In Search of the Golden Bean

I stole this picture off Facebook from my Seattle friend Kathryn Bouchard to illustrate the beauty that is Seattle latte art.

I stole this picture off Facebook from my Seattle friend Kathryn Bouchard to illustrate the beauty that is Seattle latte art.

I come from the birth place of Starbucks, where coffee shops dot each street corner and designer baristas make latte art.  Java – especially the fair trade kind - flows from our hearts and wallets.   Seattleites, including yours truly, drink more espresso than bottled water (Seattle is the only US city that can make that caffeinated claim.)   It was therefore a priority (read: obsession) upon moving to Luxembourg to find a coffee shop to call home.  We got to work within 48 hours of our arrival.

Oh my goddess #!#!!  (Yes, I’m calling on the Starbucks mermaid.)  The quest has not been easy.  It has been one cup of disappointment after another.  No matter what you order – latte, cappuccino, macchiato – it’s all the same sad story.  Lousy flavorless coffee beans, way too much lukewarm milk – a barista WHO DOESN’T CARE and who certainly doesn’t want to hear about your temperature preferences.   The only redemption is the cookie on the side.  The ceramic cups are nice too, and would be perfect to hold some wonderful foam if ever there were some. 

I also find it amusing that most coffee shops don't open until 9am, 8:30am if you're lucky.  There's also one coffee shop here that's passable but doesn't open until 1pm on Mondays.  That feels like a deal-breaker.  Monday morning coffee is the second best coffee after Sunday morning newspaper coffee.  Monday afternoon coffee is a little like offering chips after the Superbowl.   After you've seen all those Doritos ads.

Aside from Italy, I have learned that not just the Luxembourgish but Europeans in general are quite hands-off when it comes to their coffee.   They all source their beans from the same distributor whom I'm sure has never seen a real coffee farm and assume that when you say coffee – whatever comes out of the machine will work just fine.   It’s really not fine.  It’s awful in that Folgers meets fermented milk kind of way.  It’s was also making me awfully fat.  I’ve had way too many Pain au Chocolats as surrogates for my caffeine fix.

I know I’m fussy about my coffee.  Seattle wasn’t the only place to make me that way.   I’ve been to Ethiopia and have partaken in several coffee ceremonies.  When you’ve seen a woman lovingly roast coffee beans over an open fire, then grind them in a mortar and pestle before beginning the brewing process that resembles an intricate dance, and finally serve you in a tiny China cup – it gives you high expectations.  Not just in terms of the quality of the coffee, but also the coffee experience.   I don’t want to be in a hurry when I drink coffee (I’m honestly fine with the lack to-go coffee here), but I do want a coffee experience that says both “ahhhhh” and “stay awhile.”  Yes, I want good coffee and a cozy place to sit.  It doesn’t even have to have wi-fi.  

I did not steal this photo.  I was there in Ethiopia for this coffee ceremony.

I did not steal this photo.  I was there in Ethiopia for this coffee ceremony.

After a several month quest, I have found that place.  Meet the "Golden Bean.”   Located in the Luxembourg City Center,  Golden Bean opened two months ago.  We stumbled on it the weekend it opened.  Seeing real coffee beans – from the best of places in Africa and Latin America - in canisters like this was a mini-revelation.   I came bounding in the door like a caffeinated New Yorker, introducing myself and promising to love them before I even took my first sip. 

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And I do love them.  The Golden Bean has become our second home away from home.  Beyond their willingness to grind Ethiopian beans for my perfect double espresso macchiato, they have become my friends.   I’m their female Cliff Clavin – they know my name, my drink and my proclivity to hang out longer than may seem natural.  They even know my friends.  “Kate, your friend from Peru (the beautiful Alessandra) was in here yesterday …” And always, “Your husband was here this morning.”   If it’s possible, Brett might be in there even more than me.   They even have wifi and exposed stone walls from something like 500 years ago.  Guess what time they open? 7am, including Monday mornings.

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Here’s Juan and Anna.  Juan is from Colombia and his family was in the coffee business.   He’s the coffee bean expert of the bunch, and moves around the place with an exuberance that’s contagious.  He cares deeply about my foam.

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The other main barista is Federico.  I don’t have a photo of him, but he’s my buddy.  He too is from Colombia, but has lived in Luxembourg for the last several years since finishing his studies.  He’s the people and marketing expert of the bunch.  He has a tip jar to collect money to buy a car so he can visit his girlfriend in Heidelberg.   He has a long way to go, but with his personality someone is bound to make a generous contribution.  He cares deeply about my day and if I’ll be back on Thursday with my running group.

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Federico’s brother is Felipe, a Harvard and MIT educated consultant, and one of the two main investors.  We met him one weekend in the shop and hit it off.  Both the brothers have a wonderful vision of what the coffee experience should be, including roasting beans on the premise and having the fragrance piped out to the bustling street to invite people in.   They have also invited us into their lives – Felipe invited us over to his house for dinner last Friday night.  Felipe is married to an Iranian woman – and not just any Iranian, but also a female CEO of a large nut exporter who speaks seven languages.  After a full day of work, she prepared a wonderful Persian meal in her home for this American family she’d only heard about from the shop.  Federico was there too, along with Felipe’s Iranian father-in-law who told us about an education-based NGO that he founded here in Luxembourg over 20 years ago.  No big deal.  Just impressive, hospitable people who we duped into thinking we’re interesting.  After all, it’s not every day that a monolingual American couple gets to have dinner in the European village home of a Colombian and Iranian who sends them home with pistachios. 

Friendships made over coffee.  Now that was a cup of coffee worth waiting for.

Golden Bean, 23 Rue Chimay, L-1333 Luxembourg (near Place d'Armes)Monday to Saturday 7h00 to19h30; Sunday 10h00 to 18h00