Brooklyn’s Newest Coffee Roaster Starts with the Farm

What makes Nobletree really notable among the crowded crop of Brooklyn-based roasters is that it doesn’t just source green beans from well-tended trees and then roast them, but grows them too.

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Dedicated chefs like Paul Liebrandt, a partner in The Elm at McCarren Park Hotel & Pool, typically pay attention to the details, whether it’s the intensity of carbonation in the sparkling water or the roast of the beans for the breakfast coffees.

So it’s worth noting that at the Elm, servers are now pouring the Brazilian Monte Verde micro-lot from Nobletree, a brand-new grower and producer currently building out its headquarters on the Red Hook waterfront.

Leibrandt is one of the first customers of the Brooklyn-based company, which has 1,415 acres of land in Brazil and is currently roasting on the shared equipment at Pulley Collective on Red Hook’s pier 41. It’s just down the waterfront from the warehouse where Nobletree, a division of FAL Coffee, will soon open their own soaring space.

What makes Nobletree really notable among the crowded crop of Brooklyn-based roasters — Café Grumpy, Gorilla, Toby’s Estate and  Stumptown, to name but a handful — is that it doesn’t just source green beans from well-tended trees and then roast them, but grows them too. Nobletree owns and operates 340 acres of coffee plants on two farms in Brazil’s Santa Izabel region, long awarded for its coffee-production terroir.

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In fact Nobletree began, says FAL partner and CEO John Moore, precisely because of the property’s appeal. “This is a beautiful place,” Moore recalls thinking, “why don’t we create a coffee business here?”

They did, and now the Elm, along with El Beit cafe on Bedford Ave., is pouring the inaugural results. (Nobletree currently produces eight coffees, each from a specific part of the world: two from one of their Brazil farms; and others from Ethiopia, Panama, Rwanda, Kenya and Honduras.)

There are many benefits to vertical integration, says Moore, beyond quality control.

For one, you can ensure the coffee pickers and preparers are paid and have benefits, because you’re the one employing them. You can also ensure the trees themselves are grown in a sustainable manner.

But it also “changes fundamentally how you approach coffee” as a roaster-supplier, says Moore, because there is greater communication between grower and end users — in this case not just Nobletree’s roasters and trained specialists, but coffeeshop owners.

“From the very beginning of when we’re planting a seed,” says Moore, who used to work at Queens’ Dallis Brothers Coffee and for Counter Culture, “we’re thinking about what a barista will be doing five years from now.”

At Nobletree, says Moore, they also practice computer-aided “precision agriculture,” collecting data on crop variability — yields, hydration, soil characteristics — across a field. As a result they know a lot about the attributes of the beans that end up on in that micro-lot served at The Elm, or even what might need to be tweaked in harvest or growing seasons to come.

The result is not just a good cup of coffee, but greater knowledge of every facet of the bean. “For coffee people,” says Moore, “you have to imagine this is what gets us out of bed in the morning.”

Photo credit: John Moore

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.