“All you need is love and a coffee,” and that’s exactly what you’ll get at Coffee Project in the East Village. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by a friendly hello and some smiles by co-owners, Chi Sum Ngai and Kaleena Teoh (pictured below, respectively). Sum, who is Malaysian-Chinese, had completed her barista training in Portland. She learned to blend different beans together, creating flavors that were beyond just the popular coffee that comprises of nuts and chocolate notes. She moved to New York City five years ago and began her planning to open a shop with Kaleena.
If you’ve been to their store before, you may have heard of the Deconstructed Latte, which is the first project of several to come. Inspired by Slate Coffee Roasters in Seattle, Sum created a deconstructed latte similar to theirs. As a sit-in experience only, customers can try the latté in three parts served in different cups on a wooden tray with a small glass of sparkling water and a side treat. On one end of the tray is the shot of espresso with notes of honey and dark chocolate. The middle is special milk made at a creamery in Salem. It’s sweeter milk that was frothed and pasteurized in controlled low temperatures, creating a taste similar to that of raw milk. On the other end of the tray is the latté itself. By serving the drink in this unique way, Sum explained that the notes from the espresso and the milk become recognizable when you try the latté, and it is also a good experience for people who are intimidated by espresso to begin with.
On the other hand, there are tons of other drinks that you can try. I asked for a recommendation as I had tried the latté already, and before giving a quick answer, Sum asked me a couple of questions to help narrow down my palette interests. She came to the decision for me to try the “Happy Drink”, a cold drink that involved sparkling water mixed with cane sugar and 2 shots of espresso, topped with whipped cream and fresh espresso grounds. It was the perfect choice as I was in the mood for a lighter drink. I enjoyed the bubbliness and the similarity to cold brew except that this had a creamy texture. It surely did make me happy! Other menu highlights included nitro coffee, which is cold brew infused with nitrogen that looks almost like a beer. There are also different pastry options from a bakery in Bronx, which has no physical store but sells their goods to different vendors.
As you order from the counter or seat yourself comfortably at a table, you can see people coming in and out constantly. A customized mixture of music plays in the background as the ambiance of calmness fills the room. This was no coincidence. Sum had created this space with an intention of creating good coffee as well as making it a community coffee house. “People pay a lot for coffee, so we want to create a space at least where they are comfortable and not intimidated.” It was rough at first, but they got to know their neighbors in the East Village before opening shop and built their interior intently, customizing lights and chairs to complement one another and the background. When the store opened, they focused on making good coffee and building relationships. Just as they knew my name by the second time I visited, they also knew the other customers’ names and their usual orders as well. The walls give evidence of a community feel too. Artwork by local artists are hung or presented in the shop with small descriptions about the artwork and the artist. As long as there is a story behind the artwork and it is appropriate for the café, there is an opportunity to showcase anyone’s work. Here is one featuring an artist by the name of Funqest.
Coffee Project isn’t just your ordinary coffee shop. It offers more unique options but with intent and precision on making good coffee and caring tremendously about their customers. Besides from that, you can count on coming here for a friendly face, whether it’s a hello from Sum and Kaleena, or from some of their very kind staff members, Adam, Steven, and Karolina.
Perhaps I’ll see you there! I promise I’ll share a seat! As always, thanks for reading! Xoxo