A Caffeine Fest Pours into Manhattan, Bringing Steampunk Brews and Dueling Baristas


Last weekend the 69th Regiment Armory (on Lexington and 25th) hosted the first annual “New York Coffee Festival.” Other caffeine-focused fairs have passed through Manhattan, all titled with some derivate combination of “coffee” and “NYC,” but this recent festival may have struck the perfect balance of fun, interesting, and educational. The organizers showcased new technologies, staged a barista competition, hosted global brands and local specialty roasters, offered useful seminars, and shook up coffee-based cocktails like espresso martinis — all to the beat of live music.

In total, 70 different companies (including La Marzocco, Variety, Slayer, Counter Culture, etc.) presented their coffees or equipment either through dedicated stalls, or during one of the “experiences.” For example, “The Village” experience, playing off of New York’s Greenwich Village, or “Bohemian Capital,” as they referred to it, featured a street food market, along with several young, innovative brands like indie roaster The Barn Out of Berlin. Over at the Steampunk Brew Bar (more on that below), Nobletree Coffee, Toby’s Estate, and Brooklyn Roasting all got a turn with their beans on the equipment.

Starbucks carved out a large footprint with its Reserve Bar, intended to introduce patrons to the company’s small-lot coffees, such as Sumatra Longberry, Hawaiian Ka’u, and a Vietnamese Da Lat. Unfortunately, after tasting many of the fine, nuanced cup profiles served throughout the rest of the event, all three single-origins presented to my palate as shades of char — dark, darker, and darkest — any trace of “place” erased from each selection.

In the opposite corner, twenty of the world’s best baristas fought for a $5,000 grand prize in New York’s first Coffee Masters competition (the first Masters was launched at the London Coffee Festival earlier in the year). Skills tested included blind-cupping coffees (the ability to identify samples after they’d been rearranged in a new order), latte art, speed of preparation, and creativity and craftsmanship with specialty drinks and an espresso blend.

In this short video, Sam Penix, of Everyman Espresso and a judge in the competition, spoke to the Voice about the categories and gave tips on how to spot a good coffee shop before tasting the brew. Ben Morrow from ST. ALi in Australia took home the cash prize.

While the chance for consumers to learn about new and local brands, as well as hear from industry leaders on current topics (like Devoción’s Steve Sutton’s discussion on working only with ultra-fresh beans), were key components of the festival, three technological advances proved quite interesting, too.

If you’ve ever waited at Blue Bottle for individual hand-pour service, you can now point out to them that a Brooklyn company called Poursteady has created a machine, using robotic technology, that offers (well-capitalized) coffee shops the ability to make three or even five precisely controlled pour-overs at once. Baristas can program each station with the specific measurements best suited to the coffee — for example, the amount of water, the timing of the water, and the pattern of the pour — and those measurements can be changed in real time from a Web-enabled device. According to the founder, the Poursteady doesn’t eliminate the job of the barista, it removes inconsistency while allowing coffee servers the luxury of paying greater attention to customers. Your wait time for that Colombian gesha just potentially dropped by a third.

Steampunk MOD2 by Alpha Dominche
The term “Steampunk” alone was enough to lure curious ticket holders over to the brew bar; they were then dazzled by the spectacle of an entire heating and brewing cycle on this siphon-style machine. Looking like a cross between pneumatic tubes (à la The Hudsucker Proxy, a film in which mail canisters sped up and down skyscrapers’ floors via pipes) and a high-tech French press, the Steampunk uses steam heating with the kind of precision control that only a dedicated tablet device can provide (and one is provided). Water temperature, volume, brewing time, agitation, and filtering can be optimized to brew up to 60 cups of coffee (or tea) per hour in the top-of-the-line model. The MOD2, featured at the festival, keeps the stainless-steel boiler under the counter, allowing for an “open and minimalistic design, which draws customers into the theatrical brewing process.” The team behind Steampunk has finally managed to make it interesting to watch water boil.

Just last month, I struggled to advise readers on how best to brew coffee on the road. My recommendation included stuffing an Aeropress brewer with a portable grinder to create a compact travel system. Well, this week, my answer changes. Introducing…the Cafflano Klassic, an all-in-one portable and manual (as in pour-over) coffee maker. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, the cleverly conceived, lightweight, and simple device combines an adjustable ceramic burr grinder, perforated metal filter, and insulated cup in a $99 package. Just add (hot) water.

If you missed last weekend’s festival, don’t despair…
New York has a full week of coffee culture coming up, including another coffee fest out in Williamsburg at Villain this Saturday, October 3, albeit with the insertion of “craft” into the title. Many of the same brands that either presented or were available to taste at the New York Coffee Festival — Devoción, Variety, Sweetleaf, and Café Grumpy — populate the “NYC Craft Coffee Fest” roster of twenty roasters, with several additions such as the excellent Madcap Coffee Company from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and local Colombian-cold-brew specialists Wandering Bear. According to Craft Hospitality founder Sam Gelin, “the event was put together because of my own enthusiasm for coffee and disappointment in other coffee event productions in NYC. I wanted to create something special beyond the typical herding of a crowd through a space and the typical sampling without much interaction between participants and the roasters. It will be a higher-level and more intimate immersive coffee experience.” The fest will also feature live music and be split into morning and afternoon sessions. Tickets are $35 for regular admission, $45 for V.I.P.

Purchase tickets here.

Lauren Mowery is a drinks and travel writer, and Master of Wine candidate, based in NYC.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 30, 2015

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