Oslo Coffee roasts its beans on a dusty block between a motorcycle-repair shop and a bowling alley in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The 800-square-foot space smells like toasted molasses — slightly sweet and a little crispy. That’s the aroma of lightly roasting beans.
Oslo opened its first café in 2003, which was followed by its roastery in 2008. Then two more coffee-roasting companies joined the neighborhood. In 2009, Café Grumpy, in Greenpoint, opened, followed by Blue Bottle Coffee, in Williamsburg, in 2010.
Together the three spots form a small but accomplished coffee-roasting district where java lovers can revel in their passion for the drink.
As any roaster will tell you, the process is quite an art. Roasters listen closely to the machine for the sound of the first crack, a pop that tells them that the beans’ sugars have begun to caramelize. The second crack and a mellow smell from the beans lets roasters know that it’s time to take them out. The whole process only takes about 15 minutes.
“The beans have different roast profiles, just like you roast different foods in different ways,” said Oslo’s head roaster John Bettencourt.
Café Grumpy roasts their beans in the back room of their orange-painted 1,000-square-foot space in Greenpoint.
Customers who aren’t used to getting fresh coffee might initially be confused by the roasts’ different flavors, which are determined by how much of the coffee cherry (the fruit of coffee trees, of which coffee beans are the seeds) is left after the beans are washed.
“We like people to ask us questions because we know a ton about coffee,” said Café Grumpy’s owner Caroline Bell.
Coffee connoisseurs can also explore the intricacies of the beverage at Blue Bottle Coffee in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The space is something of a caffeinated laboratory. The beans are first ground to order then (usually) put in a filter and poured over with hot water through a swan-neck kettle. The grinding and brewing takes about four minutes — a long wait for most New Yorkers. But Blue Bottle is adamant about using freshly ground beans.
“We say it’s like opening a beer now and drinking it tomorrow,” said operations manager Kathleen Nuffort.
In addition to these specialized brewing techniques, staff at Blue Bottle try to enhance customers’ experiences over a cup of joe — sometimes by nudging a coffee newbie in a new direction.
“We want it to be a more educational, inviting space,” said Nuffort. “We won’t judge you if want skim milk.”
Customers said the friendly and educational vibe works.
“It’s really nice, calming and peaceful, and the windows make it a nice place to sit,” said Jenny Zerke, 27, an actress who lives in Williamsburg. “And the coffee tastes better than Starbucks.”
— Nancy Ryerson, City Spoonful