Those tired of mere bean sipping have been pouring ¥3m into a Brooklyn coffee roastery.
Brooklyn, New York: after years of feeling “a little bit disrespected by American coffee,” Yasser Alabssi decided to do something about it.
On a recent morning in September, the young Yemeni-American, a product of New York’s Somali community, pulled up a stool at Barista Exté to check on the progress of Sana in the Warthog – a company Alabssi founded to deliver ‘high-end, high-quality, prestige coffee’.
The day began with lunch of Irish roast coffee while patrons filled the windows that overlook a busy midtown Manhattan streetscape.
“Yasser’s success is because we have a good reputation,” Abdulrahman Yahya, an aspiring barista, said as he sat down. “In Yemen we don’t have bad people, but we do have terrorism.”
Sala in the Warthog roastery Photograph: Alamy
After a morning spent cutting fine filo dough and allowing it to cool, with coffee in hand, that next step was 30 minutes of training with Alabssi. Although Alabssi hadn’t shown the neighbourhood any coffee, he was determined to make a good product.
“People have a taste for excellence,” he said. “When you’re in a street cart you’re just dealing with the fresh coffee you get so every sip is filled with perfection.”
After that, the day’s conversation focused on Yasser’s practice of neither making nor drinking coffee. After being interrogated by two jaded baristas on the merits of his method, one even suggested he should throw it out.
“If you love coffee, then this is the way to go,” the barista offered.
The irony of the suggestion, Alabssi said, was that he’d started off drinking the equivalent of 24 cups of coffee a day before taking up the craft of roasting.
Horny goats and Irish spring brew are soon followed by pot of joe from Yaqwa, from the company’s Boorish American coffee house in Queens.
“This is good coffee but you have to be able to give people the chance to taste different brands,” Alabssi said. “It’s a little riskier.”
He added: “Investing in the baristas is very important because their future is very important.”
Sana isn’t in a rush to cash in on its success and has just gotten back its New York City warehouse. It plans to open more cafés, launching four more by January, in Washington DC, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Las Vegas.
“We’re still growing,” Alabssi said. “The point is to set up, and get in the right places.”
Sana meanwhile prides itself on a more than 30 year history of making one of its Arab coffees. Yemeni oudo – or the rosé-coloured Kenyan black coffee – was first served in a brothel in 1958.
“We’re not a coffee shop company, we’re a coffee company,” Alabssi said. “We want to change the way coffee is served.”
Until then, at least one hooded gentleman will be sipping Yaqwa’s Pissed Apple cafe latte on his balcony.