From Bean to Brew: Inside the Café Grumpy Roastery
Grumpy by name, awesome by nature, Café Grumpy has been one of Greenpoint’s most beloved coffee shops for almost a decade and now, with the addition of a new roastery, there’s even more to love.
Founded on the corner of Meserole Avenue and Diamond Street in 2005, Grumpy has since spread to five other locations including their most recent opening at Grand Central Station, where they triumphantly replaced a Starbucks. The cafe also brushed with fame during its starring role in HBO’s Girls.
In 2009 Grumpy started roasting their own beans in the back room of the Greenpoint cafe, but this year’s increased production demands led them to seek out a larger roasting space. Fortunately an ex-floristry warehouse just a few buildings down became available and their coffee-roasting palace was born. I met up with head bean buyer and ‘coffee educator’ Cheryl Kingan who gave me a grand tour of the roastery and the low down on the entire process of bean to brew.
In the centre of the warehouse is a huge beast of a machine which roasts, on average, a whopping 3000lbs of coffee per week. The machine is like something out of Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory, surrounded by a maze of intriguing pipes, and furnished with a bevy of buttons and levers. Green coffee beans are first washed in a big rotating steel cylinder before a low flame is flicked on underneath and the beans are slowly dried, then roasted for around 12-15 minutes (depending on required strength of the eventual brew).
There is a porthole where you can watch the beans turn from green, to golden, to a dark, glossy chocolate brown, and a little drawer that can be pulled out to monitor the smell and taste of the beans. Once perfectly roasted, the beans are released into a shallow cooling drum, where they are hypnotically swirled over cold air from below, then poured into storage containers.
Every morning begins with ‘quality control cupping’ to taste the beans roasted the day before and ensure consistency of each batch. Cheryl likens this process to wine tasting: “After smelling the grounds, we swirl the coffee around our mouths then spit it out. We have to, otherwise we’d all start the day incredibly wired!” she says. The approved beans are then individually bagged for the cafes, which usually use the coffee within 5 days of roasting to ensure it’s still lovely and fresh.
Bean varieties change with the seasons and there’s generally around 6-7 different coffees on offer at any one time. Cheryl has the enviable task of traveling down to meet with the growers on a regular basis, visiting the likes of Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador. Having started at Grumpy as a barista, she describes her current role of bean buyer as “the best job in the world” and feels it’s important to build a relationship with the producers themselves, some of whom have developed special Grumpy branded coffee sacks and have even come to visit Grumpy HQ in NYC.
Not only does Cheryl’s dream job enable exotic travel but also allows her to work on exciting coffee projects. This fall Grumpy collaborated with brewmaster Jon Carpenter at Coney Island Brewing Co. to create ‘Freaktoberfest‘, an unusual pumpkin ale infused with Grumpy Heartbreaker espresso beans. The brew is delicious and it goes without saying that it makes for the perfect Halloween tipple. Whilst Grumpy doesn’t currently have the liquor license to serve it you can search here to find a vendor near you.
With a beer-collaboration, cult TV fame, six cafes and a mega-roastery, the Grumpy empire is growing bigger by the day. They recently reached a milestone total of 100,000lbs of roasted beans which officially transformed them from micro roaster to macro roaster status, and is a triumph definitely worth celebrating….be it with a Grumpy flat white, a pumpkin ale, a Girls binge, or a decadent combo of all three.
Cafe Grumpy is at 193 Meserole Avenue, Greenpoint.
They are open Mon-Fri 7am -7.30pm and Weekends 7.30am-7.30pm.