You know those times when you don’t set out to do something, but somehow it just happens anyway? Well, this is pretty much how Sweetleaf, Greenpoint’s newest coffee shop, came about.
“I wasn’t looking to set up another cafe”, says owner Rich Nieto, “I was just looking to find a space to roast.”
Rich established Sweetleaf Coffee with a friend in 2008, in a tiny shop just over the Pulaski bridge. Seven years later and there is now an additional coffee shop in LIC, one in Williamsburg and, as of last week, a new one in Greenpoint. Rich bought out his partner about a year ago and now runs the entire operation. He recently started roasting his own beans out of a friend’s loft in Bushwick, but as he started to step up production it made sense to find a roasting space of his own.
“I was looking for a warehouse of around 1000 sq ft, but it was almost impossible to find something this small, everything is huge”, he tells us as we sit sipping coffee in the brand new Greenpoint outpost of Sweetleaf on Freeman Street. “I discovered this space because I used to drive past every day on my way between LIC and Williamsburg, and although it turned out to be the smallest warehouse space I could find, it was still way more space than I needed. The building is in a great location, just off Manhattan Avenue, so we decided to use the extra space by creating a cafe at the front and having our roastery at the back.”
Housed in a warehouse dating from the 1920s, the cafe is large and airy, with beautiful exposed brick walls, original wooden beams and a big pull-down shutter which is wide open during the day, allowing the sun to come streaming in. An imposing bar sits in the center and, around the edge, a selection of of wrought iron garden furniture gives the cafe an outdoorsy vibe.
“We were looking to do something a little different”, says Rich. “A lot of the coffee shops nearby are quaint and charming, whereas this space feels more like you can stretch out your legs and enjoy a big open space and some fresh air. We wanted to give it a very outdoors/indoors kind of feel, as though you don’t know where the space ends or begins. We’re excited to see the roastery take off and love having people sitting here drinking an espresso and seeing us roast beans in the background.”
He sources his beans via Red Fox Coffee Merchants, having been friends with the owner for so many years that they are now exactly in tune with each others’ palates.
“I’m going to to Colombia with him in a couple of months so we can solidify some relationships with our farmers, ” Rich tells us. “Establishing direct trade relationships helps ensure the farmers are paid a fair price for their beans. We pay more for a better product, so this gives farmers an incentive to maintain a high standard of their crop. They can rely on us as regular buyers and in turn we come to rely on them as suppliers. Also, a lot of farmers have never even tasted their own product, so it’ll be great to take them some roasted beans so they can actually try the coffee.”
At the moment Rich and his team are roasting about 800lbs of coffee a week to supply their cafes. However, they soon plan to start selling the beans online and supplying wholesale to local restaurants, at which point production will be ramped up even further.
To accompany the coffee there’s a selection of alluring pastries, all baked in-house each morning. Arrive when they open at 7am to get pastries fresh out of the oven, then bask in the half-inside-half-outside sunshine as you contemplate your day.
Sweetleaf Coffee is at 159 Freeman Street. After last week’s soft opening, it’s now open daily 7am-6pm.