One report has it that many centuries ago a disciple to Sheikh Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhili, named Omar, was known for his ability to cure the sick through prayer. For one reason or another he was exiled from Mocha to a desert cave near Ousab. Having no food available, Omar proceeded to chew the berries from a nearby shrubbery, but found them to be bitter. He tried roasting the beans to improve the flavor, but they became too hard to eat. Omar was nothing if not determined, and he tried boiling them to soften the bean, which resulted in a fragrant brown liquid. Upon drinking the liquid Omar was revitalized. As stories of this “miracle drug” reached Mocha, Omar was brought back to the city and made a saint. Which was probably too low an honor for some people.
“Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all”. – David Lynch
The New York Coffee Festival invaded Manhattan this past weekend. Four floors of coffee and coffee related products filled the massive Metropolitan Pavilion on 18th Street as thousands of potential consumers took in the sights, sounds and smells of the annual event. According to a survey from the National Coffee Association, over 83 percent of adults drink coffee in America and while they might be a tad biased you certainly wouldn’t know it from the crowds. Coffee from all over the city and all over the world was present, most of which was free for sampling. Considering that there are over 1700 coffee shops in the New York City area, it seemed a natural fit.
“No matter what historians claimed, BC really stood for Before Coffee.” – Cherise Sinclair
There was coffee from India, from Haiti, from Vietnam, from Brazil, from Korea, from Italy, from Sweden and more. There was coffee with alcohol, coffee without alcohol, decaf coffee, bitter coffee, sweet coffee, light coffee, dark coffee, coffee with chocolate, coffee with honey, coffee with nuts, organic coffee, not so organic coffee and so on. Surprisingly, a large number of the roasters present at the Festival came from as unlikely a source as Brooklyn, and were advertising their own special brew. These they sold both at their shops as well as distributed it to other mom and pop coffee houses. Almost everyone who was there sold and marketed their ware online these days, with some even forgoing the typical brick and mortar shops in favor of the rent free world of cyber space. Low overhead and specific orders make using the internet extremely attractive.
“The powers of a man’s mind are directly proportioned to the quantity of coffee he drinks.” Sir James Mackintosh.
As AJ and I walked the four huge floors of the exposition (her job was to take all the pictures) we got to talk to a number of the participants, each of whom had their own unique, personal story to tell. More than 500 merchants were in attendance, and none of them were lonely as visitors lined up in droves, plying them with questions about where they were from, what sort of coffee they made, what made their coffee different from the others, etc. Some of the vendors came from just a few blocks away while others traveled more than half the world to get there but all seemed excited to be part of it. There was Oceana Coffee Roasters, started by Scott Angelo, a transplant to Florida who really just wanted a decent cup of coffee. Having no luck with the local brewers he decided to take matters into his own hands. He bought a $35 popcorn maker off Ebay, turned it into a coffee roaster and the rest is history.
There was Pellini Coffee, from Verona, Italy, the city made famous by the star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. There is even a tomb in Verona which supposedly houses Juliet’s body. For the young lady selling the espresso (very strong and very rich, perfect for my tastes) this was her first trip to New York and she couldn’t have been more thrilled. She was extremely excited about going to Little Italy after the festival, although a bit nervous about navigating the serpentine path of the cities subway. (She should not have felt alone, many New Yorkers don’t know how to get to Little Italy.) AJ assured her it was perfectly safe. She should know since she’s been riding the subway since she was three months old.
Red Rooster Coffee hails from down south in Virginia but they work closely with the countries of Ethiopia, Colombia and Burundi, making it a truly international company. They boast a number of awards to their credit, including first place in the Good Foods Award for their Washed Ethiopia Hambela.
Devocion is one of these companies which sounds international, and it is when it comes to their beans, but it’s also one of those who actually started in Brooklyn. As their website states, “Deep in Colombia’s most inaccessible zones, we develop long-term relationships with coffee growers, paying fair-trade prices and above, while establishing social and environmental programs to help secure their future. We bring progress and pride to growers in regions that have suffered during Colombia’s long-lasting internal conflict. All our beans are dry milled in Bogota, and rapidly shipped to the USA via FedEx for roasting. This means we can guarantee newly roasted, ultra-fresh coffee so that the cup you hold in your hands still breathes the mists of the Colombian campo.” The short version is, ‘we take good care of our workers and are concerned about the environment.’ All to the good, but more importantly, it’s a damn fine cup of coffee.
“Life is like coffee. The darker it gets, the more it energizes.” Ankita Singhal
As you would expect with four floors filled in the Metropolitan Pavilion, there were plenty of items which were NOT coffee as well. There were cookies, and cakes, and pies, and muffins; there was an entire area devoted to chocolate, there was live music, there were movies, there was art, there were creamers and coffee enhancers and more. Tickets for the event are not cheap, by the way. It costs $40 at the door to attend the festival and $150 if you want the Super VIP Multi Day Access, which includes unlimited 3-day access, The New York Coffee Festival limited-edition tote bag, 2 x coffee cocktail tokens, priority access and The New York Coffee Guide 2020 book. Still, with the price of coffee being what it is these days, $40 for unlimited samplings is undoubtedly a bargain!
All photos taken by A.J. Sportiello