Chef Craig Shelton, a James Beard award winning Best Chef, has spent much of his illustrious culinary career chasing the perfect bite. Shelton creates foods through a scientific lens particularly by drawing on his degrees in molecular biochemistry and biophysics from Yale University.
Recently, he has turned his attentions to crafting the perfect cup of coffee in his newest and most innovative venture, King's Row Coffee.
While every other high-end coffee company focuses on the quality of beans and how they are prepared, King's Row is the only company to craft coffee through the lens of a vitally important third variable: the relativity of taste. "The flawed assumption is that we can rely upon our palate to register flavor in an accurate and consistent fashion, relative to some absolute scale, like a thermometer measures temperature in Fahrenheit or Kelvin." On the contrary, taste is strictly relational to what happened before it and what will happen immediately after it. We know this from human experience - everyone has tasted orange juice after brushing their teeth.
Shelton started in the logical place by asking three questions. What circumstances distort coffee flavor? What is the root cause of distortion? What is the flavor profile needed to overcome that distortion?
Knowing that no single origin could provide the complex profiles required, Shelton turned to his knowledge of wine for a blending solution. A world class Bordeaux carefully combines high quality grape varietals, each one purposely chosen to add a specific flavor to the cumulative complexity. Perhaps he could do the same with coffee blends?
Traditionally, coffee blends are a stock recipe in which the different beans are all roasted together in equal parts, resulting in a dull flavor profile, regardless of quality. That just wouldn't do for Shelton.
He carefully selected the highest quality single origins, and instead, roasted them separately at custom temperatures to achieve very specific flavors and then combined the different beans in precise combinations for a supremely complex coffee. King's Row found the completeness they needed in their Bordeaux-inspired method, and started by crafting a flagship blend for the purist's palate, called the Shelton Signature. "It's the smoothest and most complex coffee you'll ever taste."
With their benchmark profile in hand, Shelton moved on to the various settings that affect coffee flavor, starting with the biggest culprit: food. "You see so many people drinking coffee with breakfast or dessert. We wanted to create a coffee that would withstand the assault of what we're eating."
The majority of flavors in breakfast and dessert have a subtractive influence, meaning that they will reduce our perception of that flavor in the next thing we taste. Sugar, a common ingredient in breakfast and dessert, is one of those flavors.
So if you're having a pastry with coffee, it will make the coffee appear less sweet and more bitter. Shelton worked to amplify the sweetness and acidity in a blend that would stand up to the elevated sweetness of the food. After thousands of hours of testing, King's Row had their coffee for foodies, the Bonbon Blend.
King's Row went further on to tackle the other less obvious externalities that distort coffee flavor: our physical settings. At or near the ocean: the briny, ionized air fatigues the our taste buds and inhibits our ability detect flavor. In terrestrial settings: the earthy aromas climb up our sinus cavity distorting the palate's reference point. At high altitudes: water boils 2 degrees less for every 1,000 feet in elevation. The lower water temperature under-extracts the sweet oils that make our coffee delicious, and over-extract the alkaloids that make our coffee bitter. In flight: the parched cabin air minimizes odor receptors and our ability to detect sweetness.
King's Row's solutions to these problem settings are four additional carefully crafted blends: The Coastal Blend, The Sportsman's Blend, The Mountain Blend and The Aviation Blend.
Their CEO, Sam Sabky, explained that the company's mission is to give people the perfect cup of coffee, no matter where they are or what they are doing. In pursuit of that goal, "we've innovated two technologies here; our Bordeaux-inspired roasting technique and our application of neurogastronomy to make blends that correct for the distortive effects of food and certain environments."
Sabky also explained the idea behind the name. "It's coffee suited for a king, crafted for you. If you think about it, coffee is one of the last affordable luxuries that everyone can enjoy in its finest craft."
With no brick-and-mortar shop and minimal overhead, King's Row is able to provide an incredible coffee experience directly to consumers at what amounts to less than 50 cents per cup. "When you think about how much you spend on average café coffee, we offer an unbeatable value," Sabky noted.
They currently offers 8 blends, crafted from the world's best beans and tailored to your lifestyle, all available online along with customizable subscriptions.
Since their launch, they've received rave reviews from expert palates and just recently returned from showcasing at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Shelton has been thrilled by the response from connoisseurs and everyday coffee drinkers alike. "It's validation that we're achieving our goal: incredible coffee for everyone, everywhere."