On an unassuming corner in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Carrol Gardens, at the intersection of Carroll and Court Streets, used to be home to a beloved red sauce joint called Casa Rosa. It opened in 1979 and ran a steady business as a local favorite until 2013, when its owners closed down shop for good. But Casa Rosa was never replaced—in fact, the storefront remained vacant for years. That is, until Tom Cummings saw it had come on the market.
“People have, for a while now, been peeking in through the boards and construction to see what’s coming,” Cummings says. Now it’s no secret—East One Coffee Roasters has arrived. “We’ve been soft open for just a few days,” he adds. “And the neighborhood seems to be excited.”
Cummings and his longtime partner, Morten Tjelum, envisioned East One as a space of intersection for exceptional coffee and approachable food—they’re open in the morning to supply patrons with a caffeine fix all the way through dinner service.
“Older women have come in this week,” Cummings says. “And they are like my mom—they tell me about the neighborhood, and we can chat for hours about food and coffee.” East One isn’t Cummings’ first coffee rodeo, however. “I was living in Denmark and the coffee scene wasn’t very good—around 1996,” he says. He spent that time owning an American restaurant in Central Copenhagen before selling it to work for IKEA, where he stayed for 15 years.
“But I couldn’t shake the coffee thoughts I was having,” Cummings says. “So I decided to do the independent thing and we opened New Row Coffee. You know, it’s quite simple, I’ve been in food all my life—from watching my family cook when I was young, to having my own places all over. But this was when I became truly introspective and thoughtful, and coffee just felt like my life was taking me towards it.”
It was also taking him toward New York, where he’d be inspired by Ninth Street Espresso before opening Free State Coffee, also alongside Tjelum. Here they fiddled with batch brews and deepened a passion for their product. “Coffee is all about bringing multifaceted people that can do great things,” Cummings says. “And so we brought that to New York.”
Waiting for them was James Stahon, East One’s head of coffee (the three met through Sprudge Jobs), who now roasts on-site in a gorgeous glassed-in area with a Diedrich IR-12.
“I tasked James to find blends that were acceptable to the mass palate of New York,” Cummings says. “But isn’t a typical city roast so often found in this town. We wanted to stretch that palate—and that’s the longer term vision for us.” East One currently serves an everyday coffee for local New Yorkers, but will soon buy seasonally from individual lots and offer those coffees as lighter-roasted options.
“We currently work with Crop to Cup, who let me work before we had our own space,” Stahon says. “We source three coffees from them—Sonar, a blend from Guatemala, Ethiopia, and Tanzania; Guji, which is an Ethiopian Sidamo; and then Prism which is the filter blend, [and] also Guatemala, Ethiopia, and Tanzania.”
He explains that the process of finding a flexible coffee, for use as both drip and espresso offerings, was lengthy. “I started the sourcing process not at the best time—it was in the off-season so I couldn’t find fresh arrivals,” Stahon says. “We did so many cuppings looking for the perfect components. I didn’t want that fermenty taste—we wanted a quieter taste.” Now he feels as though he has it.
Next on Stahon’s agenda is finding single-origin coffees to “exercise the muscles of taste,” he says. “We want to challenge ourselves and our clients but to remain approachable. And that means slightly stepping outside of what you think coffee could be.”
Selina Ullrich, East One’s coffee and operations manager, echoes Stahon. “This neighborhood is also ready to be challenged. You can actually make progress with a good explanation,” she says, adding that there’s a certain pleasure in watching customers move from “this won’t stress you out coffee” to more complex cups.
In appreciation of the role water plays in the coffee process, East One will support international charities focused on clean water initiatives. One of the first examples is Three Avocados, a non-profit dedicated to bolstering access to clean water in coffee-growing regions.
For those in the area, this may just be your new favorite neighborhood cafe. But with a strong local base, it won’t be long before the East One corner is a destination worth traveling to.
Daniel Scheffler is a Sprudge staff writer at large. His work has appeared in T Magazine, Travel And Leisure, Monocle, Playboy, New York Magazine, The New York Times, and Butt. Read more Daniel Scheffler on Sprudge.
Photos courtesy of Ethan Covey