A coffee chain opening their first cafe outside of their hometown isn't always a game-changer. But looking at the likes of Intelligentsia and Stumptown: sometimes it is. Enter New York's City's Joe, then—who last week opened their first-ever out-of-state cafe in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia. Their entry into this growing coffee-literate city—until recently rather dominated by local roaster La Colombe, with a little Counter Culture and Stumptown thrown in the mix—isn't shocking at first. But throw into the mix that it's part of Joe's gradual transition to roasting their own coffees exclusively and the Northeast will soon have another major roasting force on its hands.
While some people weren't looking, the now nine-store chain gradually began roasting a portion of its own coffee last year, borrowing unused time on vintage roasting equipment —a growing trend as more and more nascent roasters get themselves up and running—from the folks at Dallis Bros. Coffee in Queens. Though the popular cafe still gets the majority of its beans from Chicago-based Intelligentsia, the Philadelphia Joe will be the first of their locations to feature all Joe-roasted brewed coffee, using only espresso from Intelligentsia until the full transition to all-self-roasted coffees this summer, when the company begins roasting full time in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
The company will start first with single-origin coffees roasted for filter brewing, curating the flavor profiles and constituent beans for their house drip blend for the very first time. To start with, the house coffee will be a single origin coffee from Peru.
Why'd they start the changeover with filter coffee? "It's a lot to go from 0 to 100, even 10 to 100," said Jonathan Rubinstein, co-owner of Joe, about beginning to build their own coffees. "Espresso is tricky, and we're talking about a lot more components than filter coffee—and espresso is about building flavor profiles that have a lot to do with what people are expecting. I think we felt that we should take our time and curate it, and not rush it."
Once Joe does fully begin to roast for all their shops—though the NYC Joe Pro Shop will continue to feature a variety of roasters—they expect to be roasting 5000 to 6000 pounds of coffee a week. Which will suddenly make them a significant player in the roasting landscape. Can wholesaling coffee to other cafes, and restaurants—growing beyond their own cafes—be far behind?
Again, Rubinstein stresses that they're starting slowly. "We'd love to have a handful of select clients, we're currently working with Joyride and a couple office-coffee customers. I don't think in the first year of roasting we want to start selling to cafes, but a few restaurants and a couple little accounts, by all means."
For now, the company's focused on their first out-of-state store, which accommodates far more seating than their New York City cafes and delivers espresso out of a shiny new La Marzocco Strada. Is Philly ready to see past La Colombe, and the grudges against its neighbor to the north? Time will tell.
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently compiling photographs of the best coffee in the world to be published by Presspop this spring.