Moscow paths can take you as far as…New York City, or the West Village, to be more precise. Just take a five-minute walk from one of Moscow’s central metro stations and you will find yourself in Moscow’s Khamovniki district, with its buzzing atmosphere and hoards of like-minded creative people. No chance of getting lost—the unmistakable sounds of jazz coming from behind a massive wooden door with a recognizable green and white street sign will lead you to West 4 Coffee Brew Bar, a little slice of Manhattan in Moscow. The effect is intentional: founders of West 4 Coffee Brew Bar, Maria Raylyan and Konstantin Dmitrienko, point directly to iconic NYC specialty coffee chain Joe as an inspiration. I caught up with Maria Raylyan to find out how the West 4 team managed to spice up this storied street in Russia’s capital with some modern Big Apple spirit.
Maria, as far as I know, it hasn’t been long since you dived into the coffee industry. What’s your story?
Three years ago, I was working in a huge business center where I used to witness a never-ending queue of white collar workers longing for their midday espresso shot. It made me think that selling coffee in a high-traffic area was a business idea definitely worth pursuing. Over one of our Skype chats, I shared my thoughts with Konstantin who was then studying in New York. We agreed that running a pop-up chain is a promising business model that has a chance to work out well in Moscow, but both of us wanted people to feel the spirit behind our business. That was quite clearly incompatible with speed brewing in a pop-up, and so we gradually arrived at the idea of an independent coffee shop.
So I guess the Manhattan style comes from Konstantin?
Exactly. Konstantin was lucky enough to live in the West Village and he was absolutely charmed by its inclusive atmosphere and enthusiasm all around: the place was always swarming with street performers, musicians, artists and other creative people encouraging joyous human connection. Craving to see it with my own eyes, I flew over to New York and a tete-a-tete meeting with its local culture only further convinced me I wanted to recreate it in Moscow.
While the philosophy of our future coffee shop was clearly outlined, the coffee aspect was still an unknown land for us. Brimming over with the coolest coffee bars, New York was an ideal place to start our immersion into the mysterious world of coffee. The bar was set high for us: during our coffee crawl, we were lucky enough to visit the coolest places like Blue Bottle or Joe and we got absolutely enamored with the latter. We thought it would be great to learn from the guys and Konstantin even took a barista course at Joe’s New York Pro Shop. The Joe team is also responsible for hosting our very first cupping and they also helped us with choosing a supplier. We opted for Cafe Imports and we have been successfully working with them since.
Were there any ideas you had to give up on?
Surely there were some. In the very beginning, we just didn’t have enough knowledge and experience to evaluate the insanity of our grandiose delusions. One of the craziest ideas we had was to ship coffee already roasted. However, very soon we got to realize that it was beyond possible; it can take up to one and a half months for a coffee batch to make its way across the ocean. That is why we only source green beans now and roast locally.
When did West 4 Coffee Brew Bar actually open?
Almost a year ago. The place we embarked on used to be an interior shop, so the build-out had to be completely transformed. The process was full of surprises: when we ripped off the drywall to the brick, we discovered a hidden window and a copper tube of the heating system that was still working! The building is almost a century old. Exposed brick walls set the perfect background and immediately added character to the place, which now resembled the style of a New York loft. Just what the doctor ordered!
What about the decisions behind your gear selection?
Quite obviously, we wanted to keep up with our teachers from the best NYC coffee shops in this aspect as well, which left us with relatively few choices to make. We are equipped with a snow-white La Marzocco GB5 espresso machine. In regards to grinders, for espresso, we started off with a Mazzer Robur, but then shifted to a Nuova Simonelli Mythos. For brew grinding we use a Ditting 805.
I can see the American inspiration here in terms of interior, coffees, and equipment. But what about your initial intent? How do you recreate that West Village spirit?
Once we had a very special guest: a tourist from America who happened to live in the West Village. Once he stepped across the threshold, he threw a glance at our mellow-sounding vinyl record player, casually leafed through the photo books scattered on the tables, checked the New York map we proudly placed above our beautiful coffee machine and said, “Feels like I never left home!” For us, that is by far the most compelling evidence that we have managed to turn our idea into reality.
We do our best to keep the creative juices flowing. Almost every Friday night, West 4 Coffee Brew Bar plays host to live jazz and other soulful music. Sometimes we team up with different young projects to bring all ages and backgrounds together for some creative workshops and master classes. One of the most popular workshops we had was drawing with coffee: I think we even brought to light some hidden talents.
We also display young and emerging artists in our coffee bar. Most of the time, our temporary exhibitions are NYC-themed, so all the artworks we show perfectly complement the interior, adding a hip Manhattan spirit to the atmosphere.
What are your plans for the near future?
Just a few days ago, we opened our second bar within a shared space with the Chop-Chop barbershop. We knew this espresso and barber shop combination is trending now in America and beyond, but we didn’t yet have a plan to go for it here in Moscow. The concept was born out of a lucky coincidence: our barista and coach, while getting his monthly haircut, got totally frustrated at the sight of the Chop-Chop’s empty bar counter that definitely lacked our charming La Marzocco Linea. And in a few days it was there. And next, we’ll be opening our third cafe in the center of Moscow!
Darya Afanasyeva is a coffee professional based in Moscow. Read more Darya Afanasyeva on Sprudge.