Sometimes cafés are places we hurry in and out of in our daily hustle, but other times cafés are destinations we seek in order to pause and savor something special. Devoción is located on a side street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, refreshingly removed from the neighborhood’s business-saturated main streets, creating an environment of café-as-haven. The muted palate of the understated exterior contrasts with the vibrant energy the shop contains.
From the street, the interior of the café itself isn’t visible. Display windows reveal only a twenty-five-kilogram Probat and other roasting equipment. Located beyond the roasting studio, the café itself comes almost as a surprise. Drenched in sun thanks to a massive skylight, the shop instantly transports visitors on a sort of coffee getaway. Most arresting is a massive wall filled with numerous species of tropical plants (including coffee seedlings!) that thrive on the living wall at the back of the café. “We specifically cut the skylight to open up the space while giving light to the plants. The garden represents the lush green of Colombia; we wanted to bring a little bit of Colombia’s verdant landscape here,” says general manager Jonathan Dreszer. Canary drinkware populates the tables and countertops where tourists and locals sip espresso drinks and pour-over preparations from Devoción’s committedly Colombia-only coffee menu.
“We specifically cut the skylight to open up the space while giving light to the plants. The garden represents the lush green of Colombia.”
Dedicated to Colombian Coffee
That single-country focus traces back to the foundation of Devoción. In 2006, Devoción’s founder, Steven Sutton, was working for a Miami-based coffee distributor of Colombian beans. Sutton noticed that the gap in roasters’ and consumers’ connection to the farms left a void that specialty coffee could fill. “No one was going directly to the farms. Everyone was using exporters. We created a diverse purchasing network only for us,” he says. “There is no exporter involved—we are the exporter. All around the country we specialize in the hard-to-get places because these are the places where the bourbons, the typica (traditional coffee varietals) are.” Sutton is driven by the desire to try things no one else is doing, but to also remain honed, focused, and devoted to an elevated aesthetic.
Devoción’s attention to detail starts with the coffee they source and continues through to the setup of the brew bar. The original Devoción café is in Bogota, Colombia, and, like the glamorous new Williamsburg outpost, exclusively serves coffees from Colombia’s lush mountains. Roaster Sergio Muñoz recently relocated from Bogota to Brooklyn to manage production as Devoción adds wholesale volume. Colombia is the heart and soul of Devoción. By focusing on the many origins within an origin, Devoción offers Colombian coffees that let drinkers experience the nuance of all the flavors available from the country’s diverse coffees. The rotating offerings include specialties like geisha, honey-processed varietals, and natural-processed coffees, all rare for Colombia.
Devoción places a significant premium on roasting them quickly after dry milling. “We Fed Ex ourselves the coffee overnight and roast it within ten to thirty days,” said Sutton. After thirty days Devoción donates roasted coffee to City Harvest, New York’s food collection program.
Recreating the Experience for Brooklyn and Beyond
The company’s expansive Brooklyn real estate allows the café to demonstrate with its design and service layout the same meticulousness it pursues in sourcing and roasting coffee. “This used to be a meat packing plant. When we got it, it was completely empty—no floors, no ceiling, nothing,” said Dreszer. “The idea is to replicate what we do in Colombia; wholesale (roasting) first, then retail and everything that comes with that. We put the roaster at the front to indicate that it is the face of everything we do and to treat the retail area like a showroom.”
Café Devoción describes itself as a botica de café (a coffee apothecary), playing on the idea of an apothecary’s dispensary by featuring coffee quotations from classic texts and handling beans as conscientiously as a pharmacist would handle a precious medicine or a healer a mysterious elixir. The bar features a Kees Van der Westen Mirage lever machine, that pulls two types of espresso daily. Mahlkönig grinders feed the machine and the V60s and French presses at the brew bar that boasts a menu of five coffees. Siphon brewers prepare cascara tea.
Brooklyn is competitive turf for coffee roasters and cafés, with four established roasters and twice as many specialty shops (not including the new Starbucks Reserve location) within a ten-block radius of Devoción. Luckily, Colombians aren’t exactly known for backing down, and the Devoción team is riding a wave of enthusiasm. “We had a huge turnout for our first Thursday Night Throwdown; we’re excited to host even more,” says Dreszer.
On bar during a lull between waves of Saturday morning and afternoon rushes, barista Merisa P. Skinner channels her attention on the espresso machine’s steam wand as she prepares the next customer’s drink, looking and listening for the milk to reach the appropriately velvety texture. She delicately cradles the cup in one palm, concentrates on the perfect pour, and places the finished product on the counter with the handle angled just so to facilitate pick up. The heart of an artful latte, it’s an apt representation of Devoción’s passion for celebrating Colombia through its coffee.
—Rachel Northrop is a New York City-based writer and the author of the ethnography When Coffee Speaks: Stories from and of Latin American Coffeepeople.