New York Coffee – Gimme!
The first in a three part series exploring coffee hotspots in NYC. View the rest here.
If Gimme! Coffee is the biggest fish in the pond that is Ithaca, NY, they may be considered a more modest fish in the Williamsburg coffee pool. Their Lorimer Street location in Brooklyn isn’t much to look at – the room is well-loved and stands in stark contrast to the newer New York City coffee hotspots that are sparkling their way through the boroughs. But there is a cup of perfection awaiting you at the end of the always long Gimme counter line, and if appearances are enough to turn you away, you may not deserve it.
Gimme’s regional manager, Trey Kirchoff, laid out the Gimme landscape for me on on the sidewalk bench on Lorimer. “We just had our ten year anniversary, and the place looks just like it did ten years ago. Some people are into that.” Acknowledging the now infamous gentrification of the best of Brooklyn, Trey and I agree that a place like Gimme may no longer appeal to the NYC masses. Trey explained that Gimme on Lorimer was the first specialty coffee retailer in Williamsburg: “We were here first and people recognized us for that. Then it took five years before the specialty coffee interest really spread.”
When specialty coffee madness hit its fever pitch, Gimme was ready. While the specifics of what makes specialty coffee remain in flux, the standards of anyone who participates in the conversation are high. The Gimme team looks at how they can make a difference on the ground, for example by focusing on the farmers where they source their beans. Coffee production is influenced by countless variables out of a farmer’s control, so Gimme asks honest questions: “Can we create standards so that farmers can be guaranteed a minimum wage?” Can specialty coffee companies support small farm successes, despite the impact of global warming on rainfall, free of the instability of market fluctuation? “It’s a really complicated global commodity that we’re trading. People don’t realize that every single bean is touched by someone’s hands. Every single bean is touched by somebody and inspected by somebody. We are buying coffee and roasting it within a few weeks. The coffee you’re drinking today wasn’t sitting in a canister on the ocean for months and then sitting on an importers’ lot for months. From the moment it is picked off the tree, the bean stars breaking down.”
Gimme’s freshness standard of 14 days from roast to cup is only one of a long list of attentions that you may not ever realize went into making your morning Joe.
In contrast to the classic “bitter barista”, the Gimme staff is as eclectic as they are passionate. “Everybody is a nerd about something”, Trey told me, reiterating that if you’re a nerd for coffee, there’s no end to the learning curve. “There’s an infinite level of variables that you can always be dialing into. That speaks to a specific kind of person who admires the craft or who is creative already. These people behind the counter are the best at what they do.” Some Gimme team members at the shop today have been with the company for seven years. They put themselves through their college educations and graduate school degrees working part time as baristas.
Gimme’s many locations are proudly community-driven, connecting like-minded people among clientele and staff. Looking out across Lorimer Street, Trey points out other coffee joints: “there’s competition, but it’s more like a colleague situation, they have their own thing that they do specifically, we have ours.” The returning clientele bears testament to this community love – about 90% of Gimme customers at the Williamsburg location return every single day
The holistic worldview of the Gimme brand is part of its appeal to a certain kind of New Yorker. They keep one eye on their close-knit yet open-minded clan, and one eye on their global family. The Gimme team is excited about partnering with other “nerd” communities, tapping into areas that aren’t about making more money, but are about making more fun. “There’s a Williamsburg attitude about the stuff we do. We will never have a million dollar build-out, that’s not really our style.”
And without a doubt, all of that is wonderful. But social commitment and positive vibes aside, without their out-of-this-world attention to detail and dedication to the industry, Gimme coffee is damn good. But like, really good. My first introduction to the specialty coffee community was in Atlanta in 2009, where my local barista buddies had only one request for souvenirs from New York: “Gimme coffee.” After my conversation with Trey, I surrender my order to Barista’s Choice. I notice the easy smiles of a counter lined with people who clearly care about the process. I notice my barista bent over a perfect pour. I walk towards the L train with a cappuccino in a to-go cup, a New Yorker on the move, and I take a sip.
New Yorkers don’t stop for much – I stopped dead in my tracks. I turn around, stuck speechless, halfway between the Lorimer subway station and Gimme a few blocks back. I don’t know about the variables they spend hours calculating, I can’t tell the difference between a bean with notes of cherry or with hints of chocolate, but New Yorkers also pride themselves on knowing what’s real, and knowing what’s real good. Yes, Gimme’s got it going on. Their attitude is admirable, they’re a pleasure to be around, they’re authentic and conscious. But when it comes down to coffee, really honest to god, good coffee, Gimme’s the tops. Come for the caffeine, stick around for the vibe, or the other way around, it doesn’t really matter and I don’t think Gimme cares.
Before I left Lorimer Street, Trey had shared with me his personal mantra: “A good cup of coffee can save the world every day.” Welcome to the superheroes of coffee – Gimme is well on its way.