September 26, 2016

Specialty Coffee Pods? 7 Talks at New York Coffee Festival


Picture New York City and you picture coffee. Okay, yes, you probably picture the Statue of Liberty as well – and the Empire State Building – but coffee’s definitely in the image.

So when Allegra Events hosted the second annual New York Coffee Festival, it’s no surprise that it was popular. New Yorkers attended in droves, but people also came from far and wide for the two-and-a-half day event. Exhibitors showcased wares from Korea, South Africa, Kenya, and beyond.

Over 70 vendors of coffee, coffee equipment, food, art, and music were there, as well as a lab for courses/workshops and the coffee competitions. Everywhere, people were drinking coffee, looking at coffee, buying coffee – and, of course, talking about coffee. Here are seven conversations we had.

Versión en Español: ¿Pods de Especialidad? 7 Conversaciones del Festival de Café en Nueva York

David Donde of Truth Coffee, Cape Town

1. Coffee Science

David Donde of Truth Coffee, Cape Town

Truth Coffee owner David Donde is a South African visionary credited for bringing the flat white to Cape Town. “It’s my fault!” he says with a grimace.

But that’s not why he was here. He’s come up with a series of unique concepts, and was present as a judge in the competitions and a lecturer in the lab program. His topic was pre-infusion in immersion brewing – spoiler alert: your coffee tastes better if you pre-infuse it with warm-ish water for five minutes before your hot water bloom.

His 30-minute lecture included a tasting of two different experiments conducted by him and his team, and it was exhilarating. In fact, any conversation with him is exhilarating. He’s constantly on the edge of offending people, happy to admit he’s anti-organic and anti-fairtrade, and infectiously enthusiastic. He’s probably never met a stranger and his roaster is powered by cooking oil.

SEE ALSO: Coffee in the Big Apple: 5 NYC Specialty Cafés

I predict that Truth Coffee will become a household name among specialty coffee enthusiasts – if it isn’t becoming that way already.

David Donde of Truth Coffee

David Donde of Truth Coffee shares his findings on pre-infusion at the New York Coffee Festival.

2. Chocolate & Coffee Pairings

Robert Dunn of Raaka Chocolate, Brooklyn, NY
Brian Beyke of Quills Coffee and I Brew my Own Coffee

We’re seeing specialty chocolate served in coffee shops more and more often, and we understand that coffee beans and cacao grow in the same regions. But Robert Dunn of Raaka Chocolate got nerdy and explained that there are even more similarities between these two indulgences. In addition to caffeine, coffee and chocolate also have theobromine in common, a chemical compound that makes you feel good.

What’s more, Raaka is part of the trend of treating cacao just like coffee: rather than roasting the beans, he makes chocolate bars with virgin chocolate. It’s a similar attitude to the one held by artisan roasters, who exercise caution with their roasting times and temperatures so as to preserve the best flavors of the beans.

Brian Beyke of Quills Coffee and cohost of the podcast I Brew My Own Coffee has also been exploring the role of specialty/single origin chocolate – but he’s looking at how it fits in a coffee enthusiast’s life. He’s been testing his own palate to detect the different nuances in chocolate and, although he admits that they are different characteristics to the ones in coffee, he believes there’s a market for the two to coexist.

In fact, he says that whereas filter coffee is more open to the influence of the rich chocolates, many specialty chocolate bars can stand up against espresso – and even bring out its notes.

Will chocolate and coffee pairings become a thing in the way that wine and cheese are? Only time will tell, but Brian was happy to attest that the balanced Salvadoran coffee he drank was enhanced by a Tanzanian chocolate, noting the florality and fruitiness of the coffee. Intrigued? Perhaps look for a chocolate and coffee tasting at a café near you.

Raaka Virgin Chocolate table

Cocoa beans and tasting chocolate adorn the Raaka Virgin Chocolate table.

3. Chai Blends

Brian Haas of Prana Chai, Portland, Oregon
Dona Chai, Brooklyn, New York

Why showcase spiced teas at a coffee festival? Because not only do some people not like coffee (collective gasp!), but drinking chai is like drinking autumn out of a cup.

Although old news to our Australian café friends, Prana Chai is still making its way across the other continents – but they’re doing so diligently and proudly. Their “barista-friendly” chai is made with whole spices and lightly coated in organic honey, ready to be blended with milk for a complex latte. Brian Haas, MD of Prana Chai North America, showcased their beverages using almond and soy milks. He explained that the flavors of the spices and tea can sometimes get lost through the fat content in cow’s milk, so to really accentuate the taste use alternative dairy products.

Dona Chai was another chai tea vendor, this time a Brooklyn-based one. It’s available at over 200 cafes despite being only two years old, and still has that family business vibe. It prides itself on its “New York chai”, grinding its own spices and working with vanilla and molasses to create a beverage for the senses.

Prana Chai’s fragrant tea blend

Prana Chai’s fragrant tea blend on display.

4. Coffee Pods: The Specialty Version

Ekobrew Coffee Pods

It may seem surprising that the New York Coffee Festival had a booth catering to Keurig machine owners, and also that Perfect Daily Grind has an article about it. But what made me pay attention is the fact that Bonavita’s parent company recently purchased Eko Coffee Pods.

We know that the price of coffee in coffee pods averages US$35/pound and the pods are generally not recyclable. But Ekobrew can offer a solution to both of those issues – and allow you to use specialty-grade coffee. Would you bring in freshly ground, recently roasted, single-origin coffee in a reusable and fully recyclable capsule, if you know the office Keurig would do the rest of the work? It’s a question to ponder.

While we know third wave lovers adore their toys for a reason, it’ll be interesting to see the extent to which this product gets adopted in the future.

5. Chemex Customization

Eliza Grassy of Chemex, Chicopee Massachussetts

The Chemex Ottomatic coffee maker kept the crowds close, but what really drew us in was the new personalization options. Chemex was invented in Brooklyn and the family-run company is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It now offers glass etching on carafes, laser engraving on collars and beads, and different colored leather bands.

Take a look at my Periscope video from the festival, featuring both the Ottomatic and the personalized carafes, to see more.


The new Chemex has several different options for personalization.

6. Coffee Club Conversations

Arnold Byun of NYU Coffee Club, New York University

As a University of California, Davis alum, this Perfect Daily Grind writer has been enthusiastically following the news about the UC Davis collaboration with Peet’s coffee and its expanding coffee program. I also enjoyed learning that the individuals manually brewing the smaller Chemexes at the event were volunteers from New York University’s Coffee Club. The club is sponsored by Chemex (among others) and it was a great opportunity for students to be a part of the New York Coffee Festival in this way.

The club’s founder, Arnold Byun, explains that the Coffee Club’s mission is to spotlight entrepreneurial spirit and increase their specialty coffee knowledge through cuppings and workshops at independent cafés in the city.

As café culture goes hand-in-hand with the student life, it’s good to see coffee education and passion being inspired in universities. And since meeting the folks at NYU Coffee Club, I’ve come across several other university coffee clubs. I just want to know why this wasn’t a thing earlier (like when I was a student).

7. Coffee Beauty Products

Mark Guerino of 2nd Ground, Brooklyn, New York

Reusing coffee grounds has been growing in popularity, with options from composting to air fresheners. And we’re also starting to see them turned into beauty products.

Mark Guerino of the punny 2nd Ground upcycles them into soaps, scrubs, and candles. In the soap, the grinds are concentrated on one side – meaning that side of the bar is great for gentle exfoliating, and the other for lathering. The level of thought that has gone into this indicates how seriously we’re taking our eco-friendly coffee-based beauty products.

espresso soap

Up-cycled espresso grounds turned into soap at 2nd Ground.

There were dozens of other vendors, all highlighting a wide range of things: cold brews, café accessories, different coffee regions, environmental sustainability, and so much more. Coffee art and live music kept everyone creatively buzzed – and then there was the thrill of the competitions and workshops.

If there’s one thing that’s true, it’s that coffee festivals are a great place to see the trends in the industry and take part in the conversations that shape them. What did you think about this year’s festival? Sound off in the comments and let us know.

All photo credit: D. Kilbride.

Perfect Daily Grind