Brooklyn lands the first U.S. outlet of sleek, Kyoto-based specialty coffee chain % Arabica on June 11 — and will perhaps be New York’s only coffee shop outfitted with one of those fancy, water-spraying Toto toilets, heated seat and all.
Similar to other % Arabica locations across the world, the 1,500-square-foot Brooklyn location, at 20 Old Fulton Street, is decked out with the shop’s signature clean, white aesthetic, a glowing white neon sign, counter seating for 14 (plus another 24 on the outdoor patio), and a stylish customized Slayer espresso machine. Founder Kenneth Shoji — who embarked on a coffee career less than a decade ago after purchasing a coffee farm in Hawaii — strives to share quality-minded espresso-based drinks and Chemex drip coffees prepared from some of the city’s freshest, single-origin beans.
It’s the focus on freshness that sets this brand apart from other local third wave coffee outfits. Half of % Arabica’s locations, including this Brooklyn shop, are outfitted with a “green bean corner,” where guests can select unroasted coffee beans from places like Ethiopia and Uganda. There’s usually around seven seasonally-changing options, in addition to a house roast that leans toward the medium-darker profile. An employee will custom roast those beans à la minute to fit a patron’s desired roast profile. The roasting, which takes place on a Tornado King machine, lasts around seven minutes before it’s ready to take home.
Shoji explains that coffee bean freshness is paramount because coffee is a perishable product, and beans immediately start oxidizing after they’re roasted; they typically maintain their flavor and aroma for only around a week. It’s the reason why he decided to add this bespoke roasting operation: To better control his coffee quality, and to offer customers more flexibility in choosing a roast style.
As the quality of coffee beverages rise across the U.S. and other countries, Shoji is clearly onto something. In the last six years, since debuting his first cafe in Japan, Shoji has grown % Arabica to an astonishing 87 global outlets, and he currently has additional New York, U.S., and global cafes in the works.
“I fell in love with the community, and the amazing view of Manhattan,” Shoji tells Eater about his decision to debut in Dumbo, just steps from the East River waterfront.
Shoji chalks his success up to his “passion for simple, timeless coffee, and design” — the core ethos of % Arabica. But, surely, his catchy Instagram-friendly branding can’t hurt, either. While all % Arabica locations channel a similar white-washed, minimalist look, Shoji works with different local designers for each location. In the case of Brooklyn, he teamed up with French studio Cigue to scheme a clean, industrial look, with red brick walls and whimsical touches like Chemex lighting fixtures. Shoji notes that Chemex was first produced in the 1940s, and is considered an important part of mid-century modern design, one he incorporates into many of his cafés.
Ultimately, % Arabica is a simple place with simple drinks, though all hinged on quality beans. Two coffee preps, a handful of customizable bean options, and some coffee-friendly snacks sourced from Balthazar, such as canelés and almond croissants. And don’t forget about the showering Toto toilet, too.
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