Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Specialty Coffee Roasters Brew in New York

August 13, 2008

New York Times
Correction Appended

NEW Yorkers see their town as the center of the universe. But despite huge strides by New York’s cafes over the last few years, the most respected coffee roasters are elsewhere. Now, some of the best are coming to town.

Duane Sorenson, who owns Stumptown Coffee Roasters, based in Portland, Ore., packed up a U-Haul last month and moved to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, just a short hop from the coffee roastery he will soon open in Red Hook.

Once his two 1950s-era Probat roasters are running, he plans to open a cafe there and another at 29th Street and Broadway, in the old Breslin Hotel, which is scheduled to be reborn as the Ace Hotel later this year.

“It’s not just a business opportunity to me,” Mr. Sorenson said. “I want to hang out, live, eat and make coffee for people in Brooklyn and New York. I love it here.”

Mr. Sorenson is one of the people who have remade the coffee business, searching the world for the best beans, roasting them with exquisite attention and preparing them to order at his six cafes in Portland and Seattle, which will remain open while he is in New York.

He’s forged an outsider identity for himself and his company. He is both selective about and demanding of his wholesale customers, requiring training for anyone who will handle Stumptown’s coffee and commissioning the occasional unannounced spot check. And for a long time, if a Stumptown employee couldn’t drive your coffee to you from one of the company’s two roasteries, in Portland and Seattle, you were out of luck. (Mr. Sorenson broke that prohibition in March by supplying Ninth Street Espresso in the East Village.)

Another of the top independent roasters, Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters and Tea Traders of Chicago, is also getting in on the action.

Amber Sather, a barista who’s worked for Intelligentsia for six years, will open a training center for the company in an office space in SoHo next month, where she will hold coffee tastings and help prospective clients work on espresso machine technique.

“It’s a stepping stone to things like roasting and opening a cafe,” Ms. Sather said of the training center.

Doug Zell, the chief executive of Intelligentsia, says that he plans to open cafes and a roastery in New York in the next two years.

Andrew Barnett, who owns Ecco Caffè in Sonoma County, California, was in New York recently, scouting real estate for a roastery and cafe he hopes to open in the next 12 months.

“This is a great place to run a small roastery,” he said. “I feel like there is a very strong barista community, without the politics and divisions of other places.”

Blue Bottle Coffee Company, in Oakland, Calif., recently signed up its first East Coast account, Gramercy Tavern, which started serving Blue Bottle Espresso last week. And though Blue Bottle doesn’t have immediate plans to move here, James Freeman, the owner, said it was possible that his company could sign a New York City lease in the next 12 months.

“There are no leases signed but, if this goes well for us, I’d much rather buy a Probat and a Sprinter” — that’s a brand of roaster and a brand of delivery truck — “and get a lease in the boroughs than ship coffee across the country. It’s a more interesting way to roast coffee, and it leaves a less intrusive footprint.” Some locals are taking a do-it-yourself approach.

Harold Butler started out selling tiny batches of coffee roasted at his apartment in Brooklyn to a few restaurants around the city. He’s moved his start-up operation, called Brownstone Beans, to a commercial space in Bushwick, and expanded into retail, selling his beans to the Williamsburg specialty market Urban Rustic.

Caroline Bell, an owner of Café Grumpy (which operates cafes in Chelsea and Greenpoint, Brooklyn) says her company will start roasting at a location in Bushwick this fall, and will open a cafe at the same place around that time.

“Most of the people who work for us want to learn more about coffee,” she said, “and this is a great way to explore that: where’s it’s from, what the roast does to it. We’re going to keep our wholesale business very small.”

Jamie McCormick and Amy Linton, two of the partners behind Abraço Espresso, a nook of a coffee shop that opened in the East Village in October, would like to open a roastery, though Mr. McCormick said it would take “at least a year.”

Right now they use beans from Counter Culture Coffee, a company based in Durham, N.C., that roasts much of the coffee featured in many of the city’s better cafes (and one that plans to open its own training center in Manhattan by the end of the year).

Ken Nye, owner of Ninth Street Espresso, said he's paying a premium to ship Stumptown beans to his cafes now and can't wait to eliminate that cost and the quality-depleting vagaries of cross-country shipping when Stumptown opens here. But he said he ultimately decided not to try to roast coffee for his cafes.

“The big problem if you’re a small guy just starting out,” he said, “is sourcing good coffee.”

By that, Mr. Nye means buying the best beans. The best roasters travel frequently to coffee-growing countries, developing relationships with growers and buying there.

“You have to be totally immersed and dedicated,” he said. “That’s not a problem if you’re a Stumptown or an Ecco. If you’re running three cafes and managing 20 kids, how do you do it? There’s a big bridge that needs to be crossed, and I don’t know how to do it.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 20, 2008
Because of an editing error, an article last Wednesday about coffee roasters coming to New York and working with local cafes and restaurants misstated the plans of a local cafe owner, Ken Nye, of Ninth Street Espresso. Mr. Nye will continue to use beans from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, the Oregon company that is opening a factory in Brooklyn. He does not hope to roast coffee.

originally published by the New York Times