Stumptown Coffee

Last week we introduced you to the wild, wonderful world of Stumptown (if you didn't know it already). This week in the second and final part of our Stumptown tale, we explore the super-hot coffee company's varietals, its people power, and its obsessive attention to detail.

Like Jules Manoogian, Luke Dirks—a 30-year-old Oregonian who sports a scruffy beard and flannel shirt—is on a career path that didn't exist 10 years ago. As account manager, he vets the quality of cafés that serve Stumptown, and he works with restaurants to help them do it right.

Until just two years ago, Dirks was a wine director for the Seattle bistro Cremant. One of his regulars was Stumptown founder Duane Sorenson, who came whenever he was in town setting up his Seattle roasting plant.

Dirks visited Sorenson's new coffee shop: "I saw the shelf with 15 different varietals and tasting notes and a lightbulb went off," he says. "I was like, 'this is like a wine list.'" And Dirks uses his wine training and vocabulary in his newfound profession. When discussing Hair Bender, the company's obsessed-over espresso blend, he uses a wine metaphor as his descriptor: "Hair Bender is like a non-vintage Champagne," he explains. "Dom Perignon should always taste like Dom Perignon." Just like winemakers, Stumptown's roasters work year-round to blend the best beans they can find to fit Hair Bender's distinct flavor profile.

Like most Stumptown fans, Dirks is also passionate about Stumptown's single-varietals, proudly pointing out the three choices now on the dessert menu at Craft and whipping out his laptop to show me a photo of his current crush—the marble mobile coffee unit at Savona, a four-star restaurant outside of Philadelphia. The cart—a tricked-out caffeinated version of a dessert cart—features a row of the single-cup, ceramic-cone, drip coffee makers known in the industry as "pour-overs" and several bags of Stumptown's current varietals. "You can pick your coffee," he exclaims, "and they make it right in front of you!"

Ensuring that the server pushing that marble cart around the room knows her stuff is left to Manoogian, who spent months training in Portland and memorizing the contents of a dusty-red, hand-bound, frequently updated company manual known internally as The Bible.

She was also recruited for her role: Stumptown founder Duane Sorenson offered her the gig after he visited her pop-up coffee stand in a Los Angeles motorcycle shop, where her handiwork with brews was well-known along the West Coast. "I texted him the next day: 'I am 100% down!'"

To the untrained eye, Manoogian may look like an intern at a record label or an indie zine. But she can rap on the inherent fruitiness of a well-steeped cup of coffee ("it really is a berry, after all"); the proper balance of brightness to acidity; the difference in flavor between coffee made with a ceramic filter cone [a Beehive] and a French press; and the importance of water temperature, equipment, and cuppings.

"It's a real, true education department," says Manoogian of her training program over a Hair Bender at New York's chic Café Pedlar, one of Stumptown's premier places to pour. "It's not like Jules is this cool chick who teaches you how to make espresso," she adds with a wave of her hand, the forefinger of which features a heart-shaped tattoo that matches her gold locket.

Some of her job may be running classes on cupping at Stumptown's headquarters, but a big part of the gig is getting behind some of the city's top-notch spots—Café Pedlar and Craft and Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan, and Prime Meats and Marlow & Sons in Brooklyn—to critique the way they work. She'll tweak their machines and eyeball the amount of coffee that goes into every pour.

Manoogian is obsessive over details. At Pedlar, I watch her eye the lacy heart drawn on a lovely latte brought to me by a slender server with super-short hair and white suspenders. "I've been practicing my slow pour," the server proudly says to Manoogian as she sets it down. "It's totally fresh."

Using the back of a spoon to peek beneath the cap of crema with one deft movement, Manoogian sees what I can't, even when she shows me: That the temperature of the milk at the start of the pour wasn't exactly right, that the thick head of cream on my drink—"nice," says Manoogian, "really glossy"—should be even looser and lighter than it already is.

"And," says Manoogian, "I'm going to tell her later."

That suspendered server might one day be training the next generation of Jules's. "When I graduated from college I had no thought in my mind that I was going to end up in coffee," says Manoogian with a smile. "And now there are a lot of kids who want to be doing this."

Rachel Wharton is a deputy editor of Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn magazines with a master's degree in Food Studies from New York University. She won a 2010 James Beard Journalism Award for her work in Edible Brooklyn.