Outside Ithaca, NY: The Gimme! Coffee Roastery
Ithaca, New York in late May is all green pastoral bliss, bees careening in pollen-drunk paths and cool mist aspirating from the breath of falling water.
Outside of town, outside of the buzz of late blooming adolescence from Cornell University and Ithaca College, Gimme! Coffee is roasting some of the best coffee in New York. The roastery, bakery and administrative office, hum, nestled between fields of grass, silver silos, and wide-mouthed skies. Down the street, Taughannock Falls drops a 215 foot waterfall–the longest drop East of the Rockies, three stories higher that Niagara. It is an unusual pocket to find coffee-geeks meticulously cupping and roasting coffees from far notches in the coffee bible belt, such as Kenya and Columbia, yet here they are as industrious as the nature surrounding them.
When chatting with Gimme! Coffee Director, Liz Clark, I was struck by how respected she felt by the company as a whole, a sentiment expressed by the manager of their Soho location when I profiled that shop here. She shared with me stories of employees trail-blazing ideas and finding the administrative structure of Gimme! open to innovation. One such example is a partnership with Boyce Thompson Institute to map the arabica coffee genome and learn more about how to prevent disease in the coffee plant. Around every corner, you’ll find someone at Gimme! saying, “Why not?” or “What if + insert seemingly ridiculous-at-first idea here?” Unlike the roasters I’ve visited in Red Hook, Brooklyn where everyone is the midst of the city’s hustle-metality, Gimme! has embraced the spontaneity of improv even as they’re meticulous about getting the detailed science of coffee right.
You can’t taste the innovation and youthful enthusiasm radiating from the bike lanes, university research labs, organic farmer’s market and compost/recycling bins, but you can taste a final product that has flourished under these influences.
Gimme! has mastered the expansion from a micro to macro-roaster, even winning Macro-roaster of the Year in 2013 from Roast Magazine, without somehow stepping on anyone’s toes. Their commitment to relationships with coffee farmers around the world marks them as a trail blazer in the third wave of coffee. Since their birth in Ithaca in a small shop near Cornell University in 2000 to their current seven locations–one in Soho, one in Brooklyn and 5 in the Ithaca area– they have promoted fair trade and fair business practices; their baristas are unionized, their bags are compostable/cups, recyclable, and they are committed to developing coffee farmers, partnering with the Long Miles Coffee Project as well as Las Peñitas--a Honduran coffee farm which they’ve worked with for over seven years.
Somehow Gimme! has developed a culture which competes without feeling competitive, following one of the basic tenants of improv: make your partner look good, and you look good.