Birch Coffee founders Paul Schlader (left) and Jeremy Lyman.
In just seven years, Paul Schlader and Jeremy Lyman have made Birch Coffee one of New York’s go-to spots for savoring a cup of high-end java. But the gents aren’t the least bit snobbish. They serve their specialty-grade coffees, which they source themselves from small farms around the world, with generous spoonfuls of affability. Schlader and Lyman opened the first Birch in 2009 inside the Gershwin Hotel (now the Evelyn) on East 27th Street. They now have seven locations in Manhattan; they also operate their own roaster in Long Island City, which doubles as an eighth shop. Schlader tells us how the duo made Birch’s coffee so hot.
SKY: Birch is a small chain, but it’s grown quickly.
SCHLADER: When we first started, we didn’t know coffee. What we did know was how to take care of people when they walk through the door and really feed their expectations when they come in for their morning cup. More often than not, we’re the first interaction that they’re having with other people in the day. We wanted to make sure that that first interaction was something that they actually looked forward to.
Our to-go cups say, “Hello, my name is,” and then you put the sleeve on and it says, “Birch loves you.” Our customers have a lot of choices for very good coffee throughout the city. And we wanted everyone who comes through our door to know that we are grateful that they have chosen us—that’s not something we take for granted.
You certainly know coffee now.
I’m a licensed Q grader now. You can think of a Q grader similarly to how you’d think of a sommelier for wine. A Q grader has the ability to go to points of origin and grade the coffee that’s there. Everything that scores above 80 is considered specialty grade. At Birch, we don’t buy a coffee that’s less than an 85. That doesn’t sound like a significant jump, but on the level of quality and also the cost, it’s actually pretty dramatic. You absolutely know it in the cup.
We go right down to the farm where the coffee’s coming from. It’s not just from Brazil, it’s from Carmo de Minas—and the farmer I’m working with is Jacques. We get extremely granular in our attention to detail. This isn’t some commodity we’re grabbing off a shelf and throwing into a roaster. Every coffee we source, we source specifically for one of our four brew methods. So for espresso, there are three coffees I blend together after they’re roasted: Carmo de Minas, a Guatemalan coffee from the San Marcos farm in the Antigua region and another from the Gondo region of Kenya.
Why do you think New Yorkers have taken to Birch?
We provide people a place outside of their homes where they can get a great cup of coffee, sit with a friend, have a conversation, work on their novel, whatever it is. We’ve worked tirelessly to create a space where people can get out of their own way and just sit and enjoy an hour in this beautiful city we live in.