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A Serious Coffee Program at Danny Meyer’s Maialino

By Julien Barbey

Last week I stopped-in for lunch at Maialino, part of the Union Square Hospitality Group located in the Gramercy Park Hotel. Danny Meyer's mission is to capture the warmth and comfort of the traditional Roman trattoria with some adjustments for New York diners. Having read Meyer's book Setting the Table, I'm well aware of his philosophy that the key to running not just a successful restaurant, but any business, is to prioritize hospitality over service. Servers and managers must be kind and outgoing, and exude a friendly and caring attitude. My understanding is that Meyer personally interviews everyone who is considered for hire at Union Square Hospitality Group.

And the food is always excellent. In this case, I ordered a salsiccia sandwich: smoked lamb sausage, green tomato relish and robiola cheese. Maialino is also known for its serious coffee program, which is purveyed from Counter Culture Coffee. Founded in 1995, Counter Culture sources handcrafted coffees from various parts of the globe directly from farmers. They also minimize the time between roasting and consumption:

"We recognize that freshness is paramount to quality, and we keep as little roasted coffee on hand as possible. We also roast to order, and our coffee is roasted, bagged, and shipped on the same day."

"We proudly serve Counter Culture Coffee," is written across the top of the menu. After speaking with Austin, the barista on duty, he explained that Natalie Czech is the head barista for Maialino and buys all the beans. Taken from a recent interview with Czech:

"Her shortlist of labels to look for includes Counter Culture, Joe Pro, Intelligentsia, Handsome Coffee, Toby's Estate, and George Howell, who she calls a cult roaster...'The beans needs to be fresh. We use coffee within a week to ten days of roasting. Be wary of places that age their beans—it really just means they’ve sat on the shelf." (http://sashalevineprojects.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/coffee-talk-with-maialinos-natalie-czech/)

Austin made me two excellent espressos (a blend of the Ethiopian and Guatemalan beans). I asked why Meyer chose to incorporate such an ambitious coffee program at Maialino: "Remember we're a restaurant in a hotel," Austin explained, "so we're responsible for providing quality coffee for guests. It just made sense. Plus Italians take their coffee extremely seriously."

Counter Culture periodically comes to Maialino and instructs the staff on the origin of the beans, different blends, flavors, and how to properly brew coffee. They also offer classes at their New York space (37 W 29th St.). Additionally, look for Ms. Czech at Amor y Amargo (443 E 6th St.) on weekends from 11 am to 4 pm where she mixes coffee brewed using a traditional Japanese pour over technique with various bitters provided by the bar's beverage director, Sother Teague.