Q&A: The Chipped Cup's Karen Cantor and Andrew Ding on the Coffee House Scene in Harlem, Part 2
Chipped Cup coffee bar created out of re-furbished Singer sewing machine
Yesterday, Fork in the Road ran the first installment of this interview with owners Karen Cantor and Andrew Ding of the Chipped Cup, a new coffee shop in Harlem. Today, we follow-up and chat about the neighborhood and more.
What inspired the décor?
KC: When we first started thinking about the signage we quickly realized we couldn't really compete with all the other businesses on the block. There is a lot of visual clutter, from bright signs to flashing lights, along Broadway. We decided instead to be subtle. We found someone who does old time New York paintings on buildings and he painted our logo right onto the wall. Our whole vibe here is kind of vintage because I just really like vintage-y kinds of things.
KC: And all of the furniture we have is re-purposed. Andrew created our bar stools and my dad built out our bar, and a friend of ours made the tabletops.
The only other place nearby to get coffee in this area would be the Starbucks on 145th right?
KC: Oh yea. When we first started this we decided that we were going to do coffee right and take it very seriously. Coffee is a very easy thing to do very badly. That's why we chose the roaster that we did, which is Counter Culture.
AD: Counter Culture is really great because of where their coffee is sourced. Coffee beans are graded on a scale from 1- 100. Counter Culture consistently buys above 85, but they're not just buying the best beans they're involved in the farming. They help coffee bean farmers by entering into partnerships with them to help them to grow and be sustainable from year to year.
KC: They have a direct trade relationship with the farmers, and the three main companies that do this are Counter Culture, Stumptown and Intelligentsia. If I placed an order today the beans we would get would be shipped and roasted today, so they are super fresh.
How does coffee reach Chipped Cup standard?
KC: When you make coffee there are a lot of steps involved, and to learn we were all trained by the US barista champion, Katie Carguilo. Counter culture has a training lab in Chelsea and we worked with them for a few weeks.
Did you already know a lot about coffee?
KC: I knew but not really. I've always been an avid coffee drinker but I wasn't quite the geek that I am now. There is definitely a whole subculture of coffee geeks who are very serious about the preparation and enjoyment of coffee. It's a part of this whole third wave of coffee where it's not just this caffeine delivery system or where, at Starbucks, you're paying for this weird corporate lifestyle. It's about actually enjoying the coffee and identifying the different tasting notes and flavor profiles of a coffee farm, for example, in Honduras versus one in Guatemala.
And you also sell pastries?
KC: Yea, our pastries are from a bakery called Ceci Cela and our bagels are from Kossars on the Lower East Side. We also have Boylin's sodas and Rishi tea.
AD: We're also the only place in the US that's currently carrying a brand of an Australian tea mixer called Devotea.
What's in the future of The Chipped Cup?
AD: We want to bring in more savory dishes. We have some ideas like a gourmet grilled cheese menu.
KC: Everything we do we want to keep simple and try to focus on sourcing good ingredients. People come in constantly and ask for sandwiches. Are you interested in selling sandwiches?
KC: Only a few things. We're not going to be a full service cafe. Our focus is coffee, and we think of ourselves as an espresso and coffee bar. But it would be nice, since everyone is asking for it, if we could do a couple of small things. The other things that we're really trying to source are gluten-free and vegan pastries because we get so many requests for it. We have a heck of a time getting people to deliver up here actually. A lot of people don't want to deliver uptown. Is that an issue that happens regularly?
AD: Oh yea. Our milk delivery only happens once a week. Why? Because they don't have enough accounts up here for the man power it would take.
KC: The only reason they even agree to deliver to us is because another coffee shop just opened on La Salle and they are using our same milk.
AD: It's crazy but people seem to think that it's like the Wild West up here. Even the residents here are absolutely baffled when they see the people who come here. They say 'I thought I was the only student here or I thought I was the only musician'.
What have your customers been like so far?
KC: Our customers are definitely pretty eclectic.
AD: It's also interesting because there are a lot of residents up here with a Dominican background and they have a long history with coffee, and have very strong opinions about how they take their coffee. It creates an interesting cultural exchange up here that might not happen somewhere else.
KC: Exactly. The other day we had a fellow come in who asked us for a flat white.
What's a flat white?
AD: A flat white is an Australian invention. It's a latte in a smaller cup so that the ratio of espresso to milk is less, it probably has more of the ratio of a cappuccino. It has low foam, which is why it's called a flat white. You hold a spoon or a knife while you're pouring to stop the foam from coming in, which gives it a really velvety, milky texture that's very smooth and delicious.
KC: That's the interesting thing about coffee culture is that everyone has their own unique ideas about coffee. I remember my grandpa introduced me to coffee and it was Folgers. Everyone has these very personal and emotional, sometimes, associations with coffee. Interacting with those different experiences in a coffeehouse setting gets very interesting and it offers a rich way to exchange different perspectives through the medium of coffee.
The Chipped Cup is located at 3610 Broadway and open Mon- Fri 7a.m. - 7p.m. and Sat-Sun 8a.m.- 7p.m. You can also find them on Facebook.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.