New York City Coffee Guide
Navigating the NYC coffee scene with Toby's Estate
Coffee: We can’t live without it and we can’t help but Instagram it. When it comes to coffee, Toby’s Estate knows best. Toby’s has resided in New York City for the past three years and has quickly become a staple. Hailing from Australia, Toby’s Estate has developed a roastery in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn where they produce and sell their own coffee as well as assorted small bites. We were lucky enough to chat with one of the owners, Amber Jacobsen, to discuss the shop and the coffee community in the Big Apple. Amber gave us details on all things coffee at Toby’s as well as her essential visits while in New York City.
What is Toby’s Estate Coffee and how was it started?
We opened in 2012. My business partners, Adam, Toby and myself, decided to open a roastery in New York because we thought specialties were underserved here. There were some coffee roasters out of town (in Chicago, California, and DC) but New York didn’t offer a specialties coffee roaster. Now the landscape of specialty coffees has completely changed—there are some really good operators here. It’s actually quite a competitive market.
My business partner brought me to Williamsburg and said, "I think this place will be spectacular: It’s so close to the city, and I believe that it’s going to be the next great place to be." So literally, our street was empty. There were tumbleweeds, and it wasn’t good; but we signed our lease, and we opened a year later. Just as we opened, Williamsburg started rebuilding and now it’s incredibly busy so we were very lucky. We operate a roastery (which is a wholesale business), we ship coffee, and we have a loading dock out back. It’s actually a working factory as well as a retail space.
There are many Australian coffee shops opening in the US. How would you say the Australian coffee community influences the New York coffee community?
The New York coffee scene is pretty sophisticated. Australia is a very espresso-based market, and they don’t understand the filtered options as well as America. Also, cold brewed coffee is something that we don’t do in Australia. I think the thing that Australians do like is having a meal with their coffee. The Australians that are coming over here are doing spectacular breakfasts with their coffee. There is a real café culture in Australia. You go out and you have your scrambled eggs with exceptional coffee. In New York, it’s more like you go to your brunch spot, and you have your exceptional breakfast, and then you go to your coffee shop that just serves coffee and pastries. We like to hybrid them together—that is probably the number one influence we have on the New York market.
Tell us about the Brew School!
We have a wholesale business, three full-time educators, and a couple of part time educators. It’s a very labor intensive product when you sell coffee beans to a café. You need to train their baristas and because we have our own retail store, we train our own baristas too. So, when we were talking about what else we can provide, we thought, “You know what, coffee can seem intimidating and a lot of people brew at home, but they don’t really know how to. They don’t really know what type of beans to buy, and if they need a grinder—it’s kind of complex for a very uncomplicated product. So, let’s demystify this and make it easy and approachable as well as share our love and appreciation for coffee, and teach people how to make great coffee at home.”
The reality is that you can’t come to a coffee shop every day. So we developed two educational programs: One is for the coffee enthusiast where you can learn how to do a French press, Chemex, and define tasting notes and the other is for people who want to become baristas or who have espresso machines and want to learn more about coffee. We run the full spectrum—our educators are there to educate our wholesale clients and other baristas so they are very experienced. They really enjoy doing the homebrew classes. I love working with someone who has been French pressing their entire life, then they come to the school and find out they have been grinding their beans too coarse or too fine—now they know how to make a perfect cup and they say, “This is so much better!”
Each store feels like you are walking into a home; how do you come up with the interior design for each location?
The idea of Toby’s is that we are friendly and sophisticated. We want people to come in feeling like they are in a beautiful environment, but we want it to be friendly and easy to be in. Each store needs to be unique for its neighborhood. The vision for Williamsburg was being transparent about the way we do business. We also wanted to create the eclectic feel of Brooklyn. We wanted a place that was fun, that people could come to and enjoy themselves on the weekends. We thought there was a real need for that.
Our West Village store is basically a replica of a West Village brownstone. It’s definitely quainter with exposed brick that has wallpaper with family photos of all of our staff and friends. Each time we design a store, we think, “What is the neighborhood?” because no one wants to go a chain. My business partner, Adam, does all the designing. We work with many different people to come up with a concept and he creates it. It needs to be interesting and interactive—you just don’t want to be in a square box anymore.
What is the future of Toby’s Estate?
My business partners and I just want to create great coffee and that is probably what we want to continue to do. It would be really nice to get more wholesale clients. We do have a new store opening in Midtown. We are small business owners and at this stage, we don’t have a grand plan of world domination. Rolling out multiple retail stores—it becomes more than a few people can manage. We just want to make really good coffee. So, our dream is to sell more retail coffee and have more people enjoy our coffee.
Toby’s Estate Essential NYC Coffee Shops:
This Parisian influenced café and bakery in Soho is absolutely stunning with some of the prettiest china pattern and sweetest mugs you'll find. Grubstreet named them NYC's best new chocolate chip cookie. Definitely give it a try!
Van Leeuwen East Village
Our go-to for ice cream and coffee. The East Village location on 2nd Avenue is especially cozy and inviting and gets plenty of sunlight. Their ice cream is all made from scratch in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Why Not Bistro
Their corner shop on Christopher Street location operates as a café during the day and bistro and wine bar at night. It's a great place to sit down with a cup of coffee and get some work done—plenty of seating and outlets.
The best coffee and doughnut combination in the city. Their newest store in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn is a favorite of ours and a quick stroll from the Barclays Center. They actually change the way you think about doughnuts.
The most charming coffee shop in Crown Heights that turns into a cool wine bar at night.
Staten Island's first and only specialty coffee shop. They serve yummy crepes alongside great coffee.
Lil Choc Apothecary
For amazing vegan crepes, homemade non-dairy milk options for cappuccinos and lattes, and other tasty treats, Lil Choc Apothecary is great! And the space is adorable.