Cafe Integral

Crema Coffee Crawl

I’ll keep this little intro brief. Back in November, 2012, I was living in Somerville, MA and working with 2 of my best friends, Liza and Marley, who owned Crema Cafe in Harvard Square. Every so often we would go on coffee crawls, and thus, a Crema Coffee Crawl would ensue. During one splendid crawl in NYC, we found Cafe Integral. Cesar Vega was running Integral out of a clothing shop, and truthfully I don’t remember how we even came across it. What I do remember is that Cesar only served coffees from Nicaragua, he was handsome in that easy way, and had a charm about him that we could not get enough of. Marley kept in touch with Cesar, though I’m fairly certain we never saw him again. Cesar and his Nicaraguan coffees were a highlight of the crawl, and to this day, 7 years later, we still reminisce about him.

Chicago location, inside the Freehand Hotel on Ohio St.

This past weekend I was in Chicago with my sister and dad, and as I typically do, I called Liza to ask if she knew of any new roasters in town. She casually mentioned Cafe Integral now had a location in Chicago, and as luck would have it, the shop was around the corner from my dad’s hotel. Turns out Integral now has a partnership with the Freehand Hotel and has locations in NYC, Chicago, Miami, and LA. The barista at the counter was as friendly as I remember Cesar being, and I told him all about our coffee crawl all those years ago. He gave me a Pacamara pour over on the house, and I purchased 2 bags of beans. The nostalgia hit me in the best way possible as I sat for a few minutes texting with Liza, recalling our encounter with Cesar, and talking about coffee.

Learn how we can all better appreciate coffee from the founder of Cafe Integral, Cesar Vega.

Coffee 1, El Progreso

Mozonte, N.S. — Nicaragua
Jairo O. Gonzalez
Fully washed, patio dried
1629–1750meters above sea level

Song: Bon Iver — Hey, Ma

26g, 420g H2O
grind: 18 (virtuoso)
3 pours, no bloom
4:35 brew time

This coffee is smooth and buttery and has a tea-like essence. It’s soft. Gentle. Quiet. It’s a delicate kiss in the morning from the one you love, a kiss that while seemingly insignificant, holds all the meaning in the world, and if you didn’t have it, you would certainly miss it. Do not take the subtleness for granted, even though you so easily could.

Breathe with this coffee, as it begs you to do so. To slow down. To sit and appreciate the moments in between.

I’m drinking this coffee and swelling with emotion, I don’t know why, per se. There is a tear welled up in my eye, and I like it there, I like how it feels as I anticipate the tear rolling down my cheek. The moment is memorable, delightful. Change is coming. I can feel it. Everything is still, sitting here with this coffee, a calm experience in an otherwise hectic headspace. Life is unfolding, and while I experience it throughout each day, it is these moments — I can sit and watch it, narrate it, and manifest it.

It’s silk. It’s love. It’s forgetting yesterday and intentionally ignoring tomorrow.

The barista at Integral referred to me as “my friend” multiple times, so in homage to him, soak it up, my friends, the goodness of right now.


Coffee 2, Jilgueros

Macuelizo, N.S. — Nicaragua
Manuel Armando Peralta Paguaga
Natural, dried on beds for 21 days
1250 meters above sea level

Song: Caamp — Hey Joe

26g, 420g H2O
grind: 18 (virtuoso)
3 pours, no bloom
4:07 brew time

Damn, for a natural this coffee is extremely mellow. I guess I should remove expectation and keep a clear slate so as not to be so biased when sipping coffees. I do wonder though, do I need to adjust the grind slightly finer to extract more flavor from the bean? As it stands, I would never have guessed this was a natural, though it is consistent with the El Progreso from yesterday in its silky smooth nature. I hope Cesar intended this smoothness with his roast profile.

There is something pleasant about the delicate nature of both coffees from Integral. While yesterday’s coffee urged me to sit back and reflect, today’s coffee offers up a similar sentiment but with a much less memorable result. I don’t mean this in a bad way, please do not interpret as such. The Jilgueros is a great day, where nothing significant happens, but you are on top of the world, beaming, for no tangible reason. Just because it wasn’t a memorable day, doesn’t mean it wasn’t wonderful in it’s own right.

Drink it easy while you wake up, listen to an old favorite, sing along and crack a grin. For no reason.