A month ago I was in Brooklyn for the weekend and happened to stop by Artists & Fleas, a massive open style market that boasts a wealth of purveyors that look to shake up the retail experience. It’s a disruption of the consumerist chaos that accompanies shopping malls, favoring the eclectic creativity of jewelry makers, artists, print makers, seamstresses, record sellers and more. Each vendor is, for the most part, the creator, and they are front and center with their own wares, looking to attract your attention with a generous collection of niche goods.
So don’t expect to find a cozy foodcourt Starbucks slinging Unicorn Frappes while the sound of milk steaming pierces the air like a screaming child left in the hands of a surly mall Santa. No, this mostly child free market looks to cater to the specialty crowd, those who take their coffee as serious as their avocado toast, and will pay almost as much.
photo courtesy of Artists & Fleas
Luckily, Paper Plane Coffee, the sole provider of tasty beverages and caffeinated smiles at Artists & Fleas, don’t charge an arm and a leg for a cup of coffee. And despite coffee being a seasonal item, which sees prices escalate based on accessibility and varietal, a specialty drink will run you no more than $5, with pour-overs (single serve, hand-poured cups of coffee) catching a flat $4. They even concoct coffee mocktails such as the Rusky, their take on a Moscow mule (ginger beer and lemon) with espresso instead of vodka for only $6.
That’s partly because Paper Plane Coffee not only serves coffee with an understanding of the market and its clientele (which despite the hip atmosphere, is filled with a wealth of diverse faces), but because they roast it too!
Owner and coffee slinger, Jonathan Echeverry – all smiles and warmth as he hustled to take orders and work the bar – understands that while coffee may be 99% water, it’s 100% passion. A 5th-generation coffee grower from Colombia, Echeverry grew up among the trees that find themselves with an abundance of cherries (remember, coffee’s a fruit) twice a year. It’s an experience that many stateside baristas never see, and it’s an experience that defines the Paper Plane Coffee message.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down – even if it was via email – with Echeverry amidst his busy schedule to talk coffee, passion, diversity, and late night movies.
Greg Mucci: You say that your journey began on your family farm, Villa Elisa, in the Colombian mountains. What did this landscape and upbringing provide that you embraced and took with you on your coffee journey?
Jonathan Echeverry: Well, my brothers and I were born here, but we would spend our summers in Colombia. Mostly our time would be spent on Villa Elisa with my grandparents. I’d wake up early enough just to catch my grandfather milking the cows and then after he would strap a basket on to me and I’d go help out where I could in the fields. Most everything we did down there revolved around coffee. It wasn’t till much later that I discovered how far back our coffee lineage went. Not only did this experience humble me, but I believed it instilled the love of hard work.
photo courtesy of We Could Make That
GM: When it came to falling further down the proverbial coffee rabbit-hole, was it love at first sip or did it start out as, to put it simply, just another job?
JE: It was definitely not love at first sip, or second. My parents never forced me to drink coffee and I never took to it. Having grown up in Georgia I got used to drinking sweet tea with lemon. If I did drink coffee it was generally really sweet and milky. It wasn’t till my late teens that I started really loving food and beverage. My parents had a Mexican restaurant that my brothers and I grew up working in and eventually running so experimenting with flavors was easy. It was right around then that the idea to bring coffee from Colombia and roast it really took a hold of me. I wanted to immerse myself in all things coffee so I took a holiday job at Starbucks. Then all of a sudden I ended up side tracking my desire for my coffee concept. I went to culinary school, moved around a bit achieving and failing at many things and then a couple of years ago the spark was ignited again and I jumped in head first.
GM:What did you do in between leaving Colombia and starting Paper Plane Coffee?
JE: Uff! What have I not done? I’ve acted in TV shows, voiced commercials and cartoons, slept in my car for a couple of weeks, driven across the country several times, cooked at famous restaurants, served celebrities, impersonated accents in order to hang out with celebrities, sung, danced… Yeah, you name it. It’s been quite a ride!
GM: Tell us a little about what it was like getting the gears moving for Paper Plane! Why Brooklyn? Did you always see yourself roasting?
JE: It’s definitely a game of slow and steady wins the race. It’s just me right now, so I kind of do it all, on top of still work a nine to five, and do acting jobs when I can. I try and stay on top of our social media all the time, but during the week once I’m done with my daily affairs I’ll head to my office to get ready for the weekend cafe. I roast coffee and package online/wholesale orders. The goal is to have a seven day a week cafe. I chose Brooklyn because of the name. New York city alone is known for having its fingers on the pulse of all things fashion and food, and Brooklyn is very much an extension of that. On the world stage carrying the name Brooklyn is like having a guarantee of quality (of some sort). I mean, Franky said it best, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
GM: When it comes to the burgeoning scene, and as a Colombian rooted kid who grew up in Atlanta, what does diversity within coffee mean to you?
JE: It means a lot actually! In many ways the US is playing a bit of catch up when it comes to specialty coffee, while most Americans still don’t know very much about coffee in general. I try to steer clear of telling people how to enjoy their coffee. A quick way to end any conversation is by telling someone they’re wrong. You can continue talking, but the person is more than likely focusing on the parts of your face they find the stupidest. Coming off as a know-it-all will also make people steer clear. With coffee, most people have their ritual, so I aim to be enthusiastic about what I’m doing and hope that it translates. This eases the shock factor when you introduce a new brighter coffee to a coffee drinker that’s used to a toastier brew. I love single origin coffee’s, but I’ve noticed many roasters are using them to make big milk drinks, and that kind of confuses me. Wow, I think I went way off topic. Ha!
GM: They say you can teach a trade, but you can’t teach empathy. What is the biggest thing you have learned since starting Paper Plane Coffee?
JE: That’s a tough one. I’ve learned that most everybody in this industry, as a wide generalization, know very little about coffee. I’m always shocked how many times I’ll go into a cafe and ask a barista to tell me about the coffees and they look at me as if I had just passed gas.
GM: What would you tell anyone looking to start their own coffee shop?
JE: Love it. Love coffee. In all its facets. Learn to know how to pair coffee with different moods, times of the day, etc. Anyone can sell coffee, you want to give someone an experience and a reason to come back. Also, I know a guy who can get you the beans you need!
GM: One last question! It’s late, you just made a cup of coffee and are planning to watch a midnight movie. What did you brew and what do you watch?
JE: I’ve brewed up some of my brand Honduran La Paz. It’s so light and fruity and very tea-like, almost like a dessert. Chances are I’ve seen a Marvel movie, or something along those lines.