Welcome to Toby's
words and photographs by Ellie Eckert
"To a certain extent a great cup of coffee is what’s in the coffee. It’s the story behind it, the flavors, nuances, but I think upon moving to New York where there’s just a great café on every block, for me it has shifted. It’s less about the cup of coffee—because there are so many great cups—and more about the place." - Allie Caran
Toby's Estate is one of those Brooklyn coffee shops that keep drawing you in for more. The impressive menu, decor and equally inviting baristas make it one of those go-to spots for weekday or weekend. You can probably imagine my excitement when while power walking down Fifth Avenue I was struck with one of the most satisfying sights: a second Toby's location.
I slowed my typically impressive fast-walk from sprint to slow run and peered awkwardly through the windows. It was everything: delicate, beautiful, pure white walls--the interior design my Pinterest boards are made of. A week or so after the initial shock wore off (a beautiful Brooklyn-esque coffee shop in the Flatiron district?!) I sat down with coffee educator, Allie Caran, and retail manager Amanda Wells to chat good coffee, decor and my new dream job.
Name, Location, Occupation
Allie Caran; 160 Fifth Ave; Coffee Educator, Toby’s Estate
Amanda Wells; 160 Fifth Ave; Retail Manager
Allie, you’re the coffee educator here at Toby’s Estate. Tell us a little bit about what that entails.
Allie: I have the coolest job in the world. I mean everybody loves coffee. I think the majority of people, that’s their daily ritual, but I have probably the coolest position in a way because I’m nearly a paid storyteller. You spend everyday talking about coffee, tasting coffee, and you get to be kind of the magic in coffee. I consider myself particularly lucky because I literally get to nerd out. There’s nothing better than that.
Amanda: I do inventory, the ordering—make it all happen—make sure things are organized, the pastries, food, coffee, but also I make sure the shop is looking great, my baristas are happy and the customers are happy. Making connections with people, building relationships with the people at Club Monaco and Strand, and with people who are coming in everyday.
[editor’s note: Toby’s Estate shares a space with the Strand, and is connected to Club Monaco. I smell a tasty shopping trip in my future.]
Tell us a bit about your daily routines!
Allie: It changes each day, but generally most mornings we start out with production cupping. We make sure that we taste everything out of the roaster. So it’s a collection of us just making sure that it’s good. And after that most of my day is filled with training wholesale accounts or private accounts—we run a brew school—and then constant testing of things. It’s pretty great. You’ve seen the Brooklyn Lab. There’s that little cupping room and espresso lab so that’s where we can kind of evaluate how we want our coffee to translate, especially when new crops come in—that’s where all the testing happens.
What are some things you look for in a great cup of coffee?
Allie: This is a really interesting conversation that keeps reoccurring. To a certain extent a great cup of coffee is what’s in the coffee. It’s the story behind it, the flavors, nuances, but I think upon moving to New York where there’s just a great café on every block, for me it has shifted. It’s less about the cup of coffee—because there are so many great cups—and more about the place. How memorable was that experience for me? Something as simple as the hospitality of the baristas, or did they educate me in a way that I didn’t realize I was being educated?
Tell us about this Toby’s location. How is it different from the Brooklyn location? What inspired the décor?
Amanda: This location was designed to represent Flatiron as a district. The vintage tin ceilings. The marble countertops. They were trying to do something a little more delicate than the one before.
Allie: Toby’s Brooklyn is our flagship. That’s where all of our roasting, all of our testing—our offices, education department—that’s our baseline. But when it came to Flatiron I think it was beyond just the décor—because there was a lot of thought making sure that it reflected this area. When it comes down to it this is an impressive area. Historically the Flatiron building was one of the greatest achievements in architecture. Even down to the coffee we choose here—it’s entirely different from the selection in Brooklyn. We did create a blend just for Flatiron. It was about six months in the making and what we were looking for was a coffee that could translate the area.
When someone comes into the space, what kind of experience can they expect to have?
Amanda: It’s a pretty warm environment. We have a lot of people that we see twice, even three times a day. It seems to be a destination place for people to meet up.
What is your coffee order?
Allie: Macchiato. I like to do the single shot macchiato with the other single shot on the side.
Amanda: Espresso. Definitely espresso.
Allie: You’re very courageous.
Amanda: I think that whether I get a bad shot or a good shot I appreciate the coffee.
Allie: Does a bad shot really exist anymore? I think the deeper you get into the industry you realize that the variables are so high. I find that when I’ve found shots that I’m not particularly satisfied with I kind of assess the aspects of that shot—it’s no longer a bad shot. It’s just a shot you can’t figure out.
As told to Ellie Eckert on July 16, 2014.