To roast and then brew perfect coffee is part science, part dance. This isn’t a metaphor. The best coffee roasters I’ve met had the exacting deliberateness of lab techs with pipettes in windowless labs. The best baristas I’ve met had the proprioception of dancers. Selina Ullrich, Coffee Director for East One Coffee Roasters in Carroll Garden, Brooklyn, has a history as both scientist and dancer.
East One took the New York coffee scene by storm at last year’s coffee festival and can be found throughout Harlem at Shuteye Coffee & Dear Mama. (Selina lives in Harlem; both shops are featured in our Harlem coffee guide.) The brain trust behind this new voice on the scene is Selina.
Selina grew up in Albany and trained in classical ballet. When she moved to New York City to attend the Sophie Davis BS/MD program at City College, she was medical school bound. Yet one and half years in she discovered that the life she envisioned for herself as a doctor wasn’t exactly as she had envisioned it. Selina imagined herself helping people, but instead she shadowed doctors who spent more time entering information on iPads than interacting with patients.
In 2011, she embarked in the world of coffee, first at Oren’s, then at Plowshares, before helping to establish the roastery at East One. Coffee Roasting with its data-driven process of computers hooked up to temperature gauges and time trackers is a deliberate application of the scientific method. How much temperature over how much time allows for the internal structure of a seed to release some flavors without becoming burnt. (Check out this info-graphic about the cracks–melting points–of coffee beans.) Each crop from each farm varies. To determine the perfect amount of time and heat, a roaster must first sample roasts and cup their small batches of roasts. Selina has the mind for this kind of exacting attention to detail.
The morning I interviewed Selina in early Spring 2019, I had just brewed at home some coffee from East One, a honey-processed Brazilian coffee with a floral-sweet acidity that her tasting notes had listed a kaleidoscopic. As it cooled, I had to admit, I agreed with the outrageous description. Each note of the coffee seemed to shimmer between a roasted nut and over-ripe floral quality like sensory chinks realigning in the cardboard kaleidoscopes of my youth–a flash of magic inside a simple cylinder.
The setting for all of this magic is hidden in plain sight: the middle of the East One dining room. East One Eatery, a popular American bistro brunch spot, is flooded by natural light due to its large factory-style windows and extra tall ceilings. Exposed ducts and an open window view of the kitchen provide an industrial chic vibe to the space. And in the middle, in a room of glass, sits their large and small-scale roasters. The after-burner handles the residue via a metal duct snaking out along the ceiling.
Selina stares at a computer screen displaying data from Cropster, the leading coffee roasting software in the industry. Among a background of clinking brunch cocktails and the hum of Brooklyn’s gossip, the popcorn crackling sound of the beans calls out their first melting point. The science is in the data collection and the meticulous care that Selina brings to finding the best expression of flavor for each crop. The art is in how she trains her baristas. Like the best sommelier’s decanting wine, a grace and an efficiency of movement alongside precision complete the package.
Outside of some neighborhood shops and their Brooklyn location, East One could be a bit hard to come by. That will change this summer when they open a new location in Chelsea 23rd street and 7th avenue.