In early March, Christina Chin posted images to her Instagram account snapped in Costa Rica, where she had traveled for coffee research: In one, she’s holding coffee cherries, whose seeds are coffee beans; in another, she’s smiling broadly. "It’s been an extraordinary week," said Chin of the trip she took on behalf of Huntington's Southdown Coffee, where she was head roaster.
Less than two weeks later, lockdown would force most restaurants, bars, and cafes to either close or dramatically curtail service. Soon after, Chin was laid off from Southdown — but for her, it was a signal rather than a misfortune.
"I had known I wanted to have my own company after my first trip to Mexico with Southdown," said Chin, 30, who was hired by Southdown as a barista three years ago.
In late July, she did, launching Favor Coffee, a one-woman roastery that offers single-origin coffees from regions such as Colombia, Ethiopia and Guatemala. Chin roasts every few weeks at a collective in Long Island City, then sends bags of beans, which cost between $18 and $20, mostly via mail order (although Favor Coffee is also sold at Druthers Coffee in Stony Brook). "I aim for coffee that maintains the integrity of terroir," she said, describing her final product as "balanced, but with no hint of a roast, so I avoid caramelization."
Chin, who lives in Nassau County, began working at Southdown after leaving a corporate job in 2016 to learn more about coffee. "I changed my whole life direction," she said. At Southdown, Chin became a familiar face to customers who’d attend her frequent tastings, aka cuppings, as she guided them through the nuances of aroma and flavor. As time passed, she developed ideas of what kind of company she would shape. "I didn’t want something too fancy or unapproachable, and I wanted to demystify specialty coffee, because it can be an exclusive term," she said.
Specialty coffee is the term assigned to coffee of exceptional quality, with high standards maintained along a supply chain that extends from farm to cup. What sounds like an easy feat, is exactly the opposite — coffee-growing regions tend to be concentrated in regions afflicted by poverty or violence, compelling specialty coffee buyers, roaster and purveyors to seek out coffee farmed sustainably and procured at a fair price.
Chin intentionally encapsulated those philosophical and ethical underpinnings in the name of her brand, choosing something "that had a few layers of meaning," she said. "I like to think of ‘favor’ as a verb, other than a noun. Favoring something is a conscious effort to advocate."
For her, that means advocacy for transparency in coffee, partnering with importers she trusts, and what she describes as agency. "Specialty coffee is renowned for having a lot of gatekeeping," she said. "As with restaurants, I’m thinking about who has access. It’s no secret that most of the hands that pick or process coffee cherries are not white."
On Favor Coffee's website, Chin lists detailed notes on each of her roasts, listing varietals, growing attitudes and other nuances. She describes a batch from Los Ancestros in Guatemala, for example, as "blood orange, floral and syrupy," and goes into detail about the farms on which the coffee is grown.
Twelve-ounce bags cost between $18 and $20, and are listed at favor.coffee.