Panel no. 3 – Coffee Culture in New York
After the 2nd panel, we all headed downstairs for a delicious meal provided by our hosts, and cooked by the institute’s students, at L’Ecole. After lunch, we headed back upstairs for our last panel: Coffee Culture in New York, which is a very important topic for us, both as New York baristas and as coffee business owners.
Kevin Cuddleback from Gimme! Coffee was the first to speak in the third panel. Kevin spoke about the history of coffee in New York, and about culture of coffee emerging in New York. Kevin started by talking about the first coffee in New York, trying to make the point that this so called coffee revolution in New York is nothing new. He spoke about the oldest roaster in the country, Gillie’s, which is right in our home borough of Brooklyn. Other notable New York roasters that are still around are Porto Rico (1907), Dallis Coffee (1913), Kobrick’s (1920’s) Chock Full o’Nuts (1930’s), Moko d’Oro (1954), and Oren’s (1986). I’d also like to mention that representatives from both Oren’s and Dallis were present at the summit, and Oren’s offered samples at the post-summit reception.
After talking about the history of coffee, Kevin moved on to current trends in coffee, about how focusing on local products and obsessing over preparation is the best way to inspire great coffee in a growing specialty coffee environment. Moving forward, more coffee companies will be coming to New York to try to sell their products and roast here. However, it will be difficult because it is very expensive and the city regulations are difficult to navigate. However, he says, they will continue to come, and in the end, the consumer will benefit.
Next up was Manuel Terzi, owner of Terzi Coffee in Italy. Manuel, through a translator, talked about the history of espresso. Long ago, Italian coffee roasters saw a way to make money through espresso. They financed espresso equipment to cafes and told them that when they make espresso, there should be enough crema on each espresso that, no matter how bad it tastes, sugar shouldn’t sink when poured on the top. This allowed roasters to buy cheaper robusta coffee, because robusta coffee makes more crema. This bad espresso was the rule for many years, until North Europeans and Americans, who were used to the better tasting brewed coffee, came to visit and, unable to stomach the bitter espresso, decided to try to do it better. From this came all arabica blends which, although not as fluffy, tastes better. Later, as barista competitions arose, the italians began to follow the new rules for espresso, and are beginning to give up on the old way.
Hannah Wallace came next. Hannah spoke about her journey from coffee novice to obsessed coffee geek. She says she started at places like Oren’s and Porto Rico, but last year she began going to Cafe El Beit, where she met such coffee eccentrics as Dan Griffin (her gateway drug), and they began talking to her about coffee. Hannah says that baristas are one of the most important aspects of coffee education, as an enthusiastic, knowledgeable barista will infect their customers with the enthusiasm and make them want to learn more. Eventually she was invited to a coffee cupping (she also wrote this article), which was a revelation as she had never compared multiple coffees at the same time before. Since then she has been to many coffee classes and has tried to learn as much as she can about coffee.
Last up was our own Anne Nylander, who spoke about customer service and training. Anne talked about how it is important to “bridge the gap” between barista and consumer. That only through excellent customer service and great coffee preparation can we teach the consumer that coffee is something more than just coffee. But it is a difficult gap to bridge, as we are often trying to teach to people who have little interest in learning, so it is important to recognize those that want to be taught, and those that want to be left alone. The best way, she says, to do this is through proper training. It is imperative that baristas be taught well, and this doesn’t just mean being taught to make coffee. Customer service and even something as mundane as how to sweep a floor are just as important and should not be taken for granted.
In the end, though, Anne says that no matter the concept of the cafe or how much one wants to educate the consumer, the cafe must make a profit. If the business fails, the owners lose the opportunity to tell the stories of their great coffees.