Alyssa Fisher


One afternoon last month, Leighton Knowles wandered into Caffeine Underground in Bushwick with Cannabidiol-infused lollipops and a desire to clear up misconceptions.

Knowles launched into a discussion with the cafe’s owner, Ian Ford, about the benefits and wrongful stigma of Cannabidiol (CBD), one of the main components in marijuana. Then he asked Ford if he’d like to carry his CBD-infused coffee, Flower Power Coffee. Caffeine Underground is now the only place in New York City serving such drinks.

“This place is magic,” Ford said. “Caffeine Underground … it attracts these weird people at the right time for the right thing.”

The CBD-infused grounds come in individual packets which Ford or baristas use to create any order. For me, it was an oat-milk latte. The drink was smooth and light —  delicious but not unlike a typical latte. I wouldn’t have noticed the difference except for the wonderful sense of calm I had moving forward that day.

CBD, as I learned, has a low psychoactive effect: It is legal and not mind-altering like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the compound it’s often used interchangeably with which creates the “high” associated with marijuana. CBD is known to be an effective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory; it has success easing symptoms of epilepsy and attention-deficit disorders, as well as providing stress and pain relief.

Knowles is an advocate for CBD’s health benefits and regularly hosts educational seminars and dinners. In addition to his artisan coffee, Knowles is also a chef who makes CBD edibles

The enthusiast found a business partner in Craig Leivent, who has a doctorate in Pharmacology, a degree in Botany, and 20 years of clinical experience. Leivent had been studying the effects of CBD, and the two went on to found Flower Power Coffee Co. together. 

“He [Knowles] is really on the ball with his knowledge,” said Shayna Cowen, a Caffeine Underground barista. “That was the first thing he brought up to us when we agreed to be one of the few coffee shops that sold his brand. The most important thing for him is that people realize there is a science behind this.”

Caffeine Underground, which opened in August at 447 Central Ave., has already established itself as a coffee shop that caters to health. Before Knowles pitched the CBD coffee idea, kava and charcoal drinks had been on the cafe’s menu.

Ford, who is also a DJ and reiki master, doesn’t drink alcohol anymore; but he easily recalls what it’s like to have to get back on your feet after a long night, expected to be productive.

“When someone comes up and are not sure what they want, we’re able to help them decided something that’s going to help their day,” Ford said. “We want people leaving here feeling better than they came in. The CBD is a wonderful tool in our arsenal.”

Last week, after working throughout the day and night, Ford threw out his back. He had a CBD cappuccino; it was his first time trying the substance.

“It got me through the day,” he said. “I slept like a baby that night. It was fine, without any interference. I could drive my car, no problem. It took my pain away, took the anxiety away. I had an awesome day. The caffeine in the coffee gives it a nice little energy bed that keeps you going through that.”

“It’s subtle,” Cowen said. “I love, love, love the benefits of kava. There’s a physical moment when you’re like, ‘Oh and that’s the kava.’ Whereas with CBD, there’s not that moment. There’s just a moment of calm. Especially with a small dose, you won’t consciously be aware that it’s working until you’re in traffic, and you’re not as upset as you normally would be.”

In addition to coffee, the lollipops Knowles waved that first day have been added to the menu, as well as CBD caramel and jelly.

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Cover image courtesy of Caffeine Underground

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