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Industry

June 8, 2012

Toby’s Estate in New York

Toby Smith opened his first coffee shop in Sydney 15 years ago. 15 years later, and it’s not just another coffee shop in Sydney – or even Australia for that matter. No, sights set high, Toby has gone to the USA and into a suburb of New York called Williamsburg.

If you’ve never been to New York, you just can’t imagine the pace of life here. People racing down the street, office workers dressed in suits wearing trainers, hoping to get those extra few milliseconds on the guy next to him running for one of the thousands of yellow cabs that own the streets of New York. Once at the office, they change their shoes and start the day – at speed!

Didn’t have time to stop and grab a coffee! No problem, it will be delivered – like anything else you need or want. Millions of people doing the same each day, looking more like an ant colony if viewed from above. Now don’t get me wrong; I love it. I’ve had an apartment in Manhattan for a few years now and to be honest, I love getting away from the quiet life of Sydney and heading for the noise and pace of life in New York.

Coffee in the US is still generally bulk brewed coffee – hot brown liquid with a taste profile ranging from hot water to gravy browning, but rarely coffee as recognised in Australia. Before going over to Williamsburg to check out the new Toby’s, I thought I’d look up a few of the other new cafés that have popped up in NYC over the past month or so.

On of the best, I’m told, is a new café called Macchiato, just off Madison Avenue. It promises great coffee – real coffee made by Italians on an Italian machine. I hoped … but hopes were dashed as I was given my coffee … a long black with no sign of crema, no real aroma and a taste I could get from a jar of instant. Nice atmosphere, but this is not coffee.

Thankfully, I do know a place on the other side of the bridge in a small town called Williamsburg. Williamsburg is fast becoming the new community to set up home if you’re a yuppie (young upwardly mobile professional) or a family of two kids, small dog and work in Manhattan. The best way to describe it is to tell you it used to be a mill town. Now it’s a small town of quiet, tree lined streets, loft apartments, great bars and cafés set up in old buildings, shops selling stuffed cushions and all those other things you think you can’t live without once you’ve seen them in the window.

Just around the corner from Berry Street, which has a great roof top bar where you can see a panoramic view of the New York skyline, is North 6th Street. The newest shop front here is Toby’s Estate Coffee. From the outside it looks huge; grey framed, glass windows let you look though to the vast open space inside.

On a long bench outside are a dozen or so people sitting in the spring sunshine, coffee in hand, chatting and laughing. Walk through the glass entrance door and into a 3,000 square foot roastery and café bar; the familiar smell of roasted coffee hits you, and you know you are in the right place.

The space is a mix of wooden floors and brick walls, and shelving houses everything you need to set up a coffee bar at home, from a $35 machine to the latest home roaster at $6,500. There is also a retail area, a cupping room, training room and a wholesale business operating out the back of the café.

Coffee drinks are made on a three group Strada machine from La Marzocco. The operator is clearly in love with his machine, taking great pride in talking to those who want to hear about the way you can regulate the pressure of the coffee.

If you like pour over coffee, you are in luck; there is a pour over bar on the other side of the Strada. Although most Americans, I’m told, order a cappuccino, it’s not the 22 oz mug of hot milk they expect … but they come back for more, I’m told by the smiling barista.

Prize place is given over to the Probat Burns 25 kilo roaster imported from Germany, and in front of the roaster is a stack of green coffee beans waiting to be roasted. This place is not just a coffee shop; it’s a training school as well as a coffee house, where customers can ask questions of the very knowledgable  staff. You can watch what happens and smell the coffee as it turns from green bean to roasted perfection – and even take a course at the Brew School.

Food is not forgotten either; various menu items Americans would be familiar with and then one they look at with confusion – Vegemite on toast. Confused by the word and revolted by the description … few order it, I’m told, but it’s a feeling of home for Australian visitors. I’m sure Americans would love it, if only it had melted cheese on top.

So what’s it really like?
Walking though the door, you join the line of people waiting to order at the bar. Staff type in your chosen drink on an iPad, and then turn the iPad over to you so you can confirm that’s what you ordered. Paying for your drink is oh so American. As you confirm your drink order, the cost appears, and then you are asked how much tip you want to leave. It’s an American way of life to tip, but I found it a bit much that I was asked to tip the person I’d stood in line to order a coffee from.

Seating
Big space, big tables, little seating. The seating they do have is taken up by wannabe yuppies who buy a coffee and then sit for the rest of the day, iPad or Mac (not a PC to be seen) using the free internet. We stood at the end of a large bench table in the centre of the coffee shop trying to eat standing, while the other eight people sitting at the table were cruising the internet trying not to notice that we would rather sit and eat – and not one of them had coffee or food in front of them.

Coffee
The coffee was great, as you’d expect from Toby’s Estate – and a far cry from what you would usually find in the USA. Would I go back or recommend to friends? Yes, definitely, but I do warn you … if you want to eat, be prepared to stand – or get there early before the free wifi crowd arrives.

Toby’s Estate Brooklyn
125 N. 6th St, Brooklyn, NY 11249
Phone: 0011 1 347-457-6160

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Cosh works for BRITA Professional. BRITA is the official water filter partner to AASCA, Café Biz Expo, Golden Bean Awards, La Zumba Barista Cup, Melbourne International Coffee Show and BRITA Professional HotClub Barista Cup. Email professional@brita.com.au to find out more about BRITA water filtration and how you can upgrade your water filtration system.

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