New York Coffee – Toby’s Estate
The third in a three part series exploring New York’s coffee hotspots. Read the rest here.
Toby’s Estate may already be a household name down under, but when the roasters popped up in Williamsburg, they made a very Australia-shaped splash. Since Australian coffee enterprises still focus almost exclusively on espresso, bringing Toby’s Estate to Brooklyn presented a great opportunity to infuse the filter coffee market with some Toby’s flair.
There’s a lot going on at Toby’s Estate in Williamsburg, but one of the most boastable parts of the business is their killer barista program. According to Allie Caran, Head of Coffee Education, Toby’s is able to attract both established coffee professionals and people who are looking to explore coffee for the first time. “It’s pretty hard to get your foot in the door as a barista. Here, baristas go through a pretty strenuous training program and work their way up to espresso.”
Usually baristas work their way through all aspects of service in a Toby’s location, as part of their approach to an integrated coffee experience. But Toby’s also offers coffee classes to the public, for anyone from home roaster hobbyists to professional coffee enthusiasts. They encourage one-on-one classes, because so many people have different demands and different abilities. Anyone learning latte art works with a Toby’s barista on the finishing touches of each drink, one by one.
Deaton Pigot is Head Roaster at Toby’s Estate, and he’s been with the company for almost ten years. “I’m still surprised that we get paid to stand around, tasting and talking about coffee. Sometimes we’ll be standing around brewing a Chemex, just watching. That’s part of our job.” Nearing a decade of roasting experience, Deaton’s favorite part of his coffee career is now the cupping process.
Toby’s invited me to a cupping in their laboratory/classroom behind the café, and I got to experience firsthand what Deaton describes as a zen experience. “You clear your mind and all you’re focusing on is the coffee in front of you.” The meditative state Deaton praised from the cupping room was elusive for me, only because I was so new to the process. Far from a coffee connoisseur, I wasn’t sure I had the right words or the right palette to describe what I was tasting or smelling.
For Allie, the best part of her time at Toby’s is the more social aspect, working through the communal experience you might expect both on the stage and behind the scenes at a café. The precisely balanced Toby’s team gets a lot of praise from Allie and Deaton, and the picture they paint is one of a perfect poker hand: “It’s like you’re playing poker. The king, the queen, and everybody’s a little different in their personality. That allows for flexibility, because you can pull out your best cards for any particular situation.”
Putting the diverse team in one place as in Toby’s Estate in Williamsburg makes the partnership accessible and smooth, but that proximity is a rare luxury in the coffee world. “He can source great coffee, I can train you how to make great coffee, and without the passion and investment of the baristas, it means nothing.” Since Toby’s roasts on site, basically every element of their business is represented in the Williamsburg storefront.
Part of the reason Toby’s Estate is becoming so popular on both sides of the equator is its successful wholesale program. Baristas that work on location and at other cafés serving Toby’s beans are considered liaisons, and are no exception to the rule that the Toby’s team takes their coffee very seriously. Their exponential growth is a function of the enormous effort the team makes to get their beans into the cups of coffee fans, but when it comes down to it, Toby’s is really all about the beans.
Deaton goes to origin at least three times a year, and as Head Roaster it isn’t any surprise that he’s extremely knowledgeable about the rich history of the world’s biggest coffee producers. He shared his excitement about new flavors coming out of the Democratic Republic of Congo, “despite all the infrastructure issues and political problems they’ve gone through, they’re trying to return to the spotlight in coffee”. In a quick world tour, Deaton talks me through farms in Brazil, Colombia, Brazil, Ethiopia, and beyond.
As a coffee company so deeply committed to quality, it seems to be as important for the Toby’s team to create relationships direct with the farmers and communities that are impacted by the coffee industry. Roasters get to know the farmers on their own land, building long-lasting partnerships with them in both business and philanthropy.
According to Deaton, Toby’s worked with a farm in Honduras a few years ago to build a school on the property. Through a fundraising drive and a lot of personal effort, Toby’s has been working since the school was founded to help improve conditions for the local kids who might never have had the opportunity otherwise.
“Farming culture has been established for generations in Honduras. I’m not going down there to tell them what to do, they’re the professionals. We visit to keep our relationship going, to see what they’ve done with their facilities and what they’re producing, and to foster that ongoing relationship. If we hadn’t gone down there and worked with the farmers, how would we have known what supplies and resources they needed?”
Their deep relationships with everyone involved in the bean to cup process is just another example of the thorough, authentic Toby’s Estate experience. In April 2011, the new team spent nine months designing the Williamsburg location and after a full build out, the Aussie coffee haven is always packed and buzzing with something new. Stop in for a single origin education or your go-to espresso favorite, or try a flat white, the Australian classic coffee drink. Toby’s Estate has created a café that hums with creative energy, and caffeinates the most refined palates Stateside and Down Under.