Commonly used in coffee buying, cupping is a traditional four-step process of tasting coffee. “In cupping, you aren’t drinking coffee—you are evaluating coffee,” says Nicolas. “You say, ‘I like this, I don’t like that,’ or ‘I want more of this or less’ and give it a grade based on its characteristics. It’s very personal to what you like: acidity, sweetness, bitterness, or something savory and complex. There aren’t any right or wrong answers.“
“It was an incredible experience, listening and watching the La Colombe team teach us about coffee and the art of cupping,” says Barneys New York COO and Executive Vice President, Daniella Vitale, who helped determine the final Freds x La Colombe product. “I found that I liked coffees with more fragrance and that weren’t super dark. I always thought a good cup of coffee had to be dark and rich. Not the case. I loved those with a whiff of chocolate and even berries. Who knew!”
A coffee’s taste is influenced by its development: planting, harvesting, processing, and roasting. So much depends on where and at what elevation the coffee is planted, or if it’s processed “naturally” compared to “pulp naturally,” or roasted light, medium, or dark. While there are endless ways to evaluate a coffee, La Colombe focuses on seven traits: Fragrance/Aroma (i.e. floral, nutty, caramel, vanilla), Flavor (tart, spicy, bitter), Aftertaste (short, sweet, effervescent), Acidity (mild, nippy, apple), Body (thin, buttery, heavy), Sweetness, and Balance. To determine what coffee personality you have beyond milk, sugar, or both, try an at-home cupping session with our how-to guide from La Colombe.
How-to guide to finding your “coffee personality”
STEP 1: Evaluate Fragrance
Smell plays a huge part in taste. Start with 11 grams of coffee grounds in a cup and take short sniffs of the beans’ aroma.
STEP 2: Break to Evaluate Aroma
Add filtered, hot water—just off boiling at 210 degrees—to the cup of grounds. Use the back of a spoon and push the cup’s top crust of grounds back three times. This is called “breaking” the cup, which releases gases that have been trapped in the coffee’s cell structure since being roasted. Once the cup has been “broken,” lean in to take another round of smells.
STEP 3: Skim
After smelling and breaking the coffee, take two spoons in tandem to remove the grounds formed as a crust on the top of the coffee.
STEP 4: Slurp to Evaluate Taste
It’s not particularly elegant, but actually slurping is essential to fully tasting the coffee. This technique shoots the coffee towards the back of your mouth near the nasal cavity, so you experience the aroma while you taste the coffee.
Write down your reaction to the coffee’s scent and aroma based on La Colombe’s seven traits. And remember, it’s okay to spit the coffee out, similar to a wine tasting, to avoid an extreme caffeine kick. Vitale advises, “My problems was that I swilled every cup instead of just a taste,” she says. “I had an unusual heart rate for days following.”