Epiphany of Beans

Long Island’s largest roaster blazes new ground with a café at Stony Brook University and a new pour-over bar.

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It is fitting the new Hampton Coffee Company shop in Southampton is in a former Mini Cooper dealership, a place where customers ogled enticing machines and test-drove a new life accessory. Stocked with Chemex flasks, glass-tubed Japanese vacuum brewers and other caffeine-delivering paraphernalia against an urban-rustic backdrop with distressed wood walls, a palette of dark grays and leather couches, the java shop borrows a page from the design book of Stumptown Coffee on 29th Street or Toby’s Estate on North 6th in Williamsburg. Beckoning coffee lovers—the new and the seasoned, the serious and the curious—is exactly the point.

Consider the grease-clad mechanic from another nearby car dealership who came in for a cuppa, sat mesmerized as a barista demonstrated a pour-over brewing and, later that evening, returned with his wife to stock up for their newly coffee-centric home. “That’s why we call this the coffee experience store,” says Jason Belkin, the garrulous owner of the Hampton Coffee Company. “People come in and they have these epiphanies,” says roastmaster Dwight Amade, who compares the “explosion of coffee education” in the last five years to the growing American enthusiasm for wine and beer.

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As appreciation of coffee in the U.S. continues to surge, the small fraternity of coffee roasters on Long Island has enjoyed recent growth: Java Nation, after decamping from Sag Harbor, expanded its Bridgehampton roasting room, and its wholesale business took off; Long Island Coffee Roasters, birthed at Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck, moved up-island to a larger space; Thunderbird Roasters continues to turn out beans on the Shinnecock Reservation.

But none have grown more than the Hampton Coffee Company, originally founded in Water Mill in 1994, when there was just one Starbucks on the island. (Today there are more than 70 Starbucks in Suffolk and Nassau counties.) Now Long Island’s largest roaster, HCC is handling more beans than ever before—more than 2,000 pounds a week to supply its locations in Westhampton Beach and Water Mill as well as grocers (from King Kullen to IGA), restaurants (from Nick & Toni’s to Maidstone to Stone Creek Inn), shops and farm stands (Cavaniola’s Gourmet and Serene Green Farm Stand), in addition to Southampton Hospital, Long Island MacArthur Airport and the Long Island Ducks baseball stadium. Bridgehampton National Bank regularly features owner Jason Belkin and his wife, Theresa, in their local business ad campaign.

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And they are poised for even more growth. This fall, Hampton Coffee Company opened its first licensee location, an espresso bar on the college campus of SUNY Stony Brook, an account they won after two years of screening, tastings and interviews with school officials looking for a locally owned roaster. (Starbucks also operates on campus.) Named the Hampton Coffee Company Corner Café, it is run by HCC uniform-wearing students and operates in the brand new West Side Dining building, 8,000 square feet of green-tinted glass on the residential side of campus that includes a dumpling bar, an international deli and a barbecue. “The kids are eating well, and now they have great coffee to go with it,” says roastmaster Dwight Amade, who created Wolffie’s blend, named after the school’s mascot.

The growth has allowed the Hampton Coffee Company to do what they want to do—coffee—that much better. Consider Ric Sriwijaya, a Sumatran coffee grower who has sold them beans for years. When he visits, they have taken him to lunch and put him up in the hotel. Now they can host him at their own facility, where he can meet more easily with their staff and chitchat with customers. “We wanted to have a conference room. We wanted a place to entertain wholesale clients and growers. We needed some garage doors so we can pull the truck in and not get soaking wet. We needed a workbench so Dwight could fix machines and not do it in his garage at home,” says Belkin. The shop has hosted team-building tastings for the international bank UBS and the Greek Orthodox church of Southampton.

The expansion has given them the means to work with more small growers like Ric, from Costa Rica or Tanzania. And because customers are more interested than ever in the story behind their beans, Hampton Coffee Company can offer a roaster’s blend that people will want to try and pay more for.

As the company outgrew their Water Mill space, the once-featured roaster got buried behind an expanding kitchen, lunch tables and catering trays. They started receiving accolades for their muffins and breakfast burritos—the Southampton location features pumpkin bread pudding and Nutella brownies that have lured customers from as far as East Hampton. “People were forgetting that we were about coffee,” says Belkin, adding that they were the first roaster in the region and one of the first on the East Coast.

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Now, in Southampton, the roasting room doors are strategically placed so it’s one of the first things customers see upon entering the store. Still, a full-blown bean session isn’t mandatory.

Sensitive that “coffee snob” is now an expression, Belkin appreciates customers who just want a classic cup and a scone while working on their laptop. “We have no coffee prejudice here,” he says. But if you want to study a map of Costa Rica, see the beans roasting and learn how Chemex works, they can deliver that, too.

And while Belkin and Amade are wary of coffee trends, “it’s the hipster takeover,” Amade jokes, they aren’t averse to technology. Hamptons Coffee Company maintains active social media accounts on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. And, in response to the spike in households with automatic Keurig machines, they will be selling their coffee in K-Cups starting Thanksgiving weekend. The company has a coffee truck that hits street fairs and festivals, including more than 100 charity events on the East End each year. In addition, Amade is experimenting with bottling his own cold-brew coffee, aiming for a release next summer, in convenient six-packs for the beach or a Long Island wine tour. With this luxury of space, Amade has been talking to other local roasters about a barista throwdown here.

“Coffee is really special,” says Belkin. Not just because of recent publicity as an antioxidant-rich beverage that can ward off the symptoms of dementia. But also because it’s a crop that only grows in the thin band of the planet between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and so connects us to the health of rainforests. It also connects us to people. Belkin theorizes that more than 100 hands have participated in a coffee bean’s journey from farm to his store—families harvest it, mill it, wash and dry and sort it, donkeys transport it to ships, and truckers bring it to Long Island. “Each of those people depends on our company,” he says. Amade follows the coffee chain even closer to home. “And me and my family depend on it and your drinking it, so we can make a living. And finally the huge dependability is we depend on it to get us going,” Amade says and takes a sip of piping hot java.

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