Remember when the NY Times Really Cared About Coffee?


I was going through my RSS feeds (I use Feedly for that) searching for interesting stories to write about in the world of coffee and espresso, and noticed I had a “NY Times Coffee” RSS feed subscribed to. Turns out, […]

I was going through my RSS feeds (I use Feedly for that) searching for interesting stories to write about in the world of coffee and espresso, and noticed I had a “NY Times Coffee” RSS feed subscribed to.

Turns out, it was Oliver Strand’s old beat when he used to write for the Times under a column called Ristretto (here’s the RSS Feed if you want to check it out). Those were the days.

Check out how the New York Times has covered coffee the past few years. Most of it isn’t even specialty coffee related (Turkish cafes suffering under COVID? Dunkin’ going private? Prostate cancer? Canned sugary coffee?). Certainly nothing of the breadth and substance of Strand’s contributions.

Strand’s Ristretto column was really the pinnacle of the New York Time’s coverage of the pointy end of quality, specialty coffee. It had begun in earnest in the early 2000s, when various Times reporters started really covering specialty coffee and the rapid advancement in espresso techniques. They interviewed everyone from industry leaders to vocal consumers about coffee and espresso. They highlighted new techniques, new technologies and new focus on making specialty coffee better. Heck, they even interviewed me here and there (that latter one made my Mum very proud, as it was actually on the front page of the Times (below the fold)).

As a person who really wanted to promote specialty coffee around the globe, seeing a mainstream, established paper like the New York Times paying razor-tight focus on all the latest trends and techniques made me absolutely giddy. I couldn’t get my local press to even spell espresso correctly (eXpresso sigh); I did various radio and television interviews at that time, and the absolute ignorance of the journalists left me astounded. So when the New York Times set an entirely new standard for this microcosm of the entire coffee realm, it was fantastic.

What’s interesting is that at that time, the Times didn’t have a dedicated writer who would focus almost entirely on specialty coffee; that would come later, with Oliver Strand’s Ristretto column. But for the years between 2003 and 2009, they did a fantastic job, and even had regular contributor Peter Meehan cover the specialty coffee beat a few times.

Strand’s first coffee focused article, on November 9, 2009, was about roasters in California (including mention of the miserable Jeremy Tooker – google him if you dare). His first Ristretto column appeared a few months later, and focused on pour over methods that were just beginning their full on rage storm in popularity.

In that article, the Times’ labelled Strand the curator of the Coffee Times Topic (which sadly no longer exists – it just points to a search for coffee).

For the next two years, Strand wrote about bleeding edge subjects on coffee, and vastly increased his own personal specialty coffee knowledge. He wrote some 66 articles under the Ristretto Column during his tenure. He covered everything from coffee in Oslo and Tokyo, to and early feature on Peter Guiliano’s Japanese Iced Coffee Method (we have an updated version of that method!), to how the TED Events featured some of the best Baristas in the USA. And a whole lot more.

By mid 2011, early 2012, the New York Times was at the absolute pinnacle of their coverage of specialty coffee. The put most websites focused on specialty coffee to shame.

Which is why Strand’s last article was a bit anticlimactic. It was essentially an ad for a not-so-great scale from Hario. Oh sure, the topic was sound — the importance of scales in coffee brewing — but not one of his best articles for the New York Times and the previous standard that was set.

Since then, it’s been pretty much downhill as far as the New York Times and how it covers coffee. In that heyday, you could count on some fantastic, in depth coverage at least once every week or two. Now, you have to search deep and far through their content to find anything of substance; and for this blog post, I did just that, spent 10 minutes fine tuning my search and came up zilch in the past 3 years).

Mark has certified as a Canadian, USA, and World Barista Championship Judge in both sensory and technical fields, as well as working as an instructor in coffee and espresso training. He started CoffeeGeek in 2001.


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