I’ve become something of a coffee snob as I’ve aged. I didn’t mean to, but there you go. I’ve loved coffee for ages — going all the way back to third grade Sunday School when my pal Steve Martin and I used to wander down to the fellowship hall to pour ourselves a styrofoam cup filled with milk and sugar, with a splash of coffee for color. By the time I reached high school, I was drinking it black, as God intended. Around then, I discovered Dunkin’ Donuts, and learned that, indeed, some cups of coffee are better than others. I was in college when I discovered that there are much better coffees, even, than Dunkin. Gradually, I discovered different beans and gourmet roasts, picking favorites from various specialty vendors, like Peet’s. If you appreciate a good, steaming mug, chances are that’s pretty much your story, too.
Turns out, though, I had one more lesson to learn. Fresh coffee — coffee sold with a week of roasting, and roasted within a few days of harvesting — makes an astonishing difference. Seriously. An astonishing difference. I made this discovery at Atlanta Coffee Roasters at the Toco Hills shopping center. It’s a micro-roaster. The coffee they sell is flown in daily. If you ever step into the back room, you’ll see great burlap sacks of coffee stamped with exotic ports from all over the world, all carefully selected, each waiting their turn for the artisan’s attention. Then, small batches are blended and roasted to exacting standards. It truly is an art, and hearing the roasters describe the process with such obvious love for their craft is a joy. By comparison, even when you buy your beans from a gourmet specialty house, the coffee you’re getting is usually at least a month or two old. If you’re lucky. It’s picked, shipped to the US, roasted, packed, warehoused, distributed, and … well, you get the idea. At Atlanta Coffee Roasters, the beans are roasted literally every day.
Much to my surprise, the difference in taste is amazing. There are entire new dimensions of coffee goodness waiting to be discovered. I mean that literally. There are waves of flavor that I had never tasted before. Dozens of varieties are available, flavored, blends, special roasts, you name it. My wife Carol and I have tried several. We used to get a pound of something different every week. We stopped that when we found what is, to us, the perfect coffee: the Vienna Roast. It is a dark roast, like a French or Italian roast, and absolutely full of robust flavor. But it is much smoother than you’d expect from a dark roast, and the aftertaste is almost sweet rather than bitter. It is, quite frankly, the very best cup of coffee I’ve ever head.
As I mentioned, there are other blends. All are worth a try. If you take the time to describe your tastes, the staff there will be happy to make recommendations. You can enjoy a cup there, or take the beans to go. We have ours shipped, so we never risk running out when we can’t work the schedules to make it to Toco Hills before we run out. Those of you reading this out of town, give it some thought. Even when you allow a few days for shipping, it’s still fresher than what you’re getting from, well, anywhere else that’s not a micro-roaster. There are at least two other micro-rosters in the area: Dancing goats and Jittery Joes (assuming Athens counts as local, and assuming they are still as good as I remember). Both are excellent. Neither are quite as good as Atlanta Coffee Roasters. By the way, Atlanta Coffee Roasters also has a very good selection selection of teas and brewing supplies. They also have WiFi. Although these days, saying a coffee shop has WiFi is a lot like saying, they have air. You just kind of assume.