Coffee’s Gone Craft

Coffee isn’t just reserved for lattes and other pick-me-up drinks anymore.
Coffee isn’t just reserved for lattes and other pick-me-up drinks anymore. thinkstock

And chefs love it—as a pairing or an ingredient

And chefs love it—as a pairing or an ingredient

It’s local. It’s seasonal. It’s brewed to bring out natural flavors.

No, we’re not just talking about craft beer. We’re talking about coffee.

Coffee has gone craft, and not just in Seattle and Portland but across the nation, as local roasters import beans from small farms in South America, Africa, and elsewhere around the globe—and then roast them at home for super-fresh, nuanced brews.

Because these small, global farms can only produce a finite quantity at certain times of the year, the coffee roasters have begun, like chefs working with small local farms, to roast with the seasons. These smaller-batch roasters are also considered artisans, using different roasting and tasting techniques to bring out the various flavors in the beans they source.

“I define craft-coffee roasters the same way as I would define a musician,” says Chris Chacko of Sparrow Coffee in Chicago. “You could simply pick up a violin and play, but if you’re not a musician, you’re just making noises. It takes years to understand and practice how to make beautiful music. Coffee roasting is the same thing. You wouldn’t just use one roasting technique for all different kinds of beans. It takes years to understand how to draw out other flavors and be 100 percent focused on perfecting the craft.”

Chefs are beginning to realize this, as well, and—just as they support sustainable farm food and craft beer—they want to support their local roasters, too. Ultimately, chefs and operators want to offer the best coffee to pair with their food, and in other cases, they’re using this coffee in their dishes and desserts.

“Coffee used to be such an afterthought in restaurants,” says Gerard Craft, chef/owner of the St. Louis–based Niche Food Group. Craft has partnered with Scott Carey of local Sump Coffee to enhance beverage service and coffee for the restaurants, not to mention make a killer coffee gelato. “We’re trying to change the notion that coffee is just this extra thing that all of the staff drink and occasionally a customer drinks,” Craft explains. “We really take coffee service seriously, and have trained our staff to understand why it’s an important part of the dining experience. Scott is roasting for flavor just like we as chefs try to bring out the different flavors of food. Coffee roasting is way more like cooking than I’ve ever seen before.”

Chef Collaboration

Chacko of Sparrow Coffee has devoted his business almost exclusively to working with high-end chefs in the Windy City, helping to bump up their beverage programs and pair coffee with food, just like a sommelier might pair wine with the menu. He’s worked with the likes of Grace, 42 Grams, EL Ideas, Schwa, and other Michelin-starred restaurants to develop special, boutique blends and brewing methods. For instance, at Grace, servers use a pour-over method to brew coffee tableside. And recently, Chacko has begun partnering with the soon-to-open wine bar The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet.

“Almost 100 percent of our customers look to us to help them pair coffee with their food,” says Chacko, a 28-year coffee-roasting veteran who conducts tastings with the chefs first and then goes back to the roasting room to play around with different flavors. “We can make coffee taste like blueberries, like raspberries, like chocolate, and other things—without adding anything to it,” he explains.



Director of Business Development for Specialty Coffee Roaster, i am interested in following full service, fine dinning restaurants on the beverage side of things Thank you.

There are excellent take aways from your article, especially the role of servers expanding to baristas. It's helpful for us at R.W. Smith & Co. to know what is trending on restaurant menus so we can make sure we have the right products available for our customers to execute a flawless presentation.


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