Texan Coffee Scenes, Cuvée

As I prepare to move away from Texas (unforeseen circumstances), Texas’s coffee scenes seem to be going through an interesting phase.

Case in point, recent media coverage of Houston’s Cuvée Coffee Roasting Company and its founder, Mike McKim.

These two newspaper articles complement one another in providing both the business model and human angles. I find the first one to be more insightful than the second one but I think the principles behind “relationship coffee” (the focus of the second one) is more important. In fact, these two articles could probably help Houstonians and other Texans see that there is much more to be done in “ethical coffee” than the Starbucks-friendly “Fair Trade” labels. In some contexts, “Fair Trade” has become little more than a marketing label while in others, it hides the complexity of coffee trade around the world. “Relationship coffee” and initiatives like Cup of Excellence are, IMHO, better approaches to fairness in the coffee world.

But I digress… 😉

Going back to Cuvée.

A very minor point… As a French-speaker, I find the term «cuvée» more general than what is said in the two articles. According to the English Wikipedia, “cuvée” can in fact designate a specific portion of the juice used for Champagne and sparkling wines. Seems like this is what «tête de cuvée» means in specific winemaking contexts in France. But in colloquial French where it is quite common, «cuvée» mostly means something close to “batch” («lot») with a temporal emphasis (like “vintage” or even “cohort”).

I do enjoy Cuvée coffee. Wouldn’t say it’s my favorite coffee ever, but it’s quite complex and flavorful. In a way, it reminds me of George Howell’s Terroir Coffee. Maybe not in specific profiles but in approach to blending. Feels to me like, in both cases, the blends are a bit “finicky” in the sense that they may require very specific values for different variables in the brewing process. Some other espresso blends are somewhat less sensitive to changes in, say, temperature or grind. But I say this without having really worked with Cuvée or even Terroir. It’s just an impression.

In Austin, Cuvée blends are served at an increasing number of cafés, including Caffè Medici, clearly one of the best espresso shops in town (though I’ve had some very good shots elsewhere). I do hope Cuvée will replace the coffee sold at some other places, especially at so-called “coffeeshops.” A big part of Austin culture, these coffeeshops seem to mostly act as hangouts than as “temples of coffee awesomeness.” In fact, in some cases, coffee seems to be really secondary and there is little incentive for owners to improve its quality. Yet, this coffeeshop scene could easily become the stage for a kind of local “coffee revolution.”

Some Austinites seem ready to help others shift their perception of coffee. I’ve met a few baristas, roasters, and other coffee people who seem open to the idea.

And one of them is at Cuvée. Since my arrival in Austin, I had the chance to talk on a few occasions with Dan Streetman who works for Cuvée out of Austin. His passion for coffee is obvious and he has told me about interesting possibilities for developments in Austin’s coffee scene. Though I won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of these developments, I’m hoping that they will have lasting effects on Austin. The city certainly has the potential to be a neat coffee destination.

I have almost no insight on other parts of Texas. This thread over on the CoffeeGeek forums is one of few resources I’ve found on coffee in this huge state. There’s another thread, specifically about Austin. But it seems a bit hard to get much information on diverse coffee scenes in Texas. In fact, several people seem to downplay the state of their own cities’ coffee vitality. Yet, if the rumors are true about the speed at which Calgary’s coffee scene has improved, I have high hopes for Texas. After all, isn’t Teas the United States version of Alberta? 😉

(I’m still trying to figure out if Calgary is more like Houston and Edmonton like Austin, or the reverse.)

Anyhoo… I remain enthusiastic about the potential for good coffee in Texas and chances are that Cuvée will be able to tap this potential.

4 thoughts on “Texan Coffee Scenes, Cuvée”

  1. AE, I’d agree that the coffee shop is for many people first and foremost a social place rather than a temple for the coffee tribe’s ritual worship of the sacred bean elixir.

    These are two kinds of sociability, of course, one mediated by a place (the shop) and one mediated by an activity (coffee tasting). However in the first, the sociability is an end in itself. In the second, the sociability is an accidental byproduct of the activity.

    Rachel and I have a cherished ritual of coffee+newspaper in the morning to start our day. I’ve got a decent Gaggia, but fussing with a quality shot, let alone a cappuccino, would be time not spent together. The coffee and the newspaper are not the point; they are just the occasion for this mostly silent communing. We drink big mugs of french-pressed Cafe’ Bustelo, which is not entirely awful for cheap coffee, and it does the trick just fine.

    I also like my beers with a fuller body and a stronger hopping than one gets with Budweiser. But I play tennis with a guy who’s an A-B rep and Bud’s his baby. And he’s a loveable man. So when we have a beer after a match it’s mostly Bud, which in context is just fine with me. (I’m also a fan of Bud after mowing the lawn on a hot day.)

    In another context I would get pretty excited about seeing if I could tell the difference between this and that brew. That’s a nice little exercise and can be fun in company. I’m just sayin’ context is everything, and I know you won’t disagree.

    That said, good luck with your missionary activities 😉

  2. @Carl
    Sure, I know what you mean. And I don’t mean to complain about Austin’s coffeeshop scene. I don’t even want to proselytize about craft coffee or beer. I mostly perceive that something is going on in terms of coffee, in different places. I like what I smell. At any rate, my attitude toward change is that since it’s happening anyway, we should make sure it’s going in the direction we want it to go. I’m not the one to decide but I do think that the move toward craft coffee and beer has appropriate consequences on society. With coffee, the global inequalities are indeed something I hope will change soon.
    Contrary to what some people seem to think, I’m not a purist and I’m not “religious” about any of this. It does so happen that I dislike several commercial products, like Bud and preground coffee. But I might have either of them, if the context is right. The right context almost never happens with Bud, for me. I never need a beer. If I drink beer, it’s because I want to enjoy something flavorful, otherwise I drink water or tea. Besides, there’s a whole category of well-crafted “lawnmower beers” out there.
    I do use preground coffee on some rare occasions. I even have had Tim Horton’s on several occasions. In Mali, I drank instant coffee with warm water and condensed milk twice. But I much prefer to enjoy coffee to its fullest.
    What do you want, I’m a hedonist!

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