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Modcup Coffee is on the move. Partners Justin Hicks and Travas Clifton are relocating their roasting operation to Journal Square later this year, opposite the Mana Contemporary arts center, and their mobile roasting truck, a retrofitted 1969 Citroen H-Van, is now in residence weekdays at the Hyatt Regency (2 Exchange Place, 201-469-1234). “The Hyatt found us on social media and said, ‘We like your truck, we like your brand image’ and asked if we could work together,” recalls Hicks. “At the same time we needed a spot for the truck, and we wanted to stay in Jersey City.”
Unlike the Intelligentsia coffee truck parked in the courtyard of Chelsea’s High Line Hotel, Modcup’s Citroen isn’t stationary, even as it entered this country in pieces. “Two years ago, Clifton found it in Normandy, France. He had it torn apart, put in a shipping container, and shipped here,” says Hicks. After taking it to a Citroen specialist near Toms River, the truck was reassembled, its ceiling raised to accommodate Clifton’s six-two frame, and retrofitted with vintage lever-pulled espresso machines reminiscent of their first Hoboken coffee cart, a Marco Ecoboiler for temperature-controlled hot water, and nitro tanks and taps for their Ethiopian Adado cold brew.
There’s an ice machine too, and fridges under the counter for milk, but Hicks insists their nitro cold brew, poured at 34 degrees, requires neither. “Stumptown went the opposite spectrum. Theirs is more light, like tea, while ours is heavier, creamier,” says Hicks. “The goal with nitro is to have something heavy-bodied like you have milk in it but don’t need it. I don’t know what Stumptown is doing, but we’re using a lot of pressure to achieve that texture.”
Another way Modcup separates itself from its competition is by only selling its cold brew in concentrate. “It’s better than bottling just cold brew — it’s more flexible,” insists Hicks. “Instead of saying this is all you get, we’re offering an elixir. You can see it in cocktails, you can hit it with hot water for instant coffee, hit it with milk. The drink is as limited as you are as an individual.” They’ve also seen customers apply the concentrate to barbecue sauces and to beer, which has spawned Modcup’s latest collaboration, with South Jersey brewery Forgotten Boardwalk. “We took half our nitro and half a can of their vanilla beer, and it’s unbelievable — it was like root beer. So we’re moving forward, tailor-roasting for a cold-brew concentrate they can use in their beer.”
The truck’s biggest feature, literally, is a 2.5-kilo mobile roaster. “The idea is to bring fresh coffee to the general public so they can experience the sight, smell, taste, and feel of freshly roasted coffee,” says Hicks, who plans to demo their half-dozen daily brews and give out samples.
And while it’s not a proper production roaster, those are about to reach a wider audience as well. Modcup plans to relocate its roasting facilities this fall, and launch a new mobile initiative as well. “We’re moving our entire roasting operation to Journal Square, to a brand-new condo complex opposite the Mana Contemporary arts building, but we’re doing something really unusual,” says Clifton. “We had wanted to have a roastery and café under the same roof, but we didn’t want to force people from Mana to come across the road.” Instead they’ve developed self-contained espresso bars on wheels they can push across the street for arts events, and around the city as well, taking the temperature of neighborhoods ripe for expansion in a way their Ecoboiler can’t.
Adam Robb is a food and travel writer based in Jersey City.