Part two of a the NYC Roasters Speak series, expanding the stories behind the “Roasting Revival in the City that Never Sleeps” article in February’s Tea & Coffee Trade Journal.
The roasters from down under are taking over Brooklyn. The two founded-by-Aussie roasters in Brooklyn; Toby’s Estate and Kitten Coffee, couldn’t be more different, but both embody the optimistic spirit of adventurism that makes all Aussies awesome.
Toby’s Estate roasts in the heart of Williamsburg. The roastery/café is every bit both; the communal tables are drenched in sun from the floor to ceiling windows and coffee drinkers camp out with their laptops and bffs to enjoy the comfortable vibe of the café. As customers sip lattes and nibble scones, Deaton, Toby’s head roaster, transforms beans from green to nutty roasted brown on a shiny red Probat. Behind the bar the cupping lab is visible through a large picture window, and the green coffee storage and offices are just down the hall. The cushions on the benches of the café are upholstered with jute coffee sacks, which for me makes a fun scavenger hunt to see how many come from farms, co-ops or exporters I’ve visited it.
Quote the Roaster: Toby’s Estate’s Co-owner Adam Boyd
1. Why Brooklyn? Why Williamsburg?
As Allie (master cupper extraordinaire) mentioned, I am a co-owner of the Toby’s here in the US, along with Toby Smith and Amber Jacobsen.
I first put the idea to Toby of setting up here in the US about 5 years ago. After several trips, a lot of research and a truckload of coffee in many cities in the US, I settled on New York as our first location. During these early visits to NY, it was evident that even though a few specialty coffee roasters had set up in NYC, the market was still small enough that there was potential for growth. The handful of independent specialty coffee shops scattered throughout NY had done the hard work and introduced a quality cup of coffee to NY’ers and their appreciation for fine coffee has enabled us to grow our business.
Another major reason for us settling on NY was the close proximity to our Central and South American coffee producers. This enabled us to build on many of our existing relationships, but also allows us to foster new relationships with new coffee producers in the region.
I first looked at locations in lower Manhattan, but after discovering Brooklyn with a visit to Williamsburg on a warm weekend and a stroll along Bedford Ave, which was closed for a street market, I knew immediately this was the neighborhood where we would set up our roastery and cafe. Although the neighborhood is transforming, it still maintains a strong presence of light manufacturing which enables us to run a very efficient coffee wholesale operation. Fortunately, our landlords ran a large cold meat-packing operation for several generations and we inherited many benefits of this, including a 3000 sf loading dock and platform for us to receive and dispatch coffee from.
2. What’s next for Toby’s Brooklyn?
From our Williamsburg location we are able to conveniently and very efficiently serve our wholesale customers with an even mix between Brooklyn and Manhattan. We just opened in November our first Manhattan retail location on 5th Ave, located just south of the Flatiron Building. We also have a new location signed downtown which will open in the next few months. This neighborhood location will be an intimate retail coffee experience, which will also have a training and cupping facility downstairs – enabling our wholesale customers additional training facilities and espresso and brew classes for Manhattan coffee lovers.
While Toby’s glows with pride over its café locations, Kitten Coffee deals strictly in wholesale. While Toby’s is giddy to source Central American coffees, Kitten works almost exclusively with Brazilian arabicas. While Toby’s roastery is located in the heart of Brooklyn’s trendiest neighborhood, Kitten’s roastery is located on a nondescript street in Bed-Stuy, in the middle of housing projects and Jewish middle schools, surrounded by the beginnings of construction that’s razing family homes and building shiny towers in the name of gentrification.
Quote the Roaster: Kitten Coffee’s Rowan Tuckfield
1. Why Brooklyn? What prompted Kitten to start roasting in Bed Stuy?
Brooklyn was the first place I stayed when I visited from Australia in 2003 (a sublet above Topps on N6). I fell in love with the semi-industrial atmosphere and Williamsburg was already taking off as an affordable alternative to the city. When it came to look for industrial space to “burn, bag and drag” coffee, Bedstuy had the space, the subway, access to the BQE and the kind of edge I was hoping for.
2. What are challenges and perks particular to roasting in NYC?
Challenges: Other than snow, Sandy, and shootings? With so many new people coming to NY to roast coffee, the biggest challenge is to stay true to our vision of great tasting coffee and our vision splendid of café culture. Not being swayed by the almost yearly trends that coffee seems to be spun around by.
3. What does Kitten see in its future, and the future of NYC’s roasting scene in general?
I think that the coffee scene in NYC is one of the most exciting in the world. Since we started in 2008 I think NYC has caught up with a number of the coffee hot spots around the world and is poised to be a fine coffee leader. In the next 12 months Kitten has a lot on our plate. New premises (thank you gentrification!). A new roaster. And it also looks like we’ll be roasting in London before the year is out. That’ll do!
One of my favorite aspects of Kitten Coffee is its packaging. Just like you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover—but we all do—you shouldn’t judge a coffee by its bag, but I still do. And Kitten’s bags are awesome. They are all printed by hand with a letter press printer and list not only the farmers’ names and tasting notes but also the varietals of coffee and how they were processed.
Rowan, Adam, and Deaton do a top job as ambassadors; I think I might start saving for a “roaster origin” trip to Australia.
Read Part 1, NYC Roasters Speak: The Williamsburgers