The New York Coffee Festival

By Luis Vazquez

The New York Coffee Festival at the 69th Regiment Armory highlighted the international impact coffee derives from the four corners of the earth. Whether it was being grown, brewed, or mixed into new forms, Coffee has as many stories as brands that are available.

One of the motivations for new companies that form that make coffee, tea, or Matcha, are to fill a void. The husband-wife combo has been the jumpstart to businesses such as Café Grumpy, to provide the type of coffee that was lacking in Brooklyn.

Michelle Gardner, owner of “Chai Lait”, changed careers to take on the mission of providing the type of Matcha that she enjoyed living in Hong Kong. “I started drinking Matcha a long time ago, and grew up drinking a lot of tea.” Michelle recalled, “I lived in Hong Kong five years back and was traveling through Japan a lot drinking the Matcha and fell in love with it specifically. In the U.S, I had a hard time finding the tea shops with hi-quality Matcha.”

Michelle took on the role of middle man to bring this to New York City. Now located at 224 West 4th Street, in Manhattan, the road to bringing this product from the farm to her shop here is an interesting one. “I decided that opening a Matcha Café would be perfect for what I want to introduce to the Western market.” Michelle explained, “Matcha we serve at the shop is from the UGI region of Japan. The Macha from there is phenomenal. It’s well known and where it originates from and farmers take great care in producing some of the best tea around the world.”

But what sets her product apart from the rest is the variety of choices given. By blending traditional with a flexible alternative, “Cha Lait” brings different looks to the same item. “We serve it traditionally and also put a western twist to it. Lattes, we infuse it with food items, so we demonstrate the versatility of Macha.” Michelle explained. “I wanted to showcase the different grades of Macha so we have two ceremonial grades, one is a more premium grade, one is for everyday drinking. The difference between the two is a lot in flavor. Top grade is a little earthier, very smooth and sweet as well, where the everyday grade is very easy drinking, very mellow and smooth as well. We focus on a duel beverage program, great coffee and tea. There’s always room for both.”

Starbucks Reserve was also on hand to focus on the importance of terrain to provide the raw material for your cup of coffee. One rep summarized why. “We always loved coffee from the Asian pacific regions. That’s one of the unique things about coffee is that it is an agricultural product.” He pointed out, “So wherever it’s from, grown, the micro-climate, the processing, plays a major impact on its flavor.”

Among the vendors that caught my eye was Witloft, who in 2014, was created to provide handmade aprons that were made from vegetally tanned leather. As a multi-use item, it is important to note that when coffee is brewed and served, it’s important to be look professional and protect against staining.

Another unique story comes from a company based in South Korea, who originally were into the semi-conductor business for twenty years. Interestingly they took the premise and used it to work on the perfect coffee maker. This company, Cafflano Klassic, produced a four chamber cup that included a grinder, filter dropper, tumbler, and drip kettle and cover.

Justin Ahn, a newcomer to the business shared his story. “We just joined the coffee busy two months. Not a specialist at all, just running. I didn’t even know there was a coffee festival until two weeks ago.” Ahn explained, “I went from being a semi-conductor marketing director to suddenly a coffee company in USA. All the people are gentile and nice, friendly, casual. Not like financial guys.”

One of the key points he referred back to often is how environmentally appealing this maker is. “We love nature, it’s really echo free. We don’t make garbage. No paper is used, small amount of water, easy to wash.” Ahn excitedly pointed it out, “We worry about nature for our kids, hundreds use it a day. This is nothing but coffee bean, easy to dispose, we are very proud of that.”

The product was worked on for two years. Success was not expected when they entered a European contest in Sweden where they won the safe prize. “Some guys really like coffee and suddenly YB (Young) Lee, (President of the company in USA), he got this idea and we did this all together with an eye on nature but flexible.” Justin Ahn closed out and followed up by demonstrating this four in one product.

There even was a Coffee Art Project wall, an Expresso Martini Bar, and charities like “Project Waterfall” which raised the issues of financial troubles for those who work hard to bring the product into our hands. Charities here continue to raise money to bring clean water to coffee producing countries like Tanzania and Ethiopia. Cafeo Kreyol worked towards solving poverty issues in Haiti. The most heartwarming story came out of Rwanda’s 3 African Sisters. This company used the non-coffee season to promote artistic products like dolls and painted bowls to give women work to maintain themselves when otherwise they would have nothing to do for a half year.

Coffee has as many stories as there are countries that are involved in the drink we take for granted as we buy it to function in the fast paced city life. As a part of Coffee Week NYC, which was added by Allegria Events to complement the festivals they held Amsterdam and London, we learned alot about the booming coffee scene which made this festival something to see and learn from the innovators of the products displayed this past week.

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