Allie Caran has been the Director of Education for Brooklyn-founded and New York City-based Partners Coffee Roasters since they began their business in 2012. Today, they boast six locations across three boroughs.
And all of them have been shuttered due to COVID-19.
“We closed March 15, and that was really hard. It felt like the whole world had changed overnight,” Caran says. “It was heartbreaking, but we saw it as our responsibility to close all our cafes.” Despite the closings, Partners was able to give the option of furlough to the majority of their retail employees and continue paying 100 percent of their benefits. The corporate staff has taken pay cuts, but the roastery and warehouse employees continue to receive their full compensation.
Caran explains that to keep the roasteries open, they’ve pivoted operations to focus solely on their b2b and e-commerce business. “In order to have a place to come back to, we have moved away from our cafe business and adopted a different model,” she says.
The shift to online business is more seismic than it may appear at first glance, as Partners had been a pillar of New York cafe and specialty coffee culture. And it’s eliminated the human-to-human interaction that made it special to people who frequented cafes.
“Before the pandemic, it was really difficult to find a coffee shop in New York that wasn’t full service—they had to have food and places to sit and so on,” Caran says, “and we’re hearing from our guests that that’s what they miss the most, the connection.”
But even as the pandemic has closed cafes, coffee has retained its importance in people’s lives. And it’s not just about waking them up. Making a cup of coffee is the kind of warm, comforting ritual people rely on in times of crisis. Caran says she’s noticed the joy home brewing has brought those quarantined due to COVID-19.
“I’ve been really amazed watching how just a simple homebrewed coffee has really become a special moment each person carves out for themselves,” she says. “I’ve always been a believer that specialty coffee should be accessible and easy to make with a great end product. As we look to the next generation of what coffee culture will be, I think it’s going to be mainly centered around home preparation.”
Caran has a few fail-safe tips on optimizing your cup of coffee at home. Two common mistakes to avoid are selecting the wrong ground size and using the wrong ratio of coffee to water. “That’s how you’ll get really astringent tastes or really hollow, papery flavors,” she explains. “When you brew your coffee you’re really following a recipe, so you really want to pay attention to ratio and try to repeat the recipe as closely as possible each time. We have these very limited ingredients of coffee and water and between those two ingredients so much can change and determine the overall quality of your cup of coffee.”
You can practice your at-home specialty coffee drink skills with Partners’ recipe for a spiced mocha, a chocolatey treat with a kick that can be served hot or iced any time of day.
Partners Coffee Spiced Mocha
5 grams chili flakes
25 grams clover honey
1 gram salt
25 grams hot water
300 grams chocolate powder
150 grams water
150 grams milk of your choice
8 grams of brewed espresso (1 shot)
Steep the first four ingredients for 5 minutes and strain to make honey-chili syrup. Mix the chocolate powder, water, and syrup together until incorporated. Heat milk of your choice on the stovetop; add 35 grams of the chocolate-chili-honey syrup and a shot of espresso. Stir until well mixed and pour into your favorite mug or store in the fridge if desired chilled. Garnish with an additional 1 gram chili powder and 3 grams chocolate powder dusted on top.