Chatting North Fork Roasting Company with co-founders Jennilee Morris and Jess Dunne.
Q: How did you come to the North Fork?
Jess: I’m a native, grew up in Southold.
Jennilee: I’m from Long Island; I was the opening general manager for Love Lane Kitchen in 2007. Fell in love. Never left.
Q: How did you meet?
Jennilee: After Love Lane Kitchen, I owned Bonnie Jean’s, which was next door to our coffee shop, [Ed note: It’s Country Kitchen now] and was consulting for a Greenport restaurant called Farmhouse. Jess started working at Farmhouse—that was 2011—and I noticed that Jess had a really strong culinary interest.
After Farmhouse closed, I offered Jess a position at Bonnie Jean’s doing pastry and eventually a sous chef position at my catering company Grace and Grit. Jess was first introduced to specialty coffee at that time and quickly shared my passion in the industry.
Q: How did you found this place together?
Jennilee: I started roasting coffee at Love Lane Kitchen back in 2007. After a few years roasting there I bought my own roaster, set it up in my garage, and for the next four years continued to roast coffee out of my garage, with the hope of opening a specialty coffee shop someday.
In fact I was looking for a coffee shop location when I came across the opportunity to open Bonnie Jean’s. It steered me in a different direction then anticipated and i found myself further away from my dream then intended. After 3 challenging years I decided to sell the restaurant back to the original owners who were anxious to return to the location.
I had already been leasing this space–the building next door–for 2 years, but after I sold the restaurant I was pretty burnt out. Jess was the one who was able to breathe life back into this dream with her excitement and passion for the coffee industry and bringing it to her home town.
Jess: I grew up in this town, and I always dreamt of a place like this opening here; sort of like “Central Perk”. I really wanted to contribute to my community and what a cool thing to do at such a young age. We’re coming up on our one year anniversary on the 14th. It’s a pretty surreal time.
Q: So you’re both passionate about roasting coffee. Why?
Jess: I think coffee is culinary; I didn’t know I was very good at it until we went to Seattle. My palate is very good at picking out different flavors. I really like after we get a new bean in, say from Africa, roasting it and tasting it and seeing how many flavors I can pull out of it.
The act of roasting is very Zen too. There’s a humming that the roaster makes. Sometimes when you first drop the beans in they make this sound that’s like the rythym of ‘Where Brooklyn At’ and we start singing it to each other. We’re both chefs, so it’s a natural attraction for us.
Jennilee: It’s the excitement of taking a product from its raw state all the way to the consumer. That’s the benefit of what we do, being able to control our product from start to finish.
Roasters can source the best beans, give it the best roast profile, but the end consumer may never taste that because it doesn’t get brewed properly. Similarly, coffee shops can have the best brewing skills, but they’re limited by the quality of the beans they start with.
We bring it seed to cup, and you can taste that.
Photo credit: Randee Daddona.
Q: Intuitively I understand that roasting technique makes a big impact on flavor, but what’s complicated about brewing?
Jennilee: Like tea, making coffee is an extraction. It’s really chemistry. For example, if the water is too hot, you can extract too much bitterness.
We’ve taken classes and we’re very involved in the SCAA (the Specialty Coffee Association of America.) We’ve taken four hour classes just on steaming milk alone.
Jess: To understand the difference brewing makes, well, consider espresso. I think many people have a misconception about what espresso is. People order espresso and say they want a strong bold dark roast; they think darker is stronger, that espresso is a kind of bean. But it’s not; espresso is a brewing technique.
Our espresso is a medium roast, and you can use it for drip, pour over or French press. What makes espresso… espresso is just the brewing method.
The espresso brewing method involves pressured water, it’s a concentrated drink that’s meant to be served and enjoyed immediately. There’s 13 steps to making a single shot of espresso . Half of it is cleanliness, because coffee has a lot of oils. It’s also about dosing (amount of coffee) and distributing in the portafilter (making sure it’s level). If you don’t do that right you won’t get a good cup.
Out of all the brewing methods you need the most education to do espresso right. That’s why it’s very hard to brew a shot of espresso at home that tastes like what you can do on a commercial machine. But you can have the most expensive machine and not be able to use it properly.
When I pull a shot you get cherry, nut, chocolate. But if you’re not pulling it correctly, you’re going to get a bunch of bitterness. We’ve sent our staff to barrista camp in the Poconos, and we do a lot of training with them. Consistency is huge.
Q: Do you have a favorite coffee?
Jennilee: My favorite bean is the Ethiopian Sidamo brewed as a pour over. It’s the gateway to specialty coffee. It’s the first time I had a coffee in which I swear I tasted blueberry, and it’s just the inherent quality of the bean. For somebody that doesn’t know specialty coffees, if they have it for the first time, it’s one of the stronger aromas, very intense, and it’s our lightest roast.
Jess: We had a single origin Kenyan—I’d like to get that back in—it was like dark red wine and chocolate. And I like that in a French press.
Q: You’ve created a really nice hang out space, a place it’s just a pleasure to be. How did you create this space?
Jess: My dad built this place with us; he built the whole bar. He’s retired now, but he had been a contractor in this town for years, and we couldn’t have done it without him. There was a lot of fatherly love and craftsmanship.
Jennilee: Dan. Dunne.
Q: Looking back on your first year, any thoughts on the progress made, or lessons learned?
Jennilee: We started this off very focused on roasting and brewing great coffee. We didn’t do anything else. We just wanted to be sure we nailed it. Now we are starting to expand creatively by offering limited food that’s high quality and local.
Jess: One thing that has always been important to us is hospitality. Someone walks in and within seconds they are greeted and welcomed. That’s really important because brewing good coffee takes a couple minutes, and hospitality keeps people patient.
Jess: I never could have imagined how important this place would be to the community. It’s really amazing to see our neighbors interacting with each other.
Q: Do you host any events?
Jess: Yes. Friday nights Liza Coppola hosts an open mic night, it’s 6-9. There’s such a diverse group of people who play and its different every week.
Saturdays we do a Story Slam from 6-9. You can share a spoken word, read stories, perform scripts or perform your own work. Just show up. Share.
In summer, Friday will remain open mic. Saturday’s a fun night, we can be creative with what we host. Stories are fun in the winter because it’s cozy and it’s a great way to get to know one another in the community.
We also do jewelry shows, art exhibits, photography or any local craft in need of an outlet. We try to utilize our space as a platform for aspiring local artists to get their work seen.
Q: Any changes planned for next year?
Jess: We’re going to develop the garden area this summer. I’d ultimately like it to be a fairy garden, with Ivy and all.
Jennilee: This past summer we drove to Tennessee and back in two days to pick up a 1963 Fireball camper that we are going to convert into a mobile espresso trailer. We plan to launch it this year for special events.