Getting the Drift – The Culture of Coffee in Print

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Adam Goldberg, the co-founder and editor in chief of Drift

With enough resources, many a good blogger could probably come out with a fairly compelling print magazine. Adam Goldberg, the main man behind Drift, a print magazine focusing on the culture of coffee, has plenty of resources, including some very talented friends, as well as his own prodigious talents as a connoisseur, writer and photographer. The first issue of Drift, covering the world of coffee (literally) in New York City, was much more than fairly compelling. It was an extraordinary glimpse into the life of the beverage that gives  energy to the City that never sleeps. Yet, it was but one issue and that on a city that he knows intimately. I decided to wait to review the magazine to see what the followup issue would bring.

FullSizeRenderThis second issue, recently released and now sold out except for a few retail places (here’s a current stocklist), covers what may be the world’s most awe-inspiring culinary capitol and does so with depth, finesse and sheer brilliance of word, and, especially image. Tokyo comes to life in a way that goes beyond coffee, yet with coffee as the bull’s eye target of the writing and photography.

Coffee geekdom and pretension is certainly well covered in both issues, but if that was all this was about, if it was just another example of gastronomic elitism, the magazine would be easy to dismiss. It’s not. The magazine is about what makes coffee special and what makes it particularly special in a given location. It’s not just the expensive or most esoteric brewing methods that get its attention, though those do too.

The cover of Issue No. 1 - NYC

The cover of Issue No. 1 – NYC

In the New York issue, we get to explore the international nature of the city through its coffee culture, including visits to generally less well known parts of the city to experience an Ethiopian Bunna ceremony in the Bronx. Ethiopian beans are all the rage amongst coffee cognoscenti, but the country’s coffee consumption culture is barely known, if known at all within those caffeinated circles. The same is true for Turkish coffee, though the taste for that thick brew appears to be growing too. The magazine also points the reader in the direction of cultural brews from Mexico (café de olla), Sri Lanka (spicy coffee) and Senegal (café touba).

The mundane world is not left out either. The popularity of technical coffee has soared, but the NYC issue of Drift sheds light and poetry on the world of the streetcart, perhaps the last place I would expect to find good coffee. Maggie Alden identifies and tells the stories of an unusual breed of coffee vendors and where they are located, such as Oussama Djerone and his Halal cart near Columbia University. Djerone serves Folger’s and doesn’t even drink coffee, but business is business and by the University with its myriad of students, he does sell it. It may not be quality and the cart may ultimately be forgettable amongst all of the grand coffees being poured around the world, but it is a fine illustration of the importance and presence of coffee within today’s NYC.

Quality is important, though, in trying to figure out some of the reasons that coffee can be so good and it is often the details that really matter – like milk. I generally prefer my coffee black, but milk certainly has its place and Elyssa Goldberg explains how and what makes milk important and how some coffee shops literally go the extra mile to that end.

There are many other articles portraying the specialness of coffee in NYC without being overly romantic, cloying or snobbish. One of the most useful parts of the magazine is a set of basic coffee making recipes in the back, which are, of course, well illustrated with photos. Here one can find detailed instructions for four different brewing methods popular in NYC – Aeropress, V60, Chemex and French Press. I have tried the recipes and found the results for each to be superior to other recipes for those techniques that I have tried.

IMG_4461The recipe section was repeated in the Tokyo edition, but this time with techniques of Japanese origin including the Kalita Wave, Clever Drip, Kono Drip and Nel Drip. I have tried some of these methods in third wave coffee shops, but lacking the proper equipment, not at home. I am now tempted to procure such equipment.

Japan’s culinary culture is unique and that uniqueness extends to its coffee culture as well. Goldberg and crew do a fantastic job of capturing and conveying that sense of uniqueness throughout the magazine, but especially encapsulated in one specific article called “By Design.”Elyssa Goldberg, executive editor, writes,

Tokyo’s coffee shops operate by an unspoken rule: differentiate or perish. Sometimes that means encouraging customers to drink coffee among live goats or to enjoy brews made from decades-old beans – anything to be unique.

That uniqueness is generally found within the coffee itself. In that same article, Goldberg explores not just the uniqueness of various third wave coffee houses, but also the design elements that actually tie them together. It is a fascinating exploration.

It disappoints me to no end that I have yet to visit Japan, but thanks to this edition of Drift, I feel like I have a greater sense of the place and the culture and an even more burning desire to visit. Even though I grew up in New York City and believe that I know it pretty well, I was able to both relish some of the familiarity of place that I found in the NYC edition, while also discovering much about my city that I had never known or glimpsed. Both parts are important and provide the qualities that set Drift aside as a special publication. While using coffee as a vehicle, it goes beyond it by providing a real sense of place and life. It is a beautiful magazine that is a must for any real coffee aficionado, for sure. Perhaps more surprisingly, it is a must for anyone interested in culture, geography and the human situation. I look forward to future issues both for specific coffee knowledge and for heightened insights into whatever places Adam Goldberg and his crew decide to explore. In addition to Drift and coffee, Adam Goldberg and company are about to come out with another print journal, called Ambrosia. While Drift is built all around coffee, Ambrosia promises to extend the focus on a specific location to all forms of culinaria. The first issue will cover Baja, Mexico. If the quality is anything like that of Drift, and I have no doubt that it will be, it will be outstanding. I can’t wait!


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