One of Brooklyn’s many charming qualities is the sheer number of excellent coffee shops all over the place. I have a long list of favorites, and I carry a bunch of loyal-customer punch cards, counting down how long until my next free iced-latte.
A few months ago, the coffee shop made it to my house. And I’m not talking about the espresso machine that takes a master’s degree to operate, and that only produces its magical, silky coffee every other weekend. I picked up a bottle of Grady’s Cold Brew iced coffee concentrate at Union Market, after reading the label and wondering if it was too good to be true.
Now my 3 o’clock iced latte mostly comes from the fridge, thanks to Grady’s.
I had heard about the awesomeness of cold brew coffee before, but didn’t really know what it meant. With coffee, like with wine, I just know if I like it or not. The Grady’s process is explained on their site: each batch is made by steeping a special blend of freshly roasted coffee, ground chicory (for a touch of sweetness) and spices in water overnight, then extracting the grounds using a two-step filtration process. The result is absolutely outstanding and delicious, and loves the company of milk and ice.
Grady’s began its operations just last year, and they have been expanding quickly, selling now at Whole Foods, Union Market, Smorgasburg and many (many) other locations. One of its founders, Williamsburg resident Grady Laird, tells us more about the story of this cool company and how they have managed to keep the operation local, from their coffee roasters to their signature chubby bottles.
When did you first get the entrepreneurial bug?
I’ve always had the bug. There have been many failed ideas before Grady’s Cold Brew. When we came up with the concept for bottling coffee last year, I was actually selling kebabs out of a sports bar down the block (4th Down). It was called The Döner Party (yes, the name is somewhat offensive/gross…and maybe only 10% of the people get the US history/Turkish sandwich connection, but it still cracks me up). I really caught the bug when I moved to Brooklyn though. I was constantly being exposed to all these great entrepreneurial ventures and it made me feel lazy for not trying to start something on my own. I guess I was caught up in the artisanal movement. It’s pretty hard not to be.
You now sell at Whole Foods, Union Market and many gourmet shops, as well as at Smorgasburg. What were your initial distribution channels?
The first two stores were The Brooklyn Kitchen and Urban Rustic. I have to really credit them for taking a chance with us. We were pretty tiny when we first started…producing and distributing everything ourselves out of a small 600 sq ft basement space, so I’m sure we came off as complete rookies. We thought it was really important to do everything on our own though. All three of us (co-founders Dave Sands and Kyle Buckley) came from completely different backgrounds (none of which involved beverage production/distribution), so we needed to learn the business from the ground up. There have been many missteps along the way, but it’s been worth it.
Where do you source your coffee from?
We get our coffee from Porto Rico Coffee Importers. I can’t say enough good things about that company. They are complete coffee experts (been around NYC for over a hundred years), but are also some of the nicest people to work with. They have really gone out of their way to help us learn the complicated coffee business. They have a wholesale warehouse in Williamsburg, so the beans are always super fresh. They roast the coffee and we brew it within 24 hours. And now they buy the bottles back to sell at their coffee shops. It’s a nice little local circle.
Your bottles have a lovely old-school look, they’re like Red Stripe beer’s big cousins. Where do they come from?
We get our bottles (called the Boston Round) from Rappaport Sons Bottle Co. on N 10th (also in Williamsburg). They definitely have a nice apothecary/elixir-like quality to them that is appealing to the foodie scene here. We are far from the only ones using them though. I’m waiting for some snarky blog to start the Boston Round backlash. We picked that bottle for the shape and similarities (amber glass) to beer bottles. We figured beer was a good association to have, but it has been confusing to people at times. A lot of people are bummed when they realize there is no booze in Grady’s Cold Brew. But you can certainly add it. These days I’m drinking Left Hand Milk Stout with an ounce of our coffee concentrate added. So good.
In the last few years there has been a surge of quality Brooklyn coffee roasters. Why do you think that’s happened?
New Yorkers love their coffee. It’s cubicle fuel. I think that the surge in roasters is similar to the surge in other areas though (breweries, distilleries, bakeries, etc…). People just want to know where their food is coming from. I love getting a taco at a tortilla factory the same way I love getting a cup of coffee from a roaster. You can definitely taste the freshness. People are also willing to pay for a high quality cup of joe in Brooklyn. I don’t think you would see people in Missouri (where I’m from) buying a $7-8 cup of coffee, but it’s no big deal here.
Besides picking up a bottle of Grady’s, what do you recommend us to try next time we’re at Smorgasburg?
There are so many good things. It actually causes me stress trying to choose when I’m hungry. We usually just eat whatever the other vendors bring us in exchange for coffee. If I’m actually venturing out though, I’ll probably get some hashbrowns from Egg. I go with the pulled pork, green chilies, and Grafton cheddar (so key) with an egg on top. Then for desert I’ll reach out to our neighbors from The Good Batch. You can’t beat their ice-cream sandwiches.
If you’re at the Smorgasburg market this weekend, put a bottle of Grady’s on your list. You will thank me. And if you’re not in New York, they ship anywhere in the US through their website.