Stacks Builds a New World of Coffee in Albany

By / Photography By Liz Lajeunesse | April 19, 2016
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espresso bar, cold brew nitro

Deciding on a morning brew no longer means opting for decaf or regular. The nomenclature on coffee menus can be dizzying, and the options seem daunting: you can order a flat white or insist on exclusively drinking single estate coffee. Fizzy coffee is a thing now.

What if you order … the wrong thing? Chats about the “third wave of coffee” can quickly delve into Saturday Night Live skit territory but not on Lark Street in Albany. Stacks Espresso Bar offers a stern riposte to the notion that coffee culture is silly.

Stacks takes its coffee, its proprietary recipes and its staff very seriously—and once people try their coffee, they do, too.

“It’s hard to go back to the other stuff once you’ve tried real coffee,” Ron Grieco, co-owner and manager of Stacks, says, admitting that he, too, once gave some of the wonkier aspects of coffee-crafting the side-eye.

Stacks’ cold-brewed fizzy stuff—which cascades from a tap stout-style, delivering a decadently creamy mouthfeel, small Champagne-like bubbles and frothy head—has been greeted with giddy acclaim. This nitro method, which has taken off in hipster coffee enclaves around the country, imparts a richness normally achieved via the ungrudging allotment of cream and sugar. However, Grieco is the first person who has managed to replicate it here. 

“It seemed like Albany was so far behind,” Grieco says, explaining his inspiration. “When Tyler [Wrightson] approached me about helping him open Stacks, that was one of the main goals we talked about: bringing true specialty coffee, made by trained professionals, to Albany.”

Mission accomplished—but that doesn’t mean Stacks will be publishing a step-by-step guide to DIY nitro anytime soon. Grieco is happy to provide kegs of pre-made nitro to other coffee shops in the area, but he won’t spill the delicious beans on the recipe. Begging doesn’t help.

“It was the single most difficult project I have undertaken, so no, I cannot give you the recipe,” Grieco says, laughing. “First we make our cold-brew, which takes 24 hours, then we load it into a keg, dilute it with water and add different ratios of different gases and let it absorb for anywhere from 20 minutes to seven days. It took months of perfecting with feedback from staff, friends and customers.”

Warning: Nitro coffee packs a punch. Cold-brew coffee contains roughly two-and-a-half times the caffeine that regular coffee does, and some people claim the nitrogen used in nitro preparation speeds up the absorption of caffeine in the body.

It’s easy to geek out about caffeine absorption levels at Stacks. In fact, that’s kind of the point, Grieco says.

“Coffee is where wine was in the 1970s,” Grieco says, in between filling orders for caffeine-craving bean aficionados, some of whom linger for the Kalita Weaver Brewer pour-over made from one of the single-origin roasts from their guest roaster du jour. But whether they grab and go, or retire to one of the beautifully distressed wooden tables in the front room, few here would sneer at the notion of taking their coffee selection as seriously as they would their wine.

While the notion of tasting terroir in wine is as old as dirt, it is just as applicable for coffee, Grieco says, recalling his “a-ha” moment. 
“I remember drinking my first cup of perfectly made pour-over coffee from Kenyan beans,” Grieco says. “I could taste notes of cranberries, juicy red grapefruit and currants. That’s because of the particular place it was grown in. The world of coffee opened up to me.”
Stacks highlights different brewing methods and welcomes a curated, rotating selection of guest roasters from all over the country. While coffee is unavoidably a global product (because of climate and the volcanic soil it requires, coffee can’t grow anywhere in the country except for Hawaii), the food is local. Battenkill Valley Creamery supplies milk; croissants come from Crisan; Sweet Sue’s and No Scone Unturned source sweets; bagels hail from Psychedelicatessen.
The choices we make at the coffee counter (or in the grocery aisle) have a ripple effect across the globe, Ron says. 
“Organic and fair trade are huge buzzwords in the industry,” he says. “And we want to make the best choices we can. It’s complicated, though. Fair trade can be a great program, but it doesn’t necessarily equate with sustainability for a small farmer. We have done a lot of research and talked to roasters who have visited these family farms, both fair trade and organic and not, and we have found that the best way to ensure a quality product that pays the people who grow it fairly, is to look at each scenario individually.”
It’s analogous to going to the farmers’ markets and buying greens that aren’t “certified” organic but are grown using “organic methods,” knowing that most family farmers can’t afford USDA certification, Grieco says. 
Suddenly, in addition to the epicurean arguments for fancy coffee, the reality of the families growing the coffee beans, the network and skills necessary to bring the beans from field to cup, buying joe from a responsible producer and shop becomes—if not life or death—certainly grave. 
Stacks will celebrate two years in business on April 22, with a second branch due to open in Albany any day now (perhaps even by the time this goes to press). 
Stacks Espresso Bar is at 260 Lark Street, Albany, NY; 518-336-5819;
Article from Edible Capital District at
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