New Harvest Coffee's Lepine wins 2014 Rising Stars Award

New Harvest Coffee's Lepine wins 2014 Rising Stars Award

Eric Lepine is the head roaster at New Harvest Coffee Roasters in Pawtucket. (Valley Breeze photo by David Wuerth)

PAWTUCKET - Eric Lepine, a roaster with New Harvest Coffee Roasters in Pawtucket, is a winner of the 2014 Coastal New England Rising Stars Awards from StarChefs.com.

Lepine, along with roaster Will Pratt, of Tandem Coffee Roasters in Maine, were the two to win in the roaster category of the awards, which are given to up-and-coming chefs and culinary professionals "who represent the vanguard of the contemporary American dining scene."

Lepine, of Pawtucket, told The Breeze that winning a Rising Stars Award was "awesome for me personally" and highlights the state of specialty coffee in Rhode Island, a niche market he said has really only developed over the last three to five years. It was especially rewarding to be recognized by professionals from the culinary industry, he said.

A synopsis from StarChefs explains why Lepine won:

"Working with New Harvest - a decade-plus old roastery which recently opened a retail cafe - Eric Lepine landed in the deep end of coffee, not just attending to the palates of New England, but visiting origin coffee sites and observing and enhancing the nuance of his product," it states.

"From funky, natural process coffees and light roasts to the bolder, darker tastes of the region, Lepine is the man behind the house blends of bakeries, caf?©s, and restaurants all across the Northeast. He's also a leader in the coffee community, with New Harvest hosting the Mane Coffee Conference in 2013, their nearby training facility in Hope Artiste Village, and by throwing frequent barista jams and public cupping classes. Lepine is influencing professional and consumer coffee palettes across the region."

Lepine told The Breeze that it's been only recently that coffee roasters have been recognized as culinary experts, especially as the science behind the work has come into focus.

The "art" of roasting coffee is "extremely complex," says Lepine, as he is tasked with getting delicious flavor out of something that is designed only to produce another coffee tree. Each type of bean must be treated differently, with varying levels of heat, to get the desired chain reaction, he said.

The products he works with are in "a constant state of decay," said Lepine, making them that much more difficult to work with. Roasters must be familiar with what's "inherently great" about each product to be able to "polish it up to reflect" their natural attributes.

The cups that "clinched it" for Lepine, according to the judges, were:

* An Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Misty Valley natural process light roast.

* And a Guatemalan Finca Santa Isabel light roast.

According to StarChefs.com, a team visited more than 150 chefs and artisans across 25 cities and small towns.

"The New England Coast is the place to go to be close to the land, sea, and real food people. Chefs and artisans are opening single-minded restaurants and concepts, and the community has their back," said Antoinette Bruno, editor-in-chief of the site.

The winners will be showcased at the StarChefs.com Rising Stars Gala on April 15 at the Providence Biltmore Hotel, beginning with an awards ceremony at 6:30 p.m. and followed by a tasting gala from 7 to 9:30 p.m. The tasting gala will give attendees the opportunity to experience 20 of Coastal New England's top chefs and restaurants with beverage pairings and cocktails by the winning sommelier and bartenders.

Tickets to the April 15 event can be purchased at www.starchefs.com/risingstars .

For the full list of this year's winners, visit www.starchefs.com .