Q: When is a coffee shop more than just a coffee shop?
A: When Bryan Jackson and Reina Alexander have a hand in it.
From the beginning, Brooklyn Coffee was meant to be more than “just” a coffee shop. If anything, Jackson wanted it to be a design collective, bringing like-minded people together in a new way. This tilt toward design, along with branding and curation, is patently evident: everything about Brooklyn Coffee is highly curated and extremely polished. One could say that it would have to be, since it is so small; there isn’t much room for choice or clutter, but it works.
For each product that Brooklyn Coffee sells, the approach seems to be choosing one high-quality option and sticking to it, rather than faffing around with choices for the sake of it. It's a single-roaster cafe—partnering with Caravan, which has brought exciting opportunities (more on that later). The shop sells one magazine (Drift), one type of mineral water (Topo Chico, of course), one kind of soda (Cawston Press), beer from a single local brewery (Brew By Numbers), assorted chocolate bars from a California-based company (Compartés), and a small selection of teas from a London-based company (Rare Tea Company).
The merchandise on offer—mugs, totes, and T-shirts featuring Brooklyn Coffee branding—are all collaborations with local artists and graphic designers, some of them students at prestigious art colleges like Central St. Martins.
In an exacting way not seen in many coffee shops, the leading thought for the cafe’s design seems to be “form follows function.” The entire Brooklyn look, feel, and flow is created to suit the interaction between customer and barista.
“Reina and I were very calculated in what we wanted the shop to look like,” explains Jackson. “Not just aesthetically, but how the materials in use would lean toward the kind of service we want to provide. Everything is at leaning height; no distractions on the walls, everything is clean. So the focus is on the coffee and the interaction with the people behind the counter…which, depending on who you ask, is as important as the product you’re pitching, if not more.”
Or, in a nutshell, he wants to be “as approachable as possible in a unique environment.”
While Brooklyn’s design and atmosphere are certainly unique among the plethora of London coffee shops, it’s what Jackson and Alexander have done in the space that most sets them apart. For cafes of their size, it’s often difficult to obtain exclusive coffees—this is something more likely to be seen at larger, multibranch cafes. But there’s a lot to be said for Brooklyn’s relationship with Caravan and their determination to offer something truly unique in London.
Last year, through Caravan and Raw Material Coffee (for which Caravan is the sole EU distributor), Brooklyn was able to offer a truly exclusive coffee from Barner Ramirez at Finca Buenos Aires in Colombia. The coffee, of which there were only two sacks, entirely went to Caravan, which roasted it to suit the particular flavor palates of Brooklyn Coffee. It ran out in about 10 days, and was such a success that Jackson and Alexander are already planning to do it again this year.
As the specialty-coffee world becomes more and more crowded, especially in hub cities like London, it can be difficult to find cafes that truly stand out: coloring outside the lines, creating their own formula, stretching the idea of what a coffee shop can and should be. Thankfully, Brooklyn Coffee is one of those places—doing their own thing and excelling at it.