Joe Coffee have a hard-earned reputation in New York City as specialty coffee pioneers. In their 10 years of existence, they've served as one the first introductions to quality coffee for thousands of New Yorkers, and paved the way for the explosion of specialty shops in NYC. In the ten years since they've opened, Joe has expanded from their picturesque first location in Manhattan's West Village (on Waverly Place) to nine more retail locations in New York and Philadelphia. And after serving an array of house roasters over the years, most recently Ecco, a year ago they began the process of roasting for themselves. Now the time has come for the final step in that process. Monday August 5th, Joe Coffee launches their own espresso blend, “The Waverly” in all 10 of their cafe locations.
New York City is on the cusp of a huge roasting boom, with this significant expansion of Joe's roasting portfolio being just the beginning. I imagine you'll be able to look for some exciting announcements regarding the state of microroasting in NYC, and Joe's role in it, to appear elsewhere online in the coming days. [check out Oliver Strand's New York Times piece on Pulley Collective for more info -Ed.]
I recently had the chance to sit down with Ed Kaufmann, Joe's Director of Roasting, to pick his brain about the new blend and how Joe has approached their switch to roasting. This interview is a fascinating look at a very unique cafe chain's trajectory in the here and now: once a high volume wholesale customer, Joe will now be the busiest specialty coffee roaster-retailer in all of New York City.
(Full disclosure: I am a former Joe NYC employee.)
Alex Bernson: The new blend is called “The Waverly”, an homage to Joe's first location on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village. How has this history affected your approach to the blend? What were your goals with it flavor-wise?
Ed Kaufmann: “In our 10 years of serving coffee in New York, we have learned that in order to keep our loyal customers happy, we have to marry expertise with approachability. This really shines through in the blend. Having so much time to really get to know our customers has made it pretty easy to get to know what they like. At its core, The Waverly sits on a foundation of date-like sweetness. As we begin to ascend the foothills, we find our lively mid-bright tones of clementine and raspberry. The peak of this espresso showcases a sparkling acidity intertwined with delicate honeysuckle floral tones.”
What sorts of challenges and opportunities has roasting brought into the Joe approach to coffee? Who all was involved with the process of creating the new blend?
“We started roasting 10% of our coffee about 1 year ago. We thought it was important to see the systems in action on a smaller scale before tackling all of our coffee right off the bat. This sort of “practice” time allowed us to solidify our relationships with importers and producers. There have been many small challenges along the way but nothing major (knock on wood). The funniest challenge over the last year was trying to fit 500 lbs of coffee into a Subaru in addition to 3 humans…it was like a clown car!
The main reasons we decided to start roasting are to have more control over the menu and quality of our offerings, and to offer the Joe staff an opportunity to be closer to the process. Suddenly, 125 wide-eyed Joeys [an affectionate term for a Joe NYC staffer -Ed.] work for a coffee roasting company! This whole new department has gotten everyone very excited to learn more.
As far as creating the blend, Amanda Byron (Director of Coffee), Scout Rose (Director of Retail) and I make all of the purchasing decisions and we cup everything together. The components crossed our cupping table and the blend sort of built itself based our flavor goals.”
What are the components of the new blend? Have you had to adjust your approach to sourcing to accommodate your 10 shops and their frankly massive volume demands?
“The first version of The Waverly will have Mexico Finca Santa Teresa, Colombia El Paraiso and Ethiopia Kochere. Of course the components will swap out as seasonality dictates but we hope to keep it the same for at least 4-6 months at a time. The nice thing about starting a roasting company under a coffee shop company is that we know about how much coffee we will sell in a year. The sourcing was intimidating at first but after careful review, we knew we were on track with a little cushion for potential wholesale if that happens. The biggest challenge was making estimates on the ratios of each component and purchasing appropriate quantities to accommodate the anticipated recipe.”
With the roll out of this blend, does that conclude Joe's relationship with Intelligentsia?
“I wouldn't say that it concludes the relationship since our Pro Shop features multiple roasters. I'm sure we will see more of Intelligentsia's beautiful coffees on the shelves there. As far as our other cafes, we are going to be supplying them with The Waverly, House Selection, single origin Colombian Decaf and four rotating single origin coffees, all of which will be roasted by us.”
You personally, Ed Kaufmann, have been making and roasting coffee in New York for…how many years? Have you seen an evolution in New Yorker's coffee palates? Does this blend try and respond to that?
“I have been making and/or roasting coffee in New York for about 6 and a half years. It has been very exciting to see the evolution here and I have been very fortunate to observe it. When I worked as a barista at my first coffee job here, we were brewing one cup at a time and pulling “1 to 1's” and being very firm about knowing the correct way to brew and drink coffee. The product and its integrity seemed to be a priority over a good customer experience.
I feel like we as a city are all figuring out how to maintain the quality of the drinks we serve but we are also tucking it into a great customer experience and for a wider audience. We have figured out how to leave our trail of bread crumbs through the woods so that “regular” coffee drinkers can start exploring the vast world of delicious variety in coffee.”