Sunday, May 23, 2010


"Beyond Roasting the Perfect Bean"

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Espresso wasn’t invented in Seattle,” says Mitchel Margulis, and he would know. Once director of training for Lavazza (“They took a Jewish kid from Queens and turned me into an espresso expert”) and co-founder of a microbatch roaster in Farmingdale, Long Island, Margulis has recently joined the growing ranks of Brooklyn coffee roasters, which range from veterans like Gillies to buzzy West Coast arrivals like Stumptown and Blue Bottle. His new brand, Stone Street Coffee Co., has slowly started to infiltrate the scene, appearing in restaurants like Tao and the new Terroir Tribeca, whose co-owner, sommelier Paul Grieco, discovered it last December and may be its biggest fan. "It's probably the best espresso I've ever had in New York," he says. "I was devastated by how good it was: brilliant flavor, length, balance, good acidity, and perfect crema."

As its name implies, Stone Street has true New York roots. It was born in August 2008, when Harry and Peter Poulakakos, the father-and-son team who colonized that cobblestoned stretch of the financial district with a mini-empire of restaurants, were looking for a new private-label coffee purveyor for their Financier Patisserie chain. The search led them to Margulis’s Real Coffee Corp., where Harry sat on the couch, had an espresso, and said, “This is it.” When the Poulakakoses learned the 1,000-square-foot suburban operation was too small to supply Financier, which is slated to open its seventh branch in Union Square this fall, they bought the company, relocated it to a 16,000-square-foot warehouse on 9th Street in Gowanus, and changed the name to Stone Street. They also agreed to invest in the high-tech equipment required to run what Margulis and his partner Stewart Cooper call “a turbocharged micro-roaster,” able to supply Financier, new wholesale accounts, and the two Stone Street–branded coffee bars the Poulakakoses plan to open in downtown Manhattan later this year (and perhaps another at the roastery itself).

In addition to a computerized system of roasters, destoners, silos, mixers, and packagers, the spiffy new plant is outfitted with a kitchen lab where baristas can train on equipment ranging from Chemex carafes to a Yama cold-brew siphon. Margulis roasts to order to guarantee freshness and describes his coffees as more European in style, by which he means on the darker side — a bit of an anomaly in these lighter-roasted days. And he’s challenging the orthodoxy in another way. “There’s a movement now toward single origins,” he says. “I prefer blends. Espresso is very complex, and single origin can’t satisfy all of its needs.” His mission, as he sees it, extends beyond roasting the perfect bean. “We’ve been inundated,” he says. “We’re trying to take back coffee on the East Coast.”