In 1919, the children of former president Theodore Roosevelt went into business together. It was Kermit Roosevelt’s idea. Kermit, while exploring the Amazon Basin of Brazil with his father, had become fond of the local coffeehouses. Finding them lacking in New York City, he convinced his siblings to start one with him. And so, at 108 West 44th Street, they began the Brazilian Coffee House.
This was by no means New York’s first coffee house but it was one that was intended to have more mainstream appeal. Ethel Roosevelt handled the interior design. She papered the walls with a green and gold print of Brazilian bamboo, and hung portraits of celebrated coffee lovers, such as Voltaire, Shakespeare and their own father.
The store was handled by a young Brazilian named A. M. Salazar, however, in 1921, they had to give up the store’s name due to a legal dispute with another store that Salazar had worked at. The children settled on the Double R Coffee House, after Teddy Roosevelt and his nephew Monroe Douglas Robinson, who had also joined the business.
They eventually opened four coffee houses over New York City. For years, they attracted a vibrant, lively clientele including the American writer of pulpy, gothic fiction, H. P. Lovecraft, who penned the above ode to their coffee house.
This is just one episode in New York State’s rich and storied history with coffee roasting. A history that begins in 1793, when New York’s first coffee roaster opened a wholesale business on Pearl Street in New York City. This is according to William Uker’s exhaustive account of humanity’s relationship with coffee, “All About Coffee.”
So important is coffee to its citizens that the New York Times has deigned to lend its readers a guide of how to prepare the best coffee. One tip it doesn’t tell you, that I picked up from a barista in Brooklyn, is to filter your water first. This removes some of the impurities that interfere with the taste of the coffee grains.
It’s hard to say how many coffee roasters are currently grinding beans in New York State. By some counts, there are 93 coffee roasters in New York State. But this list is only a partial list. Our own estimate is closer to 150 roasters. Truthfully, with more roasters popping up each year, the variety of New York state roasters is innumerable.
Today is International Coffee Day. In honor of this special day, here is a short selection of some of our favorite coffee roasters in New York State:
JOE BEAN ROASTERS
Joe Bean Roasters are a Rochester-based roastery, kitchen and bar. The food and beer is good but their coffee is unique. They roast coffee using a variety of beans from all over the world, from Rwanda to Costa Rica. What makes their product special is the close relationships they have with their bean growers no matter how distant they are. Jose and Juan Pablo from San Ignacio in Peru make their fruity-flavored coffee, the Ureña Rojas Family makes their deep, buttery roast. They even have a decaf coffee, Colombia Azahar, which won the gold in the 2017 Golden Bean roasting competition.
Photo Credit: Joe Bean Roasters
“This is a coffee we are sourcing from the Ureña Rojas Family. The family has been farming for 30 years, but has recently shifted their production to high-end specialty coffees. They opened a wet-mill to process their own cherry, focusing on naturals and honeys. All processing takes place with sustainability in mind — the farm is surrounded by protected forests, and any waste products (coffee cherry skin) are composted and used as fertilizer. Coffee is depulped without the use of water, minimizing the need to filter waste water before it is reintroduced to the environment. The specific lot we are sourcing from is a black honey comprised of caturra and red catuai, and is grown at 1500 meters. In the cup, expect warm aromas of chocolate and hazelnut, with a bright apple acidity.”
DEATH WISH COFFEE COMPANY
It was Honore de Balzac who said “Coffee is a great power in my life; I have observed its effects on an epic scale.” He must have been talking about Death Wish Coffee. This roasting company based in Saratoga Springs boasts of having the world’s strongest coffee:
“Death Wish Coffee is the World’s Strongest Coffee for so many reasons. Our dark, bold flavor along with caffeine content and commitment to sustainability has allowed us to reach thousands of people looking for an extra kick in their daily cup. Our warehouse is currently located in Round Lake, NY and has over 25 hard workers from production and logistics to marketing and customer service grinding it out every day.
Upstate New York is an incredible home for the World’s Strongest Coffee. Not only is it where we opened the coffee shop that started it all, the support for Death Wish Coffee in the upstate community has been unlike anything in the world.”
-Death Wish Coffee
Photo Credit: Death Wish Coffee
Despite being as strong as they say, the coffee isn’t an overpowering and impossibly bitter blend. In fact, it’s quite smooth with delicate notes of chocolate and cherry. This coffee has its fans everywhere, even among our New York makers, “Death Wish Coffee is great if I need a nuclear-powered start to my morning and am tired of mixing my regular coffee with a large Red Bull,” says Jeff Betts of Ecovative.
“Well, I'm definitely not a coffee scientist, so if it's alright, my coffee quote will borrow from Henry Ford. He said, 'Sure they can have a Model T Ford in any color they want, as long as it's black.' I like that idea. I think FosterBuilt coffee is a good, solid, simple product. It's consistent, it's always fresh, and how you serve it is up to you.”
This is Mark Foster talking about his one-man coffee roasting operation in the Catskills, FosterBuilt. After 15 years of working in New York City as a director and filmmaker, Mark moved to Bovina in 2011 and started an inn out of a farmhouse and barn. Seeking to make himself the perfect cappuccino, Mark became a roaster. Finding himself unable to entertain all his guests with the coffee roasted from his stovetop, he converted a barbecue into a roaster. This is what he uses to roast his coffee today.
Mark only has one blend, but it’s a good one. Its body is on the heavier side, with earthy notes and fresh, loamy scent. Once in awhile, you’ll hit a richer note like butterscotch on the backbone of its aromatic pine wood flavor.
There no coffee shop, but if you contact ahead via Instagram, you can arrange to have a tasting.
ITHACA COFFEE COMPANY
Ithaca Coffee Company is a USDA organic certified, small-batch, specialty coffee roaster based in Ithaca, New York. While they maintain a consistent stable of roasts, they are always searching and experimenting for new and outstanding coffee flavors. Started in 2004 with just one store roasting coffee, they have greatly increased the size of their operations. They now have two locations in Ithaca, have added taverns and bakeries to them, and in 2012, they even opened their own homebrewing store for coffee enthusiasts.
Photo Credit: Ithaca Coffee Company
Here’s what they have to say about their coffee:
“We roast as many as twenty different single origin coffees in addition to our year round coffee blends, sourcing beans from estates and co-ops which grow and process coffees that are unique, high quality, and feature exotic flavors, textures, and enticing aromas. Our head roaster is a Culinary Institute of America graduate and experienced chef, bringing an exceptional and educated palate to the roasting process. Our mission is to roast each coffee to a degree that best expresses its unique inherent qualities, favoring clarity, aroma, and sweetness. To this end, careful time and attention is spent experimenting with each and every coffee to determine the ideal roast profile.”
This coffee is packaged with an Alzheimer's Association purple label. For every bag purchased, Ithaca Coffee Company will contribute $2 to the Central New York Alzheimer's Association. It is a heavy-bodied single origin coffee that has a chocolate and spiced aroma.
TIERRA COFFEE ROASTERS
Tierra Farm started in the mid-90s as an organic vegetable farm in the Finger Lakes region of New York. As the farm began branching out, they started roasting nuts and granola. The next step was micro-roasting coffee. Then 2011, Tierra Coffee Roasters was born as a coffee shop in Albany, New York on Madison Avenue.
Photo Credit: Tierra Coffee Roasters
Tierra Farm are members of NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York) and their products are fair trade. They are one of the most socially and environmentally conscious businesses in New York State. They micro-roast coffee in a facility running almost entirely on solar power and make all their baked goods with organic ingredients. For a coffee lover and locavore, this is the “cleanest” way to consume coffee.
“My all-time favorite blend is the Blonde Blend — I love strong brew but this light roast is creamy and rich indulgence with a naturally sweet tone. I drink it black or with a bit of cream.”
-Audra Herman, New York Maker’s Marketplace Director
UTICA COFFEE ROASTING COMPANY
In 2002, Frank Elias sought to revive the economically-depressed parts of downtown Utica, New York. Hoping to revitalize the inner city by creating jobs, he purchased property at 92 Genesee Street and turned it into the home base for the Utica Coffee Roasting Company. In the creation of his roasting business, Frank was able to source much of his roasting equipment locally, including his coffee bean cooling bins. The company’s branding assets were all sourced from downtown Utica too. They hire local, purchase local and sell local. Everything is locally sourced, apart from their specialty coffee beans which are drawn from all over the world. Utica Coffee Roasting Company is dedicated to helping its local community, practicing sustainable business practices and bringing its people the best coffee around.
Photo Credit: Utica Coffee Roasting Company
Try: Colombia Organic
I had the pleasure of trying this single origin coffee myself. This is one of the lighter coffees on the list, but it’s surprisingly fragrant with notes of walnut and frequently a sharper hint of molasses come through. Though not as acidic as coffees from other parts of the world tend to be, there is still a welcome tartness to it that you might not find in other Colombian roasts.
While these are our Back to the Grind picks, we also reached out to our New York makers for their favorite New York State coffee roasters:
-Jeff Betts, Ecovative
“Irving Coffee is the best and they’re local!”
-Alicia Adams, Alicia Adams Alpaca
“I love this Brooklyn-based packaging!!”
Photo Credit: Variety Coffee Roasters
-Jann Cheifitz, Lucky Fish
“[We get our coffee] from Electric City Roasters — their coffee is amazing and we like all of their roasts.”
-Rabbit Goody, Thistle Hill Weavers
“I've been drinking Barkeater Coffee every day since I discovered them last year. They're a small roaster in East Greenbush, NY.”
-Adelia Sugarman, Owlkill Studio
“Because I love coffee, I proudly serve Brooklyn Roasting coffee at Duane Park Patisserie! They make a blend specifically for us — a blend of Viennese roast and Colombian roast. It’s delicious! I do believe Brooklyn Roasting has the best facility and best customer service in the world of coffee. They really care about their customers like Duane Park Patisserie. I am impressed with the level of consistency and customization.”
-Madeline Lanciani, Duane Park Patisserie
If you’re looking to find some new coffee blends or to meet up with other coffee lovers, the New York Coffee Festival is happening in New York City on October 13-15, 2017.