Black Brick, Brooklyn. Is there some tropical storm going on? I enter a glass door drenched, looking as if I’ve stepped out of a shower. Later on my bathroom inspection, I see my mascara has smeared across the side of my face. Nice. The state I’m in, it takes me a few minutes to get my bearings.
Two baristas are behind the counter. I make eye contact with them as I enter, saying I’ll be back in a few minutes. I’m looking for a friend, Roman, a tall blond haired guy I met at the NAG Gala. We connected with our shared interest in sustainability and after going on for a bit, we thought it’d be good to find a time to meet, both admitting we could go on for hours.
I head to the back of the shop looking for Roman. Don’t see him. I put my stuff on a table and take a 360 degree look around. There’s this guy that might be him at the front of the shop. While I’m debating in my head whether to approach him, and seeing the scenarios of what will happen if it’s not him, I just decide “screw this” and go over. He’s looking down, deeply engaged in a book. “Roman?” I ask. His face lifts up, staring at me in confusion. Nope! “Sorry” I say, telling him I thought he might be someone I know and at the same time trying to subdue my embarrassment.
I walk back to my table. I then see an email from Roman. He’s at Devoción – where I did my first coffee shop hop. We were supposed to meet at Black Brick around 2:30. I arrived after 4. He had been there since then and moved to Devoción for a change of scenery.
I’m fighting internally whether to go home (I’m drenched and tired) or stay. Recently, I’ve been challenging myself to say yes to the opportunities before me, rather than dismissing them and thinking I’ll do it another time. No, the time to do something is now. So I decide to stay to finish the coffee shop hop. I let Roman know I’ll be there for a little bit but not to worry about coming by.
I do the bathroom inspection first. TP has an eco-friendly certification. Paper towels are brown – they look eco. I don’t know the deal with the hand soap, but appears to be something cheap you could pick up at any general grocery store – not specifically selected for it’s environmental friendliness.
I’m back at the table with my things. I finally enter my observation mode. Vintage is the vibe of the place. Everything, from furniture to the interior seems to be up-cycled – nothing is new. The ceiling particularly captures my attention. It’s made of old crates. Lamps are birdcages. There’s some typewriters (I also saw these at Brooklyn Roasting Company and Toby’s – I guess people like the nostalgia).
It’s a Sunday, so not sure if this is the typical crowd (I’m later told more tourist come through here on weekends and their regulars during week days). The crowd here is younger – I’d say 20s- 30s.
I finally decide to go up and talk to the barista. It’s just one guy working now. He’s got dark hair and eyes. As he’s talking to me, he is taking tea out of a glass jar – it looks like cannabis buds. I redirect my mind to focus on what he’s saying. At first, I don’t sense too much enthusiasm by him about the topic despite his willingness to chat with me. He tells me the place does not really attract overly concerned sustainable people – it’s a “cheap” coffee shop (I see drip starts at $2) – it’s more for the experience. The barista also informs me this isn’t really the mindset of the owner.
I notice most people at tables have paper and plastic cups, although there are a few people with ceramic. They use regular paper and plastic cups. I’m told they try to recycle paper cups. I interject saying that the wax/plastic lining sometimes interferes with the ability to recycle. He says they’ve been doing it and haven’t had any complaints from their carter. I’m told that because of the recent law that was passed, requiring now small businesses to recycle, they can only dispose of things two times a week. This is starting to give them appreciation for the amount of waste they produce.
I explain my thoughts about disposable culture and an interest to shift/create change – he seems to get the challenge and uses the phrase “out of sight, out of mind“. That’s exactly it. If people don’t see their waste, they don’t have the opportunity to realize what their contributing to.
The barista seems a lot more skeptical than other baristas I’ve met about behavior change. I get it. I also like hearing other perspectives, particularly where there is doubt or uncertainty. This is going to be where the greatest challenge lies – I think I had a bias sample, going to places where there’s more awareness about sustainability.
Roman walks in. The engine of inquiring has started. I give him a hug and explain I’m asking questions for my blog. He cordially tells me it’s fine and he’ll do some work while I finish up.
I continue talking with the barista, bringing up the idea of a loyalty program across stores. He mentions other local chains, like Joe Coffee (on my list!), Gregorys (heard the name – should check them out), and Cafe Grumpy – when they start doing things, other smaller shops seem to follow. So it would be good to start with them. The implication I’m getting from the barista is that this isn’t guerrilla warfare: bigger coffee stores, changes higher up in the industry need to guide consumer behavior. I have mixed feelings about this. I think both need to be tackled, and also a solid communication structure between higher (corporate) and lower (consumer) levels needs to be in place.
They don’t do cup discounts. Grinds are thrown out in the waste. They were, until recently, putting grinds in a bin without plastic liners (mostly just because of logistics, not really out of trying to be sustainable) but there was something about FDA regulations and now they’re back using plastic bags.
The barista makes a reference to a Texan company, bio-bean. I check out their website later – looks like they collect coffee grinds to make bio fuels. Cool!
The one thing the barista is aware of that is sustainable is the coffee packaging from Stumptown. I learned about that on my Coffee Shop Hop #5.
I asked the barista about the music – it’s almost contrasting to the interior of the place I say. It’s House. The particular songs playing seem to belong in a store with a clean, modern feel, accented with steel counter and table tops. Here I’d expect more indie rock or folk to be playing. The barista tells me he plays House because it’s “uplifting” and not “sad” like some of the other music that gets played throughout the week.
At the end of the discussion, I notice the barista is more animated and engaging in the conversation. I am given some of the drip. I bring this back to where Roman is sitting. Several hours pass talking with Roman. We share a lot of common perspectives about waste and both at a place in life trying to zero in on our calling. We plan to meet again. He has a few places he frequents – he suggests one in Park Slope for next time.
Regardless of the sustainability issues, the atmosphere of this place is chill and pleasant for meeting up with people. I’d go Black, but I’d like to see them Brick up their game. I think they could push harder by offering for-here cups. Also, because they are a smaller store, I think there could be an opportunity to partner with a local community garden to donate coffee grinds rather than throwing them away. I understand offering reusable cup discounts is financially difficult, but in the future, they could join a rewards system that connects to many coffee shops (something I’m interested in developing), which would pool resources and allow them to offer things like free drinks (I haven’t fully expanded upon this idea, but wanted to toss it out there because things are moving fast in the background and this chapter of the investigation process may be coming to a close soon).