Rochester, New York, until a few years ago, had relegated my caffeine fulfillment to iced teas in my friend Dan’s kitchen. Now don’t get me wrong—iced tea is delicious—but this charming, mid-size Rust Belt city, famous for lilacs, contact lenses, and obsolete camera film, had a void. A cold, ceramic void, just waiting to be filled with delicious, hot coffee to help its denizens get through the harsh winter months. As of late 2015, we’re happy to report that the caffeinated tides have turned in Rochester. Not only are there established specialty cafes, but everything from pop-up cafes and local roasters to folks representing Rochester in the United States Brewers Cup. We offer you here a quick tour of the city’s finer coffee offerings, with more surely to come as the taste for quality coffee in Rochester continues to accumulate like a drift of lake-effect snow.
Pour Coffee Parlor
Pour Coffee Parlor may be Rochester’s most chic coffee establishment right now, and not just because it has “parlor” in the name. Possessing atmosphere both serious and college-town-y, its flagship location (just off of Park Avenue, right behind another coffee shop!) walks the line between a fancy, by-the-cup place and a more democratic coffee hangout with a vintage sofa and lots of laptop camping. Coffee comes from their affiliated roaster, Glen Edith, as well as a cast of rotating outsiders, and is served alongside waffles, nitro cold brew, local beer on draft, and wine.
The Pour team recently opened a second location, under the name Glen Edith—named such as it will only proffer its eponymous beans—in the NOTA community. A sleek white Slayer anchors the bar here at the Somerton Street shop, adorned with a tribute to the company’s vehicular mascot, the “Bean Cruiser,” a 1986 Toyota van.
Joe Bean Roasters
When Joe Bean opened on University Avenue in 2011, it was the first cafe in Rochester to attempt a true specialty, quality coffee service. It’s stayed a stronghold, with a decidedly mature approach to preparation and coffee education—don’t miss their coffee lab in the back, or their multipage printed menus with brewing descriptors like “textural” and “articulate acidity.”
Located within a mixed-use building, the shop’s décor strives toward an Italian-American sensibility. The eye is quickly drawn to a copper Victoria Arduino lever espresso machine on the center island bar, which is surrounded along the walls by high tables and window-view benches—it’s a vibe that will be more comfortable to some than others; you can totally take your mom. Joe Bean roasts its own, and will be happy to prepare and discuss with you over coffee flights, Chemex brews, siphons, or even a French press. Already a Rochester coffee classic at just under 5 years old.
Humble but growing, and with some of the friendliest staff in town, Fuego dwells in an attention-getting blocky storefront in Rochester’s Center City, not far from the soon-to-be-filled, once-majestic Inner Loop expressway. Inside, the coffee bar for now is unassuming: the corrugated metal bar hosts a few intimate seats gathered around a compact array of coffee equipment that packs in a lot of choices. Another two-group Arduino waits in the service of your espresso drinks, while Kalita Wave, Chemex, and AeroPress are available as filter-brewing options.
The space is currently undergoing some construction, as it expands seating into the adjacent room (which has actual daylight) for early 2016. The renovation follows the move of roasting operations from the back of the cafe’s current small space to a separate facility a few miles away, said co-owner Renee Colon, who also operates a second Fuego location with her husband Tony Colon on the Monroe Community College campus. “It’s been a long time coming,” says Renee. “We have a lot more room to store green beans and actually roast, and nobody is walking through to use the bathroom.” Look for Fuego’s expanded space to include food options from local sandwich artists Orange Glory. We trust the added seating won’t diminish the tight-knit community feel of this downtown bar, which currently feels like a friendly oasis.
The last stop on our coffee tour of Rochester is a moving target—for now. Ugly Duck Coffee, a mom-and-pop-up from husband-and-wife team Rory and Cristina Van Grol, has been a going concern in Rochester since Flag Day 2015 (that’s June 14, but you knew that). The compact cart—which fits easily into the same minivan the couple uses to transport their baby son, Wren—has been popping up around Rochester for regular stints outside restaurants and in the Rochester Public Market, as well as at special events. The minimal cart features a La Marzocco GS/3 and—to the confusion of a few, who assume the Van Grols must be strict vegans—nondairy milk alternatives, owing to the lack of refrigerated space. They’re not new to the city’s coffee scene, though—Rory started his career in coffee at Providence, RI’s New Harvest, before returning to Rochester to work at Joe Bean—where he can still be found one day a week. That will change soon enough, however, as the Van Grols progress on the buildout of their permanent location in Center City (conveniently just a stone’s throw from Hart’s Local Grocers).
For Rory, who says he got into specialty coffee “over French presses and Magic: The Gathering,” being able to highlight New York State roasters like Joe Bean and Gimme! alongside further-flung companies like Madcap and Dogwood is clearly a source of delight. The permanent Ugly Duck location will continue to partner with local food businesses, like Scratch Bakeshop, and will indeed feature dairy products—but will forgo the beer and wine popularly found in the Flour City’s other cafes. As the Inner Loop is slowly packed high with rubble—the goal being to fulfill city planners’ dreams of a more accessible, vibrant downtown core—the Van Grols are excited to see what happens. “It’s almost like there’s a neighborhood being built up around this little building,” says Cristina.
Liz Clayton is the associate editor at Sprudge.com. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.