NYC Roasters Speak: The New Guard

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Today’s newest guard of NYC coffee roasters is springing up—like battle-ready Athena from the head of Zeus—out of the expertise of yesterday’s new guard. If yesterday’s new guard of convention-defying roasters was Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia (which most coffeepeople would probably agree that it was) then today those guys are the middle guard because the old guard of Peet’s and Starbucks is still there, as is the oldest guard of grocery roasters like Maxwell House and Folgers, but Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia have been around long enough to haved trained a new generation of roasters and innovators, and that crew constitutes today’s New Coffee Guard. They’ve got some seriously cool stuff going on.

View from Pier 41
View from Pier 41
Enter the Pulley
Enter the Pulley

Steve Miersich learned his roasting craft at Intelligentsia, and then he forged totally new territory by founding the Pulley Collective, a roasting operation quite unlike any other anywhere. Miersich signed a lease on one of the warehouse-turned-business spaces at Pier 41 in Red Hook

Welcome to Red Hook
Welcome to Red Hook

in September 2012 and in September 2013 was up and roasting, in the most Brooklyn of ways. The space is industrial-turned-artisan, as all good Brooklyn space reclamations are, and outfitted with a Dietrich L12 (12kg) conduction roaster, a Loring Kestrel (35kg) convection roaster, a San Franciscan (1lb) “tabletop” mini lot roaster, and a standard sample roaster.

Chris Caulkins roasting for Prodigy Coffee under Gotham Roasters
Chris Calkins of Gotham Coffee Roasters roasting on the Loring for Prodigy Coffee

Miersich’s family has a farm in Nicaragua, and a few jute sacks bearing the Pulley logo and filled with unroasted, recently imported green coffee beans are stored in the space, as well as a few other modest green stocks, some tailored especially for the Collective.

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Miersich is proud that Pulley is “unique the world over,” and explains that it was conceived in the image of the “commissary kitchen model where bakers share ovens.” Brooklynites loves sharing and they also love crafty eats and drinks, and Miersich’s design “capitalized on Brooklyn’s artisan food movement.”

The bathroom wallpaper reps yesterday's pre artisan food movement Brooklyn.
The bathroom wallpaper reps yesterday’s pre-artisan-food-movement Brooklyn.

Brooklyn certainly does have an effervescent artisan food movement, but most of the cafes roasting coffee at Pulley are stocking up to serve Manhattanites. Gotham Coffee Roasters, company belonging to the infamous coffeeperson Chris Calkins, roasts for Prodigy Coffee‘s cafe on Carmine St. in the West Village. 9th St Epresso roasts for their locations on 9th St and Ave C, 10th  St and Ave B, in Chelsea Market, and a new Midtown spot. Joe roasts for its cafes up and down Manhattan and its shiny training lab “Pro Shop” on 21st St.

Roastess with the mostess
Roastess with the mostess

The only client roasting for Brooklynites is Parlor Coffee, which has a much-acclaimed mini espresso bar hidden in the backroom of Persons of Interest barber shop on Havermeyer St in Williamsburg. Parlor also roasts for wholesale clients as diverse as the upscale Contra restaurant and the chill surfer ‘spresso shop Lost Weekend on East Broadway on the Lower East Side.

Parlor Coffee is another of the newest Athenian guard springing from brains of yesterday’s coffee Zeuses. David Shaub Stallings, Parlor’s lead roaster, learned his craft with Blue Bottle and was a roaster at Blue Bottle’s New York stronghold on Berry St.

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As he roasted my samples of Panamanian Café Don Tito (more about that in a future post) on Pulley’s shiny, red little San Franciscan-that-could, he noted that, “right now [Parlor] is doing all the volume we can. We can’t upgrade [our wholesale operations] until we have our own space.” He excitedly disclosed that Parlor will soon be opening its own roastery at 11 Vanderbilt Ave at Flushing Ave. I asked if it was near Brooklyn Roasting Company’s second location, which opened at the end of last summer. He said it was, but that “we signed our lease first.”

Parlor has been on the radar of NYC coffee aficionados for a while, but, like all fringe coffee that starts in an odd Brooklyn space as a rogue idea, Parlor is gaining momentum and a more mainstream following.

With the standards for quality and the self-assured, plaid-clad edge of the country’s most lucrative trendy industry instilled in them by their old-new-guard-now-middle-guard mentors at Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle, Miersich and Stallings are the best examples of what coffee can evolve into when expertise and know-how are smelted in the cauldron of the world’s most creative collection of 3 million people packed into a few square miles (Brooklyn).

I like Brooklyn and I like rogue. It’s these guys who give me hope that maybe one day I will end up on Oprah’s book club or reach some other writerly Olympus pinnacle. In the meantime, it’s even more helpful to toiling mortals to have talented craftsmen churning out great coffee through a collaborative model that can serve as a blueprint for so many other “competitively collaborative” enterprises. Could this be any cooler? Only in Brooklyn, only by the New Guard.

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