Editor’s note: We kicked off our first annual Food Loves Tech event last summer in Chelsea—here’s a recap. We’re bringing a taste of the food and farming future back this year, but just across the East River at Industry City. Leading up to the event, this story is part of an ongoing series about technology’s effects on our food supply.
If you’re going to build your chic, slightly inscrutable, high-end coffee and tea equipment business a beautiful calling card, a 4,000-square-foot showroom and lab in Sunset Park may be one of the more dramatic ways to do it.
This is no surprise, though, coming from Alpha Dominche. The coffee equipment manufacturer (it’s probably no longer safe to call them a start-up) based in both Utah and New York has never been one to shy away from a grand presentation. Their signature coffee and tea brewer, the Steampunk, is a striking, intense, bar-top presence, its brewing prowess matched only by its sheer theatre. It’s made up of tall, glass-tubed “crucibles” that extract the beverage of your choice via steam agitation, which must be operated with care by both skill—a barista—and technology. The result? A clean, sweet, full-immersion brewed cup of coffee or tea, the likes of which you’ve never tasted before—at least not with as much fanfare.
When Alpha Dominche grew up from a gutsy Salt Lake City engineering company to a New-York-based coffee brand, it did so quietly. CEO Thomas Perez, a coffee equipment executive who’d worked for Bodum, helmed the transition in 2015, promising to deliver not only a better international presence for the company (75 percent of Alpha Dominche’s business is outside of the US) but a state of the art showroom and tasting space. But it wasn’t until this past winter that their Extraction Lab was born.
Stepping inside, it’s hard to tell whether you’re in a retail cafe or the world’s most exclusive coffee lounge. The space in Sunset Park, Brooklyn’s rapidly evolving Industry City compound, is staggering in size by New York City standards. Of the 4,000 square feet Alpha Dominche calls home nowadays, 2,500 of them are allocated to the public in the form of a stylish, bare-bones, modern cafe. A line of sleek Steampunk crucibles serves as the capacious bar’s brewing backbone—and unlike most contemporary cafes, there’s no espresso in sight. Instead, the small staff of baristas is ready to prepare you a selection from two rotating menus of tea and filter-style coffee (at least one cup of which may be priced in the double digits). Should you wish for a Danish-style snack to accompany, pastries from Meyers Bageri (as in Claus Meyer) are available. From there, you’re on your own to find a sunny seat among the potted plants in the spacious, L-shaped converted warehouse room, whether at a smaller table back towards the Alpha Dominche labs and offices, or at the broad common tables in the front.
The combined headquarters/cafe space is so fluid, Perez says, that he himself partakes of both sides, not just for pleasure, but as a way of doing business.
“When I come in the morning, I take out my laptop and sit in the cafe for the first hour, and it’s kind of an inspiring place to sit. We’re all sort of using the entire space, and talking to customers, checking in, and getting people’s feedback,” Perez says.
For Alpha Dominche, the vision for Extraction Lab came from the idea of blurring the lines between equipment manufacturing and the real-world cafe environment. Solely a manufacturer in its early years, the company faced immediate challenges when its complex machines, previously only tested in-house, hit the counters of busy, fast-paced coffee bars. Equipment and usability weaknesses came to light in the line of duty, and the company learned how to fine-tune and improve their product somewhat the hard way. Having moved through those early obstacles full steam ahead, the next step, says Perez, was closing that gap between engineering the perfect cup, and presenting it themselves.
“I always felt since the beginning that it could be interesting to bridge to the end consumer and really show your face instead of just working through distributors,” says the Danish-born CEO. “That was the inspiration, to have that consumer-facing profile, and really show the beauty behind brewing coffee and tea and do it ourselves firsthand…the whole experience,” he says.
“It’s so much beyond the beverage, which has to be good obviously, but talking to the customer, serving it, brewing it, all those kinds of things, that’s what we wanted to make a model for and explain it through showing it.”
The goods they’re showcasing are as impressive as the space and method. Coffee is sourced from internationally renowned roasters like Norway’s Tim Wendelboe, Sweden’s Drop Coffee, and Colorado’s Ninety Plus—the latter of whose beans will be regularly roasted by Alpha Dominche in-house. Tea straddles perhaps a broader swath of appeal, with a variety ranging from tisanes and fruit-blended black teas to oolongs and senchas.
And in this venue, where function informs form? There’s nowhere else in New York that’s created this much room just to focus on the process—and the delicious outcome—of a high-tech brew.