by sylvie bigar | May 23, 2014 | Food & Drink
Discerning Hamptons coffee aficionados are finding new ways to sate their palates with artisanal local brews.
A hand-crafted Caffe’ Latte prepared by a barista at Hampton Coffee Company.
Tales of my European parents’ 1969 road trip from Pennsylvania to California resonated throughout my childhood. With reverence, they recounted the immensity of the American sky, the contrasting landscapes, and the kindness of people along the route. There was also the atrocious coffee “the color of dirty sock juice,” as my father was fond of saying.
Our daily cuppa joe has come a long way. Surrounded by a caffeine cloud in Hampton Coffee Company’s brand-new roasting room in Southampton, co-owner Jason Belkin, a stout, blue-eyed dynamo, is giving his abbreviated version of coffee history 101. “We’re into the Third Wave of coffee enthusiasts,” he says, referring to the term coined by Michaele Weissman in her book God in a Cup: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Coffee (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). “First Wave happened around the Maxwell/Folgers swell at the beginning of the 20th century.”
With obvious disgust, he recounts how boiled water used to be thrown over the coffee. It was the era of Sanka and the percolator. “Then came the Second Wave with the Starbucks invasion,” he continues. “It’s almost impossible to remember that 20 years ago, there was only one on Long Island. People were asking, ‘What’s a latte?’”
Hampton Coffee Company’s Bean Bar offers an international array of beans, including varieties from Tanzania, Hawaii, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia, so customers can create their own blends.
It was also 20 years ago that Hampton Coffee, then a small diner by the side of the road in Water Mill, opened its doors. Soon after, Belkin, a journalism student, walked in looking for the summer job that, unbeknownst to him, would lead to his life’s calling.
“Today, the Third Wave hails again from Seattle,” he says. “It brought us the ‘pour-over bar’ with hand-brewed coffee, one cup at a time.”
Besides Hampton Coffee, several other local establishments are riding this Third Wave of coffee connoisseurship, including Sagtown Coffee (78 Main St., Sag Harbor, 725-8696), which fits in well with the intellectual, artsy vibe of Sag Harbor. It was standing-room only on a recent Thursday afternoon, and all the required items on the décor checklist were in evidence, namely reclaimed wood beams from a Tribeca site and two carved wooden lions from Burma by way of Brooklyn.
Hampton Coffee Company roastmaster Dwight Amade mans one of the roasting machines at the Southampton location.
“I really wanted to create a community center,” says owner Shane Dyckman, still tan from a surfing vacation. Even though he curates events that range from pumpkin carving contests to open-mike sessions and “Troubadour Nights” featuring live music, he also feels very strongly about the coffee he serves. “Before we opened two years ago, we researched coffee for nine months and chose La Colombe,” he says, referring to the Philadelphia company that specializes in light-roasted, single origin coffee and handcrafted blends but also offers “coffee programs,” tailored to each client.
“I will not pretend I know coffee as it exists now,” says Mary Schoenlein, owner of Mary’s Marvelous in East Hampton (105–107 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, 324-1055). As a chef, she trained in New York and in France, and everything from her crumbly cheddar-dill scones to the roasted chicken curry salad she offers in her bright, contemporary stores is homemade and delicious. But to keep up with Hamptonites’ sophisticated tastes, Schoenlein had to up the level of her coffee and chose her beans from 100-year-old company Dallis Bros. Coffee. “Coffee is hip and trendy,” she says. “It’s on fire right now.”
The Third Wave also elevated the status of the barista (Italian for bartender) to the level of the celebrity chef. Behind the counter at Sagtown, barista Adrian Stivala crafts gourmet beans for such local coffee aficionados as commercial artist John LaSala. “I am of Italian descent,” says Stivala, whose very first job was behind a Starbucks counter. “I was brought up with cappuccinos.” The barista first came to Sagtown as a client, then started going behind the counter to make his own coffee; it wasn’t long until he was hired.
Shane Dyckman researched coffee beans for nine months before selecting La Colombe blends for Sagtown Coffee.
Schoenlein also hired baristas, including Isch Michel, a Starbucks alum. “We don’t roast as dark,” Michel says of the cups served at Mary’s Marvelous. “Here, coffee complements the pastries; at Starbucks it’s the other way around.”
But at Hampton Coffee, which is Long Island’s largest independent roaster-retailer, the barista shares the spotlight with roastmaster Dwight Amade. Standing next to his coffee roaster, a massive, shiny machine reminiscent of a steam locomotive, Amade watches the beans revolving around the smoker with the intensity of an artist bent over his canvas. “Look,” he cries, “the smoke travels all the way, like a dance.”
Amade was born in Grenada and grew up on a cocoa farm. “I remember my late grandfather Maurice roasting beans on an open flame,” he says, his eyes suddenly misty.
Coffee from Sagtown Coffee.
Nearby on the floor, stamped burlap bags are redolent of distant mountains and shores. “Each bag comes from a different country, and each origin has a different shape, color, and taste,” Amade explains, sifting small, greenish beans from Tanzania that seemed to ache for water. “Hawaii produces larger, darker beans because of its volcanic soil and rain-drenched slopes.”
While the formula for Hampton Coffee’s Hampton Blends is a secret—“That’s our thing,” teases Amade—the blend’s popularity has attracted enough of a following that Belkin has since opened a third location on Route 27 in Southampton; meaning Belkin and his wife, Theresa, now own three espresso cafés and a mobile espresso unit. Within the next five years, he plans to open three more. Is this another Howard Schultz in the making? “We cannot compete with Starbucks, so we need to differentiate,” says Belkin, who, with the help of his family, purchased Hampton Coffee in 1999, when he was just 24.
One way Belkin sets Hampton Coffee apart is by touting the fact that his coffee is roasted almost every day. “Beans start losing flavor immediately after roasting,” he says. He recommends purchasing small amounts of coffee more frequently; he would rather deliver 10 pounds a week to a restaurant wholesale customer than have them buy four times that amount to last for an entire month.
Coffee farmer Ric Hariyanto from Sumatra, Indonesia, is the man behind some of the beans currently tumbling in Amade’s roaster. “My family used to pick the cherries [a trade name for the coffee beans], dry them, process them, and bring them to the middlemen,” he says, calling from his village in Indonesia. “I started thinking we could export our own coffee.”
It helped that Hariyanto had gone to college in the US and, as he put it, “learned that every problem has a solution.” Four years ago, he created his own company, Sriwijaya Coffee, and last year sold close to 3,000 bags directly— including those to Hampton Coffee, which he visited earlier this year. “It was incredible to meet one of our coffee farmers,” says Belkin. “It made our experience completely personal.”
Jack Mazzola, owner of the hip Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee (146 Montauk Hwy., Amagansett, 267-5555) and inventor of the stir brewer, pioneered this kind of grower-roaster relationship. “Ten years ago, we were the first to introduce organic, fair trade, and shade-grown coffee,” he says, and thanks to his relationship with American-Dominican writer and coffee farmer Julia Alvarez, Mazzola is also part owner of a coffee farm in the Dominican Republic.
“Jack’s is a destination,” he says referring to his coffee house in Amagansett, which, on weekend mornings draws huge crowds, both for his coffee and for his organic, vegan, and gluten-free bakery items. “I am not looking to expand. This is where we are.”
Back at Hampton Coffee, I order a cup of farmer Ric Hariyanto’s Sriwijaya Sumatra Dolok Sanggul. I peer into an elixir as dark as onyx and sip the clean, bold coffee little by little. Throughout researching this story, I have glimpsed the pressures of the global trade and the efforts of the farmers who spend their lives picking, hulling, and drying the beans we take for granted. But as part of this Third Wave, a group of coffee aficionados in the Hamptons and elsewhere are changing the way we think. Today, thanks to their passion, we can reach out to the men and women who work the coffee fields and attempt to bridge our two worlds.
photography by doug young