158 Bedford Ave
(between 8th St & 9th St)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Serious Coffee Comes to Williamsburg
Posted by Nina Lalli at 2:23 PM, February 4, 2008
A very serious, very well-located coffee bar opened today in Williamsburg. El Beit, on Bedford between 8th and 9th streets, gave coffee away all weekend in order to welcome the neighbors and practice their service routine. We stopped in for a delicious latte on Saturday, and tried to keep up with Dan Griffin, the manager, who taught us all about the beans.
Coffee freaks are kind of like wine freaks, in that the object of their passion is similarly complicated (geography, economy, process), and if you're not one of them, you have no idea what the fuck they're talking about, but it sounds really good and you want a cup/glass. Luckily, our friend Peter Meehan has the mental capacity for all this, and you can get a good education from this article.
The coffee at El Beit is supplied by the North Caroina company Counter Culture (also at Café Grumpy and Ninth Street Espresso), and, as Griffin put it, goes way beyond "fair trade." Counter Culture owner Peter Giuliano has much more involved relationships with the farmers than most people on the business side of things, and Griffin says he pays them better than fair trade, too. For their most special coffees, which will change constantly, El Beit uses the Clover, an $11,000 machine that Griffin summarizes (many times a day, we imagine) as "a cross between a French press and a vac pot," and "an amazing machine." It brews one cup at a time, in about a minute, so the beans are ground fresh every time, and the "brewing parameters" (water temperature, grind size, brew time) can be adjusted based on the beans. "It's—hopefully—gonna completely change the way people think about coffee," Griffin said.
A small cup of Clover coffee will cost $2.75. "I think it's worth it," Griffin said. The beans used for these cups come from micro-lots, and the Clover requires more coffee and more labor per cup than other methods. But there will also be blended-bean coffee available, also from Counter Culture, at more familiar prices.
Although Griffin dislikes the term "consultant," that's probably the most fitting title for him. El Beit's owner is Bassan Ali, a Lebanese designer who still works in product development at Coach and is no coffee expert. But he is dedicated to doing things right, for which Griffin seems very grateful. As a career barista, he couldn't afford to open a place like this himself. As he put it, "We're very lucky that other people have jobs we wouldn't want to do."
Ali's lease started in September, and he spent months completely transforming the space, which was previously a cafe. Most of the materials inside are salvaged, including butcher-block tables and the old barn wood that covers the outside of the bar.
As with wine, coffee like this can be intimidating to the casual drinker, but Griffin's enthusiasm doesn't seem to come with any snootiness, so just ask a question, and then listen carefully.