Corby Kummer at the Great Coffee Debate: ‘I’ve Been Hurt’ by Bad Food at Top Cafés


Several luminaries from the world of coffee were on the panel at the Great Coffee Debate, held last Thursday at the International Culinary Center, including James Freeman of Blue Bottle, Jonathan Rubenstein of Joe the Art of Coffee, Doug Zell of Intelligentsia, and Andrea Illy, whose namesake company hosted the event. Corby Kummer, senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and editor of The Atlantic Food Channel, moderated.

Attended by restaurant and hospitality industry workers from around the city and beyond, the event focused on issues relating to harvesting, roasting, making, and serving coffee. One of the questions raised pertained to the pairing of the beverage with food.

“I’ve been hurt,” announced Kummer to the panel, referring to instances in which he’d had to suffer bad food with great coffee. He put the question to the panelists: Why don’t high-end cafés focus more on pairing, or at least serve decent baked goods with their artisanally crafted brews?

The answers were mixed: Freeman assured the audience that Blue Bottle’s Williamsburg shop was in the process of building a pastry kitchen in order to turn out premium baked goods, like its California headquarters. Being married to a pastry chef, he claimed to be well-aware of the importance of a tasty nibble with one’s cup of joe.

“Coffee ought to be put in a culinary context,” he said. “People who drink good coffee are interested in more than coffee.”

Rubenstein, however, said he preferred to keep his company java-focused.

‘I know we’ll never make a doughnut as amazing as the Doughnut Plant,” he responded. “So, I don’t want to shift our focus away from the coffee.”

Other issues addressed during the debate: single-origin coffee versus blends, whether restaurants should offer multiple roasts and brews to go with various dishes, and forbidding Wi-Fi in cafés. The latter, mused Kummer, could be a force for getting people to interact face-to-face in this world of automation and virtual reality. Here’s to coffee-stained dreaming.

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