Paul Gallegos is a coffee veteran. About 30 years ago, the Mora, N.M., native moved out to Berkeley and began roasting coffee for the flagship Peet’s Coffee location, a little shop at Vine and Walnut Street, where coffee experts and connoisseurs gathered. As Starbucks was just gaining momentum in Seattle, the craft coffee movement down in California was coming into its own, and Gallegos was there, learning the trade.
Now, Gallegos is bringing his hard-earned expertise back to the Land of Enchantment. After moving to Albuquerque with his family about three years ago, Gallegos is now starting his own coffee shop at 1208 Rio Grande Blvd. NW, set to soft open within the next week or two. He’s calling it Cutbow Coffee after the cutbow trout, a hybrid of the rainbow trout and the cutthroat trout, the state fish of New Mexico. The hybrid aspect nods to Gallegos’ roasting specialty: coffee blends.
“Making blends is a lost art,” Gallegos tells me when I visit him at the immaculate shop in the North Valley. “Lots of third-wave coffee shops are all about single-origin coffees these days, but there’s also something beautiful about a well-crafted blend.” Thankfully, Gallegos has the experience and know-how to make just such a blend. “A good blend is one that’s greater than the sum of its parts,” he says.
Perfecting blends like these involves balancing more acidic coffees with mellower ones and contrasting flavors against each other for a specific, unique finished product. Since Gallegos is using many of the same coffees he roasted at Peet’s for Cutbow, he’s deeply familiar with the flavor profiles and blending potentials of each. Nevertheless, he knows that each crop of the same bean can vary greatly depending on the conditions it was grown in—so he likes to order small batches of new coffees to sample before he buys huge shipments of them.
The naturally processed Guatemalan coffee that he pours me is one that Gallegos is still trying to pin down the right roast on. When coffee is naturally processed, he explains to me, “The cherries are picked and the fruit is allowed to dry on the seed. So it dries like a prune on the seed, and it imparts a little bit of earthiness and dried fruit character to the seed. It results in a richer, brighter cup.” He shows me the roasted beans, which have a slight sheen to them—the oils that would otherwise have been stripped away in a traditionally processed coffee. To preserve as much of the natural oils as possible, Gallegos makes his pourovers with stainless steel filters rather than paper ones, which soak up those oils. It makes for a smooth mouthfeel and, as he said, definite fruity notes.
I get to taste several other Cutbow coffees, including one from Costa Rica and one from Indonesia. The Costa Rica is one of the lighter roasts that Cutbow makes, with a sweet, vanilla-like flavor and clean mouthfeel—a good breakfast coffee. Gallegos frequently uses it to add some acidity and lighter notes to a blend that already has a darker roast in it. The Indonesia is a slightly darker roast and tastes of wine, pipe tobacco and dark fruit—it’s a more complex brew for sure, and worth writing home about. Gallegos tells me that he’ll be serving six single-origin coffees, one decaf and three blends that he’ll rotate depending on the season, on what coffees are good at the time and on his whim. I doubt his whim will steer him wrong.
Gallegos is planning to soft open the shop on Sunday, March 18, and to have a grand opening event after a couple weeks of troubleshooting. Whatever your level of coffee nerd-dom is, you’ll find that Cutbow is a good place to caffeinate and meet up with friends. The large, stainless steel bar is a good spot for laptop nomads to get work done, and there’s plenty of tables and a comfortable sofa nook for those who want to hang out sans technology. Whether it’s Gallegos or another barista in the shop, you’re guaranteed to get a well-crafted cup of coffee served by somebody who knows what they’re talking about.
I ask Gallegos what he looks for in a cup of coffee, and, true to his mixologist nature, he tells me, “complexity.” He laments the one-note taste of many lighter roasted coffees, but also adds that he doesn’t disparage anyone for liking the particular coffee they like. “It’s good to keep things simple. If people want to geek out and talk about coffee, that’s fine. But sometimes people just want a cup of coffee, and that’s fine too.”