COFFEE CRESCENDO : Has the Coffee bubble burst?
Signs of the coffee-pocalypse...
There are always warning signs before an earthquake. People don't often perceive the warning signs but anecdotal evidence suggests that animals often get a sense in advance that something is wrong.
Only after the fact do humans initiate a post-mortem to see the signs that were available.
In 2000, the Brooklyn Lyceum (a Gowanus theater/ gym /cafe outside the then reaches of gentrification, Park Slope, and safety) had a coffee shop. There was not much to it, just some grind in packets, not even beans, from a local roaster, Farinon, on Dean Street near 5th Avenue. The beans were fine for what was presented at the Lyceum cafe, a cup of joe.
The customers ranged the full gamut, stockbrokers to electricians to lawyers to artists to musicians to housewives to to actors to teachers.
In casual conversation with the roaster, we learned that Farinon supplied some high-end shops in Manhattan and did a booming business in the Berkshires.
Brooklyn, not so much. We asked why and the grumbled response was "Brooklyn knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."
Some 15 years later, Brooklyn has come full circle.
Now home to the priciest of micro-artisanal-organic options, Brooklyn may see a culling of more coffees than existed in Brooklyn in 2000. Many roasters will remain, but the quality will be ever on the rise. It is that kind of world today.
In the end, the culling will weed out many coffee proprietors just going through the motions.
Here is how we see it playing out.
Brooklyn, home in 1950 to 2,738,175 souls and only 2,300,664 by 1990, just after we landed on her shores, has been, a la Star Trek II/III, terraformed with the rush of new peoples and activities and uses mostly blotting out, consuming and transforming or replacing what came before.
There is a lot of handwringing about whether this process is/was bad or whether it is/was necessary.
What is rarely addressed is that it was inevitable from a combination of factors including the death of American Industry freeing up wide swaths of industrial land to new uses, the final cratering and resurgence of neighborhoods due to white flight and urban abandonment to the suburbs in general, the wholesale abandonment of neighborhoods like Bushwick after the 1970's blackout, a complete abandonment of the educational system, rezoning for higher density and the defibrillator shock to the system that was the removal of lead from paint and gasoline in starting roughly in the mid1970's.
Brooklyn would be the first NYC Boro to break free of the Self-imposed "lead coma"(http://www.ethyl.environmentalhistory.org/?page_id=27):"""
Meanwhile, automakers equipped new cars with pollution-reducing catalytic converters designed to run only on unleaded fuel starting in 1975 and 1976, and new unleaded gasoline pumps began appearing at filling stations nationwide. At that time, the average blood lead level in children under age 6 was 16.5 μg/dL. By 1985, 40% of all gasoline sold was still leaded, but in July of that year, the refinery pool standard of 1.1 grams per gallon dropped to 0.5, then dropped further to 0.1 grams per gallon on January 1, 1986. Over all, the 1986 standard represented a drop of more than 98% in the lead content of U.S. gasoline from 1970 to 1986."""
With the phase-out of leaded gasoline, the average blood lead level had dropped by 1996 to 3.6 μg/dL, and it continues to decline. Similar declines in blood lead levels corresponding to leaded gasoline phase-outs have been observed in many other nations.102 Lingering public health threats to children from leaded gasoline are still associated with residual lead in urban soils.103
Lead content in gasoline peaked in 1973 at an average of 2.2 grams per gallon, which amounted to about 200,000 tons of lead used per year in the United States. In 1995 leaded fuel accounted for only 0.6% of total gasoline sales and less than 2,000 tons of lead per year. Effective January 1, 1996, the Clean Air Act banned the sale of the small amount of leaded fuel that was still available in some parts of the country for use in onroad vehicles. (Fuel containing lead was still permitted for some off-road uses, including aircraft, racing cars, farm equipment, and marine engines)..
Quite simply, people in NYC before 1980 were essential handicapped or addled by the presence of lead in both gasoline and paint. That it took a few decades (1976-2006) for Brooklyn to wake from her slumber induced in search of profits for the oil industry is of no moment. Brooklyn awoke and immediately began gasping for air and remaking herself, often with the sweat of the brow of those not quite so addled from the fly-over states.
Brooklyn became a magnet such that this country had never seen in terms of attracting youth dissatisfied with their lots elsewhere.
Locals can argue about it all they want as they sell their family homes and relocate to lesser areas on those checks. No one blames them for cashing out and/or running away.
What they lose the right to do is to complain about those who stayed or those who build where they watched the collapse.
There were terraformers hiding in plain sight in 2000. They were, however, mostly relegated to Williamsburg (mostly) and Dumbo (a bit).
The usual suspects were the Right Bank Cafe where crazed creativity flourished (http://www.williamsburgobserver.org/2013/04/02/last-call-in-bohemia/) and Oznots ( https://ny.eater.com/2010/7/23/6725499/the-demise-of-eight-of-williamsburgs-first-wave-restaurants), back when a good breakfast was really hard to find in Brooklyn, the feigned retro-remembrance that all the local food was somehow good food by current complainers notwithstanding.
What happened, alongside the real estate explosion, was that foods that had become absolutely least common denominator (Coffee, Chocolate, Pizza, Beer) became Petri dishes of re-invention.
Although they each deserve their own spot, we focus here on coffee.
My father had freeze-dried coffee each morning which I detested. As a vehicle for caffeine it was surely adequate, but then along came Brooklyn (some say after Portland / Seattle, but that is a talk for another day).
Somewhere, somehow, cheap rents and the allure of the much more expensive city (Manhattan) across the River attracted artists and creative and younger folks constantly. Usually, they filled the almost worthless housing that had been left by the long slow loss of 440,000 people from 1950 to 1990. That is a LOT of empty space.
To get a stylized feel for what the waterfront was like along the Brooklyn side of the East River you can check out some early Steven Seagal flicks as well as the seminal "Last Exit To Brooklyn", "Ghost" and "Jacob's Ladder".
You can see from these alone, and not even need my fathers warnings that Coast Guard personnel had a rough time on the Brooklyn waterfront warnings, that Brooklyn was barely safe for a risk-taking young individual and completely unsafe for families who demanded to be able to go to their car each morning and finding it both there and with windows intact.
Somehow, this petri dish of available places to stay, young immigration from other parts of the country, proximity in Manhattan and a general wild west atmosphere, in combination with rezoning, lessening crime and the 2006 recession, unleashed a storm of reinvention that most Brooklyn-ites take for granted and, unfortunately, most people in the real world couldn't care less about, laid the groundwork to reinvent, and make money and fame through, everything common, including Coffee.
The Numbers Never Lie
There are roasters popping up all over the place. And for good reason. ( https://ny.eater.com/2017/8/25/16202348/coffee-roasters-new-york-brooklyn )
How to interpret it all?
A group arrives unannounced who the mainstream ignores / can't target / can't control. That group percolates to an affordable rent area with a large population, lots of under-utilized buildings (both residential and commercial), a recession so they can't even get any jobs, more education than they know what to do with, and, intended or not, a keeping of their expenditures much more local than the locals, in the abandoned wilderness of Brooklyn. Yes, abandoned. In 1995 you couldn't give Williamsburg away.
Add to that an insatiable media cycle.... and you have the perfect petri dish to re-invent every food product you have come to know as a commodity, even coffee. Well, especially coffee.