Thursday, July 23, 2015

Where I Went Today: Profile Coffee Bar

Because I love coffee and because I run a coffee shop, when new coffee places pop up anywhere within a two-hour radius of my workplace, the rumblings reach me quick. The rumblings for Profile Coffee Bar in Portsmouth, New Hampshire hit long before opening day. Having heard that the coffee place would be third-wave, I bypassed competitive jealousy and eagerly awaited the grand opening... and then somehow I missed it. Profile has been open a week already, but I was able to visit today, with coffee cohort Rachel Stahura, who stuck her head in a few days ago but didn't try anything.

For the record, Rachel's latte-crafting abilities are approximately how I currently rate anyone else's espresso technique. Yes, you have to start with great coffee; yes, it helps to use quality milk. But there's a definite finesse in making that velvety-smooth consistency over a thick, syrupy coffee, and Rachel has it down. If ever there was someone to visit a new third-wave coffee bar with me and give insight into the barista performance there, Rachel is definitely the one.

The coffee stocked at Profile is that of twenty-year-old Counter Culture. Counter Culture has grown exponentially in recent months, rapidly gaining positive press even in the wake of Blue Bottle's consumption of Handsome Coffee last year and takeover of esteemed coffee districts in England and Japan. It has won the respect of Tandem trainer Dustin Graham, whose bosses (and my colleagues) are some of the earliest Blue Bottle baristas from San Francisco. Having Counter Culture stocked is only one of the many telling details that Profile founder Andrew Levinson took every measure to do things right at his first restaurant-esque business.*

Some of the other details include milk from High Lawn Farm (third-wavers in the area, including D Squared Java of Exeter, use Hatchland Farms out of Londonderry; opting for another farm demonstrates that Levinson did not choose blindly based on his competitors), beautiful White Apron pastries baked on-site, and a wonderfully cohesive brand. Rachel and I both got tremendous delight out of the bowl-like blue mugs, which undoubtedly were sourced for their many sizes, a necessity to make proper macchiatos, cortados, cappuccinos, and lattes.

Rachel ordered a chocolate cortado and a rooibos tea. I ordered a cappuccino and a white velvet tea. While we do share a bias toward Tandem coffee (whose current Chelchele, a naturally-processed Yirgacheffe, has basically taken first place in my heart over all other coffees), the Profile choice of espresso did offer a certain something. There was nothing fruity or floral about it. Nor was it bitter or ashy. It was like what one might expect coffee to taste like having never tasted coffee brewed but only sniffed it out of the bag. The milk flavor was so-so, but it was perfectly steamed, both in consistency and temperature. 

The overall vibe of the room was very much that of swanky Portsmouth nightlife--an unusual choice for a coffee bar. Situated on the wide, one-way Portwalk Place (off of Hanover), Profile doesn't embody the cramped, busy, don't-change-it-it's-historical nature of much of the rest of Portsmouth. With windows on two sides, wide wooden tables, and a minimalist setup behind the counter, the layout allows its patrons breathing room. And yet, with the most expansive wall a charcoal black, the lighting ornately diffused from globes suspended from the ceiling, polished wooden decor and clean lines, the space could easily convert to a semi-formal meeting place for cocktails. According to the two baristas on duty, that was an integral part of the vision to set Profile apart from the dozens of other cafes deeper in the heart of Portsmouth: a coffee shop with a happening night life. A coffee shop that offered space for functions. A coffee shop with a twist.

Rachel and I enjoyed our visit. With any luck, I'll be back sometime soon for official quotes. It will be interesting to see where this place goes. 

* Because I wanted to have the full customer experience on my first visit, I chose not to reach out to Levinson for comment. That Profile is the coffee shop he always wanted to have, in spite of limited or no coffee experience, I gleaned from a barista I spoke with for a few minutes while taking photos of Profile's LaMarzocco Strada.

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