This Friday, August 2nd, Cora Lambert and Erik Becker will open a popup cafe at the Maslow 6 wine bar / bottleshop in Tribeca, under the banner of Box Kite Coffee. Lambert and Becker are veterans of RBC NYC, a well-respected and now defunct cafe just around the corner from Maslow 6. Their wine bar popup is just the beginning for the Box Kite brand; rumors and buzz are flying around the NYC coffee world surrounding the Fall 2013 opening of a permanent Box Kite space, to be located in the East Village.
Service at Box Kite’s Maslow popup happens each day, 7:30am to 5:00pm, seven days a week. Lambert and Becker are well-known personalities in the New York Citty coffee scene, and I sat down with them (over some wine) for a little world-first interview realness on Box Kite’s popup plans, permanent cafe setting, and unique perspective on coffee service. This interview wound up ranging from a discussion on working with multiple roast profiles, to their time at RBC, different brew methods, wine, cocktails, late-night coffee service, and intriguing international possibilities. It was, if you you cannot tell by that description, an absolute pleasure.
Tell me about your goals with this popup.
Cora Lambert: “We want to use this time to get the basics of service and quality right, and also serve the community of Tribeca, which we know very well.”
Erik Becker: “You know we served them for a few years at RBC right around the corner, and it felt kinda bad when we had to leave.”
Lambert: “We’re hoping that we’ll see some familiar faces. This neighborhood also doesn’t have a lot of options for food or coffee and we’re hoping to cater to that.”
What’s the menu going to look like?
Lambert: “Basic espresso service. For here and to-go. We have this nice space for people to sit and work and hang out but we’re also trying to capture the commuter traffic.”
Becker: “Want to downsize it a little bit, make it a little more accessible. Not explicitly trying to go minimalist…but trying to accommodate the customer.”
Lambert: “We’ll be launching with just the coffee and a few pastries, transitioning to all in-house baking and light food as the popup gets going. We’ll have lunch service 11-3 with wine and beer.”
What roasters are you going to be working with?
L: “We’ll be working with both Ritual and Madcap, here at the popup and in our coming East Village cafe. In designing the menu we wanted to choose two roasters that are very high quality and that express different roasting styles that people really like. Two good examples of different kinds of specialty coffee that are available. Ritual is generally towards the lighter end of the spectrum, Madcap more medium-ish.“
B: “Both roasters’ sourcing is so good and their selection, the amount of coffees on offer, is pretty outstanding and the quality is good across the catalog.”
L: “We want to have seasonality while still having consistency.”
Do you mean consistency of different profiles?
B: “Of quality. Keep a consistent profile of coffee from barista to barista. It sounds really easy to say…but it is very difficult. We’re trying to have a situation where a customer comes in, and it’s not like they develop favorites with one barista as their provider of a quality drink. We want them to have the same experience from all the baristas and enjoy it no matter what time of day they come in.”
It sounds to me like you want to develop a strong house style, where people really feel like, “This is what Box Kite coffee tastes like.” How does that fit into offering roasters in very different styles and cycling through large catalogs?
B: “Well Cora and I have always been very involved in tasting, going back to the RBC days, and our tastes are always pretty in line and we really try to offer things that are either really neat or really enjoyable.”
L: “I think as far as the brand goes, I will say that it was very important for me to work with Erik. And again the different styles of the products, there are different things that people enjoy. So we’re trying to hit two different styles of roasting, using people who are roasting consistently week to week.”
That all makes a lot of sense to me as someone who has tasted a lot of coffee, but how are you going to present that to customers? So a customer comes in and orders an espresso, what happens?
L: “Well first we figure out if they want a flight!”
B: “I mean we want to make it convenient and comfortable to order. We hope there is a dialog. What do you want in an espresso? Do you want something that is chocolatey or are you looking for something a little more fruity, a little more high acid? Give a guide as to what you have on offer.”
So you’re not specifically looking to pick coffees like “this will be my milk espresso, this is for straight shots.”
L: “We cup coffees on a regular basis, we always aim find the best suited pair while offering a variety, streamlined but variety.”
B: “Like with cocktails, even wine, you want to narrow things down a bit, you know give people a sense of what their options are.”
L: “Or like with the 1 and 1, where you have a shot and then taste the same espresso with milk and the customers has the chance to experience something that’s a very different interpretation of the coffee.”
I see you have a Mahlkonig EK43 grinder on the bar, too. What’s the filter side of things going to look like?
L: “We’re gonna do Fetco and one pourover method. ”
B: “God knows after doing 11 at RBC…”
L: “We’ve played around a bit. We’re thinking things like the Kalita Wave and the Hario V60, but we’re gonna play around here week to week and not get too hung up [on different brew methods]. What it comes down to is its the way you like making coffee. Finding the brew method that makes me happy and I love serving.
This popup is about about having the ability to experiment and play around. And not to have these rigid rules in the beginning. Come and have some great coffee, and meet some nice people. Have a good cup, that’s what we’re trying to do. Hopefully we’ll keep pushing, when we’re uptown.”
[Laughter] Uptown … Downtown…
L: “I know, every time I say uptown it’s like “Screw you. It’s St. Marks”
L: “We’ll just be your intermediate stop between all the drinking that happens in that neighborhood. Oh! Uptown we’re doing late night coffee till midnight.”
B: “Late night coffee baby. Something new to NYC. For a 24 hour city, it’s kinda weird.”
Awesome. Tell me a little more about the differences between the popup and the East Village shop.
L: “Well, we will have an alcohol component. We will have our own full beer and wine menu. Beyond that, within the limitations of that license we will be doing cocktails with Amaros, Vermouths, Sherry, things like that.”
Are you going to delve into that hot topic of “coffee cocktails”?
L: “What the hell, I mean I’ve been doing it for a long time myself. It would be a sad thing if we didn’t have at least one or two on menu!”
B: “Yeah, I mean, it would be a little weird not to.”
Where are things staffing wise?
L: “Just us so far, but we’re starting to reach out to the community. We’re hiring! We have jerbs! Jobs@boxkitecoffee.com.“
You’re both veterans of RBC. What lessons did you learn from that experience that you’re trying to bring here?
B: “RBC was an experience in extravagance. We did anything and everything to push the boundaries in coffee, to the point of almost absurdity. Mind you, it was fun and exciting, but we pushed it so far that we need to bring back, bring it back to the customer experience more than the product. Box Kite is more about customer service than about seeing like the wackiest and craziest things on the planet. RBC was just nuts. Nine roasters, six pourover methods…”
L: “I mean Box Kite is going to be a little wacky…we haven’t talked about our third roaster aspect yet.”
B: “Yeah, we’re gonna offer guests, but that’s where a little bit of our RBC’ness comes into play…we’re not sparing expense, and we’re definitely gonna be providing some interesting stuff.”
So you’re looking to offer roasters outside of North America?
To summarize, Box Kite’s popup opens on Friday, August 2nd and will be running for 2 months, serving as a “test kitchen” for their permanent space, with a rotating selection of Ritual and Madcap coffees alongside pastries and light food. Their permanent cafe space opens Fall 2013 at 115 St. Marks in the East Village, and will offer service until midnight, including amaro, wine-spirit and coffee based cocktails.
To say I am stoked about all this would be an understatement – late night great coffee in one of New York’s best nightlife neighborhoods is an idea whose time has come. All that alongside some seriously considered multi-roaster realness, including Madcap’s first major permanent account in NYC, and the promise of international heavyweights making appearances in the guest hopper? Yes. Please.