—THE CHOW 13—
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Duane Sorenson calls himself a “cuddly family guy.” For a cuddly family guy, he inspires a lot of vitriol. There are many people in New York uttering the refrain: “There was PLENTY of good coffee before Stumptown got here, and he’s trying to act like he brought it.” But those haters are wrong. He kind of did.
We’re in a golden age of coffee, where young people are hard-core geeking on single-source beans, home roasting, and even the brand of contraption previously known as a coffee maker. And Stumptown is one of a handful of specialty roasters responsible for the craze. After spreading his delicious beans around his native Pacific Northwest and along the West Coast, the Motörhead-loving Sorenson decided to rock New York City, infamous for (and proud of) its weak, pansy coffee. In 2008, he uprooted himself to Brooklyn, opened up a local roastery, and managed to insert his beans into some of the coolest coffeehouses, restaurants, and specialty stores around the city. Then he opened his own café in the bottom of the chic new Ace Hotel. Yeah, there were other good coffee places starting to open in town, but few had locally sourced beans, or Sorenson’s flair for showmanship. (Baristas at the Ace’s café wear ties and vests, like 1930s-era barbacks.)
Sorenson will most likely be the man credited with showing New York what good coffee tastes like. Even if New Yorkers won’t admit it.
How did you develop your palate?
“I was raised in Seattle, and my father was a professional sausage maker. He was always pointing out specialty foods. We had relationships with dairy farmers, butchers, cattle raisers, and spice dealers. In high school and college I worked in coffee carts and coffeehouses but then got an apprenticeship at a roaster. I found I had an enthusiasm for wanting to roast the best coffee I could. So I dropped out of college.”
Who inspires you in the food world?
“Marlow & Sons, for the quality of their food, how they team up with their producer partners, and their casual vibe and design. Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo [Frankies Spuntino, Prime Meats], who are dear friends and business partners, and Taavo [Sommer] of Freemans. I enjoy what he’s doing with the restaurant, clothing line, and barbershop. I got my mustache trimmed there the other day.”
What was the last most satisfying meal you had?
“A liver and onion sandwich at Prune, yesterday, for lunch. It was just really great.”