Walking into the loft, nestled amongst the industrial buildings east of the Morgan L train stop, I am not only greeted by Tobin Polk (co-owner alongside Lance Schnorenberg) and Aric Carroll, self-described “task master,” (aka operations manager) but also by Charlie the cat and the faint sound of a needle pressed on a warm folk record playing in a carry-on turntable. This is Lofted Coffee, a roaster of high-quality, sustainable coffee who, perched in their Bushwick loft, are hoping to take coffee culture by storm.
Lofted is as ambitious as their name suggests: Their goal is to rise high in the coffee world—where cheap and bad quality coffee run amok—and instead offer the best quality (and most ethically sourced) coffee possible. They take their flavors seriously, tasting new coffees, through a practice called cupping, at least twice a week, always altering differences in temperature and time in their roasting process until they are completely satisfied.
Cupping Session with Lofted Coffee
Upon my arrival, the coffee cupping session had already been laid out, and Alonzo (our photo editor) and I immediately partook in a three-step tasting experience: First, we dipped our noses in the freshly ground coffee as we gently shook the cups in our hands to awaken the flavors; then, after hot water was added, we waited until a crust (composed of chaff and oils) had formed, skinning it with our spoons to reveal fresh and pungent coffee fumes. Finally, the moment we all had waited for arrived: the tasting. We dipped our spoons into each cup and brought them to our mouths and loudly slurped (this is the way to do it, we’re told) the coffee to individually assess its body and flavor. Indeed, the coffee from each country (including Costa Rica, Guatemala and Ethiopia) brought new layers of flavor to each slurp.
As Polk described, “Our most simple coffees have nutty characteristics, are wide in sweetness, and are muted in acidity. Then you have those with more nuanced acidity and more pronounced flavors like melons and berries and tangerine acidity, and then you have the more complex and more delicate and intricate flavor profile, like floral, chamomile, and tropical fruits and a little bit of coconut and just a wider array of acidity. We tend to focus on the middle category, which is really well-rounded, really clean, super sweet, and very full of flavor.” Weekly cuppings therefore help keep their palates in tune and keep their flavor profile in check. “We always cup for other people otherwise you can get very locked into your own taste,” Polk explained.
C0-owner Tobin Polk, standing next to the Probat coffee roaster
Five years ago, Polk was living on a boat in Newtown Creek, the estuary between Brooklyn and Queens, until he and his friend turned business partner came together to start their coffee enterprise in the 1,000 square-foot industrial loft space. Both bring a decade of experience in coffee, Polk having worked at Zoka, a Seattle roaster, and Schnorenberg at Vivace, before they both worked at Stumptown and then Culture Espresso and Budin, respectively. However, neither had roasted before. “We taught ourselves how to roast and started roasting on the Probat, which was a pain in the ass to get in the loft” Polk jested.
The pair have come a long way: they are confident in their roasting style and have cultivated relationships with coffee importers they can rely on. “We know where all the coffees are coming from and we know who all the importers are,” Polk asserted. “We’ve gotten to the point that there’s so much coffee out there that we work mostly with a handful of importers that we trust, like Red Fox out of Oakland.” This relationship is important to them, though they are constantly trying to explore better ways of keeping supply lines and communication with suppliers tighter. As Polk says, “The industry needs to be pushed instead of living in its comfortable self.” Providing high-quality, green, and fresh coffee is therefore the Lofty goal they’re working towards, and achieving.
If you’re in Bushwick, you can taste (or slurp) Lofted coffee at Strangeways, Hops and Hocks, and Dear Bushwick, though their coffee can be found in cups all over the city and beyond. Nonetheless, Polk stresses they are somewhat selective with the cafes they work with. “First, they need to have really good equipment” Polk asserted, “Second, they need to know how to taste coffee, and third, they need to push a quality agenda.” It’s quality, after all, that sums up their brand, making their residence in Bushwick all the more fitting.
Edit: An earlier version of this article suggested that some of the coffee in the cupping session originated in Australia, but it came, rather, from an Australian roaster.