Some coffee guy who you’ve most likely never heard of is running for NYC Mayor. Well not actually, but it was a good way to get his coffee company’s press release published in the New York Times. The only thing interesting about this company’s million dollar campaign is watching Lewis Black, who always seems like he’s had one too many cups of coffee, rant about how important coffee is to NYC.
John Vassilaros is a personal friend of Lewis Black and the owner of Vassilaros & Sons Coffee, a large wholesale coffee company that’s been selling coffee direct to diners and dives around New York for 95 years. Now they’ve got themselves an AD agency (NSG/SWAT) who wants to help them sell directly to customers and claim the title of “New York’s own” brand of coffee, which they say doesn’t currently exist—ignoring the success and admiration of New York coffee companies like Joe, Grumpy & Gimme!
The company’s new strategy involves “developing new products” like an Italian roast espresso and a premium-priced (note: not premium quality) line of coffees called 1918. The first offering in this new premium-priced line of coffee includes a “rich roasted Sumatra.” So intense, earthy and bold!
Meanwhile, the company’s social media strategy includes a new Instagram account, who’s first post is a reappropriated image of Sam Penix’s coffee tattoo from Everyman Espresso—another well-known name in NYC coffee. I guess Vassilaros $1 million dollar budget wasn’t large enough to develop original content alongside their new products. But then again, Vassilaros thinks the “new world” of coffee still revolves around Starbucks, so they didn’t spend much on research either.
After completing the fourth Coffee Common event in our first year, I’m really excited about the future of cC and specialty coffee as a whole. There’s an excitement and eagerness among consumers to learn more about coffee, the choices they have, and making it better at home. While every Coffee Common event has been a success for different reasons, our event in New York was without question, my favorite so far.
The space we used was a bright corner unit across the street from Highline Park called A Startup Store. It was just a few blocks from Chelsea Market and provided ample room for three bars, lit by a flood of natural light through floor to ceiling windows. Each bar had a different theme that introduced guests to new discussions and experiences around the coffees being served. After walking in and paying a nominal fee of $5, guests were handed a ceramic cup to use during their stay.
The first bar, Taste&, was an introduction to each coffee brewed in a V60. It was an opportunity for guests to try several coffees from different origins and roasters side-by-side, while talking with baristas about differences, thoughts, likes and dislikes. By the time customers walked away, many of them had experienced for the first time just how different coffees can taste from one another.
Everyone left this bar with a personal favorite and reasons why they liked it more than others—the sweetness, the fruitiness, the brightness, the balance. The tasting was far less intimidating than a cupping and more akin to an informal wine tasting. Guests lingered and chatted with baristas, or went back for seconds and thirds of their choice coffee. It was the central gathering point of the event and created a context for which the other bars could work within—that not all coffee is the same.
The next station was our Ingredients& bar. This stop fostered a lot of conversation, even among those who didn’t attend. The premise was simple, illustrate the effects that additives like milk and sugar have on two types of coffee—specialty and commodity. First, guests were given an unnamed commodity coffee to try black and then discussed what they tasted. Ashy, burnt, smokey and bitter were common responses. That coffee was then dressed with some milk and sugar and it transformed into a coffee that most people were familiar or comfortable with.
Next, one of the featured coffees were sampled in its unadulterated form. The unique characteristics of that coffee were then discussed and usually agreed upon as much nicer to drink in its black state than the previous coffee. Milk and sugar were then added to the specialty coffee, which reduced its complexity, making it less interesting and ultimately diminishing the qualities that made it special.
Although some still enjoyed both coffees with milk and sugar, most noticed the adverse effects it had on the flavor. The purpose wasn’t to say what was right or wrong, but once again illustrate that not all coffees are the same and discuss those differences. [Erin Meister, a barista who worked this bar, wrote a great piece about it on Serious Eats]
The third bar, tucked in the back corner of the space, was the place to go for hands-on demonstrations and personal brewing tips from baristas. Method& was the coffee equivalent of an Apple Genius Bar and my favorite of them all.
There were three stations where guests could chose the coffee and the brew method they were most interested in learning about. Baristas at this bar would brew a round with step-by-step instructions, answering questions along the way, and serve the resulting sample to everyone within reach. Next, the tools were passed on to guests who wanted to try it themselves, being guided through the process.
Seeing the look of empowerment and success on a persons face after making their very first Chemex or AeroPress was the most rewarding part of the event. When someone realized that with just slightly more effort than making EasyMac, they could enjoy much better coffee at home, it was a big win for everyone involved. Watching people leave with a smile on their face and—in some cases—all the equipment needed to brew coffee themselves, was a win for everyone in specialty coffee.
Thank you to everyone who helped make this happen and all of you who came out to participate (especially those who waited in line). If you haven’t had the chance to join us at Coffee Common yet, I hope that one day you will.
posted by bwj
on 02.02.2012, under Misc.
Coffee Common has officially begun! After spending the last 48 hours unpacking boxes, transforming our space and orienting a new team of baristas, we’re ready to roll. If you’re in New York between today and Sunday, this shouldn’t be missed. Come try some great coffee, learn a lot from fabulous baristas and see what I’m doing when I’m not writing here on DCILY. This page will be dormant all week, but follow along over at Coffee Common for live updates.
The doors to Coffee Common have officially opened to the public here in NYC and we’re really excited to share these great coffees with everyone. For $5, you’ll be given a ceramic vessel to use while you’re in the space to visit each of our bars as often as you’d like.
Each bar features a different focus on ingredients, method, and taste where you can discuss all the details of brewing a great cup of coffee and learn to enjoy the differences between coffee varieties and brew methods. We also have a Breville brew station where you can work hands-on with one of our awesome baristas to learn how easy it is for you to brew great coffee at home.
All of the coffees we’re brewing can be purchased at the store along with the brew methods we’re using and limited edition Coffee Common merchandise. Come say hello, taste several great coffees and learn something new from a great team of baristas.
144 Tenth Ave. (At 19th Street)
Thursday: 11am – 6pm
Friday: 11am – 7pm
Saturday: 11am – 6pm
Sunday: 11am – 6pm
Saturday: GiltCity Tasting (buy tickets)
Sunday: Skillshare Espresso Class (buy tickets)
posted by bwj
on 01.19.2012, under Misc.
After two back-to-back events last July, in Edinburgh & London, Coffee Common is returning to the US. This time, setting up shop for 4 days in New York City. The team has partnered with Rachel Shechtman, founder of A Startup Store, to offer a pop-up coffee experience in a city whose access to quality coffee continues to grow.
Coffee Common has partnered with Google+ to broadcast “hang-outs” throughout the event and Breville will be giving away some of their latest home brewing equipment. There will be stations for comparative tasting, brewing demos and baristas to help troubleshoot home brewing problems and answer questions about coffee. On the weekend, there will be events scheduled in partnership with GiltCity and SkillShare.
Just like past events, this is more than a temporary coffee bar. Since coffee sales aren’t the goal, baristas and customers can engage without worrying about a line of people building up behind them. The atmosphere is designed to learn, share and discuss—all while enjoying some exceptional coffee (from Counter Culture, Gimme!, Intelligentsia, Heart and Ritual) prepared by a team of world class baristas. This event will be espresso free and focus solely on filtered black coffee. If you’re in New York, mark your calendar!
This will be an amazing event that I’m excited to be a part of bringing to NYC.
Watch Coffee Common in action at last summer’s TEDGlobal conference:
[photo credit: Stefan Georgi]
To add to the growing list of well-produced coffee videos that I continue to share, New York based artist Alan Gastelum recently finished his latest film, which captures one of my personal favorite shops—RBC NYC.
Alan’s foray into coffee films didn’t start with RBC though, it began with his personal experiences at Abraço, which changed his perception of and relationship with coffee.
I moved to New York City 3 years ago from Los Angeles. Before I lived here, I was never really into coffee and I believe it was because everything I had up until then was unimpressionable. I wasn’t impressed with “coffee”, until I stepped foot into a few small places in New York, Abraco being one of them.
I dont know if it is so much the actual coffee or the romance of the coffee culture, that had me. Walking into Abraco somewhat transports you into its own world and for the 10, 20, 30 minutes you spend in there, you are held in this wonderful world until you leave. Spending time in this small world I have learned to appreciate coffee and all that goes into it.
I love to hear a good “conversion” story, but it’s even better when a person has the ability to capture the romance visually to share with others. The entire five part series about Abraço is worth watching when you have the time, “Open” happens to be my favorite.
Abraço – Sundays
Abraço – Open
Abraço – Cook
Abraço – Afternoons
Abraço – Bake
More from Alan Gastelum
Now available for purchase from Stumptown!
Stumptown’s support of indie art and design has always been a big part of their brand, it’s one of the things I really appreciate about it. There isn’t just one logo that’s applied to everything they produce, the look of the brand continually evolves and changes while successfully evoking a consistent voice and feeling of who they are.
The company recently teamed up with New York artist Wes Lang to produce a limited edition set of Stumptown mugs. Last night was the release party and one of many times I really wished I lived in Portland. Not sure how to get my hands on a set—anyone?
After leaving the SCAA Expo in Houston, I headed to NYC to spend a week with friends and explore more of NYC’s continually growing coffee scene. There have been so many new additions since living there three years ago, it can be hard to know where to begin once you’ve tried the more well-known staples like Gimme, Grumpy, and Ninth Street.
Thankfully, New York Times food and coffee writer, Oliver Strand has curated an excellent list as a part of the New York Time’s free iPhone app The Scoop. Of the 74 coffee shops and cafés listed (which are updated monthly), I’ve now been to 30 of them—21 during my most recent trip.
The app is extremely comprehensive and covers a range of shops, from tiny coffee bars to high-end restaurants with table side coffee service. The integrated map guides you to your destination and includes brief summaries written by Oliver himself. Of the places I tried, I only had bad drinks at a few of them and would recommend all but two.
When I visit a shop and want to get a solid perspective of what they offer, I usually order an espresso, a macchiato, and if they brew-by-the-cup—a drip coffee. If I’m approaching my caffeine limit or short on time, I may settle for just one drink. I also factor in the ambiance & design, cleanliness, customer service and general experience when deciding wether I really like a place or not. It’s rare to find a shop that captures everything so well that you call it perfect, but some get pretty damn close.
I discovered a lot of great new places on this trip that I most likely never would have found if it weren’t for The Scoop. Some became new additions to my, “must visit” list and others are just good relative to their neighborhood. One thing that surprised me the most during my recent trip was the influx of Counter Culture Coffee. Maybe they’ve always been there and I hadn’t noticed, but I would guess that 50% of the shops I visited were brewing CCC. Not that this is bad, they offer great coffee, it just seemed to be a very noticeable increase of market saturation.
Some of the highlights from this trip:
Best espresso: Single Origin Ecco Tanzania Edelweiss Estate at Kaffé 1668
Best macchiato: Stumptown Hair Bender at Variety
Best drip: Woodneck of Heart Roasters, Colombia Alfredo Rojas at RBCNYC
Best new café: Dora in the Lower Eastside
Best view: Joe at Columbia University
Best hidden gem: Bakeri in Williamsburg
Best ambiance: Bluebird in the East Village, Sweetleaf in Long Island City, Third Rail in Greenwich Village and Dora in the Lower East Side
None of these are conclusive and each visit to NYC would most likely lead to new results, but if you use them as a starting point, combined with Oliver’s list, you will be on your way to exploring some of the best the NYC coffee scene has to offer. Let me know of any great places I’ve missed. I’ll be sure to check them out on my next visit.
Download the free New York Time’s Scoop App
All photos taken with another great free iPhone app called Instagram.
Last May during my NYC coffee tour, I attempted to visit Stumptown’s roastery in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Sadly they were closed for the day. But Now I’ve got even more of a reason to go back. Last Friday they opened a new coffee bar in their Red Hook location, but without the most common centerpiece of coffee shops—the espresso machine. In response to the seemingly odd decision to exclude espresso from the menu, Stumptown told the New York Times:
“We’re going all-brew because that’s how most people make coffee,” said Duane Sorenson, the owner of Stumptown. “At our coffee bar in Red Hook we’re putting the focus on the bag of coffee and showing our customers how to brew that coffee correctly,” he added. –NYTimes
Instead of focusing on pulled shots and latte art, the new brew bar will offer coffee in 6 different ways: French press, Chemex, Hario V60 pour over, Melitta fliters, AeroPress, and the Clever Coffee Dripper. By making each cup of coffee individually, and by using methods that can be a cathartic spectacle, it allows the barista time to educate the customer while selling them coffee and the means they need to brew it right.
This is another great example of Stumptown doing what they know best and executing it really well. I find it interesting, just returning from Europe where most places don’t offer drip coffee—the closest you can get is an Americano—that Stumptown creates the complete opposite environment. It’s definitely a great strategy and shows they know their market well. I know way more people who own a French press than an espresso machine. The guys at Kickstand and Jim Seven at Penny University didn’t seem to have a problem keeping busy without espresso, so I doubt Stumptown will either.
Photos via Mike at Shot Zombies. More photos there and on the NYTimes.
Last week a Starbucks in SoHo was reopened to the community, but now with more from the local ecosystem integrated into the store. After 15 years of service, the newly renovated location became one of a dozen pilot stores around the world to implement more sustainable practices into the construction of new locations.
The Spring and Crosby location is part of an experimental batch of 12 stores around the world, testing the feasibility of Starbucks’ recent initiative to have all new global locations LEED-certified by the end of the year. Each store is located in a different “bio-region” of the world–Kyoto, Japan; Lisbon, Portugal; Toronto, Canada; and Seattle among them–to test the varying shifts in energy use and locally sourced materials -PSFK
The store’s use of reclaimed wood, locally manufactured furniture, and recycled glass tiles are quite beautiful. The place feels more authentic than the cheap strip mall quality most locations posses. They also offer “for-here” mugs, an option they never should have removed from stores in the first place. Although, I was the only person I saw during my hour long visit who used one.
The new location is the first in NYC to boast a Clover machine for single cup coffee brewing. The quality is great (best cup I’ve ever had at a Starbucks), but there is a bit of a knowledge gap among the employees. I had to repeat my order 6 times between the two people I encountered, and it was still made iced before I could notice and correct them. It’s not like I was ordering off a secret menu either, it was a featured item on the menu board.
However, if Starbucks is to continue growing at the rate they have, it’s an extremely admirable goal to have all their future locations LEED certified. The quality of the materials truely add a rich new layer to the experience and the responsibility behind the decision illustrates why they continue to be an inspirational business leader, even if you don’t like their coffee.
If you’ve ever been to New York City, there’s a good chance you’ve come across the Anthora coffee cup. Leslie Buck, who passed away this week, initially designed the cups to target the large population of Greek Diners in NYC and it went on to become a coffee icon throughout the city for decades.
A pop-cultural totem, the Anthora has been enshrined in museums; its likeness has adorned tourist memorabilia like T-shirts and ceramic mugs. Like many once-celebrated artifacts, though, the cup may now be endangered, the victim of urban gentrification.
The Anthora seems to have been here forever, as if bestowed by the gods at the city’s creation. But in fact, it was created by man — one man in particular, a refugee from Nazi Europe named Leslie Buck. -NYTimes
Though their use has declined, the Solo Cup company, who absorbed the original maker of the cup, sold 200 Million of them up in 2005 when they began to only offer the Anthora design by special request. However, a few years ago, Graham Hill (founder of Treehugger) began making ceramic replicas of the cup for all those fans who want to reduce their waste, without giving up their sacred Anthora.
Photo: banjo D