What began as a kind of coffee delivery and general specialty ambassadorship service has blossomed into a full-fledged brick-and-mortar shop in the heart of Astoria, New York.
We first spoke with Ohio natives Dennis Lee and Liz Wick about their intentions to open Astoria Coffee last Spring, and the shop recently opened its doors at 3004 3oth St., at the intersection of 30th St. and 30th Ave. Lee says the approach is to maintain an open and relaxed approach to coffee service, with the goal of engaging with customers over coffees from roasters throughout the country.
The shop is currently featuring coffees from Cincinnati’s Deeper Roots Coffee, while past roasters the Astoria team has worked with include Commonwealth Coffee (Denver), Topeca Coffee Roasters (Tulsa, Ok.), Cafe Brioso (Columbus, Ohio), Ceremony Coffee Roasters (Annapolis, Md.), Demitasse Coffee (Los Angeles), True Stone Coffee Roasters (St. Paul) and Golden Pine Coffee Roasters (Black Forest, Colo,).
Now that the dust at Astoria Coffee has settled, we asked Lee about the shop, the space and Astoria’s approach to coffee service in one of New York’s up-and-coming coffee neighborhoods.
Why Astoria, the place?
We’ve lived here for about 4 years now and felt that the community was a good fit for the kind of business we wanted to open. Our space has high ceilings, about 20 feet, with floor-to-ceiling windows. We were attracted to the open feel this created, along with the abundance of natural light.
What kind of feel were you going for in the design, and how did you want the bar area to function?
Our primary goal with the design was to make the place inviting and comfortable. We wanted to create a laid back and casual atmosphere. Our intent for the bar area was to create a space for people to hang out where they could socialize with other customers and also with anyone behind the bar. We also do slow coffee like pourovers at the bar and the way it’s laid out gives any curious customers a chance to see it happen and ask questions.
What do you look for in your roaster partners? Are there any guiding principles for seeking out coffee?
Our concept is to feature roasters from all over the country on a rotating basis, and we’re working toward keeping more than one roaster on bar at any time. We had a chance to work with several roasters as part of our whole bean delivery program, and in addition to the coffee, we took note of people who were easy to work with in terms of communication, flexibility and customer service. In terms of coffee, we like to highlight the variety of roasting styles and sourcing methods, so we hope to eventually serve a broad range coffees. We don’t necessarily have guiding principles for the seeking-out process; we basically contact any roasters that pique our interest and see how things go from there.
How did you shape the menu?
We currently serve espresso and milk drinks, drip coffee, Japanese iced coffee brewed hot directly onto ice, a Japanese iced barley tea called mugicha, tea from a company called Tea Pigs, and ice cream from a company called Ice and Vice. We also serve affogatos.
What is all this good stuff getting brewed with?
We use a 2 group Synesso Hydra and Mahlkonig EK43 and K30 Vario for grinders. We have all sorts of manual brewing equipment around for “off-menu” ordering, if people are curious and we have time.
What were the takeaways from your first build out?
This is our first time opening a brick-and-mortar shop and we were also working with a tough municipality, so there were certainly challenges For example, the build out took longer than expected and cost more than we had anticipated. There were also additional costs involved as construction went on. I could probably write a book on this topic actually, but that said, we spoke with as many shop owners as we could before and during the process, and it seems there’s a general consensus to expect the unexpected.
What kind of experience do you hope to create for customers walking into the shop?
We take the coffee portion of our business seriously but our goal is to first be a hospitality company, so we like to make everything approachable. We don’t necessarily call attention to the fact that we take care in sourcing and preparing coffee, but our hope is that our efforts speak for themselves. That said, we do hope that we can become a destination for coffee seekers, given that we work with roasters that aren’t commonly found in New York, or are not represented here at all.