The Newton Tab

The Art of Making Coffee

Newton–In the folds of one of Newton’s 13 villages, coffee connoisseurs have discovered a tiny shop where coffee making has become an art form.

Behind the yellow stenciled windows, and past the crowded seating area which is usually full of people reading through thick books or shifting data on Excel spreadsheets, a team of staff drizzles cream in heart shapes on lattes and balances the ingredients of the store’s cappuccinos.

“At Newtonville’s Taste, there are some of the best baristas in town,” said Ben Kaminsky, who runs a small batch roaster in Arlington and works as a consultant for local coffee shops. “There is always someone on hand that can talk your ear off about coffee.”

The owner — the 24-year-old son of a winemaker — has carefully studied and measured every step of the process, beginning with the bean, which is handpicked from dozens of taste trials. With an espresso machine imported from Seattle, he carefully balances temperature and flavor for coffee-based drinks that evolve into more than a caffeine shot.

For Nikolas Krankl, who grew up in a family that valued perfection in consumption, selling coffee is so much more than pressing a button.

“It’s like a skillfully crafted wine,” said Krankl, a California native who moved to Jamaica Plain two years ago. “Except with coffee, you can’t just bottle it and leave it on the shelf. It takes a lot more preparation.”

Krankl bought a neglected shop on Walnut Street last March, and is working to transform it into the birthplace of the nation’s best coffee.

To get there, he’s put himself through a rigorous training program, partnered with coffee consultants at Barismo on Massachusetts Avenue and enrolled in a national competition to see where he ranks.

“I would say we have the best in terms of product [in] Newton,” said Krankl, whose shop has seen a doubling of coffee sales since he purchased it. “But how do you prove you’re the best? You try to win this competition.”

Krankl will load a few suitcases with coffee mugs, espresso glasses and a coffee grinderthis weekendfor the regional barista competition in Cranberry, Penn.

“I’m a little nervous,” he said, after finishing a training round in a practice facility for baristas. “There’s still a long way to go before I am ready.”

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon in mid-January, he poured small shots of espresso, layered cream on wide-rimmed mugs of coffee and dropped flakes of granita on a small bed of his signature drink.

“I think decadent is the perfect word to describe this coffee,” Krankl said in between grinding the coffee and setting the small grains in the machine. “It’s rich and lush with a strong emphasis on the fruit …[it has a] very focused acidity … brown spices, cinnamon and coco and hints of vanilla on the nose…”

Two coffee consultants looked on, judging the consistency and flavor of each drink and dissecting his every movement.

“A lot of practice and preparation goes into these competitions,” said Kaminsky, a regular judge in such competitions, as he studied Krankl’s every motion that afternoon. “People take them very seriously.”

Krankl will be one of more than 50 baristas from 11 states competing in this weekend’s event, where his drinks will be judged on taste, appearance and temperature, among other things.

Two years ago, Krankl may have envisioned a career in restaurant ownership, but he fell into coffee almost by accident. After graduating from the University of Arizona, Krankl followed his fiancée to Boston, where she enrolled in medical school. Several months of working the espresso machines at JP Licks led Krankl to open his own shop.

“I came to the conclusion I wanted to be my own boss,” he said, adding that he began collecting information on coffee making, training as a home barista before he pursued his own shop.

He discovered Newtonville’s Taste through a restaurant broker, who called it a “diamond in the rough.” The location promised potential, but Krankl would have to restore the reputation, which he said was hurt by a largely absentee owner and a staff that didn’t speak English.

Krankl enjoys the variety of people who enter his shop, from a morning crowd of academics and professionals, to a mid-morning clientele of mothers and nannies to the after-school rush of students.

“Everyone is very friendly,” he said. “And sometimes you get conversations going between many tables … In some ways, Taste is the ‘Cheers’ of coffee shops.”

Joanne Rosenthal has made a habit of stopping by Taste, where she enjoys watching customers sail through a N.Y. Times crossword puzzle over a cappuccino and often finds herself “talking coffee” with the staff. “It’s really interesting to see the different people come in here,” she said.

For Jonathan Walker, who sat at a table reading through a book on Einstein, going back to machine-made coffee is not an option, after experiencing the drinks made manually at Taste. Because baristas at Taste do more then press a button, the temperature, pressure and flavor comes out in perfect balance, he said.

Written by: Chrissie Long/staff writer, on February 03, 2009

* All photos taken by Mark Thomson, Wicked Local *


The same article from above was also featured on the front page of The Daily News Tribune, by Chrissie Long, on February 05, 2009.


From Endless Knots

“Best thing to happen to Newtonville in five years.”

Julia Tatum, writing the board at Taste

No secret how much I likeTaste Coffee House in Newtonville – and I like to patronize the establishments of friends. When I’m not twisting people’s arms to go to Shogun in West Newton, MA, which truly deserves a post of its own (it’s coming, it’s coming), I’m forcing them to meet me at Taste.

Nik, the owner, greets me yesterday when I arrive for two back-to-back meetings. Well, commiserates with me might be a better way to put it. Or blames me. “You’re responsible for this,” he says, as I stand forlorn at the counter, wishing for a seat for me and my two companions. The place is packed at 10 AM (and they don’t even all seem to be people working on their resumes).

Then a man, sitting at a table by himself, offers me the chair across from him. I explain that there are two more coming. At which point, Nik repeats his view of me as the cause of the standing-room-only. And explains that I’ve blogged about Taste. At which point the man pipes up: “Here’s a quote for your blog: ‘Taste is the best thing to happen to Newtonville in five years.'”

Asking for a name to hang that quote on, he obliges: “Les,” he says. I press on. What does he do? Turns out he’s Pres and CEO of The Epilepsy Foundation of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, a most worthy organization. I should have been offering him a seat.

Posted by: Jessica Lipnack on January 14, 2009




Taste is located in Newton, MA and has the only Synesso in the area. The owner, Nik, is always looking to talk about coffee and for feedback on what they serve. Their current roaster is Barismo (in Arlington) for their espresso and Terroir for their drip. In my opinion, they’re quickly becoming the best place in Boston for a consistent double shot.
Also has great food.

Posted by Ben Salinas on January 1, 2009



Taste in Newton, MA

Today, I dropped by my friend Nik’s new digs in Newton called Taste. He is taking over a space on Walnut street where it was an existing crepe bar with limited coffee service. Nik is hoping to change the coffee service and is working on upgrades and renovations with an idea of expanding the coffee program to be more progressive. Particularly, an interest in espresso that peaks my curiosity. Of the new additions, Nik scored a nice three group Synesso and is in the beginning stages of building a nice little coffee scene. With a small dedicated staff and continued investment, it looks like it will progress in a good direction.

Having followed Nik for some time (and having an affinity for his grandfather Larry), it’s good to see him land in a space where he can start to work out his direction in coffee. I am curious to see how things progress and where he takes his interest. It should be noted, his espresso cup collection is well ahead of expectations.

Something I noticed today while at Taste. We spend so much energy in producing coffee but many of us don’t get to see the end product realized. This was part of the realization I had in Guatemala, they had very little perspective of how the product often arrived ‘finished’ in the cafe. We typically only get to see the customer reaction as a barista and that reaction rarely makes it back through the multitude of people who had a hand in production. I recently have not been behind a counter in a while and I was beginning to lose touch with that relationship and the joy of that exchange. The barista to customer connection made over a product. Sometimes we forget that without that, there is nothing more than a product. Nik has that, a fluid conversationalist, he has an ease in making that connection.

For a good conversation and to see the varying stages of his progression, I recommend a visit or two.
Labels: cafe, newton ma, taste

¶ Jaime van Schyndel 10:00 PM 2 comments


Newton Gets a REAL Coffee Bar
Submitted by Chuck on Fri, 2008-03-21 16:20. coffee | newton food | newtonville

I’m a coffee snob.

A few years ago I spent my time in Seattle going from coffee bar to coffee bar, marveling at the care and detail the baristas put into their craft.

Yes, serving coffee is a craft.

Just to give you an idea of the complexity, everything that happens to a coffee bean, from the time it’s picked to the time the brew lands in your cup, has an impact on the flavor. True coffee snobs aficionados know that the right bean has to be picked from the right place at the right time, treated in the right fashion, roasted at the right temperature for the right amount of time, brewed within the right time period, ground at the right setting and brewed at the right temperature. For espresso that includes putting the right amount of coffee in at the right tamping pressure and then pushed through at the right amount of water pressure.

To make it more complex, each coffee variety requires different specifics. Then, of course, there is how you steam the milk, the type, the consistency, etc. No place in Boston takes this stuff as seriously as I’d like. Peets is close and I love the place, but it’s not locally owned, which bothers me. Coffee houses should be local and comfortable.

Now Taste in Newtonville is all these things. I was in talking to the new owner today who brought in an espresso machine from Seattle (the only of its kind in the Boston area) and he’s serving George Howell coffee. For those who don’t know, George Howell is a legend in the coffee industry. He started the Coffee Connection and later sold it to Starbucks. Today he roasts coffees from specific coffee plantations and handled very carefully. His goal is to raise coffee to the level of wine.

Today, I’m one happy coffee snob.

» Chuck’s blog | 17 comments

Tasting the Good Stuff

Submitted by Chuck on Thu, 2008-05-08 11:58. coffee | newtonville

Just so you don’t think I’m the only one with a crush on the new and improved Taste in Newtonville, Jessica Lipnack goes well beyond my own writing with her own:


It won’t be long until there’s a major feature in The Times or Gourmet about these two. Or it may be in JAMA. Too good to be true but let’s start with their ages – 23 – until the end of the month when first Nik Krankl turns 24 on the 24th and a week later Julia Tatum does. They’re engaged.
If you’re reading this on Thursday, stop by there tonight for an espresso and coffee tasting. I was there a couple of weeks ago (can’t make it tonight) and it was worth the time.

Taste, along with Bread and Chocolate and Newtonville Books, has turned the little stretch of Walnut Street into a very interesting place. It seems that most of the stores there are privately owned and while there are still a fair number of banks, they don’t overpower the street.

» Chuck’s blog | 2 comments


From Endless Knots

A matter of good Taste

Remember my rave about Taste? I had to find out more.

It won’t be long until there’s a major feature in The Times or Gourmet about these two. Or it may be in JAMA. Too good to be true but let’s start with their ages – 23 – until the end of the month when first Nik Krankl turns 24 on the 24th and a week later Julia Tatum does. They’re engaged.

Last week, Julia began her clinical rotations at Brigham & Women’s Hospital here in Boston (third year of Harvard Medical School).

Two months ago, Nik bought Taste, the former Caffe Appassionatto, far and away the most beautiful coffee house in my hometown.

So how does someone (Nik) this young (when she’s not at the hospital, Julia’s writing the board, washing dishes, chatting up the customers) manage such a thing – and radically improve it in a few short weeks? Study journalism, manage six JP LIcks stores for a year and a half, write for a poker magazine, and come from a food family. “I’m no stranger,” Nik says, as in his mother, Gail Silverton, owns Gelato Bar in LA, his aunt is the Nancy Silverton, pastry chef, restauranteur, and cookbook author, and his father, Manfred Krankl, owns Sine Qua Non Winery in Ventura, CA.

And Nik lurvvves coffee so much he “wants to roast,” wants to “provide the service of roasting and how to prepare” the global bean “that wants to taste bad.” Espresso is “the fragile one,” he says, because it “takes coffee and puts it under a microscope.”

Yesterday was a tasting day at Taste and when we arrived after 5, the place was still packed as a violinist (who was blocking “our” table, ahem) played. Ah, the good old days at this location, when Sunday’s meant coffee house concerts by jazz trios and guitarists. Only better. Nik’s pedigree shows – I celebrated with a double decaf espresso, served with a chocolate kiss and we shared a piece of coffee cake, my indulgence. Jeff had his regular cappuccino, which he reports as “excellent.”

Look for us there. We’re already regulars. Again.

Taste Coffee House, 311 Walnut St. Newtonville, MA 02460 (617) 332-6886

Posted at 11:53 AM in Boston, Business, Food and Drink, Friends | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Very tasty

In my irregular series on great eateries, a huge hoorah for the revival of a wonderful coffee house in my beloved city of Newton, Mass. Until, say, fifteen years ago, there were delis and coffee shops of the old variety – meaning you could get a good square breakfast and maybe a cherry coke for lunch – but few sit-around-with-a-mug-of-proper-joe locales locally.

Then two enterprising and convivial entrepreneurs opened Caffe Appassianato in Newtonville, one of the city’s thirteen unique villages. Patrick and Ray had the touch and we became regular customers, taking a long moment most mornings where we cooked up more than one book. We spent so much time there that when the first article was written about the place, we were profiled as writers who hung out there. Then, the grand disappointment. Patrick and Ray opened a second location in Marblehead, Mass., and if you’ve ever been there, then you know that it’s hard to compete with the ambiance, never mind the nearby ocean, of Boston’s North Shore.

When they sold the Newton shop to Omar, we were sad to lose our friends but the new owner’s ebullient personality, coupled with the excellent falalel that he served, made for a welcoming atmosphere. After a couple of years, he sold to another owner who changed the name to Taste (struck me as a tad precious), the menu (that included a square pattie of hash browns), the coffee, and the atmosphere. Instead of a warm neighborhood place, it became more like a snooty coffee bar in Soho. With bad coffee.

Then the unexpected. About six weeks ago, the place was sold again and the new owner has in a very short time brought back warmth, fine service, and really good coffee, in this case, beans from George Howell, founder of the long-gone but fondly remembered Coffee Connection. Welcome, Nik. So glad to have this great place back again, now named Taste Coffee House.

1) The Newton Tab

2) The Daily News Tribune

3) Barismo

4) The Garden City

5) Endless Knots

6) Barista Exchange

7) Food GPS

8) Daily Candy Boston

9) Barista Magazine Apr/May 2009 Issue (pg. 24 & 26)

10) The Bostonist

11) Boston Food & Whine

12) Yelp