Though the New York State capital region is most known for its politics, in recent years, Troy (just eight miles from Albany) has blossomed into an experimental arts community filled with a pink church-turned-artist residency and the playful graphic designs of Yesfolk Tonics (supplying to NYC favorites like Dimes and Tørst). At the forefront of the scene right now is Superior Merchandise Company: a coffee spot, curated retail shop, event space, and soon-to-be coffee roastery.
Superior Merchandise Company is co-run by Felicity Jones and partner Mike Romig, who purchased the once-derelict building that houses the shop in 2015, setting up their personal residence in the floors upstairs. Jones, a graphic designer who specializes in brightly colored abstract designs, and a lifelong resident of the region, has guided the aesthetic of the unpretentious cafe, allowing local artisans to punctuate the space with color and whimsy. And that same creativity found in Superior's branding and selection of goods is complemented by a lively, seasonally-inspired coffee program. Espresso drinks, pour-overs, and batch brews are supplied by Passenger Coffee. But beyond the classics, the clear crowd favorites are the shop's more experimental drinks: the Blue Bouquet Latte (blueberries, lavender flowers, vanilla, a shot of espresso, and milk) and the Corn Silk Lassi have made specialty coffee approachable in an area where the scene is still nascent.
Overall, Superior hopes to provide a chance to bring people from all disciplines and ages in the Troy community under one roof. While customers hang out and sip their coffee, they’ll also find a selection of textile designer Christin Ripley’s hand-marbled notebooks and shirts, and Good Thing pastel bowls and trays. Jones has also introduced diverse event programming—Latte Art Throwdowns to a Mom’s Night Out coloring event. They've even had taco night.
As for the food on the menu, it's as local and charming as the inedible goods here. With their small, in-view toaster oven, Superior's crew prepares toasts with lovage, shungiku flowers, sesame brittle, and daikon. They source from farmers and producers in the area like Flower Scout.
“There was clearly an opportunity in Troy for young entrepreneurs to pursue their risky, untested ideas and a welcoming community to offer support,” says Jones.
Yiyi Mendoza, another Troy resident, is a co-founder of Yesfolk Tonics (who collaborated on the menu's “Yespresso,” combining tonic, fizzy water, and espresso) and a ceramicist who worked with Superior Merchandise on the unique wares for the space. Handmade ceramics are often too big of a financial undertaking for cafes, but Mendoza appreciates the way Superior Merchandise made the decision to prioritize the custom design detail. “We considered size, volume, form and color, thickness of walls, the transfer of heat, comfort, glaze texture, and the way each form would hold the aromas of coffee. It’s pretty wild for me to walk in there and see people holding those pieces and drinking out of them,” she says.
Later this year, a backyard carriage house will transform into a coffee roasting facility and learning lab, for their coffee brand Touchy Coffee. The couple looks forward to serving a continued range of out-of-town visitors throughout the year with their expanded offerings.
“Being about two hours from NYC, Troy is somewhat insulated from the tourism seasonality thant a lot of the more popular Hudson Valley towns experience,” says Romig, adding that he sees Superior Merchandise as a destination for locals and downstate folks alike, year-round. Indeed, the owners hope the cafe can be a draw on multiple fronts. “The values that persist throughout the coffee producing chain—dutiful stewardship of craft, conscientiousness, precise execution—are the same values that make art and design so exciting for us,” says Romig.
When combined, it’s clear coffee is only the jumping off point. Superior Merchandise Company is an design-minded incubator for the Troy community that is worth a visit.
Photos courtesy of Superior Merchandise Company.