It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, as they say, and on a hazy Friday, that somewhere was inside Southdown Coffee in Huntington. Head roaster Christina Chin sat on a burlap sack of coffee beans, clad in khaki shorts and Nikes, waiting. On a long counter, she’d arranged a line of white plastic bowls filled with freshly ground coffee, eight sets of three bowls each.
Chin was about to host a public cupping, a swift-moving coffee-tasting ritual. “I might do a few of these in a week,” Chin said, but for many of the people who linger at nearby tables, it will be their first.
By 5:05, there were about 20 of us crowding the tiny café, from tweens to 60-somethings. Chin, 29, started explaining the mechanics of cupping: We’d smell and blind-taste eight different roasts that mirror what’s served at Southdown, from Burundian to Colombian to a wild card, the house de-caf. “If you’ve never been to a cupping before, don’t worry,” said Chin, trying to reassure first-timers. “How you taste each will be individual to you.”
We snaked past the bowls, heads bent low, sniffing the dry grounds. Chin then poured steaming water into each bowl, which, in turn, foamed and frothed. Once we smelled them again, we grabbed spoons and began tasting, emulating the loud, almost impolite slurp Chin demonstrated. Each coffee had its own distinct personality, tasting of cocoa or pomegranate or even tobacco.
When [coffee] is really hot, you will not be able to taste very much,” Chin said, encouraging us to revisit each. “As the coffee cools, it “might open up a little bit more.As it comes closer to your body temperature, your taste buds are able to receive a little more detail. So, if you’re going to drink bad coffee, just make sure it’s really hot.” As Chin shrugged, we all laughed.
At Southdown, there is really no bad coffee. Owner Mark Boccard began selling his mostly single-origin roasts at farmers markets in 2014, and opened his first brick-and-mortar café— the minimalist but welcoming Huntington location—later that year. Boccard, then 29, was an obsessive purist, sourcing Fair Trade beans from far-flung coffee-growing regions and using light roasts to coax the essence from each. His approach resonated: An Oyster Bay café followed in 2017, and one will follow in Glen Cove. Chin joined Southdown as a barista two years ago, and rapidly rose to head roaster.
Southdown’s ascent on Long Island coincided with the arrival of what’s dubbed third-wave coffee, an approach that values quality, fair prices and sustainable sourcing as well as careful service—embodied in pourovers, for instance, or at whites with expertly steamed milk. In a region with nearly 100 Starbucks and a seemingly endless supply of Dunkin’ Donuts, this perspective has changed the way we experience, talk about and drink coffee. After all, who knew what crema or microfoam was five years ago, or had heard of a cupping?
Not that Long Island was unschooled in the ways of caffeine. With its deep Italian roots, it is no stranger to things such as espresso, for instance, and in the 1990s, that mantle was in turn taken up and transformed by people such as Georgio Testani, the voluble coffee roaster who runs a roastery-slash-café-slash-lab on an industrial stretch in Farmingdale. Testani, who once oversaw coffee for Fairway markets, has, in turn, mentored or consulted with a newer generation of roasters, such as the owners of Queens-based For Five Coffee Roasters, who opened a sleek Manhasset café in 2018. (Other branches may be found in New York City and Los Angeles.)
For Five is but one of a tide of roasteries that opened cafés in recent years, from Gentle Brew Coffee Roasters in Long Beach (which started in a Hicksville strip mall in 2011) to Tend Coffee in Shirley, Pipeline Coffee Co. in Wantagh and Flux Coffee in Farmingdale.
Flux, opened by owner Arsalan Pourmand in 2017, may be the sophist of the bunch. Pourmand sources microlots of coffee through a handful of importers and often roasts these after hours, long after the students and office workers and seniors have gone home from his retro-industrial Main Street café.
Because those batches are so small, the roasts available at Flux are always changing. “Most people are looking for nostalgic coffee, dark-roasted coffee, diner coffee,” observed Pourmand. To that end, he always has a “chocolatey” roast on hand, as well as something lighter-bodied and brighter, which might be from Peru or Ethiopia.
The idea of Pourmand working into the night on his Probat L12 roaster is a romantic one, but it’s also finely tuned, for he watches things such as fluctuating temperature on a connected tablet. “Based on where that coffee is from, what kind of process and the altitude, I have a good idea of how I want to roast [the beans] and what I want to highlight in that coffee,” he said.
Which is why he, and many baristas, often encourage customers to taste coffee before loading it with cream and sugar—not to be pretentious, but out of profound respect for the product and its lengthy supply chain. “It’s the only industry that every step of the way either makes the coffee better or worse,” Pourmand said. “You have to put time and effort and care into that product to obtain the final goal.”
In 2016, Jennilee Morris and her partner, Jess Dunne, traveled to Guatemala to see processing in action. “It was impactful to see how much goes into [coffee],” said Morris as we sat at a table in her Southold roastery-café, North Fork Coffee Roasting Co. In Guatemala, the pair helped harvest coffee cherries—the fruits of the coffee plant—then saw how coffee is dried and processed. “We take so much pride in buying only small-batch, specialty coffee and being able to take all of that hard work to the consumer.”
Morris began roasting coffee in 2007 while managing Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck, then began roasting her own coffee in her garage in Shirley. In 2015, the pair opened the café, a homey warren of rooms with an assemblage of couches, mismatched chairs and paintings from local artists on the walls. In a cramped, sun-splashed side room, Morris roasts eight-pound batches (“I put in eight and get back seven.”) daily on a battle-scarred Probat roaster, for both brewing on site and selling by the pound. “At the end of the day, I just want to have someone have a taste of a cup of coffee and go, ‘wow, I don’t know why that’s so good, but it is,’ ” she said.
As with Chin’s public cuppings or the hodgepodge of people who converge on Flux daily, Morris, 36, added that it’s important to remember one of coffee’s original intents— to bring people together. “[Ours] is a place where you’re going to meet a lot of the North Fork workforce,” she said. “We have a lot of cool, talented people who come here—artists, farmers, fishermen, oyster farmers. It’s really about the people. What makes us so special is the community.
FLUX COFFEE: 211 Main St., Farmingdale; 516-586-8979, fluxcoffee.com
FOR FIVE COFFEE ROASTERS: 292 Plandome Rd., Manhasset; 516-918-9488, forfivecoffee.com
GENTLE BREW COFFEE ROASTERS: 151 E. Park Ave., Long Beach; 516-605-2370, gentlebrewcoffee.com (other location: Boardwalk at 1 National Blvd.)
GEORGIO’S COFFEE ROASTERS: 1965 New Hwy., Farmingdale; 516-238-2999, georgioscoffee.com
NORTH FORK ROASTING CO.: 55795 Main Rd., Southold; 631-876-5450, noforoastingco.com
PIPELINE COFFEE CO.: 1887 Wantagh Ave., Wantagh; 516-785-5000, pipelinecoffeecompany.com (other location: 318-A Sunrise Hwy., Rockville Centre)
SOUTHDOWN COFFEE: 210-B Wall St., Huntington; southdowncoffee.com (other location: 49 Audrey Ave., Oyster Bay)
TEND COFFEE: 924 Montauk Hwy., Shirley; 631-772-4707, tendcoffee.com