It’s easy to get lost in a whirlwind of barely pronounceable words if you’re unseasoned to the modern day coffee shop. Maybe you order what the person in front of you did or you get lucky enough to recognize something on the menu. Otherwise, you order the first thing that catches your eye and brace yourself for embarrassment.
When Rob and Stephanie Popper opened up Rob’s Roast Coffees in Newburgh just over one month ago, they decided to turn that blush-inducing experience into a fun experiment. Just because the drinks get fancy doesn’t mean they don’t stay simple.
“I think we do less than your average coffee shop,” Rob told me. “I think that your average coffee shop tries to do a lot more and maybe it’s too much. I would rather there were more places that did a little bit really well. I think that’s what we do differently.”
That feeling starts to sink in when you first step foot into the shop. It’s small, with just enough room for three small tables and one big one. Bicycles hang from the ceiling and old photos of cyclists adorn the walls. The one thing that opposes that feeling is a line of gadgets on a shelf behind the big table. It almost looks like a chemistry lab. A shiny 1952 Faema espresso machine serves as the centerpiece.
Stephanie handles many of the interior design choices, including the paint job, and was heavily involved in the decision to open up shop in Newburgh. That big table that takes up most of the shop is one of her most successful ideas so far.
“This thing has happened that I personally didn’t anticipate at all. People come to the table and they talk to their neighbor,” she said. “They’ll talk politics or ‘I live on this end of Liberty Street, oh you live on that end?’ and it’s crazy. That was totally unexpected.”
As unexpected as it was, finding connections in a coffee shop isn’t a foreign concept to Stephanie and Rob. They got married in one after all.
Everything about this particular coffee shop shouts efficiency — from the space management to a drink menu with only three options: a $3 regular coffee, a $10 espresso flight, and an option to “make it fancy” for $4.50. Each one is made with beans Rob roasts himself.
Making it fancy is a nebulous option that ranges from lattes to mochas made with Hudson Valley Fresh chocolate milk. The menu lists a few more popular options like cortados but it doesn’t stop there. If you can describe it, it can be made fancy.
Of course, you aren’t limited to your imagination. A handful of helpful signs around the shop break down the espresso lineage, depicting what goes into making every branch on the family tree. If you want something outside the realms of the norm or have no idea what you’re doing, Rob can recommend something. In these ways, Rob’s Roast Coffees isn’t too dissimilar from your average coffee shop. What makes this ordering process differ is the way Rob goes about using his specialized knowledge of beverages.
“I don’t know a lot about medium roast coffee. I don’t have a lot of passion for that subject,” he said. “If I just did textbook medium roast coffee for you, I wouldn’t be able to say to you ‘I think this is an awesome medium roast,’ because I don’t actually know what that means. If I say to you, ‘I think this is a really awesome dark roast,’ it comes from my deepest commitment to that subject.”
Rob’s nearly exclusive interest in dark roast coffee comes from his boyhood. He helped his father prepare for work as a child by making him the darkest and strongest cup of coffee he could. To him, that’s what a real cup of coffee still is. It’s this singular approach to making coffee that keeps even his fanciest drinks simple and efficiently made. It’s also what brought him to the United States, and more specifically, to the Hudson Valley.
He worked as a triathlete coach in London prior to arriving stateside — a profession he still tries to keep up with today. He eventually got into the coffee-making business but London was a hub for light roasts. His interests clashed with the market and he moved on.
Newburgh remains the first location where he’s owned a coffee shop. Instead, he operated in London solely using a Velopresso — a tricycle that makes coffee as you peddle. Less than 30 existed in the world when he spent about $20,000 on the 500-pound traveling shop. The investment made sense to him. Bicycles and tricycles are, like most things in his life, efficient.
He still has the trike in his possession and plans on riding it around the Hudson Valley to compliment his little shop on Liberty Street — the street where he and Stephanie found their place in the neighborhood.
Rob’s Roast Coffees
42 Liberty St, Newburgh
Open Mon-Sat 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.