Claire, an ex-pat Montanan, ardent Progressive and former jeweler, covers NYC-based film festivals for Bright Lights Film Journal.
Claire Baiz, Coffee Judge ... Not Food Editor
As a gluten-free, soy-free vegetarian, I may be the world's lousiest dinner date. Don't ask me if I like it rare. Don't pass the bread bowl, and for goodness sake, don't take me to a burger joint. I'll starve.
When it comes to coffee, though, I stand on equal ground with any omnivore.
The short of it: Nomad got my vote for the best coffee!
Coffee Culture Is Contagious
With a son and stepson in the coffee business, I am, by relation and inclination, close to something my boys refer to as "coffee culture."
When I heard about the Hester Street Fair's Cold Brew Competition, I was sad that neither of the Baiz boys were in town.
It's a big job to be a Baiz in the coffee world, but this mom is all in.
Coffee Project NYC
Coffee Project NYC had a very tasty offering and the most appetizing cup presentation, with a smattering of shaved coconut atop their divided brew. The women from this place project their passion, and I enjoyed the separation of subtle flavors. This is a crave-worthy concoction, but it's very labor-intensive to make. Enjoy it on-site or within a half-mile radius—even if you could resist its allure, as you can see (above), this beautiful beverage is not built for travel.
Rating: 4.7 on Yelp.
Coffeemania's booth was beautiful, but their coffee offering left me, well, cold. It resembled a muted raspberry smoothie, and though the taste was pointed, fruity—and thankfully not too sweet—I had to search for coffee harmonies while raspberries sang lead vocals. I give them points for their creative, summer-y approach to cold java.
Rating: 4.7 on Yelp.
Round K competed at Hester Street with their signature Black Matte Latte, a non-dairy espresso latte made with coconut ash, almond milk, and 98% Dutch Cacao.
Holy tar-shit, Batman, this stuff is good! It looks like a coal-colored soft serve, and it has a unique mouthfeel. The coconut cream isn't overwhelming, and though I was braced for a sugar rush, it's thankfully not too sweet.
There's a ton of work behind the counter to produce this beverage, but like The Coffee Project's entry, it's got a melting point that discourages the long-haul sipper.
Round K's Black Matte Latte looks tailor-made to top mega-stars' backstage demand lists, but delivery experts will have to work fast, or some A-lister might have a messy black meltdown.
Rating: 4.7 on Yelp.
The word 'Cascara' might sound familiar because it's been part of a product push by Starbucks. After seeing these milk-shakey lattes on huge posters, I dismissed Cascara as another promotional fad.
Turns out Cascara, or coffee cherry extract, has been around for ages. It's made from the dried skins of dried berries of the coffee plant--the stuff that many coffeemakers toss out.
When used as a natural source of caffeine by Nomad Trading, Cascara makes a mighty tasty coffee drink. Who knew? (Okay, besides Howard Schultz, who knew?)
Nomad's cold brew entry for the Hester Street competition offered the best balance of light and dark notes—coffee, coconut and a hint of citrus. This is what cold brew should taste like on a hot day.
Nomad didn't have the presentation of Coffeemania, the layers of The Coffee Project, or the groovy black schmear of the Matte Black Latte, but hey, I was in this for the coffee.
It didn't hurt that Nomad's business model is scalable, and their common sense product is good for you and better for the planet. Nomad has a website but no Yelp rating (yet).
Kudos to Pilot Kombucha for entering an iced coffee flavor into the cold brew competition, but I still felt like I was drinking the liquid my mom used to drain out of the pickle jar.
Probably because they distribute through other outlets, I couldn't find a website or a clear Yelp review.
I don't mean to be critical, but hey, this is not coffee. Not even close.
Rise Brewing Co. offered up their nitro cold brew.
Disclaimer: I ordered a nitro-brew once. For me, drinking nitro-brew is like swallowing coffee through a condom.
I understand some people like the smooth taste, and it was great to see it represented.
Besides, Rise doesn't have to worry about winning a competition: it's a coffee powerhouse.
This brewer has 58 Yelp reviews, and they are a SOLID 5! This alone merits a visit to their NYC coffee house—to sample something other than nitro brew.
Caffe Vita's cold brew came in a close second to Nomad.
It's got a complex yet complementary taste, with citrus and chocolate notes where they should be—above a base of sweet earth. Caffe Vita is a well-established West Coast brand with an environmentally based ethos.
If they'd offered up their cold brew with a shaving of Seattle Chocolate, they might have melted my heart right there on Hester Street.
Rating: 4.5 on Yelp.
Baristas Don't Go Nuts...They Go Oatly!
Coconut milk is still popular, and almond milk is a sold stand-in for dairy, but soy milk (thank goodness!) is passe.
The one overwhelming trend for iced coffee this summer has to be the addition of Oatly to the alternative milk lineup. This stuff is everywhere. I'd seen it at Cafe Grumpy in Chelsea and Irving Farm at Grand Central Terminal, and it was the go-to added milk at the Hester Street Cold Brew Competition.
After giving Oatly a skeptical try, I'm a fan. Hey, it's gluten-free.
And the Winner Is....???
Ten bucks bought 2 oz. samples from a stellar line-up of cold brew competitors. When I presented my vote, a red ticket, to Nomad, the guy at the booth wasn't sure what it was for...and I still can't find a winner online, so I'm not sure that voting was formal enough to matter.
Regardless of who wins the grand prize (I was told it's a T-shirt), congrats to the Hester Street Fair for this great contribution to NYC's coffee culture.
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