Few topics occupy the minds of the caffeinated more in the summertime than how best to brew iced coffee. The guys of Birch Coffee (birchcoffee.com), located in Manhattan’s Gershwin Hotel, say they’ve not only figured out the brewing part, but also the best way to get it to people: they deliver their iced coffee by the jug to customers via bike cart. The human-powered delivery vehicles tie into the pair’s sustainable business model (carefully and ethically sourced beans, craft roasted locally). So, New Yorkers can feel good about getting their morning jolt.
We chatted with Paul Schlader and Jeremy Lyman about greening the iced-coffee experience.
What is the key to great iced coffee?
Jeremy: I get very, very excited about our iced coffee. We’ve done our homework, for sure. Basically, when we first started, we didn’t know much about the process of making iced coffee. What most people do is make a hot pot that’s a little stronger and throw it into the fridge. Once we started doing the cold-brew process, there was really no turning back. We probably went through around 10-12 different blends and roasts. It took us weeks to come up with something that we really, really liked and can stand behind.
And what was the winning blend?
Jeremy: Our iced coffee blend is just unique. What a lot of other places do is use just what’s lying around for cold brew, but we found one that’s specifically roasted for cold brew and it’s a very, very fine cup of coffee. We use a Honduran and Brazilian blend, basically a split between the two.
Sustainability is a big part of your business model. Explain.
Paul: When it comes to upholding that stuff, the most important to us is finding the farm that the coffee is coming from, making sure that the people that are working on that farm are treated well and paid well. We will not source coffee from a place that’s not in line with what we believe in.
Jeremy: It was always about being as sustainable as possible. The space that we got is LEED certified. In the beginning, we just wanted to use as much refurbished and recycled material as we could. We just thought it made sense; we didn’t know you could get certified.
How did you come up with the idea to deliver growlers of iced coffee by bike?
Paul: It’s funny because we were discussing the jugs during a meeting and someone said, “You should look into the delivery thing.” And Jeremy and I, our eyes lit up to the realm of possibilities. We came up with a bunch of different ways to create this milkman-style delivery system for the jugs. When we came up with the jugs in February 2011, no one was doing it. We came out with it the same week another place came out with it, which was hilarious because we thought we were those lone gunners with this amazing idea. Next thing you know, it’s a trend.
Had you always wanted to be in the coffee biz?
Paul: when I was 16 I tried to talk my dad into taking out a second mortgage so I could own a video game shop. He was very intelligent to say no, but I’ve always wanted to own my own business. When Jeremy and I went to this coffee convention in Washington, D.C. in 2007 – it’s called Coffee Fest – for me, it was a sealed deal. I just could not wait to work in coffee. It’s such a magical world. I was very excited to get my feet wet.
Do you have a favorite coffee city?
Paul: I honestly think that New York is doing an outstanding job with coffee, especially within the last three years. There are so many shops that are ramping up their game; there’s a really healthy competition to really showcase what they have. There’s a shop a block and a half from ours – I was scared to death that we were sunk and there was no way we could stay in business with this amazing shop opening next to us. But it helped us thrive because we were able to really push ourselves to strive for a whole other level of excellence. I’m really happy with this city and I think we’re doing a hell of a job.
Jeremy: One place I’m eager to go to because of their coffee scene is Australia. So many articles we’ve read cite the top coffee shops in the world as always in Australia. [Edit: Hey, here’s one]. We have a very strong fan base of Australians. When an Australian comes into the shop and compliments us on our coffee, it’s one of the best compliments we can get. They know their coffee well. They don’t mess around.
So, do you guys make a good flat white?
Paul: It’s on the menu. We’re still trying to figure out the difference between a flat white and a latte, but we’ll figure it out.