They've had the beef, the weck, the Bills (for better or for worse), Vincent Gallo, and some years, they've had more than eight feet of snow. But until just recently, Buffalo, New York, had been sorely lacking for a great cup of coffee.
On the heels of '90s-vibe Spot Coffee (a great place to watch a drop-in chess match) and more recently, downtown's Public Espresso, a new shop called Tipico—which owner Jesse Crouse hopes will be the city's vanguard—opened just a few short weeks ago in the city's West Side.
Crouse is a Chicago-area native who got his coffee feet wet working with Intelligentsia Coffee. He later worked with Ithaca, NY's Gimme! Coffee, before picking up stakes from climatically opposite Santa Cruz, CA, and a gig with Verve Coffee Roasters to move back to his wife's hometown of Buffalo and strike out on his own. Crouse, who says he's loved Buffalo for the eight years he's known it through his wife (the poet and occasional Sprudge contributor Kristen Orser-Crouse) finds inspiration in the city's combination of old- and new-school thinking.
“There's 80-year-olds carving amazing roast beef in just about any suburb here, and there's just so much grit and actual work life that has happened here, and I love that,” Crouse told me on an unseasonably balmy Buffalo November morning over a plate of ricotta toast with jam. “When I thought about opening my own business, I thought about a place that I love—where amazing high-quality things have been happening for years and years and years.”
Not only did Crouse luck into a Buffalo family by marriage, he had a little luck finding a space for Tipico. The unique curved-front Fargo Avenue building—a near century-old former grocery store—had been more or less set aside by the landlord who was waiting to rent it to the perfect coffee shop. The near-turnkey setup made Crouse's four-month build-out process a smooth one, and came with unusual gems like the shop's soon-to-be-winter-famous kachelofen, a wall-length, built-in masonry heater that stretches lengthwise across most of one wall, accented by bright blue tiles. The kachelofen is built for sitting (and I daresay, reclining) on, and will have its charms well-tested by the approaching Buffalo winter.
Crouse didn't have to install the kachelofen—the largest horizontal one of its kind in North America, he tells me—but he did have to fit out the space with coffee equipment, and decide exactly what to serve his new community. A La Marzocco Linea EE anchors the back wall of the bar alongside a Mahlkönig K30 Twin grinder, while baristas—all more or less new to coffee and trained by Crouse—prepare pour-over selections on Kalita Wave drippers at the front, or grab Fetco-brewed cups of “Quick Cup” for those seeking more immediate relief.
A rotating selection of coffee roasters will be anchored by Wisconsin's Ruby Coffee Roasters as well as Detour Coffee, from just a little over an hour around the curve of Lake Ontario in Burlington, Canada.
“I wanted to be able to know and trust the buying programs that the companies I was buying from have, and I wanted to be supported by and support other small businesses by purchasing coffee from them,” said Crouse. “The coffee program revolves really around highlighting amazing coffees on batch brew in our ‘quick cup' format, single-origin coffees, drinkable coffees, maybe slightly complex coffees too from Ethiopia or high-elevation Colombias. I want to wow people with that.”
Food offerings—Crouse believes he may offer the first-ever avocado toast in Erie County—are simple but flavorful and rely on local sourcing. “I didn't want my customer base to have to survive on butter, sugar, salt, and flour as their only vehicles for sustenance when they're in my shop,” said Crouse, who tapped baking cooperative Breadhive for the foundations for a trio of toasts, a salami baguette with aged goat gouda, and a twist on grilled cheese made with the shop's handmade ricotta. Ithaca Milk yogurt provides quick New York State dairy sustenance, and don't forget to top whatever you'd like with a sous-vide egg. Finally, a house-made coconut milk serves as a dairy alternative, which Crouse cautions doesn't steam handsomely, but “is literally the most delicious thing.”
But for all his enthusiasm, might it not be hard for Tipico to become a Buffalonian local's hub when Crouse is still, for all intents and purposes, a newcomer?
“One of the biggest pillars that I think Tipico coffee is centered around is hospitality,” Crouse answered. “Trying to bring coffee that is expensive and has a lot more integrity from a supply chain aspect, with a story, to consumers is something that I want to do gracefully and also empathetically.”
Relying on Buffalo-based suppliers whenever possible and working closely with his West Side neighborhood is paying off so far. I notice as we walk around the neighborhood together that Crouse says hello to everyone he passes on the street—and like they're old neighbors already, they greet him back. On this particular morning, the shop only four days old, a community has already begun to gather around the shop, meeting for work, crochet dates, or just a slice of avocado toast in the sun-flooded light of Tipico's gargantuan windows. In the summer these same windows can accordion open, letting in the city's ever-precious season of temperate air.
“So far it's been amazing,” Crouse tells me. “People have ordered pour-overs by the gallons.” For a city like Buffalo, enjoying a cultural resurgence and attracting new businesses like Tipico, he's already begun to achieve his primary goal. “I don't want people to be confused about what coffee CAN be.”
Liz Clayton is the associate editor at Sprudge.com, based in Brooklyn. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.