If there's one place even New York City is jealous of, it's Scandinavia, and the latest NYC cafe to hitch its wagon to a rising fjord is Greenpoint, Brooklyn's Budin. The spacious, ambitious, Nordic-flavored shop opened this past Friday to much of the usual “Norway, isn't that near the North Pole?” and “Would you believe how much this latte costs?” acclaim that often follows quality Scandinavian coffee and its attendant pricing structure. (Won't those coffee-curious reporters be stunned to hear Budin's opening prices are actually slated to go up!)
The project of partners Elliot Rayman (a veteran of both Stumptown Coffee Roasters and bustling local Variety Coffee), Crystal Pei and Rut Hermannsdóttir, Budin's realized dream, earlier profiled in these pages, is a modern cafe with a subtitle: “Coffee Bar. Design Goods. Nordic.” And if ever Greenpoint was ready for a high-end lifestyle-and-coffee shop…hopefully that time is now.
It's a huge space by Brooklyn standards, much less Manhattan, and while the decor seems intentionally spare, it looks like Budin still has room to grow into itself. The deep, capacious room is filled with mixed woods and tables big enough for medium-sized groups, with a clear sightline running along the length of the coffee (and future beer) bar (Mr. Rayman and Ms. Pei's domain) towards the back retail area (Ms. Hermannsdóttir's purview) and ending in an enclosed back patio.
The coffee bar itself is outfitted with a Modbar system sporting flamed birch handles on its two espresso groups and steam module. For filter coffee they have an undercounter Fetco and manual brew bar tools for Aeropress and Hario V60 single-brew coffees. Though the coffees take center stage here, the presentation is very low-key—this is not a place of noisy grinders and loud barista banter, but rather a place of understated Aeropressing (perhaps so one can best hear that woosh! at the end) and quiet explanations of why Scandinavian-roasted coffee might be so expensive.
To that end, the cafe has opened with a provisional menu featuring by-the-cup offerings from Norway's Tim Wendelboe alongside coffees from Drop (2013 Sprudgie Award winner for “Notable Roaster”) and Koppi, both of Sweden. Priced in the $4-5 range, these Aeropress and V60 selections will see an increase of about $2 a cup in the near future, according to Mr. Rayman. Espresso drinks currently range from $4 for a shot to $7 for the Lakkrís Latte, a very sweet concoction made with licorice syrup and licorice salt on a base of Tim Wendelboe coffee from Finca Tamana, Colombia.
Coffees from Heart Roasters in Portland, Oregon—which some would argue is the United States' most Scandinavian roaster (in pedigree as well as roasting style)—are also featured on the menu, albeit at a lower price point. This is an effort to “keep the coffee accessible to the neighborhood,” according to Mr. Rayman. Currently, the Budin crew plans to roll a steady rotation of imported Nordic coffees, with a regular roster filled out by Tim Wendelboe and others who are able to work collaboratively with the cafe to provide shipping and solutions within a roast-friendly timeframe. Look for more coffees from Koppi and Drop, as well as Reykjavík Roasters, to continue to be featured. Mr. Rayman also said he might, from time to time, be willing to feature even more exclusive coffees at whatever price they could afford, including “at cost”, if it would allow the space to showcase more special coffees to their potential future guests.
The beer program, for which eager, empty taps sit awaiting licensing, will feature Scandinavian beers, perhaps giving nearby Tørst a run for its kroner. (A planned food program is still forthcoming, as well.)
And though style is foregrounded here—our delicately expressed Aeropress serving of Tim Wendelboe Hunkute, Ethiopia was delivered on a gleaming, etched tray, with a side-nibble of licorice—it's really only in Ms. Hermannsdóttir's back retail section that the spirit of Scandinavia truly shines. Vivid textiles, like Icelandic fell sweaters from Farmer's Market, blankets, and scarves, are joined by shelves full of Norwegian lotion, Marimekko wares, fish-themed accessories, wooden hair ribbons, and other goods at a variety of prices—though you won't be surprised to find the variety includes some very high numbers. It's in this part of the cafe that the sense of design seems most cohesive and festive, truly celebrating a range of Nordic culture, conveyed visually, and setting a tone of celebration and warmth for the whole space.
As a whole, there's no doubt about it: Budin is extremely ambitious, and one can't help but hope it outlives the specter of Manhattan's Vandaag, New York's last aspirationally Nordic cafe whose bean-importing eyes proved bigger than their abilities. Offering-wise, the coffee selections here are top notch and prepared with great care, though whether or not their luxury price points will click into place with consumer demand will reveal itself in months to come. Budin's modest design aesthetic stops just a little short of truly setting the stage for a, dare we say, “high end” experience, but that too could be expanded with time.
In the meantime, we'll be over here dusting gold powder off our fingertips from the opening weekend's amply stocked bowls of candy, while watching our licorice intake (it turns out you can have too much of a good thing).