UPDATED 4/12/12 at bottom.TOBY'S ESTATE
125 North 6th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Toby's Estate is a micro-chain of coffee shops/roasters from Australia that's opened their first American shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Of course, no one in Brooklyn would know that it's an international corporation because no one's ever heard of it here. So it has a little extra caché on the anti-chain north-Brooklyn coast. Of course, it helps that Toby's Estate fits in perfectly with the Williamsburg aesthetic. The staff are all super nice, bowler-wearing, tattoo-sporting, pierced hipsters who just also happen to really have a thing for coffee.
The physical space is large, in what appears to be a renovated industrial loading bay and is so meticulously designed that it almost seems forced. Giant windows let in reams of light. Bookshelves filled with purposefully chosen bric-a-brac (like old copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica) rise to meet the twenty foot ceiling, twenty square feet in the corner is devoted to huge sacks of coffee beans. There's even a large, glass windowed roasting room (an "espresso lab") behind the counter that we can all gaze into. Toby's Estate does claim to roast on site and they supposedly hold some coffee classes there, but there was never anyone in it and every item in the room was posed for public viewing like it was being filmed for a Pottery Barn catalog.
I ordered three things on my trip here, two coffees and a sandwich. The sandwich was grilled ham and Gruyere cheese with pickles. It was soft, gooey, buttery and delicious. They cooked it up right there and brought it to my spot at the communal table I shared with six other people. Every customer here was young, attractive, hip, and looked like they be right at home in a Vespa ad. We (and I include myself here) were all reading or studying or clacking away on our MacBooks.
My latte was heavy and rich and thick. In spite of the foamy cream, it maintained its strength, bordering on bitter without actually becoming bitter. If you're the kind of person to sugar your coffee (something I refuse to do) then you'll have plenty of little paper wrappers littering your table space. For the rest of us, this is a sipping latte, not the kind you chug while rushing to commute to work in the morning. You roll it around on your tongue while engaged in conversation or reading a lengthy report. This latte will take about twenty minutes to get through. I also tried an espresso and was recommended the "single batch roast" (served with a glass of sparkling water). It was so dense that the closest thing I can compare it to is eating extra-dark chocolate. Imagine the 90% dark bar you might find at a specialty chocolate shop or down the snob candy aisle at Whole Foods. Dark, like the smell of cigar smoke at midnight, like a peaty Laphroaig 15 single malt, like a hearty soil after a light morning rain. And you only get about an ounce, so pace yourself, chief.
Toby's Estate isn't for everyone. It's not a jazzy relaxation chamber that some coffee shops like Tea Lounge have tried to be, nor is it the quaint and cute neighborhood place, a la Joe The Art Of Coffee. Save a large sofa along one wall, the seats aren't very comfortable. Actually, they're pretty awful. There aren't any huge chairs you can sink into and not get up for weeks from. I didn't see any outlets. Some people will find it overpriced (it's not cheap). Some people will note that there's no room for a stroller, or that they aren't in the right age bracket to fully fit in, and some people have a bias against hipsters. Some people will find the place pretentious (it is) and silly. But if you like the conceit of a coffee shop created for and staffed by coffee connoisseurs and if you appreciate the specific sort of over-designed atmosphere that Toby's Estate created, then this might be right up your alley.
Sandwiches are about $10 with tax and the coffees average $4.
[ Copyright eateryROW 2012 ]
UPDATE 4/12/12: The PR peeps at Toby's Estate emailed me today to explain that they do indeed roast on site, forcing a poor slob named Deaton to slave away at an oven for five hours and that they do indeed host various classes in the Espresso Lab four times a week. It was also assured to me that Toby's Estate is not a vast international coffee conglomerate with tentacles reaching into three continents, led by a Bond-esque villain living in an undersea base that you can only get to by submarine with dreams to either dominate the world's coffee market or destroy it. It's just a company run by a guy. A nice guy named Toby who's got a little scruff, who likes coffee, who just so happens to travel the world by dirigible, who owns shops on three continents in a half-dozen cities and who lives in an undersea base patrolled by bikini-clad women with spear guns.
[ © Copyright eateryROW 2012 ]